This interesting illustration was published in 1853, and depicts a KhoiKhoi man riding an ox. (The KhoiKhoi people were formerly referred to as Hottentots by the Dutch settlers in South Africa.) The KhoiKhoi were a cattle-herding people even before the arrival of European settlers. Oxen are castrated male cattle, usually chosen for their large size and strength, used for draft work or (less frequently) riding. They are slower and more sure-footed than horses.
From "A Narrative of a Visit to the Mauritius and South Africa," written by a traveling Christian missionary in 1844, comes this brief mention of ox-riding:
At the first large kraal we passed, there was a dance, at which many persons were assembled, among whom we could discern two boys painted white. Many people were on their way thither: some of them were riding on oxen, which they use in place of saddle-horses, guiding them with a bridle, fastened to a stick, passed through the cartilage of the nose." (page 276, link)
I wrote to Debbie and Basil Mills, who have been training oxen for riding and developing ox trails for purposes of historic re-enactment, tourism and education. Debbie offered this interesting description of ox riding:
Basically the indigenous Khoi-Khoi people of Southern Africa had used their oxen to transport their goods and as riding animals for generations before the arrival of the white man.
Zebra carry the horse sickness virus which even today wipes out large numbers of horses, mules and donkeys.
Horses were also a rich man's possession which had to be imported and the poor settler farmers had to make use of one animal for milk, meat, hides and transport. The harsh grazing conditions and the tick infestations in the area also take a heavy toll on the non-indigenous livestock.
Warlike tribes would ride their cattle into battle with fiery brands tied to their sharpened horns, and settlers would often strap their goods onto the horns of the oxen that they were riding (in one case on record, a batch of piglets in baskets) and travel the 20 or more kilometres into the nearest town to barter.
We have trained a number of local Nguni cattle for riding and find most of them to be amenable for wagon work, while a good riding ox needs to be carefully selected from the herd according to his temperament.
If you are traveling in South Africa and would like to see for yourself, the Mills' can be contacted via the info on this page. Thanks, Debbie!
Image: NYPL Digital Gallery