SOME BEAUTIFULLY TOLD TALES
Two books of /Xam stories will be launched in Sutherland in October 21 just before Piet Coetzer sets off on the 600km Great Forgotten Highway Expedition to Griquatown. The first book, entitled The Man Who Cursed The Wind And Other Stories From The Karoo (Die Man Wat Die Wind Vervloek Het En Ander Karoo Stories) is a selection of 61 /Xam tales collected in Afrikaans from present day Karoo storytellers, translated into English, and edited by José Manuel de Prada Samper. These tales capture the harsh, but beautiful, landscape of the Karoo and its lively characters like Cunning Jackal, Silly Hyena. Dangerous Water Snake and Sinister Foot Eyes. The stories were recorded in different areas of the Karoo from 2011 to 2015 as part of an ongoing project to record, preserve and make known traditional knowledge of local communities. The book includes myths, folktales, legends and personal memories. These are similar to the first hunter gatherers documented in the 1870s by German philologist Wilhelm Bleek (pronounced Bleak) and his indominatable sister-in-law, Lucy Lloyd. Unexpectedly the tales have survived affirming a strong and continuing tradition of storytelling in South Africa. Archaeologist John Parkington calls this book “a real milestone, a terrific achievement.” It was published by African Sun Press in association with The Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town.
STORIES OF THE COSMOS
A hardcover version of Karoo Cosmo will be launched at the same function. Publication of Karoo Cosmos was made possible with support from the National Research Foundation (NRF), the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) and the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO). The reprint was made possible with support from the Karoo Development Foundation. Several authors prominent in the fields of archaeology, astronomy, folklore and education are featured in this book. Some chapters include stories of cosmological significance, told by 19th century /Xam-speaking San and their descendants. The publication places this cosmic understanding in its historic and archaeological context, by recognizing the /Xam interest in explaining the sky long before the coming of the Square Kilometre Array Organisation (SKA) radio telescope. The publication compliments and expands on Shared Sky an exhibition that opened at the Curtin University Gallery, in Australia and is now travelling the globe See also http://www.ska.ac.za/outreach/shared-sky-exhibition/ and www.skatelescope.org
DISCOVER A LOST WORLD
The recently launched Dreaming the Karoo, A People Called The /Xam poignantly powerful tale of the dreams these people of a lost world. The story is a requiem of their grief as they were ruthlessly dispossessed of their traditional lands by trekboers, migrant farmers, who drove across Colonial frontiers and into the hinterland. This book grew out of a visit to the London Library in 1974, when, while browsing the shelves, author Julia Blackburn, came across Specimens of Bushman Folklore published in 1911 by William Bleek and Lucy Lloyd. It wasn’t a popular book, so she kept it on virtually permanent loan until 1979 and beyond. It introduced her to a world and way of thinking quite different to anything she had known before. In the spring of 2020 fascination for the world and people she had read so much about brought Julia, who lives in Suffolk and Italy, on a journey across the world to South Africa. Her aim was to explore the Karoo and see for herself the ancestral lands that had once belonged to this indigenous group. As she drove along lonely gravel roads in the extreme heat she was drawn into the silence and shocked by the desolation. Suddenly she was able to understand how the /Xam claimed “to hear a tapping in their bodies” when people approached. She appreciated that they lived so close to nature that they could read the messages of the wind and she understood why they did not kill frogs. They believed if they did the rain would not come.
HUNTED ALMOST TO EXTINCTION
Throughout the 19th century the /Xam , who saw themselves, as “just one small part of the complexity of the natural world”, were persecuted and denied the right to live in their own territories,” states Julia. As the trekboers moved in, the wildlife moved out and, in order to survive, the /Xam began to kill the farmers’ sheep. The farmers, of course, retaliated and relentlessly pursued the /Xam who were imprisoned for stock theft, enslaved, shot, sometimes massacred in their hundreds and hunted almost to extinction. They were beaten for speaking their own language.. “They do not seem to know we are people,” lamented a man who was murdered in 1876 by a group of trekboers seeking to avenge the killing of one of their friends. Looking back through the eyes of the /Xam Julia saw the great herds that once peacefully grazed on the plains, but were no more. Gone too were the lions, rhinos, hippos and elephants. “In their place were fences and sheep – ungainly creatures, unsuited to this environment”. By the time she got to the Karoo the hunter-gatherers had disappeared, so she set off to the archives to seek out Wilhelm Bleek’s independent research project. She found 60,000 meticulously recorded notebook pages containing stories, dreams, memories, beliefs and traumas of the /Xam. From this library and from talking to people she met she gathered a great deal of material and despite having to cut short her visit due to the Covid outbreak, she was able to produce this extraordinary book. Published by Penguin Random House, this soft-cover 294-page book is available at most reputable booksellers at a cost of around R400 a copy.
A GREAT TASK EXPLAINED
Andrew Bank, in his book Bushmen in a Victorian World tells the extraordinary story of a decade of dialogue between two pioneering Colonial scholars and some Bushmen from Cape Town’s Breakwater Prison who, in time, were allowed to live at the Bleek suburban Victorian home. Wilhelm was fascinated by African languages and set out to make sense of the complex, alien Bushman tongue. At first Lucy worked as his assistant, but soon proved such an empathetic linguist listener that she created a monumental record of Bushman culture. The six /Xam and four !xun who engaged in the extended “patient narrations” managed to bridge an immense racial and social divide. They crossed language barriers and told their tales against a backdrop of appalling violence and dispossession on the Karoo frontier. This colourful cast included a teenager, /A!kunta, who taught Bleek and Lloyd their first Bushman words and sentences. //Kabbo, a wise old man and masterful storyteller opened their eyes to a richly imaginative world of myth and legend. A young man, Dia!kwain, explained traditional beliefs about sorcery, while his friend #Kasin spoke of Bushman medicines and poisons. The treasures of Bushman culture were most fully revealed in conversations with a middle-aged man known as /Han=kass’o, who told of dances, songs and the meaning of images on rocks. Andrew stated: “Their work represented a meeting of worlds. It deserves to be celebrated and recounted again and again. This work is without precedent in the history of this country and perhaps even in the history of the world.”
NOW A KHOI KHOI LANGUAGE BOOK
New on the shelves is the Khoi Khoi gowas (first language book) Khoi Khoi Useful Phrases and Words. It explains many words in daily use, like aitsa and dagga; animal names like kwagga and gamka, and a variety of place names such as Tsitsikamma, Kamdeboo, Gamtoos, Kariega, Karoo, Goudini and Prieska. The book costs R250. More details about the book and a Khoi Khoi course are available from Toroga whose name means “the spirit of resistance”. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org She sends tawedes (greetings) and says it will be it will be buruga (great) if we could publicize the book.
A HIGHWAY NO LONGER FORGOTTEN
People, who are passionate about the cultural history and tourism potential of The Forgotten Highway have created a Facebook group. On it there has already been quite some discussion on places like Karelsgraf, of rocks, shales, sand stone and dolerite, as well as of graves, gravestones and cemeteries. Sutherland has a “quite lovely and uplifting one” with wooden crosses, plastic flowers “planted on the graves” and, curiously for the Karoo, sea shell fragments. The Fraserburg cemetery has cement, handwritten, headstones which are often coloured in. The curious names and inscriptions date back to a time when people were not literate, spelling rules were not rigid and the language was in a transitional stage changing from Dutch into Afrikaans. Discussing this archaeologist, David Morris, referred to studies done by Luan Staphorst and others into “Oranjerivier Afrikaans.” He says: “There is some interesting graffiti on veld rocks. These literary fragments – often just names and dates – have reversed letters indicating only a partial mastery of literacy and writing.”
GREAT LADY INDEED
In the early 1900s a severe winter gripped the Free State. Intermittent showers had fallen along the Basutoland border and it was bitterly cold. In morning mist about 20 British soldiers rode up to a farm house and, as a woman opened the door, the officer cried: “I hope you don’t mind our calling at this early hour, but we lost our way in the dark and mist and are perished with the cold. Would it be possible to give the worst suffers a cup of coffee or tea?” He was in such obvious distress and shivering so badly that she invited him in and while she prepared coffee for the men, she gave him a cup of tea with hot scones and butter. He was shivering so violently that he could not hold the cup steady, but he enjoyed this so much that she poured him a second cup. The woman later said she had never seen people in such distress from the cold. The officer recovered and said: “It seems a miracle that on this of all days I should happen on the home of an English lady.” The woman countered: “I must disillusion you. You are speaking to a Boer woman, not an English lady.” He was stunned: “But you speak English as well as I do.” She smiled: “I dare say you were led to believe we were only half civilized, but judge for yourself.” She told him she had three sons riding with the commandoes and asked him not to shoot them. Give me their names, and if I ever met them I will remember this day,” he said. This is just one of the delightful stories in Victor Pohl’s book Adventures of a Boer Family. First published in 1944 by Faber and Faber, it has just been reprinted by the House of Emslie. Copies of the English and newly-translated Afrikaans version – Wedervaringe van ‘n Boergesin – may be ordered from email@example.com at a cost of R180.
HORSE CHANGES SIDES
Before he rode off that day the Yeomanry captain asked the Boer woman if she had any horses to sell. She didn’t, but then she remembered a grumpy, difficult creature who or in the pasture. “There’s only Malperd (Mad Horse),” she said, mentioning his temper. The officer decided to take him anyway. Malperd was secured, not without difficulty. He reared, bucked and catapulted at least three soldiers from his back, kicking and chopping at them when they hit the ground. The captain then stepped up, mounted and “stuck to the horse like areal rough rider.” In the end Malperd was trembling and foam covered, but subdued. The column rode off with the captain riding Malperd. “Such are the fortunes of war,” said the woman, watching them go. “Not long ago Malperd carried a burger into battle at Sannaspos. Then he stood tethered with 300 other horses at Kroonspruit while De Wet waited for an advancing British column. Now he is carrying a Yeomanry captain and is enlisted in the services of the Queen.” Adventures of a Boer Family is a good read, very touching, poignant and personal.
FROM VIOLINS TO LITERATURE
Victor Theodore “Vic” Pohl was born on the farm Alpha or Uysberg, near Ladybrand on the Lesotho border. His father was Carel Frederich Pohl III and his mother was Maria Dorothea (nee Hartmman). His great grandfather, Carl (Karel) Frederich Pohl, who was born in Schivelbein, Pomerania, Prussia, on February 11, 1768, came to South Africa in 1810. He was the son of Ephriam Pohl and Sophie Judith (née Dobecke). Soon after disembarking Carel met the beautiful Hester Isabel Marx. They married and he established the farm Carel’s Rust in the Albany district. Later with Hester’s father and their three young sons he travelled into the “northern wilds.” Victor captured their story in 1946 in Land of Distant Horizons. Victor loved nature and outdoor life. He and his brother Eric often went off on hunting trips to “big game country” on the border of Portuguese East Africa. He was captured as a spy by the British during the Anglo-Boer War, but after a petition was received from his family, he was released to continue his schooling. Victor, who essentially was a violin teacher, gained worldwide fame for his English language fiction and non-fiction which was aimed at young adults.
A MAN WHO CAPTURED THE KAROO
The artist, Oscar Hollander, whose water colours of the Karoo were highly-acclaimed and widely exhibited lived for some time in Carnarvon. He was born in Cologne, Germany, on November 2, 1864. He studied art in Amsterdam and, after arriving in South Africa in 1889, went to Carnarvon where he settled and began painting Karoo scenes. Among his best known are Moonrise Karoo, a semi-desert landscape with rising moon, After Glow, Enchanted Hour, Gold In The West. and Solitude, a Karoo landscape with hills. Within short his work became highly sought after. In 1911 he met Constance Penstone and her husband, George Crosland Robinson, both water colour artists and he studied with them for a time. His 1921 exhibition at Lezard’s in Johannesburg was a virtual sell-out. He travelled in Europe between 1924 and 1926. The irascible art critic Bernard Lewis made some comic comments on his treatment of the skies of the Karoo, his handling of its rocks and “sparsely scattered little bushes”.
THE “BIRDMAN’S” MASSIVE LEGACY
Prince Albert resident and highly-respected ornithologist, author, historian and Karoo researcher Richard Dean, 82, passed away on August 3. He was a key figure in many Karoo projects and left a massive legacy after a long and meaningful career in research, conservation and ornithology. He will be sorely missed. Richard started out as a process engraver in the printing industry, but quickly turned his attention to ornithology and obtained his PhD on the nomadic birds of the Karoo. He was a long-standing member of the FitzPatrick Institute of African ornithology and his extremely wide range of interest earned him the Gill Memorial Medal for lifetime service to South African ornithology. Richard was responsible for planning and setting up of management policies for nature reserves, as well as programmes for burning, game capture and alien vegetation control. Richard was one of the founders of the Arid Zone Ecology Forum. He and his wife botanical ecologist, Sue Milton, established the Tierberg-Long Term Ecological Research site (Tierberg Karoo Research Centre), about 30km east of Prince Albert. They devoted their time to understanding, restoring and managing the Karoo rangelands. Their most notable contribution in this area is their co-edited book, The Karoo: Ecological Patterns and Processes. They created Renu-Karoo, a small nursery business which grows and sells indigenous Karoo plants and seeds for restoration purposes. They also created Wolwekraal Nature Reserve, to conserve a remnant of the Prince Albert Succulent Karoo vegetation which contains endemic plant species. Richard authored books, wrote several book chapters, edited many books, and published numerous scientific studies. He worked with many local and international universities and research organisations. He collected birds and eggs throughout South Africa and Angola for Charles Sibley’s global study of bird evolution. His passing leaves a huge, unfillable gap.
TRAGIC LOSS FOR THE KAROO
The people of Loxton, and some other Karoo towns were devastated to hear of the sudden death of Christo Volschenk, the driving force behind the Rose Willis Reading Room. A blood vessel in his brain ruptured, and nothing could be done to save him. Christo, 60, started out as a business journalist in South African in 1986 and worked on a weekly business magazine, a daily business newspaper and a financial website. He then moved to Germany and for 19 years worked as a freelance writer, sub-editor and translator. During this time he had many dynamic and high-profile clients. He was involved in a fascinating personal research project into the GDR (the German Democratic Republic – East Germany). Then, the Karoo, the land of his happy childhood, and Loxton, one time home of his grandfather, beckoned him. While still in Germany he contacted me and began discussing his plans for putting Loxton on the map by creating the Rose Willis Reading Room where he planned to offer a wide range of services such as story time for children. He bubbled with enthusiasm through all our chats and during the time he spent with me before moving the books to Loxton. His death is a serious blow.
THE POWER OF MUSEUMS
The 86th National Conference of the South African Museums Association (SAMA) takes place in Stellenbosch from September 6 – 8. The theme, The Power of Museums, will cover sustainability, digitization, accessibility and community building through education of children. Experts will use case studies from South Africa, Kenya, USA and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, to discuss projects successfully delivered with limited resources and by overcoming almost insurmountable challenges. More from Heidi Boise firstname.lastname@example.org/ or Elzette de Beer email@example.com/
MORE DANGEROUS THAN BULLETS
House flies were considered to be the chief carriers of typhoid during the Anglo-Boer War. Some doctors even referred to them as “winged sponges”. While investigating the cause of the typhoid in army camps US physician, Walter Reed, concluded that the housefly was a active agent in the spread of the disease. Many Boer War doctors agreed. Among them was Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. A retired opthalmologist, he came to South Africa and joined the medical staff of a private field hospital endowed by philanthropist John Langman, It opened in Bloemfontein at the height of the typhoid epidemic which raged through the city from April to June 1900 – there were 5 000 cases and 1 000 deaths. Doyle argued that the British Army had made a major mistake by not making anti-typhoid inoculation compulsory – 95% of the soldiers had refused immunization. Sadly, he failed to impress the Royal Commission and by the time WWI broke out immunization was still voluntary. Later research revealed that during the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the Anglo-Boer War typhoid killed more soldiers than enemy bullets. House flies are suspected of transmitting at least 65 diseases to humans. Among them are typhoid, dysentery, cholera, poliomyelitis, yaws, anthrax, tularemia, leprosy and tuberculosis.