Anyway, after the talk by Allister Sparks, I was chatting with the librarian about Africana. One of the grades had been doing some South African literature, a bit of Athol Fugard, Antje Krog, Alan Paton etc. and she asked me what else I'd recommend.
I'd just watched a DVD - "Die Wonderwerker" which covers an episode in the life of Eugène Marais. And in my youth (1988 to be precise, judging by the dates in all my books I have), I became quite interested in Marais life. I have copies of his 1930's books, My Friends the Baboons, and "The soul of the white Ant" and "The soul of the Ape" - I've tried googling them and it seems they've been relegated to the archives of forgotten memories. I considered emailing Maria Popova, and gently pointing out her site's cultural bias, and suggesting she does an article on Eugene Marais. And then I thought, darn, I have a blog, why am I bowing to someone else's superior reader ratings and not writing about him myself. I was the one growing up with his poetry. I was the one seeping myself in his theories and ideas at university while I was supposed to be memorizing tax law and other financial trivia. I'm going to write about him.
I suspect the true strength of South African writing is in its poetry. I'm not sure why I'm saying that, just it is a gut feeling. Perhaps because poetry is the language of allusion. And there was so much in that country that could merely be alluded to. For otherwise you were banned or censored or shouted down by those who knew better. I think it was through his poetry that I first encountered Eugene Marais. But, looking back through my childhood anthologies which I have kept, "A century of South African Poetry" and "Inscapes", I see I am mistaken, as he is in neither. As white South Africans, we not only got textbooks, but, in the case of literature, were allowed to keep them and not pass them down to the next class after the year end. An unusual and very good policy on the part of an otherwise mediocre school.
So it must have been in my Afrikaans classes that I found him the poet (see below). In the early 80's, a biography of Marais came out "The Dark Stream", by Leon Rousseau, (the English translation of "Die Groot Verlange" from 1975) which, in the very conservative South African Society, was quite ground breaking, as it discussed his life, the period in history between the wars and his addiction to morphine. Here is a major cultural icon - a hero of the Afrikaans "language movement", laid bare as a man. With the foibles of men. And so I embarked on reading his books, written in the 30's and understanding how a person could make these strides in thought while sitting in the African veld. And then, have his thoughts and writings plagiarized by Maurice Maeterlinck.
Was it all for nothing? Is this another case of thought and research that is now just gathering the dust on bookshelves of people like me, reluctant to weed, even as I attempt to downsize? Even though Marais is considered one of the first people to practise ethology, I'm not so sure his contribution is acknowledged.
And now I need to flee. More later.
En hoog in die rande, and on the high lands
is die grassaad aan roere the grass-seed, astir,
soos winkende hande. is like beckoning hands.
O treurig die wysie
op die ooswind se maat, O East-wind gives mournful measure to song
soos die lied van ‘n meisie
in haar liefde verlaat. Like the lilt of a lovelorn lass who's been wronged
In elk’ grashalm se vou in every grass fold
blink ‘n druppel van dou, bright dewdrop takes hold
en vinnig verbleek dit and promptly pales to frost in the cold!
tot ryp in die kou!
The Dance of the Rain
First, over the hilltop she peeps stealthily
and her eyes are shy
and she laughs softly
From afar she begs with her one hand
her wrist-bands shimmering and her bead-work sparkling
softly she calls
She tells the wind about the dance
and she invites it, because the yard is spacious and the wedding large
The big game rush about the plains
they gather on the hilltop
their nostrils flared-up
and they swallow the wind
and they crouch to see her tracks in the sand
The small game, deep down under the floor, hear the rhythm of her feet
and they creep, come closer and sing softly
“Our Sister! Our Sister! You’ve come! You’ve come!”
and her bead-work shake,
and her copper wrist-bands shine in the disappearance of the sun
On her forehead, rests the eagle’s plume
She decends down from the hilltop
She spreads her ashened cloak with both arms
the breath of the wind disappears
Oh, the dance of our Sister!