Since May 2014 I have taken many small journeys and had many interesting experiences. My days of feeling disconnected from myself and the world are gradually decreasing. However, my journey of self-discovery and expansion always presents me with seemingly new parts of myself that I have forgotten about – parts I tried to lock away deep within myself, but still need to re-embrace and re-identify. Recently I stumbled across one of these again . . .
A while back I met the organisers of the Cape Camino for a quick chat to clear up a few final details. The Cape Camino is a seven-day walk of 160 kilometres that covers the entire peninsula. Later in February I will be walking a shorter leg of this Camino called the Rainbow Cape Camino (30 kilometres over two days). The whole route focusses on stopping at sacred cultural sites, but this leg specifically explores the city’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. Ultimately it comes with a strong message of inclusivity no matter your race, gender, sexual preference, religion or language.
The walk includes the underground water systems from Prestwich Memorial, with water having a specific significance in that it symbolises connection. We are, after all, largely comprised of water!
During our discussion I suddenly realised that although I have reconnected with much of myself, I have somehow become estranged from my roots. Basically, I am Afrikaans, but I blog in English; my business is in English and lots of my friends are English. When people comment on my accent, I prefer to agree with those who think I’m French or German than openly admit that I’m actually Afrikaans.
I found this interesting. How was I to do a Camino walk that is all about accepting different languages and cultures while I wasn’t really including my own inborn language and culture? Fortunately a wise friend (ironically she is white, Moslem, and Afrikaans speaking) reminded me that:
When we take a journey like a pilgrimage or a camino, the outward reflects the inward, and the outward journey informs the inward one.
Therefore this Camino serves as a reminder to be #proud2beme. The trail is meant to guide my inner journey of coming to terms with my own heritage.
So now I am on a trail to rediscover my “Afrikaansness” . . .
I’ve spoken previously (read the post here) how we love to distance or even kill off the parts of ourselves that we do not like. This creates a toxic version of these parts which keeps on swinging back into our lives no matter how much we try to run from it. I am, however, getting more in the habit of looking the “bad” part in the eye and to rediscover the goodness that it is actually trying to offer me.
When I think of the parts of Afrikaans that I do not like, I tend to generalize. When I think of Afrikaans, my worst scenario is of my English friends and me making fun of the so-called “boets”. “Boets” have a heavy Afrikaans accent to their English and love wearing shirts that show off the muscles they have acquired from hours at the gym. Their priorities are girls, fancy cars, heavy gyming and money.
There is another version of the “boets” that I met while I was studying at Stellenbosch. They are called the “boere”. All the above characteristics are present, but these guys are actually quite intelligent: they are really good at fixing anything from cars to massive bridges. One finds these guys in the corridors of the engineering, science and actuarial science buildings. Typically they look down on anyone studying the arts or commerce – the “man/vrou vang” degrees.
When they are not studying, gyming (although some would rather cultivate their beer bellies) or fixing cars, they love to braai – mostly for the heavy drinking that goes with the event. At the braais, they share sexist and racial jokes under the pretext of joking and so deny that they are racist, chauvinistic and homophobic.
Sadly, this is the picture I have of things Afrikaans. Things that I would hate if people should associate me with it. It also raises images of really tasteless music about “scooters with toeters”. I link Afrikaans to books that shock in order to raise comment on social or political injustices; of not being able to let go of the past; of the constant “taal debat” going on at Stellenbosch and the university’s struggle to keep it as the official language even though many see it as the language of the oppressor. Afrikaans reminds me of the very strict and blinkered Calvinistic NG Kerk that most of us grew up with and the predominant Christian faith that I never could relate to.
My Afrikaans has been tainted. No wonder I wanted to distance myself from it and what it represents.
But then, of course, nothing is ever only black and white . . .
One of my journeys took me through the Karoo. Here it was pleasing still to see advertisements and menus in Afrikaans, and to buy a homemade pie at the local “tuisbedryf” and be sent off by the “tannie” with a beaming smile and a “geniet dit sommer baie!” I love the unique “gasvryheid” of Afrikaans-speaking people. When I was walking down the street of a very small artist “dorpie”, I met up the White Witch of De Rust who invited me to tea and some generous storytelling. Boy, can some Afrikaners tell good stories! Sometime later I also had my fair share of good Afrikaans food: “melksnysels”, “tamatiebredie”, “sagopoeding”, “potbrood”, “roosterkoek” and “bobotie met rosyntjies en geel rys”.
What seems to attract me most about Afrikaners is their warmth. A group could be sitting on a stoep, see you wandering down the street and one of the “ooms” will call out while waving at you: “Mamma, bring nog ’n stoel and sit weer die ketel aan!”
At their core, Afrikaners are people who go out of their way to make you feel welcome and – wait for it – include you! Of course it gets a bit skewed when they limit this to other Afrikaners only.
And then: I absolutely adore the language. There are some things that you can say only in Afrikaans. Like “lekker”, “sommer”, “voetstoots”, “gogga” or “gatvol”. In fact, Afrikaans has a really rich and diverse heritage . . .
On this Camino we will especially be going past Khoi sacred sites, thus honouring the legacy of specifically Autshumano or “Herry die strandloper”, as he was called by the Dutch. Autshumano was a diplomat and a talented multilinguistic who spoke English, Dutch, French and Portuguese. He was the chief and interpreter of the Gorinhaikonas, a Khoi Khoi tribe of cattle farmers at the Cape who traded with the European ships. Autshumano played a major role as an agent between the Dutch and the British respectively and his tribe. And so I stumbled across a history of Khoi people (people often depicted in school textbooks as unreasonable and uncivilised and a nuisance to the early immigrants) who helped shape South Africa and who specifically played a large role in the development of Afrikaans. (Read the full story here).
Autshumano’s niece, Kratao, became Eva van Meerhof, the founding mother of South Africa. She lived a tragic life, torn between her traditional identity and her new one as a diplomat (her Dutch was said to be even better than her uncle’s) living in the midst of the high society of the Cape. Even though she had a short life (died aged 31,) she is the ancestral mother of many coloured, white Afrikaans and indigene African families.
Why is this significant? I want to invite you to go to the Afrikaans Language (Taal)Monument in Paarl some time and take a good look at the symbolic representation of the development of Afrikaans. It has its roots in three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa. To the left of the monument there are three columns representing the influence of the Europe languages (Dutch, German, French, Portuguese, Scandinavian) on Afrikaans. These columns are specifically arranged from tallest to shortest to indicate the diminishing influence of these languages on Afrikaans. A bridge is linked to the columns to represent the Asian languages like Malay and Arabic. This bridge connects to a podium to the right where its three curves represent the influence of the Khoi, Nguni and Sotho languages on Afrikaans. In contrast to the pillars of the European languages, these curves were designed to grow in size.
Yes, Afrikaans was very much shaped by the Dutch and German Vryburgers as well as the French Huguenots settlers in the Cape. This led to the standardisation of Dutch at the Cape. But Afrikaans’s development was also very much brought on by the Khoi-groups and the slaves brought from Africa and the East. A creolisation process occurred that gave rise to many different versions of Dutch.
It was a process of language change influenced by the “smeltkroes” of languages spoken predominantly by slaves, Khoi Khoi, Cape Malay, Xhosa, European and Portuguese.
Although Dutch remained the official language, so-called Cape Dutch or “kitchen Dutch” became a recognised language, Afrikaans, in the 19th century.
Thus Afrikaans originated from diversity and came about as a result of the meeting of different cultures and languages.
If I should reject or cut out Afrikaans just because I would prefer not to linked with some people who speak it, I also cut out the rich heritage in its entirety that it was built upon. In effect I then reject diversity. So instead of rejecting it, I would prefer to embrace what it was originally: a language that welcomed and included many cultures and many languages spoken by many different people.
If you look at the Taal Monument, the largest column represents Afrikaans. All of the other columns, the podium and bridge connect with this large column. At the base of this column is a pool of water symbolising Afrikaans as a living, evolving entity.
Afrikaans is a language that connects.
Daarom aan al my mede Afrikaanssprekendes: hierdie staptog dra ek met uiterse trots aan julle op. Want so ’n bek moet beslis jêm kry!
Do check in with me on the 20th and 21st of February. I will be letting you know how things are going on Twitter (@VilienCoetzee). Should you like to know more about the Camino or even join it yourself, do look at the page here or join the event here. Be sure to catch my follow-up piece around the 28th of February 2016.
(Main image credit: Royalty free stock photos from 123RF.com/Błażej Łyjak]