Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Argentinian Boers: The Oldest Boer Diaspora.

The following report from the Sunday Times done a year & a half ago featured individuals from the Boers of Argentina: a group which has been living in Argentina since 1903 following the aftermath of the second Anglo-Boer War. There were a lot of Boers who left the southern African region refusing to live under British rule or simply having nothing left to remain for as whole families were found to be wiped out. There were 3 main Boer Diasporas following the second Anglo-Boer War but the Boers who went to Argentina was the largest & this community still exists as an Afrikaans speaking community to this day but its size is dwindling due to assimilation into the dominant Spanish speaking culture by the younger generation.

Don’t cry for me Orania.

Stuart Graham travels to a dusty dorp in Argentina , where he finds an improbable colony — Afrikaans-speaking descendants of the Anglo-Boer War.

She has never been to South Africa and knows little about the country’s Afrikaners, but in the windy town of Sarmiento in Argentine Patagonia, Enriqueta van der Merwe sits on her verandah and says proudly, “I am a Boer. Yes, I am Argentine...but I am really a Boer. I was brought up speaking Afrikaans. In my heart, I am a Boer.”

Enriqueta’s husband, Osvaldo, is loading wood onto a big, blue pick-up truck with a cracked front window. “Osvaldo, kom kuier ’n bietjie,” she shouts. “Ons het ’n Suid Afrikaanse gas.” (Osvaldo, come chat a while. We have a South African guest.)

The conversation moves to the couple’s lounge where they prepare mate. It is Argentina’s national drink — a rich tea drunk through a metal straw from a small calabash. As per tradition, the mate cup is passed around the room. “My parents told a story that when the Boers first arrived in Patagonia, they were very thirsty,” Enriqueta says. The locals offered them their mate cups, but the Boers said gracias (thanks). If you say gracias it means you don’t want any more mate.”

Enriqueta and Osvaldo communicate in Afrikaans, but to their children and grandchildren they speak Spanish or Castellano, as the language is known in Argentina.

“Ons het die taal van ons ouers geleer,” Osvaldo says. “Die ou mense praat Afrikaans. Maar vandag wil die kinders nie die taal leer nie.” (We learned the language from our parents. But today the children do not want to learn the language.)

The Van der Merwes descend from Boers who immigrated to Patagonia in the early 1900s after the Anglo-Boer War (South African War). The immigrants were bitter after the use of concentration camps by the British — when thousands of women and children died, they decided to leave South Africa, rather than live under the English. Camillo Ricchiardi, an Italian who fought with the Boers and was married to the granddaughter of the Transvaal President Paul Kruger, helped arrange land for them in Argentina. The first group left Table Bay Harbour aboard The Highland Fling. They arrived in the coastal town of Comodoro Rivadavia in the Argentine province of Chubut in 1902, a two-hour drive from Sarmiento. More groups arrived in 1905 and 1907. The Boer immigrants were assigned 2000 hectares of land by General Julio Roca’s government, infamous for heading an ethnic cleansing crusade against Patagonia’s indigenous population.

In those days, Patagonia was still seen as a wild frontier. The Boers, who were thought to be experienced farmers, could help develop the land. They lived in tents, later built huts and then started to trek into the hinterland. Along the way to Patagonia they gave Afrikaans names to the koppies: Spioenkop, Spitzkop and Transvaalkop. Some went north to the towns of Rawson, Trelew and Port Madryn, where they bought sheep from the Welsh colonists who had arrived 20 years before.

Today these Boer descendants speak an older form of Afrikaans, similar to the style used in South Africa in 1902. They often use words like voorgister (the day before yesterday) instead of the modern version, eergister. They have never heard of eina or braaivleis and they enjoy regular Argentine barbecues known as asados. But other cultural aspects, like Boeremusiek, have survived.

Enriqueta scans the room, thinks a moment and says, “Ja, ek sal ‘Kotie in die Rooi Rokkie’ speel.” (Yes, I will play Kotie in the Little Red Dress.) She adjusts the accordion on her lap before launching into a rendition of the first Afrikaans songs her mother had taught her to play. Her 20-year- old grandson, Miguel, provides accompaniment on his small accordion. When the song is over, Enriqueta laments that she does not play her accordion often anymore. She does, however, play it at the annual Boeresport Day, held in Sarmiento in February.

“These are great occasions,” she says. “The festivities are held on a farm outside of town. Each family has their own fire and make a traditional Boer meal.” Such food includes koeksisters, vegetables with sugar, lamb-rib dishes and nasionale poeding (jam tart). Sports include horse races and horseshoe-throwing. On Saturday night there’s a sokkie, where couples waltz and sing songs like Sarie Marais.

Later, Enriqueta suggests I meet local resident, Ricardo Kruger. She leads the way to his house a few blocks away. Kruger, in his 50s, lives in a small tin- roof house in one of the back streets. He also has a sheep farm. Tall, with broad shoulders and pale-blue eyes, he describes himself as a “kaalkop, soos my pa”. (Bald, like my dad.)

Kruger, who is married to an Argentine woman, shows off pictures of his daughter dressed in a kappie (bonnet) and a navy-blue Boer dress. She is hoisting the new South African flag at a cultural festival in Comodoro. “My daughter can’t speak Afrikaans,” he says. “She was never interested in learning, but she used to take part in the February festivities and Comodoro’s cultural festival.

Kruger says he enjoys Boerekos, but eats it seldom these days: “When my wife sees me sprinkling sugar on the vegetables, like my mother taught us, she says I’m making gringo (foreign) food.”

He still speaks Afrikaans to his wheelchair-bound mother, who now lives on the farm. The Afrikaans spoken in Patagonia has evolved through the years, he says; the locals now mix Castellano words like che (pal) with Afrikaans.

The evolution of the language in Patagonia has captured the interest of linguists in France and the Netherlands — they have even travelled to Chubut to study it.

No one is too sure, but Kruger believes there are between 100 and 120 Boer families left in Patagonia. “Most of them came here with just the clothes on their backs. But they taught themselves to be mechanics, horse- men, builders and farmers. Die Boer is ’n slim mens. Wat hy moet doen, doen hy.” (The Boer is a clever person. What he must do, he does.)

In the beginning, the Boers stuck to themselves and married among each other’s families. “If a Boer wanted to marry a Spaniard, they would want to hang him,” Kruger says. “Hulle het so geleef.” (That is how they lived.)

Down the drag is the Gereformeerde Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church). With its rusting green roof and pointy cement spire, it looks much like any other small-town Gereformeerde Kerk in South Africa. A Spanish sign on the door says there are youth meetings on Tuesday nights. Only about 15 to 20 people are said to attend the church on Sundays. The Catholic service, in the grand cathedral on the main road, is much more popular.

Two blocks from Kruger’s home lives Enriqueta’s sister, Catalina Ferraroti, also in her 60s. Ferraroti is combing her granddaughter’s long, dark hair; the child calls her ouma. “Ek het ’n slegte griep. Ek hoes en ek hoes,” she says. (I have bad flu. I cough and I cough.)

She also complains about the lack of rain. “Die grond is so hard. ’n Mens kan nie eers ’n gaatjie maak om iets te plant nie,” she says. (The ground is so hard that one cannot even make a hole to plant anything.) Ferraroti, who feels more comfortable speaking Afrikaans, still makes Boerekos now and then, but the children don’t like it. They prefer Argentine food.

A two-hour drive from Sarmiento is the large town of Comodoro Rivadavia, where the Boers arrived in 1902. Today Comodoro has a thriving oil industry, which started in 1907. There is also a monument to the Boers of Comodoro here, and bares the image of an ox wagon and the names of all the original settlers.

In the village of Rada Tilly, a 30- minute bus ride from Comodoro, the name ‘Blackie II’ is painted on the side of a house, based just off the main road that leads into the town. Inside the house is a bakery run by Martin de Blackie, a first-generation Boer descendant who was the former vice-consul for South Africa in Chubut. He is now in his 70s and heads the Associacion de la Colectivad Sudafricana de la Provincia del Chubut (Association of South Africans in Chubut).

Blackie says the Boer descendants still shout for the Springbok rugby team, even when they play against Argentina. “Ons skreeu vir die Springbokke,” he says. “Ook wanneer hulle teen die Pumas speel. Die kleintjies kan dit nie verstaan nie. Hulle sê, ‘Man, julle is Argentinos. Julle moet vir Argentina skreeu.’” (We shout for the Springboks; also when they’re playing against the Pumas. The little ones don’t understand it. They say, “Man, you’re Argentine. You must shout for Argentina.”)

Blackie produces all the usual Argentine favourites, such as croissant- like medialunas (crescent-shaped bread) at his bakery, but his fridge also contains a selection of Boer favourites like koeksisters and nasionale poeding.

Blackie says Afrikaners from South Africa have come to Rada Tilly to meet him, with plans of emigrating to Patagonia like the old Boers. “They come for a few weeks, but then they realise how difficult it is and they go home. They struggle to pick up Spanish and discover how expensive Patagonian sheep farms are.”

Sara de Langer arrives a little later to share mate with Blackie. The 50- something De Langer still speaks the Afrikaans her grandmother taught her when she was a little girl. She remembers how her gran used to talk about what happened in the concentration camps. “But it was so long ago now,” she adds. “It’s difficult to remember. But I do remember that she was very sad when she spoke about it.”

De Langer would love her children to speak Afrikaans — so badly, that she wants to find them an Afrikaans teacher “to keep the culture alive”.

Victor Rambau, an official at the South African embassy in Buenos Aires, is eager to build stronger relations with the Chubut Boers. “They are part of the African Diaspora — Nepad wants to use their skills to help develop Africa,” he says.

Back in Sarmiento, Enriqueta says she is eager to know about the Afrikaans culture in South Africa. She has relatives somewhere there. They have the name Grobbelaar, she thinks. One day she would like to travel to South Africa to meet them.

“One day I will come back home,” she says with a smile, before taking a sip of mate.

“Eendag.”

Source: Don’t cry for me Orania.


Addendum: The following is the entry at Wikipedia on the Argentinian Boers.


Click on image for link.

10 Opinion(s):

Doberman said...

Good post Ron. Uncanny how things have gone full circle 100 years later. The second wave of expats to all corners of the globe, little SA communities springing up everywhere. Like these Boers very few will return.

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable. All my life I never realised there was a Boer settlement there. Outside Brisbane on the way to Toowoomba there is a small town called Marburg, after the same town in Germany. I visited the graveyard there - all German names, it was a little corner of Germany! Who woulda thought ...

Maple Leaf said...

I wept.
I am a big Boer, rough and tough as they come. I left the country 12 years ago, because I could clearly see where things were going. Like so many before and after me, I had to leave all of my family, friends and loved ones behind. For this, I till blame the ANC terrorist government.Started a new life from scratch, but with the undescribable joy of being able to live SAFELY, without all of the angst and fear which becomes part of "normal life" in SA. My daughter was born in Canada, and knows only a few words of Afrikaans. My wife knows even less. Life is wonderful, but every now and again, something like this article crosses my path, and I crumble. I believe that this will be the pattern for the rest of my life - how I hate those ANC bastards!!!!!

Doberman said...

@ Maple Leaf, I hear you. I guarantee your sentiments are echoed by almost every single person forced into exile. That's why ILSA exists, to connect us in the Diaspora and to help with the transition, both for those that have left, and those that will eventually undertake the journey. You can talk to us. You are among your peers. We can appreciate what you are saying because many of us have gone through the same angst.

It's something foreigners cannot appreciate. When they choose to live in another country, temporary or maybe even permanently, there is the option of going home in the back of their minds. For South Africans and Rhodesians, there is no more home. It's over for us.

Vanilla Ice said...

Maple Leaf, I am in Calgary. I know the feeling. It has the same effect on many of us.

Alberdo de Koe said...

Ek is nou nie n Suid Afrikaner nie, maar wel n baie trotse Rehoboth Baster van Namibië. Baie bly ek kon die artikel lees oor Afrikaners wat so ver getrek het en nog steeds van hul taal hou. Net n jamerte hul nageslagte is so negatief om Afrikaans te praat. Mag Afrikaans nog n miljoen jaar voortleef.

Mariposa said...

Maple Leaf, I hear your cries.

I'm a coloured Durbanite, who left SA ten years ago in the hope of finding a safe place to live. My family now live in Australia and I live in Europe.

Oh but how I miss home, my birthplace, the ocean with those stunning waves, the flea markets, the melk tart, pineapple with curry powder on a stick, koeksisters, sugar cane... That's what nice about being a coloured, lol. We take bits from each culture, (Indian, African White, Cape Malay) and we celebrate them all.

I went back to SA two years ago for a visit. While there, my cousins were hijacked and shot. Needless to say, I will never go back until the ANC is stripped of its power.

SA is so beautiful. The food, activities for kids and sports were second to none during my school days, and as much as my parents were deprived of their rights during the Apartheid era, the country became a united one for a few months and then we started to see it change. Slowly bad things started happening around us and we left SA when we could.

Bless the ones who have no option but to stay there. The government makes millions off taxes from security companies and if anything, will keep SA is its savage state that it is in.

But yeah, I tend to daydream now and then of my old life. Happy with friends and family around at a braai, going to church, watching the waves crash in the late afternoon.

Thank goodness Amazon delivers my reminders of home....

Mariposa said...

Even us coloureds left the country.

Unknown said...

My great grandfather was one of the Original settlers. Jan Delport. My grandfather was born in Argentinia. Somehoe I feel a strong bond with the country, although I have never been.

Unknown said...

Ek is n 49 jaar oud wit Suid Afrikaner en ek wil terwille van my kinders uit hierdie land uit...... Die toekoms vir ons wittes lyk maar duister hier. Wie kan ons help?