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posted by Frank van Steenbergen
February 4, 2013


In the nineteenth century, as white farmers moved up north in what is now South Africa, the original ‘Bushmen’ inhabitants of this area were chased out and hunted. They were marginalized and slowly their culture practically disappeared.  Some groups like the /Xam completely vanished, only leaving behind a heritage of rock paintings (see image: courtesy KhosianPeoples). The Bushmen once had occupied large parts of Africa. They had already been pushed south because of the expansion of Bantu territory.  Gradually what was left was not enough to sustain their culture.  

With the help of his sister-in-law Lucy Lloyd, the German linguist Dr. Wilhelm Bleek recorded the /Xam language even as it disappeared.  He adopted Bushmen convicts and recorded their narrations. One of his prime story tellers was DiÄ!kwain. His father was a rain maker, who used a string instrument to make it rain. The bushmen believed that rain was a person and the rainmaker was milking the female rain – the clouds were only her hair, the rain was much larger than that.    Other beliefs had it that the rainmaker charmed a mythical rain bull or water cow and lead it across the land, showering it with rain as it moved along. Heavy showers were caused by the rain bull and gentle rains by the water cow.

The poems of DiÄ!kwain are hauntingly beautiful, translated in Afrikaans by Antje Krog.  While his father – the rain maker - made the rain for the living, there is another type of water in the poems that is stronger than rain. This is the water from the moon. In one of the poems DiÄ!kwain recounts a story told by his mother – of the water of the moon that goes beyond the water from the sky and even makes the dead living. Here is the poem by Antje Krog:

Moenie na die maan kyk nie
laat sak jou kop als jy ‘n dier skiet
moenie opkyk in die lug nie
moenie kyk hoe die maan skyn nie
as jy opkyk na die maan
sal roofdiere die dier eet wat jy geskiet het
as die dier nog nie dood is nie
sal die maan se water hom laat lewe
ons moeder het ons dit alles vertel
die maa se water daar oorkant
daar op die bosse le dit soos lopende heuning
as daardie water op die dier val sal hy regop kom
hy sal geen teken van ‘n gifpyl toon nie
die water van die maan sal him heel maak
en hy sal lewe
Don’t look at the moon
Lower your head if you shoot an animal
Do not look up to the sky
Do not look how the moon shines
When you look up at the moon
The wild animals will eat the animal that you shot
When the animal is not yet dead
The water of the moon will make it live
That all our mother told us
The water of the moon on the other side
Lies on the bushes like dripping honey
If that water drops on an animal it will rise again
It will show no sign of a poisoned arrow
The water of the moon will heal 
And it will live,
this is why

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