The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man
Perhaps, there is no other descriptive ‘English’ word more evocative of the earlier South African lifestyle than the verb to ‘outspan’. This word is one of the many that found their way from Cape Dutch to English. Words like commando, and trek, and the first full word in English, namely ‘aardvark’.
Unlike the French language – English feels no embarrassment in borrowing, using and owning foreign words. Ungracious folk would say steal. A recent study discovered that English is the most borrowed of all the world’s languages. It also found that English is the language that borrows the most from other languages.
Back to our word ‘outspan’ which was purloined from the Dutch word ‘uitspannen’/ uitspan in Afrikaans, which means to unyoke. Unyoke a horse or ox from a wagon (not unyolk – to separate the yolk from the albumin of an egg). Our dear friend the Oxford dictionary gives a rather bald rendition… 1. v. unharness (animals) from a cart, plough, etc. 2. v. break a wagon journey. 3. n. a place for grazing or encampment. – the word has far more nuance for South Africans, for it carries melodious overtones of good times and relaxation; even now – long after ox wagons, carriages and scotch carts last traversed the land.
One can only imagine that after a long day’s trekking across the thorny Karoo, or squelching up the Natal escarpment, or careering over the precipitous Drakensberg Mountains or trundling over the dry Highveldt, that a traveler would long to outspan and set-up camp. Pull off one’s veldskoen, and light a welcoming braai and wrap oneself in a warm kaross. And what goes best with outspan but hot sweetened moerkoffie, a potjie of steaming bredie, maybe some slivers of seasoned biltong, Yes good scoff! – which is something of a circumambulatory word-trek for we have happened upon yet another borrowed word – ‘scoff’.
Scoff. v & n. / v. eat greedily. n. food; a meal. from Afrikaans ‘Schoff’ repr. Dutch schoft, meaning a quarter of a day. It is perhaps evident that outspanning happened more regularly than at end of day.
Ah! English my greedy mother tongue, that slurps, siphons and sucks-up a myriad words and allows me to travel across the world in words, even across my country in Dutch and Khoisan. ..
My dear friends – I leave you in the capable folios of the Oxford English dictionary if you do not know what braai, bredie, and biltong are.
Oh yes! and a collection of historic and informative images of my ancestors outspanning.
Graham Leslie McCallum
UNDER THE TREES
(above) Outspanned in Matabeleland.
(above) A lithograph based on a drawing by Baynes, Eastern Cape.
(above) Methodist Missionaries encamping in the Zambezi Valley under trees.
(above) Missionary encampment, Ngamiland.
(above) A drawing by Boudier after a photograph by Alfred Bertrand, of an outspan under a large acacia tree.
(above) Engraving of Missionary Robert Moffat’s camp.
(above) A painting by Thomas Baines outspanned under a baobab tree.
(above) A painting by Thomas Baines of his encampment.
(above) A painting by Thomas Baines of his and James Chapman camp under a large tree, 1862.
OUTSPANNED AT NIGHT
(above) A scary moment. A humourous painting by Charles Bell.
(above) An engraving of two prowling lions and a encampment.
(above) A hairy moment at night.
(above) A convivial night around the camp fire.
(above) A cheering draught.
(above) Holding court.
(above) Engraving of a rhinoceros charging the camp.
(above) Engraving of Burchell’s encampment, 1811.
(above) Spinning a yarn.
(above) A thunder storm disrupting camp life.
(above) Painting by Thomas Baines of comet and meteor passing above his camp, Botswana.
OUTSPANNED AT DAYBREAK
(above) A painting of Charles Bell’s camp at sunrise, 1834.
(above) A painting by Robert Jacob Gordon, Meerhof’s Casteel, 1779.
(above) Morning coffee.
(above) A painting by Frank Oates of a hunter’s camp on the Somokwe river.
(above) Making biltong.
(above) A painting by Robert Jacob Gordon, Zeekoei River, 1778.
(above) A hunter’s camp, Kalahari.
OUTSPANNING AROUND THE TRIPOT
(above) A painting by Charles Edwin Fripp.
(above) A painting by Artist Ernst Karl Erich Mayer titles ‘Trekboeren’.
OUTSPANNING UNDER CANVAS
(above) A painting by Robert Jacob Gordon, Groene Kloof, Mamre District, 1779
( above) A drawing of Explorer James Chapman weighing out his photographic chemicals, while pandemonium reigns in his camp.
(above) Outspanned at Mr. Bartlett’s house at Campbel, Northern Cape.
(above) A veld fire threatening camp.
(above) Outspanned on the banks of the Umzingwani River.
(above) Quenching thirsts by catching rain in the canvass of the wagon’s tilt (kaptent).
(above) Outspanning at the Diamond Fields, Cape.
(above) The Explorer Francois Le Valliant outspanning at ‘Pampoen Kraal’, Cape.
(above) A lithograph of the Explorer Francois Levalliant camp in the Namaqua.
(above) A drawing of Thomas Baines’ wagon and tent.
(above) Outspanning for Nagmaal.
(above) Outspanning with the Tugela Falls and the Drakensberg in the background.
(above) Outspanned at Fort Charters.
(above) Two drawings from ‘Jock of the bushveld’ by Percy Fitzpatrick.
(above) Doing the laundry.
(above and below) Visitors to the camp.
(above) Missionary John Campbell’s camp at Lattakoo, Northern Cape.
(above and below) A painting and woodcut by Burchell.
(above and below) Interacting with the locals.