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I don't remember much about this story, but it's set a couple of hundred years ago. Several white men are attacked by several black natives. One of the natives kills one of the white men, but is killed as well in the process. The survivors flee. Some time later, when they return to bury their dead comrade, they notice they can no longer tell which bones are his.

I remember the story's been criticized as racist because it used the highly racist term kaffir to describe the natives, but other people argued that the story is highly non-racist, since the conclusion shows we're all the same after death.

Does anyone recognize the story? I am sure I read it in English, but it's possible it was translated.

Bing suggested "The Bones of Kahekili" by Jack London, but looking through the text of that story, it is not the one I am looking for.

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  • Vaarsuvius uses this as a threat: “Fascinating. I cannot help but notice that the disintegrated remains of a dragon are indistinguishable from those of a human, or a halfling, or a dwarf.” i.giantitp.com//comics/oots/oots0186.gif
    – b_jonas
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 14:11

1 Answer 1

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"Unto Dust", a short story by Herman Bosman which has been reprinted e.g. in the Bosman collection Unto Dust which can be borrowed (for free but registration required) from the Internet Archive. The story is also available at the site xpressenglish.com.

Review from xpressenglish.com:

The major themes of this story by Herman Bosman are attitudes towards the dead, and equality in death. A Boer farmer and native enemy die side by side while fighting in a 'Transvaal Kafir War'. When the farmer’s friends return to take his body home for a proper burial, they find that wild animals have mixed up the bones. The friends spend a lot of time trying to sort out which is which so that the dead farmer does not have to lie forever among the warrior’s bones. A yellow 'kafir' dog judges the result. Other themes: war, mateship, racism.

Excerpt:

"We were now confronted with a queer situation.. We found that what was left of Hans Welman and the kafir consisted of little more than pieces of sun-dried flesh and the dismembered fragments of bleached skeletons. The sun and wild animals and birds of prey had done their work. There was a heap of human bones, with here and there leathery strips of blackened flesh. But we could not tell which was the white man and which the kafir. To make it still more confusing, a lot of bones were missing altogether, having no doubt been dragged away by wild animals into their lairs in the bush. Another thing was that Hans Welman and that kafir had been just about the same size."

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    By the way, it is an anti-racist story. Herman Bosman, South Africa's great short story writer, may not have been an angel (he did prison time for killing his stepbrother), but he was no racist either. He regularly made fun of his racist characters, who naturally made frequent use of the K-word.
    – user14111
    Commented Oct 14, 2023 at 1:21

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