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South African Tribal Chief Hunts for Predecessor’s Head

February 16, 1996

LONDON (AP) _ A South African tribal chief searching for the head of a relative slain in battle in Scotland last century said Thursday that its absence explains much of the crime and inter-tribal violence besetting his country.

Nicholas Tilana Gcaleka, chief of the Gcaleka tribe, who arrived in London on Thursday, said he believes the head of his great-great uncle, Chief Hintsa, lies near the Scottish headquarters of the army regiment that killed him 161 years ago.

``We are here for the remains of King Hintsa who was beheaded by British troops on 12 May, 1835,″ Chief Gcaleka shouted at an impromptu press conference at Heathrow airport.

Dressed in leopard skins, a short red skirt and a red cloak, he then climbed into a limousine to begin his search, which will take him to London’s Natural History Museum and Fort George, near Inverness in northern Scotland.

``All the corruption and all the crime and hatred in the country (South Africa) is because of Hintsa,″ Chief Gcaleka was quoted by The Independent newspaper as saying.

``Hintsa’s spirit has got no head ... by bringing back this head and burying it with his body we will be closing the door on the devil in South Africa.″

Chief Gcaleka says he has dreamed of a spot in Scotland where the head is hidden, and will recognize it when he gets there.

George Southey, a military guide with the Highland Regiments, shot Chief Hintsa after he tried to escape capture during the Sixth Frontier War in the eastern cape.

The troops left Hintsa’s body behind for collection by Gcaleka tribesmen, who are members of the Xhosa nation.

Gcaleka oral tradition has it that Hintsa was not mortally wounded by the first shot and that he begged for mercy as Southey shot him in the head. When Hintsa was found, the tradition says, he was headless.

The Gcaleka presumed the regiment had taken the head back to Scotland, although military historians say there is no record of it arriving in Britain.

There are, however, precedents for the heads and other parts of Africans slain in combat being taken to Britain. Researchers reportedly recently uncovered seven well-preserved heads of South African tribesmen in the Museum of Natural History’s basement.

The Independent newspaper last week reported that officers at the Highland Regiments in Fort George had searched for Hintsa’s head and uncovered nothing, but that Chief Gcaleka was welcome to look himself.

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