Monday, January 10, 2011

Itchy feet, Huge nuts, Land and Empire

Someone asked how I came to be a South African – well, it’s not really my fault. It all started because my ancestors had itchy feet or toothache or lice or something else that prevented them from sitting still.

Actually, I know that for the French Hugenots it was religion that gave them ants in their pants, but they were the second wave of immigrants. The first lot were the Dutch, and my first ancestor in SA arrived in 1680-something. I suppose the promise of land promoted the pedal itchiness – we all know that Holland lacks land – why else all the land reclamation?

The Dutch, on finding themselves with a continent spread out before them, immediately got agoraphobia or something and set about reclaiming some land from the sea. That’s Hollanders for you: land on a continent, build a dyke and reclaim some land.

The next lot started arriving in the 1820’s: they were British and were doing it for the sake of empire and land which are probably the same things. Then there was the Boer war, which was about empire and land with the added incentives of gold and diamonds. Nothing like a bit of gold and diamonds to get a few people into the country and a war started.

There were probably a few Indonesian slaves and maybe a few Khoi (the only indigenous inhabitants of this country, sadly dying out in the face of competition from black and white settlers) in the family-tree, but you’ll have to shake it hard to make them emerge.

Back in Apartheid days, families went to great lengths to conceal any ‘touch of the tar brush’ in order to prevent race reclassification, forced removals, loss of civil liberties and all the things that went with being of mixed race.

My own paternal grandmother was 'dark' and had to show her ID in order to ride on the bus. Ironically, she was a massive racist – perhaps on a ‘Methinks the lady doth protest too much’ basis.

Anyway, that’s how I came to be a South African: itchy feet, huge nuts (Hugenots), land and empire. I’m ‘white’ only by default, but then, race classification was more than a bit arbitrary and I’m not complaining even though it’s not the advantage it used to be.

Today's pic: lost in Africa - semi-desert area


  1. Funny how we become responsible for the actions of our ancesters, specifically with whom they slept! Luckily mine only chose good looking partners and in their blind drunken rage didn't object to race. What is it they say? 90% of our DNA is the same as pond scum?

  2. Well I don't care where we came from, obviously we can't do anything about it, but as long as we can be good people, have a helping nature and respect others, that is good enough for me, for although we may be different, we all belong to that one soul called the Oversoul. Correct me if I am wrong.

  3. We all are who we are simply as a happenstance of our birth. My ancestors decided to leave Ireland and England for whatever reason and BAM, I'm an American.

  4. An interesting family tree--I don't really know mine. I enjoyed your previous post, too--about the Xhosa and head coverings.

  5. If you ever teach history, your class will be full! Yet another fantastic read, so many good lines. The final paragraph was total genius-- I don't know how you keep cranking this stuff out.
    Can I use "white by default"? Perfect!
    And another beautiful photo.

  6. You must speak Africaans then. We still use the word "naartjie" at our house. I just love reading your SA focussed posts. Thanks for the good reads!

  7. Very interesting! I can only go back as far as three generations, everything lost in the immigration to the U.S.

    Stop by my blog if you're still looking for something to read! :-)


  8. Egads, that's quite the extensive tab you've got on your family history there! Your posts always have such a nice mix of cleverness and information. Good pics too. Thanks.

  9. I love the pic. You stand tall and proud MM! As usual, love the way you 'present' your story. Very interesting!

  10. Stonepost: Yes, we all have the same pond scum in our veins, and goodness knows how many kidneys all our water's been through by the time we incorporate it into our cellular structure. Glad to be related to you!

    Rama: I very much doubt you're wrong, although it's not a direction of though I've explored much.

    Jay: BAM! BAM! BAM and also a fanfare of trumpets! You are the essence of American (supposed to be a compliment)

    Hallie: No need for the family history of which you are the result - just glad you are the result. I'm always inspired by your art.

    PAMO: If I were a history teacher, I'd get into trouble so I would! Someone would find me too irreverent for sure. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Ajax: I speak Afrikaans, but usually English even though there's very little English blood in me. Nothing like a nartjie!

    Pearl: sorry it's taken a while, but I'm on my way!

    A beer for the Shower: Yours is one of those blogs that give me perspective as to what sort of a writer I am - so I'm deeply flattered that you enjoyed my post.

    Chez: I'm proud right enough - love this country! Thanks for the kind words as ever.