Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Uncles/Aunts (04/17/08)
TITLE: AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN.
By Kenneth Heath
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My uncle Guy was born and grew up in the Butterworth area of the Transkei in South Africa. He was the great-grandson of missionaries who had established a church there in the 1800’s. His parents owned a trading store, and besides his brothers, his playmates were the young blacks from the surrounding villages. This early exposure to black culture would stand him in good stead in his latter years as he learnt their languages and gained an in depth knowledge of their rituals and customs.
On completing his education, he had just started work when he met my Aunt. After a short courtship they were married just as WW2 started. Guy volunteered to go up north and fight, so after his basic training he found himself with the South African forces in North Africa fighting Rommels “Africa Corps”. Tobruk, El Alamein, and the desert became his home. His knowledge of African languages was invaluable as the South African forces communicated in Zulu over the radio network to confuse the Germans. Eventually, the Germans retreated back to Europe, and he volunteered to continue the fight in Italy and served with the commonwealth forces until they took back Europe from Hitler. On returning home after the war, he found employment on the gold mines. As a result of his knowledge of African languages and customs, he was employed as a “compound manager” today’s equivalent of a “Human Resources” manager.
We had a family tradition whereby we would visit our various relatives on alternate Sunday’s. Our visit to Uncle Guy and Aunty Ariel and my cousins at the “gold mines” was the highlight of our monthly visits. Firstly, because Aunty Ariel was a superb cook and Sunday lunch was always a culinary delight and secondly because they had tribal dancing every Sunday afternoon at the mine.
The South African gold mines employed labour from all over Southern Africa and so there were Tshangaans, Zulu’s, Pondomise, Xhosa, Basothos, Matabele, Venda’s and many more tribes working and living together. Every Sunday as a form of relaxation, the various tribes would gather at the sports stadium for an afternoon of dancing. This was of a very high standard and was enjoyed by all, with each tribe trying to out dance the other. Upon our arrival as honored guests, we were ushered to the very front and given the best seats. As soon as we were seated the entertainment would begin.
In turn with drums beating, each group of dancers would make their entrance to the roar of their supporters. Wearing colorful tribal dress they would fan out into formation with their feet beating in unison to the drums. The pulsating rhythm of the drums would lead them into a frenzy. Faster and higher they lifted their feet, arching their backs as they stamped the ground. Sweat and dust flew everywhere and the ground shook as they reached a climax and with a final beat of the drums, the exhausted dancers would sink to the ground amid great applause. Next would come the “gum boot” dance or the “chopi” piano players or the “acrobatic” dancers and usually the mighty Zulu’s ended the day with their power dancing.
This was Africa at its best, and we soaked up the culture as it was exposed to us. Uncle Guy would explain the culture of each tribe as well as the type of dance they were dancing. Each dance had a reason. It could be a rain dance, a fertility dance, a circumcision dance or a war dance.
Among all the tribes he was so highly respected that he was the only European allowed to mediate in their tribal disputes. Each tribe had a headmen or chief on the mine who dealt with minor matters but “Father” as he was known, with his vast knowledge of African culture was the one they called on, to deal with more serious matters. Such was his skill and diplomacy, that it was only after he retired, that the gold mines started experiencing labour unrest.
He spoke immaculate English, believing in “Victorian” rules of etiquette and manners, and was always impeccably dressed. He was a big man with a big smile and a big heart. He had firm handshake and his word was his bond. Nothing seemed to fluster him and he dealt with each situation in a proper and calm manner. Yes I loved my uncle Guy; he was everything that I believed a man should be.
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