GEORGE NEWS - In this series Sydney Opperman sheds light on the origins and names of the country's indigenous (first) nation.
"Why does the golden Rhino artefact of Mapungubwe only have one horn, when all the rhinos in Africa have two horns?" This was my question as a member of the portfolio committee more than 10 years ago to the then Minister of Arts and Culture, "Dr" Pallo Jordan. His response was that it must have been the free spirit of the "artist" who created the artwork, not based on reality, but on the way the artist felt at that specific time.
I disagreed because I knew that India (Goa) is the country with one-horned rhinos. I knew that the domesticated cattle of the Otentottu were of the Bos taurus indicus type (Brahman cattle) from Goa and that Brahman, Shiva and Visnu are major gods of Hinduism in Goa. I knew that the fat-tail sheep of the Quena came from Goa. I knew that the priests of the indigenous people were called Suris after the Hindu deity Surya in Goa. Surya means sun.
I also knew there were people in our communities with the surnames Quena (in Pacaltsdorp), Shiva (in Kenhardt), Swatti (Oudtshoorn - possibly named after Saraswatti the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, art, wisdom and learning) and even Kaffer, pronounced Kaafer, which was in this context a religious statement of being an "unbeliever" (Onseepkans and Cape Town).
The Quena worship the Red God, Tsuni-Goam. The early Portuguese recognised this fact and named the Quena "Cafres" or "Caffres" following the Muslim custom of giving the name Al kafr (Kaffer) to all people believing in a god that is not Allah of the Kõran. Therefore names like Kafferskloof, Kaffersputs, Kafferwerwe, Kafferskolk, etc (like in the Square Kilometre Array area) have nothing to do with "black" people. The Quena were in fact the first people group in Southern Africa to be called "Caffres".
The name has unfortunately become a tool in the distortion of the history of Southern Africa. I do not support the abuse of the word, but we need to view it in its historical context. If using the word "Kaffer / Kaafer" is derogatory under all circumstances, then the families in Onseepkans on the banks of the Gari-ab and in Cape Town, who proudly carry that surname, are committing a crime!
When I addressed this issue in Bloemfontein some years ago at a provincial arts and culture meeting, some "black" people were amazed to hear, for the first time, the history of that name.
I hope all of us will keep on asking questions in spite of what we know - or think we know - because, in the words of the philosopher Willie Breytenbach, "living a life without examining, is not a life worth living". [Breytenbach was quoting the famous words of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living.]
I treasure the book Evidence that demands a verdict by Josh Mcdowell, which challenges all of us to always evaluate all the evidence before us and then to announce our verdict.
Sydney Opperman, 14 Lynx Street, Pacaltsdorp, 083 378 4237, email@example.com.