Differences between the burghers and the colonial authorities, corruption and strive, poverty and hardship all contributed to more and more colonists turning to stock farming. In order to find grazing for their sheep, these farmers were moving from place to place for long periods of time. The only means of transport over treacherous terrain was a wagon and oxen. The wagon, sometimes with a tent, was the only home that a pioneering family had. This nomadic lifestyle necessitated an approach to furnishing that had different criteria from fashionability. Furniture used on the wagon had to be practical and multi-functional. As these pioneer farmers were practically cut off from the nearest towns by distances and impassable roads, the farmer and his wife were forced to produce most of what they needed themselves, in order to survive from day to day. They were dependent on what nature supplied: wood, mineral and animal products. For this reason pioneer furnishings often display distinct regional differences. Even though pioneer furniture (i.e. trek chairs) often have the appearance of being rough and constructed by an amateur; it is almost always decorated with motifs that remind one of the Folk heritage from Europe. The influence that the Koikoi and other indigenous peoples had on these trek farmers is a fascinating but still largely unexplored field of research. With their knowledge of the veld, the properties of different kinds of wood and their ability to use everything around them for their survival they must have inspired the early pioneers. Farmers used the same wood as the Koi to make their botterbakke, and they copied their habit of using calabash as storage vessels to store wine, water or salt. (Pretorius 1992:32)
Most pioneer furniture is folk in nature, meaning that furniture and artefacts were made by untrained men in a manner not taught by a professional but learned through experience or transmitted through tradition. The exceptions to this rule are the wagon kist and possibly the trek bed and trek table. These pieces were made fit onto the wagon. A kist placed towards the front of the wagon was used as seating and storage, signalling the multi-functionality necessitated by the shortage of space on these wagons. By the 1830’s the large migration to the interior was reaching its zenith with the so-called Groot Trek. As a result, a whole wagon building and fitting industry had developed in areas like Groot Drakenstein or the Wagenmakersvallei, towns we know today as Paarl and Wellington. Wagon kists are always tapered towards the bottom. This was a constructional necessity as the kist was placed between the two front wheel mud guards. Kists were often painted to match the decorative paintwork on the wagons. Unfortunately, many of these original painted decorations had wrongly been removed in unsuccessful attempts to restore the piece in order to show the wood, mostly yellowwood, cedar wood, rooi-els or Oregon pine. For this reason, kists retaining their original paintwork have become extremely collectable.