A rich culture

It’s often said that “Africa is a country” – well, that’s how we refer to it. one homogeneous entity but those of us who live there or are from there know how diverse and rich a continent it is. Despite this, little discoveries are made which make this diversity even more remarkable and all added together over the years, decades and centuries which have gone by, aspects of each community making up the whole influence and impact the other making the sum of us greater than the individual parts.

One of these little encounters was the discovery that the oldest Mazaar (Islamic holy site) in South Africa suggests that Muslims settled in South Africa back in 1667 – that is not too long after the ‘discovery’ and the start of settlement by Jan van Riebeek and his crown (1654).

Another snippet, this coming out of the sad story of building being destroyed by fire, is that this destroyed building housed the first Afrikaans school, before the one better known in the Bo Kaap, a community linked with Islam. A publication by Achmat Davids in 2011, suggests that ‘the Afrikaans of the Cape Muslim’ dates from 1815. This accounts for the variations between mainstream Afrikaans and that spoken by the Cape Coloured community, a group of people who have given us the Kaapse Klopse, Malay dishes such as bobotie and koeksusters. While I might wonder where that leaves the monument in Oranje, it is suggested there is a difference between the two: all just adding to the rich culture that makes up the rainbow nation that is South Africa.

My Sarie Marais

My Sarie Marais  or simply Sarie Marais – pronounced ‘may sari ma-re’ as in ma(terial)-re(d) – is an Afrikaans song dating back to the 2nd Anglo-Boer or South African or 1899-1902 War although it goes back to an English song from 1815 – the link has various versions and the lyrics in Afrikaans. (p292 has the 1815 lyrics alongside the Afrikaans – for Afrikaans readers this looks a fascinating publication.)

For years, I’ve known the piece of music has been played on bagpipes and heard it once a the Edinburgh tatoo. The links between the Scots and Boers go back to a time when Scottish missionaries to South Africa would go to Holland to learn Dutch before heading south. John McKenzie covers this in his excellent book, The Scots in South Africa: Ethnicity, Identity, Gender and Race, 1772-1914. There was a definite mixing of cultures, during the First World War, many Afrikaners who decided to serve in Europe joining the Transvaal Scottish which wore the Atholl Tartan.

Sarie Marais, the name of a young girl, has a far reach:

Who knows what else (excluding the parodies which I’ve purposefully ignored) will come to light around this young girl who is now over 100 years old.

 

Is this the reason Boers and Australians (white) love their country so much?

I return to Jan Smuts commenting on a piece written by Olive Schreiner in answer to the above question. Well, rather, it was reading the following which gave rise to the question. The reference for the quotes below is Keith Hancock and Jean van der Poel, Selections from the Smuts Papers vol 1, pp117-9.

She points out very truly that while the English Colonist, even he who settled in this country as far back as 1820, still continues to think fondly of, and feel sympathetically of his parents, and the great race to which he belongs, the Boer has become of the soil, soily; he has cut himself completely adrift from Europe and his progenitors, and their traditions and ideals over there; he has come to look upon South Africa, not merely as the land of his birth, but also as the source of all that is most dear and hallowed in his memory, as the object of his tenderest sympathies and aspirations. Why is the Boer in this respect so different, not only from his English fellow colonist, but also all the previous recorded types of colonist? The writer [Schreiner] points to the following facts as furning some explanation of this obscure and difficult subject. In the first place, the original population of the Colony consisted almost solely of males of very mixed nationalities; and the wives which the Company sent out for them were orphans from the philanthropic institutions of the mother country. They had no hallowed and enduring memories to cherish of the land of their birth, no parents’ homes to think of, with their thousand little trifling details which yet influence the hearts and thoughts of generations; this country was the first glimpse of ‘Good Hope’ which they ever had. No wonder, therefore, that they and their offspring cherished no sentimental regard for the mother country…’

Schreiner explains that the French refugees ‘did not bring any pleasant memories from their mother country’ as they were

‘separated from the bulk of the French population by great differences of religious belief and social aims, persecuted by their Government, and goaded by a nameless tyranny to rebellion and exile, they taught their children to love the land of refuge which providence had marked out for them, and themselves tried to forget the harsh stepmother of France.’

To this, Smuts counteracts using the letters by Bernardin de St Pierre who visited the Cape in 1771, in which he noted that ‘the one thing which struck him’ about the Dutch and the French colonists ‘was their strong sentimental attachment to the mother countries. He says the French always cried when the name of France was mentioned.’

Finally, a common language – Afrikaans – was a binding factor for the Boers.

One’s experiences clearly influences the way one sees and reacts to places. I couldn’t help but think of the views of the children/young people in Purple Hibiscus which I finished not long after reading Smuts’s commentary on Schreiner. The different responses to the worlds the children found themselves in can only be reminsicent of what the Boers and, I assume Australians as well as others, must have and continue to experience. The refugees of yesteryear are no different to those of today.