Heritage is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as: (1) property that descends to an heir and this is also the first known use of the word, 13th century; (2) something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor; (3) something possessed as a result of one’s natural situation or birth.
Here, in South Africa, it is the blend of our Rainbow Nation, of our diverse cultures, beliefs and traditions that we celebrate on the 24th of September, on Heritage Day.
I still remember attending my first lecture on symbolism . My own studies were as far from literature and art as the moon is from the man who occupies it.
I was studying medical dentistry when a friend and I went to the University of History and Art to attend a lecture on symbolism in art. It was late one evening when we opened the massive door leading to a cosmic-size amphitheater packed with excited faces.
Used to look at dead bodies laying on an autopsy table, to squint inside them while trying to discern the shriveled femoral nerve from the already gray artery, I was struck by the excitement short-circuiting everyone attending the lecture and the amount of information hidden in plain view, underneath layers of colorful paint.
I was hooked and, although I may not have earned a degree in art, the keen interest in symbolism has sipped into my pores for good.
Was symbolism introduced in “Silent Heroes” intentionally?
On writing “Silent Heroes” I did not plan to include symbolism. It wasn’t a voluntary act, like research had been, or plotting the outline of the story, building my characters. Including symbolical elements was a work of my sly subconscious mind. It’s been the work of my cerebellum, you can say. Anatomy having its own play over art.
I do not expect readers to pick up on the symbolism used or to interpret it in the same way. I think this is very much connected to how our minds are wired. Some of us see things that others don’t, because they are not important to them. I does not mean that the first group hallucinates, or that the second group is inattentive.
Has symbolism in “Silent Heroes” been consciously manipulated at any stage during the writing process?
Now, this would imply that, at some stage during the writing of “Silent Heroes“, I picked up on some symbols introduced in the story-line. Which I did. Once I became conscious of the implications these symbolism will have on the narrative, I kept developing that thread. I did not removed it, since it was introduced organically and not voluntarily.
I felt that if I will remove the symbols, the story will be less rich, the characters, at least some of them, will lose their credibility. And myself, as a writer, will lose the passion for the telling of the story of these “Silent Heroes“, passion that had fueled me for over two years.
Can other symbols be discovered in “Silent Heroes”?
Other symbols, besides the ones my subconscious mind placed and my conscious mind picked up? I believe so, as I trust the reader’s creative minds as well as the connection I hope they will establish this book.
Is symbolism for real?
Is air real? Is the language we speak real? Is the sky blue? Humans have a innate ability and desire for creating things out of nothing. Buildings out of dust, worlds out of words, art out of dreams.
And humans also need to communicate. Writers communicate through their books. Language itself is a symbolic form of communication. Symbols used by artists, and therefore by writers, are placed – subconsciously or not – to help channel the results of their work. The end product. Much like a painter creating a portrait, an architect, a building that lasts, writers stir their stories using symbols, where appropriate.
The journey a writer takes when creating a book is anchored in his dreams and imagination, but it is stirred by the hidden symbolism which is also a product of his own mind.
Images of symbolism in “Silent Heroes” *****SPOILER ALERT*****
You could skip the very short, last paragraph, and return to it after reading “Silent Heroes”.
Some of the symbols found in “Silent Heroes” are:
The blue bird.
The book in the dust.
The Afghan garden.
What do they symbolize?
I suggest you don’t go past this point if you haven’t read“Silent Heroes” yet. First read the book, then return and see if your thoughts and mine converge.
To me, the blue bird symbolizes the spirit of Emma’s mother, as well as hope in another chance for happiness. A reminder that hope exists, no matter what situation we find ourselves in.
The book in the dust symbolizes the disrespect for human life and human wrights. Books are a well of wisdom and the product of hard, assiduous work. They don’t belong in the dirt, just like human life does not.
Qala-e-Bost Fortress symbolizes the upright spirit of the Afghan people, still standing after centuries of wars and oppression. And just like the people of Afghanistan, through its architecture, it is deeply rooted in its land, drawing strength from it.
Poppy flowers are both a symbol of the blood spilled in Afghanistan and of the never-ending struggle for survival of the Afghan people. Poppies are extremely resilient, they can grow under harsh weather conditions, although they look so fragile. But poppies are also deadly plants in the sense that farming them caught so many innocent souls in the loop of poverty and addiction.
The Afghan Garden symbolizes Heaven and hope in a land devastated by wars. Just as Heaven transcends all spirits and gods, being present in all religions, all people, no matter of their religion, sex or skin color, are equal in the eyes of God.
Have you discovered other symbols after reading “Silent Heroes“? Tell me about them, I’d love to hear from you.
Weather it is Michael Ende’s “The Never Ending Story” (“Die Unendliche Geschichte”), Erich Kästner’s “Emil and the Detectives” (“Emil Und Die Detektive”) or Grimm’s “Hansel and Gretel”, German storytelling reveals a rich culture and a millennial tradition. But did you now that this country produces over 1200 different types of sausages? Surely the opulent German cuisine would have also infiltrated the expressive Teutonic language, as we can see from the following German idioms.
Kein Schwein war da
Translation: There weren’t any pigs there
Meaning: Not worth
going, a bad place to be (to understand this idiom you need to keep in mind the
German’s love for sausages.
Das ist mir Wurst
Translation: That’s sausage to me
Meaning: That doesn’t matter
Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei
Translation: Everything has an end. Only the sausage has two
Meaning: All good things must end (but said with a lot more feeling)
Sie spielt die beleidigte Leberwurst
Translation: She’s playing the insulted sausage
Meaning: She’s all
worked up (said with lots of gusto)
Eine Extrawurst haben
To get an extra sausage
Meaning: To ask for special treatment
Er muss zu allem
seinen Senf dazugeben
He has to add his mustard to everything
Meaning: Give his two cents
zusammen noch keine Schweine gehütet!
Translation: We haven’t
kept any pigs together
Meaning: We don’t know
each other all that well
Translation: To have a
Meaning: To be lucky.
Obviously to Germans having a pig means a lot more that having a cow means to
the English speaking world.
Mein Englisch ist unter aller Sau
Translation: My English is under all pig
Meaning: My English is
Wie die Kuh vorm neuen Tor dastehen
Translation: Like a
cow standing in front of a new door
much like someone faced with a new situation
Da liegt der
Hase im Pfeffer!
Translation: There’s a
rabbit in the pepper
Meaning: something that
is depressing, a catastrophe.
Da steppt der Bär
where the bear dances
Meaning: A great party
Jemandem einen Bären aufbinden
Translation: To tie a
bear to someone
Meaning: to deceive
someone into accepting something false
Meaning: An outrageous
behavior (Its origin lies back in the 19th century and the ambulant animal fun shows)
Sie hat ein Kater
Translation:She has a tomcat
Meaning: She’s got a
Das ist ein Katzensprung
Translation: That’s a cat jump
Meaning: Something is very close, a stone’s throw
Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof
Translation: Life is no pony farm
Meaning: Life is not
Vogel friss oder stirb
Bird eat or die
Pretty straight forward. It’s a do or die situation.
Der Fisch stinkt vom Kopf her
Translation: The fish starts stinking from the head
Meaning: Problems always start at the top (so very
true in politics)
Sie hat einen Vogel
Translation: She has a bird
Meaning: She is
Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen
Translation: Where fox and hare say goodnight to one another
Meaning: in the middle
of nowhere, in a remote location (and surely not in a story book)
Da liegt der Hund begraben
Translation: That’s where the dog’s buried
Meaning: That’s the heart of the matter – when you want to show that you know
what the situation is about
Katze in Sack kaufen
To buy a cat in a sack
To buy something without inspecting it first
Afrikaans, a language rich in idioms and emotions, is the world’s youngest national language and one of South Africa’s 11 official languages. Born about 350 years ago through a blend of Dutch, German and French spoken by settlers in what is now South Africa, Afrikaans is part of the West Germanic languages and is currently spoken by approximately 13 million people found mostly in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
reputable for having a meaning not deductible from that of the individual
words. Let’s see how some Afrikaans idioms translate into English.
1. Alle grappies op ‘n stokkie
jokes on a stick
a more serious note
2. As die hemel val is ons almal dood
heaven falls, we’re all dead
complain less; let’s not always think about what could go wrong
3. Die aap uit die mou laat
English: To let the
monkey out of the sleeve
release the cat out of the bag; to spill the beans
4. Die berge het ‘n muis gebaar
mountain gave birth to a mouse
When you put in a lot of effort into a project but have very little to show for
5. Die bobbejaan agter die bult gaan uithaal
fetch a baboon from behind the hill
Meaning: To think
or talk about problems that haven’t happened yet, thus possibly making them
6. Dis die klein jakkalsies wat die wingerde verniel
English: It is the small jackals that ruined the vineyard
Small mistakes can cause big troubles
7. Die doodskleed het geen sakke nie
English: A dead
man’s suit does not have pockets
When you die, your possessions mean nothing
8. Die geel baadjie aan hê
wear a yellow jacket
9. Die poppe gaan dans
English: The dolls will dance
There’s going to be trouble
10. Dis ‘n feit soos ‘n koei
It’s a fact like a cow
is a fact you can’t argue with
11. Dit weet die aap se stert
the monkey’s tail knows
Something everyone knows
12. Hang aan ‘n tak
English: Hanging onto a branch
on for a second
13. Hoe kaler die jakkals, hoe groter die stert
English: The more naked the jackal, the bigger its tail is
Those who have the least to show for themselves, brag the most
14. Hy het ‘n klap van die windmeul weg
He’s been hit by a windmill
not be sound of mind
15. Hy skil sy aartappels nie twee keer nie
don’t peel your potatoes twice
it right the first time.
16. Iemand heuning om die mond smeer
rub honey on someone’s mouth
Meaning: To butter
someone up with flattery
17. Iemand ‘n gat in die kop praat
talk a hole in someone’s head
Meaning: To find
a way to persuade someone (to do something bad)
18. Jakkals trou met wolf se vrou
English: The jackal
is marrying the wolf’s wife
Meaning: Used when the
weather is surprising: it rains on a sunny day
19. Jy krap met ‘n kort stokkie aan ‘n groot leeu se bal
scratch a big lion’s bollocks with a shot stick
be arrogant; to push one’s luck
20. Katjie van die baan
English: A kitten
from the track
to describe someone with social skills, with humor. It can also be used when
children stay up too late at night.
21. ‘n Aap in die mou hê
have a monkey up your sleeve
Meaning: To have
something up your sleeve; to hide a mischievous plan
22. ‘n Hond uit ‘n bos gesels
English: To talk
a dog out of a bush
have a great conversation or to describe someone very chatty
23. ‘n Gat in die dag slaap
sleep a hole in the day
sleep very late
24. ŉ Man van twaalf ambagte en dertien ongelukke
man of twelve trades and thirteen accidents
to describe a Jack of all trades, but a master of none
25. Moenie die hoender ruk nie
Don’t shake the chicken
26. Nes ‘n aap op ‘n stokkie
English: Like a monkey on a stick
Meaning: To look perplexed
27. Nou nou
Meaning: In a little while, in a bit
28. So ‘n bek moet jam kry
a mouth should get jam
when someone says something you agree with or when someone is witty and
deserves a praise.
29. So skaars soos ‘n tweedehandse doodskis
scarce as a second hand coffin
Something extremely rare
30. Sy kerk is uit
English: His church
Meaning:It’s all over for him; he doesn’t stand another chance.
31. Twee rye spore loop
English: To walk two lines of tracks
32. Wors in die hondehok soek
English: To search
for a sausage in a dog’s kennel
Meaning: To look for
the needle in the haystack, to look for something you cannot find
Did you know that the biggest South African communities outside of South Africa are found in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, Chile, Portugal and Greece?
For many of us, myself included, learning German is like climbing the Himalayas Mountains. If the grammar or the articles don’t get to you, the compound words without exact translation into English will – because in some German compound words the stem words don’t keep their meaning. The beauty of it is that once you do learn their meaning you grasp their beauty.
Literally: Three + cheese + high
Meaning: the loving nickname you would give a small child who is only as
tall as three wheels of cheese stacked on top of each other.
Precious! Reminds me of Heidi!
Literally: donkey bridge
Meaning: a mnemonic device, a memory aide
Flak is an acronym for a pre – World War 2 anti-aircraft gun: Fliegerabwehrkanone
Fliegerabwehr means “defense against air attack” and Kanone means cannon.
Literally: Distance + pain
Meaning: It describes the feeling you get when you want to be somewhere else, a yearn for the freedom and adventure of travel. Similar to wanderlust (see below).
Literally: hand shoe
How very logical, right?
Literally: Glove + snowball + throwe
Meaning: a wimp.
If you ever tried to through more than one
snowball without your gloves on you
will not agree with this meaning. I second that.
Friedrich Froebel, a 19th Century German
educator, was one of the first to believe that children needed some formal
education, through play and exploration, before primary school.
Froebel opened his first kindergarten in 1837, and the curriculum included
playing with toys, playing games and singing songs. By the 1880s, kindergartens
opened in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands,
Hungary, Japan, Switzerland, and the United States.
The word itself came into English in 1852—the same year that Froebel died.
Literally: head cinema
Meaning: your vivid imagination
Literally: cool + cupboard
To the point!
Literally: Sea + little pig
Meaning: guinea pig
Literally: literally: naked snail
Literally: Ear + worm
Meaning: This describe that song stuck in your head, the one you are singing over and over again.
Not exactly a compound word, schwarmerei is derived from the German verb schwärmen, which means to swarm.
Schwarmerei refers to excessive and uninhibited enthusiasm and also puppy love.
Literally: Storm (tempest) + free
Meaning: When you have the house to yourself and everyone else is away
I wonder who they refer to as the
Literally: day + thief
Meaning: a dilly-dallier, a lay about, a loafer
Literally: Gate + shut + panic
Meaning: The fear we get, as we age, that time is running out and important opportunities are slipping us away.
Tick-tock, says your biological clock.
Literally: Stairs (staircase) + joke
Meaning: The joke you came up with but the moment to share
it has already passed.
Literally: Make something worse + to improve
Meaning: Making something worse by trying to improve it.