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Sheep and South African Place Names – Ann Gadd Launches Three Wonderful New Books at Groot Constantia

Ann Gadd

The launch of three of Ann Gadd’s quirky titles was a splendid affair. It was held at the Art at Constantia art gallery, located in the Bertram’s tasting room at the historic wine farm, Groot Constantia.

The utterly delightful books Ewe in the Office, A-Z Place Names Of South Africa, and Things ewe never KnEwe about South African place names were presented to fans of the author and artist, who is also a healer and teacher. This multi-talented woman is a hilarious raconteur and her humour shines through the texts of her books.

Ewe in the OfficeThings ewe never KnEwe about South African place namesA-Z Place Names Of South AfricaAndrew Sherwood, managing director of MapStudio, welcomed a terrific turnout of guests to the event. He said that his favourite book was the A-Z Place Names of South Africa, which has completely turned around family car trips.

“Travelling on South African rands, we can about get to Riviersonderend!” he quipped. His eight- and 11-year-old children had responded well to the challenge to read about the towns they passed through instead of fighting!

With her inimitable candour, Gadd said there was a fine line between having enough wine to relax you but not so much that you slur! With perfect enunciation she delivered a wonderful, warm and witty speech that kept the audience in fits of giggles.

This is what she had to say on the occasion of the launch:

This speech was compromised a tad because I needed to find something to wear that didn’t have a paint splotch on it.

Three hours later, I was still looking and the speech remained unwritten …

It’s the opposite of the single sock phenomena, where a sock will simply disappear – in my case paint mysteriously appears on all clothing.

So the speech:

Before I was born I found myself as a foetus (unborn baby) in a long queue of other foetuses. The idea was to shuffle along to a large white box and draw out a piece of paper on which our destined career in the next life was written.

Behind the box the Angel of Destiny (long white robes etc.) watched our progress.

I was relieved to see that four babies had drawn “bergie” which lessened my chances of that as a career, nine SABC CEOs had been drawn, but I was but disappointed that “International Model” had been gone already, together with “Mining Magnate”.

The idea was that you curtsied in front of the Angel of Destiny, before drawing a card. I was so nervous, that I forgot to curtsey, which clearly annoyed her. She had this smug, knowing look, as I put my hand into the box and drew out “artist/author.”

Double whammy rejection potential. I mean, writing and art!

I pleaded for the “Mornings Only Oil Sheik”, which the guy behind me had just drawn, but was pushed on and out into the world.

So yes, rejection is the classic archetypal experience of writers and artists (and actors), but thankfully I have found some acceptance along the way. Some of those people are here tonight and have made this event possible, so thanks to MapStudio for publishing the books, Art@Constantia for hanging my art and together with Groot Constantia, all hosting the event tonight.

Thank you also to my friends and my dear family, who have listened to endless tales of Africa and its rich characters and who would occasionally, compassionately ask sometimes what place I was currently writing about, knowing that they would have to endure a history lesson. My heartfelt thanks. Kara for your help in research on the A-Z. Clive if he wasn’t laid up having a knee op, for the intro to Map Studio. My coffee girls, your support and listening ears are heartfelt – we whine in the morning and wine in the evening. To all of you who have made the effort to be here tonight for me, thank you all so very much.

Now to the books:

Ewe in the Office is some of my later sheep work related paintings and a few old favourites.

The A-Z of South African Place Names is a factual, comprehensive look at towns and their name origins as well as points of interest, historical events and the longest, tallest etc.

Things ewe never KnEwe about South African place names, started off as a calendar focusing on place names that linked in with sheep, such as Ramsgate, Oosskaap, Lamberts Bay etc. But then I started really looking at the names and became fascinated in their origins.

A calendar soon became a book and I approached MapStudio and the rest is history!

Saldanha? (of sal sy nie?) Tietiesbaai, Klein Meer Nommer EenOgies, Darling and many more …

I so enjoyed writing the book. I delved into archives and reveled in reading old memoirs, correspondences and documents. I discovered so much about this land I never knew. For instance, did you know that the Cape was explored as a penal colony long before Australia? But ironically the Khoi chased the prisoners onto Robben Island from where they escaped on passing ships.

The mystery of how a ship called the Gentoo sunk off the coast of Struisbaai in 1846 and yet in 1851 a ship of the same name was the source of a major scandal when it arrived in the Cape. The scandal involved the 46 women who had been sent to the Cape to lessen the male/female ratio (we still don’t have that right) and the crew who cavorted the trip away, resulting in a court case and dismissals of most of the crew (including the Captain and ship’s doctor). The women who were seen as being tainted and therefore not marriage material had to, in many cases, resort to prostitution. This is where the term ‘Gentoo’ meaning a prostitute arises.

Most historians have this as the same ship, so it was exciting to discover going back into maritime records, that there had indeed been two ships of the same name, the one from the East wrecking at Struisbaai.

Many names are translation of indigenous, mostly Khoi names such as Goodhouse, being originally Gu Daos meaning “the path of the sheep.” When the missionaries arrived the name sounded like Goodhouse, which perfectly suited their mission.

uThaka translates from Zulu as “wide-awake river” or a “lively stream” so the name Wakkerstroom is simply a translation.

Benoni from the biblical Hebrew “Son of my sorrows,” because of the difficulty the land surveyor Johan Rissik experienced from fighting farmers, when he had to lay out the land.

Bethal derives from the names of two sisters: Elizabeth and Alida Naude (Lucky for the good folk of Bethal, the siblings weren’t called Wayne and Bianca for instance!)

Dronkvlei (KZN) is not a place to party but rather so called because the grass their poisoned the cows and made them appear light-headed.

Bethulie has the most name changes – eight.

Then no book on names is complete without one of my favourite characters, Adam Enslin, (1800 – 1852) head of a group called the Jerusalem Gangers. Possibly the first gangsters in the Cape?

Anyhow he had come from Europe to the Cape to find the Holy Land. Makes perfect sense … anyhow, Adam set off with his seer and purveyor of mind-altering herbs, Mietje Gous, up North. The herbs were intended to give the Gangers the courage to trek through malaria infested areas.

Anyhow, this band arrived in Modimolle, previously Nylstroom. Here, Adam believed he had found the source of the Nile, so Jerusalem could not be far off. I mean there were reeds, a river and the koppies were surely the famed pyramids – it was obvious. Sadly, the drugs did not deter the malaria and Adam and many of his gangers died before making it further north.

Q: What animal with most places named after it?
A: The king of feasts – the lamb or sheep!

It’s been a privilege to have you all here tonight. Thank you so much and enjoy the books!

Those who were there were treated to sumptuous snacks and the superb Groot Constantia wines, as well as the rich voice of Jason Atherton, who sang a range of jazzy ballads.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:


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