My pen is my wonderland. Word water in my hand. In my pen is wonder ink. Stories sing. Stories sink.
My stories loop. My Stories stop. My pen is my wonder mop. Drink letters. Drink my ink.
My pen is blind. My stories blink.
by Joe Public, South African-based ad agency – source
What the poem means to me as I read it in English
To me, My Stories Begin as Letters is a writer’s confession. Whatever he writes is nascent as an inner thought, as an intimate letter to oneself.
There are so many ideas swimming through a writer’s mind, yet not all of them will come to life in ink on paper and even fewer will reach a conclusion.
But when this happens a part of the writer’s life, of his energy, of his pen, will remain trapped inside that story forever. A bitter-sweet conclusion.
What the poem means when read in Afrikaans
Most of the poem has a similar meaning to what one would get when reading it in English, perhaps with these two minute exceptions:
The pen’s ink is fluid and so are the words it puts on paper, like a fluid that runs through the writer’s hand.
The pen and its ink can, in the hands of a writer, create a wonderful story.
Lost in translation or not?
Between the English and Afrikaans readings of the poem above all the words have the same meaning except for the following three:
The English meaning of the Afrikaans words:
word = become, transform
loop = flow, walk
blink = shiny, sparkly
As we switch between two languages and read through the prism of each one’s cultural background that we basked in when exposed to it, when assimilating it, is our ideology changing as well?
Let’s imagine the poem as a painting we regard in a museum. The culture is the room in which the painting is hanging and the ideology is the way we take the painting in as we first see it.
Change its location, its language in this instance, and we see the painting in a different light.
Are the Afrikaans and English languages related?
Yes, they are both Indo-European languages. The Afrikaans language, also called Cape Dutch, is a West Germanic language developed from 17th-century Dutch by the descendants of European colonists (Dutch, German, and French), of indigenous Khoisan peoples, and of African and Asian slaves living in the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope (today Cape Town, South Africa). Modern Afrikaans language, or informal Afrikaans, is the result of many other language influences, both foreign and indigenous, on the original Afrikaans dialect. The English language is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family and is closely related to Frisian, German, and Dutch (in Belgium called Flemish) languages.
Since 1994 Afrikaans is one of eleven official languages of South Africa.
Welkom by Afrikaanse Vergelykings – Afrikaans simile.
We often use similes without realizing, when we desire to emphasize the meaning of an idea or an image. But similes allow us insight into a different culture, as you can notice from these Afrikaans similes and their English translations.
Ons gebruik gereeld vergelykings, somtyds sonder dat ons dit besef, om ‘n idee of beeld te versterk. Vergelykings gee ons ook insig in ander kulture, soos jy kan opmerk van herdie Afrikaanse vergelykings en hulle (direkte) Engelse vertalings.
so arm soos ‘n kerkmuis = as poor as a church mouse
This simile is probably deriving from an older one, as hungry as a church mouse – illustrating how the Catholic and the Orthodox priests were careful not to mess the smallest crumb of the sacramental bread.
Die vergelyking het heelwaarskynlik sy oorsprong van ‘n ouer een, “so honger soos ‘n kerkmuis”, wat illustreer hoe versigtig die Katolieke en Ortodokse priesters was om nie die kleinste krummel van die heilige nagmaalbrood te mors nie.
so bitter soos gal = as bitter as bile
so bleek soos ‘n laken = as pale as a sheet
In English we would rather say as pale as death, as pale as a ghost, as white as a sheet)
so blind soos ‘n mol = as blind as a mole so blou soos die hemel / die berge = as blue as the sky / as blue as a mountain so dapper soos ‘n leeu = as brave as a lion
so dood soos ‘n mossie = as dead as a sparrow
This simile might derive from as dead as a dodo (referring to the dodo being an extinct species), although I think that as dead as a door nail is more used.
so doof soos ‘n kwartel = as deaf as a quail
Quails are widespread in South Africa and very easy to catch. The expression is based on a misunderstanding between Dutch and German. In German “doof” means “dumb”. Because quails are easy to catch or be lured with simple tricks, the Germans called them “doof” and the word entered Dutch and then Afrikaans. In English we would say as deaf as a post.
so dom soos ‘n esel = as stupid as a donkey so donker soos die nag = as dark as the night so dronk soos ‘n matroos = as drunk as a sailor so droog soos kurk / strooi = as dry as cork / as dry as straw (as dry as a bone is used in English) so dun soos ‘n plank = as thin as a plank (rather as thin as a rail in English)
so fris soos ‘n perd = as healthy as a horse
This is an interesting Afrikaans idiom as the English equivalent originates in the NE of the USA and is best used in summer. In English we would rather say as healthy / as fit as a butcher’s dog. This makes sense as a butcher’s dog would have a diet based on meat and other scraps, thus keeping him healthier than the stray dogs.
so geduldig soos Job = as patient as Job so geel soos goud = as yellow as gold geld soos bossies = money like weeds (has a lot of money) so gereeld soos klokslag = as regular as clockwork so giftig soos ‘n slang = as poisonous as a snake
so goed soos goud = as good as gold (completely genuine)
This simile most probably draws from the end of the 19th century when banknotes were first introduced in the USA. These were actually IOUs, written promises for a later payment, in gold and silver. Thus the expression, IOUs were “as genuine as gold”, as good as gold.
“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit… “As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better.”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843
so glad soos seep = as smooth as soap so groen soos gras = as green as grass so groot soos ‘n reus = as big as a giant so hard soos klip = as hard as stone so helder soos kristal = as clear as crystal so honger soos ‘n wolf = as hungry as a wolf
so koel soos ‘n komkommer = as cool as cucumber
As cool as a cucumber dates back to the beginning of the 18th century. Cool here does not refer to low temperature, but rather to someone unruffled. As cool as a cucumber was first recorded in 1732, in John Gay’s New Song on New Similes.
so koud soos ys = as cold as ice so krom soos ‘n hoepel = as crooked as a hoop so kwaai soos ‘n tierwyfie = as vicious as a tigress so lelik soos die nag = as ugly as the night so lig soos ‘n veer = as light as a feather so lui soos ‘n donkie = as lazy as a donkey so maer soos ‘n kraai = as thin / skinny as a crow so mak soos ‘n lam = as tame as a lamb so maklik soos pyp opsteek = as easy as lighting a pipe
so moeg soos ‘n hond = as tired as a dog
As tired as a dog draws back to the 9th century, originating in the adjectival phrase dog-tired. It is said that Alfred the Great, King of Wessex and King of the Anglo-Saxons used to send his sons, Athelbrod and Edwin, out hunting accompanied by their dogs. Whichever son would catch more game would be seated at their father’s right hand side at the dinner table that evening. The hunt would leave both young princes as tired as a dog.
so nat soos ‘n kat = as wet as a cat so nuuskierig soos ‘n aap = as curious as a monkey so oud soos die berge = as old as the mountains so plat soos ‘n pannekoek = as flat as a pancake pronk soos ‘n pou = shows off like a peacock so reg soos ‘n roer = as straight as a barrel (of a gun) so rond soos ‘n koeël = as round as a bullet so rooi soos bloed = as red as blood so regop soos ‘n kers = as upright as a candle rook soos ‘n skoorsteen = smokes like a chimney so sag soos sy = as soft as silk so seker soos twee maal twee vier is = as sure as knowing two times two is four sing soos ‘n nagtegaal = sings like a nightingale so skerp soos ‘n lemmetjie = as sharp as a razor blade so skraal soos ‘n riet = as slim as a reed so skurf soos ‘n padda = (skin) as scabby / dry as a toad
slaap soos ‘n klip = sleeps like a stone
The former version of sleep like a stone would be sleep like a log – metaphorically mentioned in English as early as the 17th century:
“foundering is when she will neither veere nor steare, the sea will so ouer rake her, except you free out the water, she will lie like a log, and so consequently sinke.”
John Smith, A Sea Grammar, 1627
so slim soos ‘n jakkals = as clever, crafty as a jackal so soet soos suiker / stroop = as sweet as sugar / syrup so stadig soos ‘n trapsuutjies = as slow as a chameleon so steeks soos ‘n donkie = as stubborn as a donkey so sterk soos ‘n os = as strong as an ox so stil soos ‘n muis = as quiet as a mouse stink soos ‘n muishond = stinks like a skunk so suur soos asyn = as sour as vinegar so swaar soos lood = as heavy as lead so swak soos ‘n lammetjie = as weak as a lamb so swart soos die nag = as black as the night swem soos ‘n vis = swims like a fish sweet soos ‘n perd = sweats like a horse so taai soos ‘n ratel = as tough as a honey badger so trots soos ‘n pou = as proud as a peacock so vas soos ‘n rots = as steady as a rock so vinnig soos ‘n windhond = as fast as a greyhound
so wit soos sneeu = as white as snow
Imagine the pure, pristine snow of a sunny winter’s morning. Shakespeare was one of the first to use this powerful simile:
… What if this cursed hand Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood, Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens To wash it white as snow? …
Thank you for reading Afrikaanse Vergelykings, Afrikaans simile, a comprehensive and fun guide.
Did you know that South Africans can now order my books through LOOT?
You can order my latest novel, Silent Heroes, a #1 New Release in Amazon US in History of Afghanistan for kindle category for a couple of months, a #2 Best Sellers in Arms Control as well as #4 Best Seller in Middle Eastern Literature from Loot.
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.
“A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity
and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground,
where the wintry wind blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near
his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will
lick the wound and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the
world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When
all other friends deserts he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation
falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey
through the heavens.
“If fortune drives the master forth, an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.” (George Graham Vest – c. 1855, “Tribute to the Dog”, George Graham Vest (1830-1904), U.S. Senator of Missouri)
This is one of the best speeches I ever read. In fact, while he was still practicing law, George Graham Vest won a trial with this speech.
Dogs helped Kings in their battles
It is said that four hundred terrier dogs, each “garnished with good yron collers” helped Henry VIII of England and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain in their battles against the French.
Henry VIII kept quite a few dogs in his chambers. We know this for a fact because Henry’s fool), Will Somers, is said to have curled up among them to sleep.
“Toe Greyhoundes collars of crimsun velvette and cloth of gold … two other collars with the Kinges armes … a collar of white velvette, embrawdered with perles, the swilvels of silver…”
Did you know that among
the thirty breeds currently recognized by the American Kennel Club, only four
have an origin other than the British Isles?
Napoleon Bonaparte also favoured dogs and Frederick the Great of Germany had them employed as watchdogs for his sentries.
“The lonely soldier on guard who, for the first time probably, faces the dark shadows with their lurking dangers in the enemy country, will do his duty better and more fearlessly if a faithful dog is with him to warn him of impending events.”
From “Scout, Red Cross and Army Dogs“
Dogs and the Crimean War
The Crimean War involved a massive use of horses.
Fought for influence in the Middle East, especially control over the religious sites of the Holy Land, the Crimean War opposed an alliance of Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia against Russia.
Dogs were used as sentries or for sighting. Surely the use of their acute smell was the main reason, although very little was known or understood back then about the dog’s superb olfactory abilities.
Dogs and the American Civil War
The American Civil War another war carried on horseback.
Little Sally was the mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania infantry.
Sally followed the men everywhere, she marched with them, she was the first to get up in the morning and the last to sleep at night.
At the Battle of Gettysburg they thought she was lost. They found her three days later, guarding the bodies of some of the men in the 11th Pennsylvania infantry that had been killed. Sadly, in February 1865, during a fight in the south of Petersburg, Virginia, Sally was killed. Despite the battle going on, the soldiers dropped their muskets and buried Sally in the field.
In 1890 the 11th Pennsylvania raised a monument at Gettysburg. With a soldier on top and a statue of Sally at the bottom, still guarding her soldiers of the 11th Pennsylvania.
And you can see a doggy biscuit or two. (From Untold Stories of the Civil War)
A special dog during the Second Boer War
Since I live in South Africa I feel that I need to mention the sturdy, brave dog Bob who helped many British soldiers, by the look of this propaganda postcard.
Although the British would have fought against the Boers, which were the South African farmers of Dutch, German, or Huguenot descent settled in the Transvaal (now Mpumalanga Province) and the Orange Free State (now Free State Province), Bob proved extremely brave and he did saved human lives after all.
It was a very hot summer and water supplies were limited. The soldiers would strap bottles to Bob’s body and the brave dog would go to a nearby stream, dodging bullets on his way there and back, lie down in the cool water until the bottles were full and bring them back to the troops.
Dogs and the Russo-Japanese War
In 1904, Imperial Russia used ambulance dogs during the Russo-Japanese War as well as to guard railways. But these dogs were trained by a British dog enthusiast who later trained hundreds of dogs for the Allies during both World Wars.
The Russian Embassy in London asked Edwin Hautenville Richardson to supply ambulance dogs for the Russian troops. He sent Airedales that performed so well, the Dowager Empress Marie thanked him with gifts.
Major General Tucker, commanding the forces in Scotland, concluded at the War Office:
“Forwarded and strongly recommended. Seeing that every foreign government has already recognized the use of dogs, either for ambulance purposes or sentry work, or both, I am of opinion that advantage should be taken without delay of Major E. H. Richardson’s knowledge and experience in the matter of breeding and training them, and some military training centre selected for the purpose. it seems likely that Salisbury Plain might offer greater facilities in this respect than Aldershot; but on this point, as on other matters of details, I would suggest that Major Richardson be consulted.”
This is only a drop of information about the amazing roles dogs played in so many battles.
We saw here how the old claim that a dog is one’s best friend is validated through historical records, be it art, folklore or books.
Next time we will look at why were dogs indispensable during the two world wars, at the dog’s role during the Great War, during the Second World War, at dog mascots and true war stories about dogs as well as many more amazing tales about dogs in the war, throughout the decades.
I hope you will join me again!
My latest book, Silent Heroes, is a work of fiction about the Military Working Dogs and the amazing Marines and local people caught in the War in Afghanistan.
I’m searching for the spirit of the great heart To hold and stand me by I’m searching for the spirit of the great heart Under African sky I’m searching for the spirit of the great heart I see the fire in your eyes I’m searching for the spirit of the great heart That beats my name inside
Johnny Clegg, Great Heart
News headlines enter and leave my mind as I drive through the morning traffic, my eyes focused on the row of blinking lights ahead of me.
Rarely a news headline catches my full attention, extracting me from the traffic, my mind searching for all the info it has on the subject.
Johnny Clegg, musician and activist, pioneer, anthropologist, dancer, songwriter and all-round South African past away on 16th of July 2019.
What was so special about the music of Johnny Clegg?
It was simply infectious, a spirited blend between Western pop and African Zulu rhythms.
In France Johnny Clegg was fondly called Le Zulu Blanc – the white Zulu.
Johnny Clegg, musician pioneer
Johnny Clegg was born in the UK, to an English father and Zimbabwean mother who later moved to South Africa and remarried.
It was Johnny’s stepfather, a crime reporter, who took Johnny into the townships of South Africa at an early age thus exposing Johnny to a different cultural perspective.
Johnny formed his first band, Juluka, at the age of 17, with Sipho Mchunu.
Later, Johnny Clegg was one of the first South African musicians to perform in a mixed-race musical performance – this would have been the ’70s. His music received ovations in Europe and America.
Johnny Clegg’s song Scatterlings of Africa was his first entry into the UK Charts. This song was also featured on the soundtrack to the 1988 Oscar-winning film Rain Man.
Copper sun sinking low Scatterlings and fugitives Hooded eyes and weary brows Seek refuge in the night They are the scatterlings of Africa Each uprooted one On the road to Phelamanga Where the world began I love the scatterlings of Africa Each and every one
Johnny Clegg, Scatterlings of Africa
A live history lesson with Johnny Clegg:
In the video above South African Legend Nelson Mandela joins Johnny Clegg on stage during the rendition of Asimbonanga, a song written by Johnny Clegg about Mandela’s 27 years of incarceration.
Johnny Clegg has performed on all four of Nelson Mandela’s 46664 Aids Awareness Concerts in South Africa and in Norway.
Johnny Clegg’s passing away was two days ahead of the Mandela’s 101 years birthday anniversary.
1988 The Mayor’s Office of Los Angeles Award: For the promotion of racial harmony
1988 Le Victoire French Music Industry Award for biggest
International record album sold in France between 1987 and 1988 (1.3
1989 Honorary Citizen of the town of Angouleme, France
1990-1991 French Music Industry Award for the biggest selling world music album in France
1990 Humanitarian Award: Secretary of State of Ohio, USA
1991 Awarded the CHEVALIER DE L’ORDRE DES ARTS ET DES LETTRES (Knight of Arts and Letters) by the French Government
1993 GRAMMY AWARD nomination for best World Music Album (Heat, Dust and Dreams)
1994 Billboard Music Award Best World Music Album
1996 Medal of Honour – city of Besancon
1998 Kora Awards: Best African Group
2004 Mayoral Medal of Honour from Mayor of Lyon, France, for
outstanding relations between the people of Lyon and South Africa
2004 Medal of Honour – Consul General of the Province of Nievre
2004 Medal of Honour – Consul General of the Province of L’Aisne
1986 Scotty Award : Master Music Maker 1987 Communication Contribution Award 1987 The Autumn Harvest Music Personality Award 1988 OK TV Best Pop Music Award 1988 CCP Record Special Award : In recognition of exceptional achievement in promotion of South African music internationally 1989 Radio 5 – Loud & Proud Award – South African Music Ambassador of the Year 1990 FOYSA Award (Four Outstanding South Africans) Junior Chamber of Commerce 1999 Avanti Award – Best Music Video “Crocodile Love”
Johnny Clegg’s passing will leave an immense gap in both local and international musical and cultural scenes.