Khoisan Tribes Demand Cultural Recognition in South Africa
Two of the public holidays in South Africa—Good Friday and Christmas—have Christian significance, and Christian groups like it that way. According to Dutch Reformed Church national speaker Ben du Toit, “We were unanimous on the agreement that Good Friday and Christmas should remain on the calendar as the majority of the people in the country associate themselves with Christianity. We would also advise for Ascension Day to be included.” Du Toit and Christian groups he represents question the country’s 12 official “secular holidays”. Muslim leaders agree with keeping the two Christian holidays, but want to add the Islamic holy day, Eid-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of the fast of Ramadan. The chief of the Xoraxoukhoe tribe, !Kora Hennie van Wyk, requested the addition of two holidays significant to the Khoisan cultures. He also proposed that some public holidays should be renamed:
“January 1 should be changed from New Year’s Day to Kingdom Day as it was the day the slaves were freed and it also coincides with the time to pray for rain before the planting season… The day after the harvest comes in, on September 21, should be Khoi and Bushman Day to celebrate and give thanks.”
These public meetings are aimed at enhancing social cohesion to preserve South Africa’s heritage, regardless of creed, culture or religion, said Commission CEO Pheagane Moreroa. But while the idea of adding more public holidays to the already extensive list, which includes Heritage Day (September 24) and Day of Reconciliation (December 16), may appeal to some, Cape Chamber of Commerce president Michael Bagraim aptly noted that “we also cannot allow that 365 days be allocated to public holidays… We need to understand that if the economy doesn’t produce, we won’t have anything to celebrate”.
At the time these public meetings took place, a symbolic acknowledgement of the Khoisan heritage was made by erecting a name board with the words /Hi !Gaeb, which means “where the clouds gather” in Nàmá, a Khoisan language, outside the Cape of Good Hope Castle in Cape Town. According to the Institute for the Restoration of the Aborigines of SA (Irasa), this was Cape Town’s original name.
South Africa is home to several languages of the Khoisan family—most of which are spoken in the neighboring Botswana and Namibia. However, with the exception of Nàmá, spoken by about 50,000 people in South Africa and another 200,000 in Namibia, no Khoisan language has any constitutionally recognized status in South Africa, though seven Bantu languages have official status. Most of the Khoisan languages in South Africa are endangered, and many are already extinct. Khoisan languages are best known for the so-called click sounds, pronounced with two closures in the mouth, one forward and one at the back. The air pressure between the two points of contact is decreased by a sucking action of the tongue, the forward closure is then released, so that the air rushes into the mouth. Clicks are classified according to the position of the forward closure as bilabial (at the lips), dental (at the upper teeth), alveolar (at the alveolar ridge), palatal (at the hard palate) and lateral (at one side of the tongue). Khoisan languages vary as to which of these click sounds they have: the abovementioned Nàmá has dental, alveolar, palatal, and lateral clicks, which can be heard on Peter Ladefoged’s page. Some Bantu languages spoken in South Africa, such as Xhosa and Zulu, feature clicks as well, with the former sporting a click as the first sound of its name (represented by the “x”). Because these sounds have been touted as “exotic” in the popular press, few English speakers realize that they are actually familiar: the dental click—often written as tsk-tsk or tut-tut in English—is used as a sign of disapproval or pity; the lateral click tchick! – to spur on a horse, and the alveolar click clip-clop! – to imitate a horse trotting. As for the bilabial click, we do not really consider it a sound at all, but rather a gesture for an air-kiss.
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