Tribe finds its head in a Scottish barn

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The Independent Online
STEVE BOGGAN

Chief Reporter

Against all expectations, after a journey spanning thousands of miles and 160 years, a bony relic claimed to be the head of an African chief is on its way home.

Chief Nicholas Gcaleka left his native South Africa on a spiritual dream- fuelled quest half way around the world to the chilly fields of the Dornoch Firth in Scotland seeking his prize.

When he found it yesterday it was a little battered - in fact it had a bullet-hole in it - but that was all part of the evidence that convinced Chief Gcaleka that this was the skull of his long-dead ancestor, King Hintsa of Xhosa, a tribal leader shot dead by the British in the Cape in 1835.

Chief Gcaleka, resplendent in leopardskin, has been searching Scotland for more than a week, checking military museums and following up military tip-offs as to the location of his great-uncle's skull, hacked off and transported to Scotland after his death.

The chief, whose quest is rumoured to have been paid for by President Nelson Mandela, has argued that Chief Hintsa's headless spirit is wandering South Africa, causing crime and violence. Only its union with Hintsa's body can end the cycle.

Yesterday, his search appeared to be in vain when skulls at the military museum in Fort George, near Inverness, and at the Dingwall Museum, turned out not to be Hintsa's.

He had doubted they would be. In a dream, Chief Gcaleka had seen the skull in a field near a forest and a river in which lived a white pony.

So there was more excitement when the Dingwall Museum staff remembered a story about a skull found on the 14,000 acre estate of Charles Brooke at Mid Fearn, Ardgay.

The skull, left for years on a shelf in a shed on the estate, had been in Mr Brooke's family for 130 years. It had been dug up, he said, in a field next to the Dornoch Firth in which the family used to keep two white ponies. After a quick consultation with the spirits, Chief Gcaleka declared that this was the real McCoy. The whooping started and Mr Brooke said he would be delighted for the chief to take the head back to its rightful owner in South Africa.

"I have never been so happy in all my life," said Chief Gcaleka. "This is the moment I have been waiting for. I woke today singing and jumping with joy because I knew this was going to be the day the dream brought by the spirits came true."

The skull is now in a box awaiting permission from the South African authorities for it to be taken into the country.

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