It was an ordinary afternoon. As ordinary as you can get living out in the wilderness of Africa as the birds sang from the trees and the insects called from the grass. It was hot, too. One of the first real heatwaves of summer. The summer heat in South Africa is something that you need to experience in order to understand. It has a tenacity to it. But it’s gentle too, encompassing you in it. Welcoming even. In many ways, this heat mirrors the qualities of what it means to be African. Tenacious but gentle. All-encompassing. Welcoming.
I sat among a group of women whose energy was much like the summer heat. Lillian, an elder in our community, and the head of the Londolozi Housekeeping team, was showing us the many ways in which one can tie a traditional headdress – simply called a duku. The late afternoon sunshine bounced off the established aloes along the village pathway. Work was done for the day. We were simply in ‘the ubuntu’ of life… being together. Being because others were around us too.
The river sand that covers the pathways was crunching quietly under her feet as Lillian shifted and swayed. As we chatted about the meaning of these traditional headdresses I watched Lil’s hand deftly manipulate the bright pieces of Shweshwe material as she twisted and tied it around each woman’s head. In a matter of minutes, with the ease of many, many hours of practice, Lil transformed a piece of material into African elegance. When we gathered, the ladies around me were all dressed in the Londolozi uniform of White shirts and black pants. But, as soon as Lillian had worked her magic, each creation transformed the group into beautiful individuals, each with her own expression by way of their duku. Creating beauty through uniqueness. And reminding me of what heritage truly means.
As I sat with my Londolozi sisters, I saw that heritage is not simply something from the past. It lives in the present. It is living. It’s something that is handed down from the past, a way in which to preserve tradition. But, just as we would pass a bowl of food around a table, it is the active expression of sharing amongst us that preserves these traditions. Heritage must live and be practiced to promote diversity, social cohesion, and peace. Heritage must live- not only in order to preserve knowledge but to foster all the ways in which we can actively learn. Learn about acceptance. Learn about belonging. Learn about what it truly means to be human through all the lenses of the world. Learn about love.
I quietly absorbed this lesson and appreciated the history being passed down to me at that moment- it made me think about the heritage of all of us. While there are many, many walks of life that the people around me have come from, we are still united as one. While I have my own journey, I too am intertwined with the journey of this land, and these animals and these people that share this place with me. I thought about the responsibility we all have to remain active in the way that we celebrate where we have come from and decide how we want to make our own heritage live on.
It may only officially be Heritage Day in South Africa but use today to acknowledge, celebrate, and teach someone else about your own heritage. For through our uniqueness there is great beauty. And through our togetherness, there is immeasurable power.