A Voortrekker Display

The last time I was in South Africa, I took my children to see a monument I had seen many times as a school-going child.

In front of the Voortrekker Monument, and the first flight of stairs I climbed to get to the top. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012
In front of the Voortrekker Monument, and the first flight of stairs I climbed to get to the top. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

I have posted on this unusual monument before (the architectural highlights, the voortrekker’s wagon, its unique characteristics, and its windows). In this post, I want to share with you some of the interesting displays that have been laid out for visitors to see in the basement of the building.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
Voortrekker dolls. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

My children were impressed by the toys the voortrekker children used to play with. The girls used to play with hand-made dolls (shown above) and the boys used to take the jaw bones and teeth of animals that had been killed and pretend they were wagons and oxen (shown below).

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
Voortrekker boys’ toys. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

In the days of the voortrekkers, people used to use gunpowder in their guns. Hollowed out horns were used to store the gunpowder in. These were slung over the hunter’s shoulder.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
Holders for gu powder. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

Even the guns they used were a lot different from what we see today:

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
Voortrekker guns. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

The one display case held an array of interesting objects. The wood was all hand carved and the objects looked more unique than those we find today. Here is a shaving kit used by the men:

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
Decorated shaving kit. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

Some embroidery samplers were laid out to show the women’s skill at sewing;

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
An embroidery sampler. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

Each family would have a Bible from which they would read every night:

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
A Family Bible. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

In the front of each Bible, the family tree would be inserted:

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
A Family Tree. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

The writing implements they used to use were a quill and ink. It is amazing how beautiful the penmanship was:

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
Writing implements. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

Clothes during that time were handmade. Christening dresses were used more than once within a family:

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
Handmade christening dress. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

Hats and personal items were uniquely embroidered:

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
Needle book with pins and thread. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

The voortrekker women wore hats that protected their face and neck from the sun:

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
Voortrekker women hats. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

There was a display up showing us what the men and women wore during that time. My picture is a little fuzzy as the lighting in the basement is not very bright. The picture, however, does give you an idea of the clothes they wore. The ones pictured here would have been their Sunday best – the clothing they would have worn to go to church.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
Voortrekker clothing. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

The men wore shoes (veldskoene) made from the hide of the animals they had killed for food.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
Veldskoene. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

On display was also a Zulu shield, assegai (spear) and animal hide that the warriors would use in battle.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014
A Zulu warrior’s kit. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

We enjoyed strolling around in the basement and looking at these items. They helped to give us a sense of who the voortrekkers were. My children enjoyed their mini history lesson and came out of the monument asking many questions about the past.

Do you enjoy visiting displays of the past?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2014

(This post was created as a response to a comment made by Belinda at Busy Mind Thinking on one of my Voortrekker Monument posts. The weekly photo challenge at WordPress encouraged me to complete the post that had been sitting in my draft box.)


A Tribute to Madiba

(Yesterday Nelson Mandela was buried in his hometown of Qunu, South Africa. Today the school where I work had a memorial assembly to show respect for this great man. Knowing that I come from South Africa, my colleagues asked me to say a few words about Madiba and how he changed the country. I wrote the following speech for an audience of children from 4 to 10 year olds. My aim was to give them a sense of how much the country changed without going into detail that they would not understand. I share the speech with you now as a contribution to the tributes that have been given to a man who helped change the history of my birthplace.)

“I was born in a segregated South Africa; a South Africa which worked at keeping the races separate. While I was growing up, I was surrounded by people who were the same race as me: at school, at church, when I went to the cinema. My neighbours and the friends I played with were the same skin colour as me. When I began university, I became aware of the inequalities that existed in my birth country. I began to read newspapers and participate in discussions on democracy and equal rights. I also came into close contact with people of other races that were my age.

An example of the many “Whites Only” signs seen in South Africa during Apartheid.

I remember the Apartheid laws slowly being changed while I was at studying to be a teacher. “Whites Only” signs were taken down; washrooms were opened to people of all races; a person of any race could step onto any bus they wished; the faces of cinema-goers represented the different skin colours found in the country; schools were “opened” and white-only schools became a thing of the past.

Nelson Mandela walking from the gates ofthe Victor Verster prison in the Cape. (AFP)

The little changes happening in the country led to a momentous occasion in South African history: the release of Nelson Mandela. He was a man who fought all his life for the equal rights of all people in his country. The prison release became a symbol of political change in South Africa. I remember sitting huddled around the radio with my teaching colleagues, listening as Mandela walked through the gates of the Victor Verster prison in the Cape. A normally chatty group of people were silent as we all focused on the words that were being uttered. I remember the shouts of jubilation as the national representative for freedom left the shackles of his imprisonment behind.

It was once he was released from prison that the hard work of Nelson Mandela began. He believed firmly in non-violence and peaceful negotiations. There were so many moments during the negotiations that we, as ordinary people, feared there would be war in our country. Tempers ran high, and threats were made. Violence erupted between the different political factions.  The assassination of a popular political leader brought the country to the brink of war. By this time negotiations between the major political parties had broken down. Thankfully Mandela and De Klerk agreed to begin negotiations again in order to curb the violence. Days turned into weeks of negotiations and I am always thankful that, somehow, these leaders prevented the occurring violence from becoming an outright war.

Queues at the polling station in Zevenfontein squatter camp, northern Johannesburg, 1994
Queuing to vote on 27 May, 1994. Photo credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk

The first democratic election in South Africa was held on May 27, 1994. For the first time people of all races stood in lines to vote. Violence continued right until the day before the elections. We feared that violence would erupt on the day of voting but it seemed as if Mandela’s spirit of reconciliation calmed everyone down. The day dawned brightly on the violent-free voting day. I had voted only once before and that had been a quick and hushed affair. On this day, however, the lines were long and made by people with different skin colours. People were chatting in the lines as we waited for hours to make our cross on a piece of paper. Men and women who were grandparents stood with us to fulfil their life-long dream of voting for a democratic government. The sense of unity and jubilation, free from fear of violence, is a feeling I will not quickly forget.

Mandela headed the Government of National Unity as the first black South African president. He continued with his campaign for all people in his country to experience equality. He supported all peoples of his country – no matter what their race – and believed that all races could be unified as one. His role in ending the Apartheid regime in a peaceful way, and in building a new democratic South Africa, was recognised when he was given the Nobel peace prize in 1993. He was awarded this prize jointly with Willem de Klerk, the man with whom he worked during the negotiations. When Madiba, as he is respectfully known, stepped down as president he did not retire peacefully. He was still involved in charities, and worked with others in peaceful negotiations around the world. He worked tirelessly with world leaders until his health prevented him from frequent travelling.

Madiba was a man whose principles were not easily swayed. He was a man with a vision. He was a man who did not give up until his vision was realised. The New South African anthem includes the words “Nkosi Silelel’ iAfrika”, meaning “God bless Africa”. A part of Africa was truly blessed when this man strived to non-violently change the politics in South Africa – and succeeded.

Viva Mandela! Long live his spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. Viva Madiba! You will be missed.”

Feel free to add comments in honour of Nelson Mandela, or links to posts you have written on your blog. 

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013

Looking From Above

When we visited The Voortrekker Monument in South Africa, we climbed the stairs right to the top of the monument. Looking down we could see not only the ground floor, but also all the way to the basement where the cenotaph has been laid.

Sunlight lightens the interior of the building as seen from the top of the monument. From this view you can also see the Cenotaph. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012
Sunlight lightens the interior of the building as seen from the top of the monument. From this view you can also see the Cenotaph. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

A closer view of the cenotaph can be seen from the ground floor before taking the stairs to the basement to see the focus of this monument – a symbolic resting place of Piet Retief and his men (the first pioneers into the heartland of southern Africa).

The Cenotaph found in the Voortrekker Monument. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012
The Cenotaph found in the Voortrekker Monument. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

More photos of my visit to this monument can be seen in a previous post: The Voortrekker Monument.

Do you enjoy looking at things from above?

(This post was inspired by the prompt, from above,  given by the folks at The Daily Post @ WordPress.com)

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013

The Voortrekker Monument

On my last trip to South Africa, I took my children to a monument I had last seen when I was a little older than them: the Voortrekker Monument found just outside of Pretoria. It was just as I had remembered; but as an adult I was more impressed by the architecture than I had been as a pre-adolescent.

In front of the Voortrekker Monument, and the first flight of stairs I climbed to get to the top. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The building was designed by Gerard Moerdijk as a reminder of the experiences of the early voortrekkers (pioneers) who left the safety of the Cape colony for the unknown lands of the interior between 1835 and 1854. This unusual building was completed and inaugurated by D.F.Malan, the then South African president, on 16 December 1949. The date for the inauguration was chosen as December 16 was the Day of Covenant: a day that used to commemorate the day on which the Afrikaner triumphed over the Zulu in the Battle of the Blood River.

The Voortrekker Monument seen up close. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The Voortrekker Monument looks like a huge cube. It is 40 meters high and its base is 40m x 40m. It does not look like a regular square, though, as pictures have been carved into the stone, and statues adorn each corner. The statues are of the leaders of the early Voortrekkers: Piet Retief, Andries Pretorius, Hendrik Potgieter, and an unknown leader who represents all other Voortrekker leaders.

A statue of a voortrekker leader on a corner of the monument. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The monument has four huge arched windows, one on each face of the cube-like building, made from Belgian glass. I liked the way the sunlight filtered through the windows to light up the interior of the building.

Sun filtering through stone windows of the Voortrekker Monument. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

To reach the dome of the building, we had to climb many stairways. Recently an elevator has been installed for those unable to  climb the steep and narrow stairs.

A stairwell leading to the monument’s dome. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

From the top landing we could see the ground floor as well as the cenotaph in the basement.

Sunlight lightens the interior of the building as seen from the top of the monument. From this view you can also see the Cenotaph. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The Cenotaph, which can be found in the basement, is the focus of the building (it can be seen from different points in the monument). This stone is the symbolic resting place of Piet Retief and his men; and serves to remind the world and the descendants that the voortrekkers made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for their ideals and freedom. On December the 16th at 12 noon, a ray of sunlight shines through the opening of the dome onto the cenotaph, lighting up the words “Ons vir jou, Suid Afrika” (We for thee, South Africa). The ray of light is believed to be a symbol of God’s blessing on the lives and aspirations of the voortrekkers.

The Cenotaph found in the Voortrekker Monument. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The historical marble frieze which is placed on the four walls of the building distinguishes the Voortrekker Monument from other monuments. Consisting of 27 bas-relief panels, it is the biggest marble frieze in the world. The panels depict scenes of everyday life and work of the voortrekkers, their religious beliefs, and the story of The Great Trek.

The Voortrekkers preparing to leave the Cape colony. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The scenes begin with the start of the journey from the Cape colony, show the trials they faced while travelling, and depict the fighting between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus. The signing of the Sand River Convention in 1852 is shown in the last panel .

Fighting between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

One panel shows the signing of the treaty between the Voortrekkers and Dingaan, the leader of the Zulus.

Piet Retief and Dingaan signing a peace treaty. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The turning of the Zulus against the Voortrekkers in their own laager is depicted; as well as the historic consequent battle between the Zulus and the Afrikaners in the Battle of the Blood River. The battle was so named because with the death of so many people the water in the river turned red.

The Battle of the Blood River. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The outside of the monument was as cleverly designed as the interior. From outside on the top of the monument you can see the wall that surrounds the monument. Wagons have been carved into the stone and they symbolise the laager that the voortrekkers used when they set up camp. These laagers were placed in a circle to protect themselves from wild animals and from the African tribes living in the interior.

Wagons carved into stone of exterior wall. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

From the balcony outside the dome, one also has a view of the city, Pretoria.

A hazy view of Pretoria. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

Walking along the exterior wall, you can clearly see how the wagons have been carved into the stone of the wall.

The exterior wall of the Voortrekker Monument. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

Gardens of indigenous plants abound on the outside of the exterior wall – a perfect place for a picnic lunch!

In the gardens with the monument in the background. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

I enjoyed my visit to the Voortrekker Monument and was surprised by how much history I had remembered from my school days. We ended our visit with a picnic lunch in the gardens listening to the sound of the trees and birds.

Would you take a trip to see this monument?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012