12 December 2011 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Stories from Sutherland

My grandmother was born on a farm close to Sutherland.  I grew up on stories about its residents, its snowy winters, its sheep and its skies. Each time I return to this small Karoo town, its space, its silence and its stars - more stars than you can imagine - astound me. I think of my gran as a small girl growing up on a sheep farm, where the winters were the coldest in the country and the landscape dwarfs the farmsteads scattered kilometres and kilometres apart.  I understand more of her strength and wisdom and, her love of stories.

Stories shoot up like spring flowers in the Karoo, colourful, unpredictable and prolific; a bit like the writers who create them. A number of famous South African writers are Karoo writers - Olive Schriener, Athol Fugard, Guy Butler and Chris Mann, and the amazing team at Karoo Space.

Maybe it’s the quiet, the remoteness, or the beauty of the place that inspires them. Perhaps it’s the affirming camaraderie of the Karoo, or the self-sufficiency of characters forged by wind and sun and snow. Or that place on the far side of loneliness, which you reach by turning inwards in order look out.  Or it could just be that it takes so long to get anywhere that there is time for ones imagination to take root, grow and fruit.

Two Sutherland families, the Louws and the Esterhuyses, produced three of South Africa’s best-known Afrikaans poets, DC Esterhuyse, NP van Wyk Louw and his brother WEG Louw.

NP van Wyk Louw is perhaps the best known of the trio. He grew up in Sutherland in my gran’s era and went to the same school as her. In 1920, his family moved to Cape Town. His poems often expressed his longing for his beloved Karoo, like this excerpt, written in Amsterdam, where he was studying at the time:{image_1}

Ek staan weer by ‘n wit poel
Waar die wintermiddag sneeu
En ek is Klein en hoor verskrik
‘n jakkals uit die rante skreeu

Some of his best-known works are Raka, Gestaltes en Diere, and Germanicus.

His brother, WEG Louw,  became a poet and renowned academic and was editor of Die Burger, a large Afrikaans daily newspaper. A collection of the correspondence between NP van Wyk and his brother WEG Louw was published by Hemel & See Boeke in 2011 under the title “Briewe van WEG en NP van Wyk Louw 1941-1970”. On my most recent trip to Sutherland, I visited the Louw Huis Muesum, the house where the brothers were born. The personal tour lasted just over an hour and I found it fascinating - more about that later.

DC Esterhuyse was the oldest of the Sutherland trio and his work is said to be invested with a strong fellow-feeling for Sutherland and its people. I don’t know his writing but am eager to learn more. Another important literary figure from Sutherland include was Pieter Cornelius Johannes Jordaan, who wrote under the pseudonym of Datei. His stories and sketches featured in various Afrikaans magazines and are described as ‘human’ stories that readers could relate to. While at the museum, I bought Kronieke uit die Koue, by Sutherland resident Gerrit Palmietfontein.

And of course, don’t forget my gran, whose stories were as warm, as familiar and as comforting as sheepskin rug on one of Sutherland’s winter nights.


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