Not Among The Enchanted

In 1859 a young Swellendam man was invited to a Karoo wedding.  He was not one of those who fell instantly in love with the area. In fact, he called it “unique in its ugliness and wanting in everything to please the eye.” And, he declared: “Here the poetry of life is absent.”

Simply signing himself BA, in The Cape Monthly Magazine, December, 1859, he describes the Karoo as “A barren, brown stony plain stretching ahead for many a tiresome league.” He adds: “No sounds of life disturb its sullen solitude; no patch of verdure yields joy to the eye, no leafy tree sheds refreshing shade. Vultures, gorged with the remains of a starved horse, rise slowly into the air, depressed by the labour of flapping their wings. Here and there bleached bones of cattle, protrude from the arid plains, silently screaming “thirstland”. Stunted, ash-coloured bushes, prickly cactus and grotesquely-shaped euphorbia, mock the needs of animals. No fields of waving corn, no snowy flocks nor lowing herds, no cheerful gardens, nor social smoke-wreaths proclaim man’s presence, yet he lives here, in dwellings hidden amid hills or secluded in hollows. What induced anyone to settle here, I wonder. How do they survive in this world where the mountains are bare and the rivers dry. Here ravines, vales, depressions, ruts, and shallow water channels are all like wrinkles on the face of the country. Yet, even in this wilderness, there is happiness when Cupid’s bow strikes home! Love triumphs here undeterred by winter frost and scorching blasts of summer heat!”

Pondering life in the hinterland BA concludes that here needs are few. “Men are comfortable with two rooms for their shelter and a stable for their horse. However, add a wife to this and a full quiver of children and their cup of happiness fills to the brim,”

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