In 1856, a teenage Xhosa girl Nongqawuse (1841-1898) had a prophetic vision that spread like a fire among that nation that resided in South Africa. The prophecy came amid a lung virus infection that spread among some Xhosa stock; it was rumored that the sickness came from the imported European cattle. In her vision, which the girl duly delivered to her people, two spirits of ancestors had visited her and ordered Xhosa people to destroy all their cattle, corn, tools and foods. The spirits insisted that these had been all contaminated. In return, the ancestors would bring the dead back to life, drive away the hated British, and launch the paradise on the earth, which was to bring the limitless supply of food, stock, and household items.
The spirits also “ordered” people not to do any work but to wait and see the fulfillment of the prophecy. At first, some Xhosa skeptics laughed at this, but soon when her uncle, a powerful and charismatic witchdoctor Mhalakaza, vouched for her and validated the prophecy by his expert opinion, people took it seriously, especially after all powerful chiefs sided with the uncle. In fact, by killing his own cattle, Mhalakaza set a personal example. The supreme chief Sarili added to this his own spin by insisting that, besides the cattle slaughter, all European clothing should be ditched because it was unclean. He insisted that his people, indigenous in their “naked attire” and coated in red clay, were “clean” compared to the whites who wore clothes. Moreover, the “doctor” set a deadline for the paradise to materialize. It was to happen at the end of 1856 on a day of a full moon.
Society became divided into “believers” and “non-believers” who were a minority. The greater part of the Xhosa became agitated and followed the command of the superior forces by slaughtering over 400,000 cattle and destroying their food supplies along with other “contaminated” items. They also decided to sow no crops for future. When on the designated day of the full moon no miracle arrived, fearing for his life, Mhalakaza disappeared. From his hideout he had a message sent to the people that the spirits were angry with the Xhosa who did not slaughter all their stock. For this reason, the fine new cattle did not emerge from the ground and the dead did not resurrect. Within twelve months, with about 100,000 people starving themselves to death, the Xhosa population dropped by 80%. For more about the Xhosa stock “pandemic” craze, see Jeffrey Brian Peires, The Dead Will Arise: Nongqawuse and the Great Xhosa Cattle-Killing Movement of 1856-1857 (Johannesburg and Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989).