!xsaikgamma Jantjies is proud of his first name – it had been his father’s name, just like every firstborn son in his family even before they adopted the surname (nobody had surnames back in the 1800’s; the silliness started only after the English started with their registers). He simply loves it when people try to pronounce his name; which, quite obviously, only the people of his tongue manage. In the original language, his name denotes one who makes music: He who has the sound of water. However, ever since his grandfather’s time, the tradition in the family switched from being musicians (usually on the string of a bow or a flute made of reed) to singing. And their songs, if you could understand them, are musical fragments of history or what they see in the future.
“Welcome, Mister Jantjies!” Boggel avoids the embarrassment of trying to use the first name. “It’s always a pleasure to see you.”
!xsaikgamma smiles happily. He likes visiting Rolbos, where he always has a warm reception. “I told you to call me Jantjies. Just that. It’s easier.”
When Gertruida heard the old man was in town, she prepared his favourite stew (curried venison, lots of potatoes) and now she places the steaming bowl of aromatic food in front of him. He smacks his lips, but looks up shrewdly.
“As usual, it isn’t free, is it?”
The remark makes Gertruida do a little jig of joy.
“I hope not, !xsaikgamma.” Gertruida is the only one in town who can pronounce the name correctly. “But only if you want to.”
“Let me eat first. Sing? I cannot sing on an empty stomach.”
“That’s why I made the stew, !xsaikgamma, like I always do when you visit us. You sing so well.”
And that’s quite true, too. Not only is the old man an above-average soprano, he has also taken to translating his songs so they may understand the words. And should you ask any Rolbosser, they’d tell you he is hugely entertaining.
When at last he uses a gnarled finger to sweep the last of the gravy from the plate, he smiles at his audience. The whole town is there, waiting in anticipation.
“I shall sing you a legend. This legend isn’t about the past at all. It’s a legend of the future.” Taking out a reed flute, he plays a little intro before starting his song.
The fat man was hungry, he wanted more;
he’s never been so hungry before.
So he sent his sons to hunt another buck
hoping, indeed, they’d find some luck.
At first they went to scout the land to see what they could find
But the fat man had eaten everything, and he had more in mind.
“Go get some more guns, and boats and planes,” the fat man said,
for his huge appetite had not been met.
“And bring me meat – and lots of it
and bring it here to where I sit.”
His sons went out, but the day had gone,
the night was there, with only stars that shone.
And it was dark, as dark can be –
his sons were blind, they couldn’t see.
“Bring me light,” the fat man cried.
And lo! His sons looked everywhere –
but because it was dark, as dark can be
his sons looked everywhere, but couldn’t see.
But then a man came, from far away
he wore a furry hat.
“I’ll give you light, but you must do as I say”
And that, my friend was that.
So now the sons have too much light
and they can hunt throughout the night.
They bring back meat – in pieces and bits
to Nkandla, where the fat man sits.
But now the fat man cries a lot;
the meat was too much for his pot.
And it fell over, burning all his meat
and now the fat man cannot eat.
“What a strange man. What a weird song.I wonder what he was singing about.” Vetfaan stares at the receding figure marching down Voortrekker Weg.
“You know, Vetfaan, it is wrong to think of people like !xsaikgamma as ignorant. It is true that he – like so many others – leads a simple life. They don’t read newspapers and never listen to political analysts. Neither do they understand the massive problems with the economy or the intricate web of international relationships.
“But you just heard him express a profound opinion on the Arms Deal – the R30-billion fiasco which involved a billion Rand in bribery.” Gertruida sits back with a worried frown. “And then he sang about the alleged R500-billion deal with the Russians to build nuclear power stations. Can you imagine what a can of worms that may well turn out to be?”
“I’ve heard that legend before,” Boggel says thoughtfully. “About the glutton who couldn’t stop eating. Eventually he put so much meat in his pot that it toppled over into the fire. When he tried to rescue his food, his entire house burnt down. There’s a moral to that story.”
“Ja, there is.” Kleinpiet draws a three-legged pot on the counter top with beer froth. “No pot is ever big enough to hold injustice. Eventually it must topple over and spill the proverbial beans.”
The group at the bar stares at his froth-painting in silence for a while.
“What does his name mean, Gertruida? You pronounce it so well, but I still can’t get my tongue around it.”
“!xsaikgamma?” Gertruida smiles sadly. “Music maker. The sound of water. It may also be translated as the flute player.”
“Yes, Vetfaan, I guess you can say that.”
The war was lost
The treaty signed
There’s Truth that lives
And Truth that dies
I don’t know which
So never mind.
Words and music: L Cohen