1 February 2011 by Chris Marais

Bees in the Bonnet

A famous South African photographer called Obie Oberholzer once took an iconic photograph of an ancient Richtersveld woman wearing a kappie - a kind of old-time pioneer bonnet. As worn by women in wagons all over the world.

This image burns itself into my brain and, many years later, I am travelling through the Richtersveld in the Northern Cape province on a Kappie Safari. But no one, from Khubus to Lekkersing to Eksteeinfontein is wearing bonnets anymore, it seems.

They might have them tucked away somewhere in a cupboard, but today they have no immediate plans to take them out and model for me. Maybe I’ve just arrived here on a rough day in the badlands. The Bonnet Brigade’s day off.

“Why is nobody wearing bonnets today?” I peevishly yell at no one in particular. That’s the thing with icon photography: sometimes the icons just don’t want to play.

Just then, on the road between Steinkopf and Springbok, I encounter something that defies the eye. A team of burly road workers are hard at their task with pick and shovel - and two of them wear the classical old aunty’s kappie. A kind of home grown Priscilla of the Desert. Although I take no photograph, the image has taken up permanent residence in my head.

But persistence pays off and now, after many long journeys into the Richtersveld, I finally have my kappie photos. And my wife actually owns a couple of those bonnets and will model them for me at the drop of a hat. So to speak…

Category: Culture & History

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