Eyes of the Sky

 

In an earlier blog post I told you how I had surreptitiously come across Rayda Jacobs’ The Slave Book. I posted my thoughts on Ms. Jacobs’ work, daring to compare her with the South African literary giant Andre Brink. I also remarked that I accidentally tumbled into the second part of Ms. Jacob’s chronological epic of one or two South African families which began in the seventeenth century. The saga of the Kloot family, for one thing, begins in the Cape.

The first book in this trilogy is Rayda Jacobs’ award-winning debut, Eyes of the Sky, published by Kwela Books, an imprint of NB Publishers in South Africa. The reader’s eye is immediately drawn to the novel’s title, wondering who or what is Eyes of the Sky. First impressions do last. My initial thoughts were drawn to the indigenous people of North America and their penchant for naming their sons and daughters elaborately after what is spiritually important to them in nature, the skies and the heavens.

The naming of children is closely connected to humankind’s spiritual communion with nature. More importantly, it is an acknowledgement of a higher force. On the Southernmost tip of Africa, it is believed; lay the true origins of humanity. Today’s Khomani San people, living mostly in the urban ghettos of the Western Cape and on the rural outskirts of South Africa’s largest province, are the direct descendants of what is believed to be original man and woman. Call them Adam and Eve if you will.

Much like the remaining Native American tribes, even the original inhabitants of Australasia, the scattered families and clans of the Khomani San are gravely endangered. Much like the European and African settlers in North America, settlers from abroad, whether willingly or forced, have invaded and endangered the livelihood of this originally nomadic group of people. The most direct descendants of the Khomani San live on harsh, dusty plains across the Northern Cape.

It is sometimes hard to imagine their ancestors living in a Garden of Eden. Certainly, this was not the case during the seventeenth century when the original Afrikaner settlers migrated to the Karoo in search of their own freedom from oppression and land on which to farm. Rayda Jacobs’ recreation of the Kloot family is a vivid narrative impression of what life was like for the early Afrikaners who sought to exorcise themselves from the colonial claws of the British Empire.

In their search for their freedom and right to live, they unwittingly invaded the vast living space of the Khomani San. Invariably, their misguided Calvinistic and Dutch influence gave them a superiority complex over the indigenous nomads who in turn knew and understood the land far better than these early settlers. The settlers in general perceived them as mere savages, scantily clad and without proper shelter from the harsh elements.

It was nothing of the sort. The Khomani San, in close communion with their ancient primal religion, knew how to survive. What they could not do (well) was come to terms with the superior force of their European counterparts who brought with them fire sticks (rifles). How were they to wage a fair battle with their poison-tipped arrows, essentially used only for hunting, against rifles that could pulverize their naked bodies with heavy casings of lead?

As this story goes, the Kloot family has decided to settle in an area known as the Hantam, only a few days journey from the Colony’s capital, Cape Town. The landscape here is harsh and dry, but Oupa (grandfather) Harman, a hardy farmer, recognizes it’s potential. Invariably, time waits for no-one and the patriarch passes his life-giving flame to Roelof who sires two sons born three years apart from one another. The older brother, David, is cast as the stereotypical misogynist and racist. He vents his hate-filled spleen on the indigenous tribes living near the Kloot farmstead and the women living on the farm, both relative and slave. It is left to the younger Harman to put an end to this human tragedy which threatens everyone’s existence if it is allowed to fester.

Harman Kloot is a passionate chip off his old grandfather’s shoulder. Before the old man’s death, a secret is imparted to the younger Harman. In later years it will become part of his legacy and the cultural heritage of later settlers of the Western Cape. Today’s (real life) descendants of such encounters between the rural pioneers of Southern Africa and their European and Northern African migrants are known as Cape Coloured.

Some of them today jestingly and colloquially refer to themselves as a “mixed bredie”, a metaphor of an original and tasty dish brought to these shores by their Malaya ancestors who were conscripted as slaves by Dutch colonialists. All that is left for me to say now is that I look forward to the conclusion of a vividly colourful portrayal of life in the Cape which began in the seventeenth century.

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