Elim – more than a mis­sion sta­tion

JaneMul­derun­cov­er­sElim’s his­tor­i­cal­her­itage

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2010 -

“IT all started in Cze­choslo­vakia in 1457 when a group of peo­ple broke away from the Catholic Church. They were per­se­cuted by the church for many cen­turies – so much so that they had to flee.” These words, spo­ken by our guide, An­dreé Joorst, were our in­trod­uct i on t o t he his­tor y of t he Mo­ra­vian mis­sion sta­tion of Elim. Sit­u­ated in the Over­berg on the gravel road be­tween Baardskeerder­s­bos and Bredas­dorp, the pic­turesque vil­lage is a Na­tional Mon­u­ment.

An­dreé e x pl a i ned t hat bec a us e Ge­naden­dal – the first Mo­ra­vian mis­sion sta­tion – had be­come over­pop­u­lated with peo­ple seek­ing the free land and free ed­u­ca­tion of­fered by the mis­sion­ar­ies of the Her­rn­huter Brüderge­meine, it was deci ded t o buy l a nd t o f ound an­other set­tle­ment not too far away. On May 12, 1824 they bought the farm Vo­gel­stru­iskraal, which be­came the third mis­sion sta­tion to be es­tab­lished in South Africa. Ex­actly a year l ater i ts name was changed to Elim, mean­ing “ haven of peace” f r om t he He­brew word “elam”.

“ I f you l ook around, you see our palm trees and we have our own foun­tains, and bib­li­cally in Ex­o­dus 15 there are 70 palm trees and 12 foun­tains. In our Elim to­day we have 60 palm trees and 12 times 12 foun­tains,” de­clared An­dreé proudly. As a re­sult of the abun- dant wa­ter avail­able, in 1828 a wa­ter mill, with the l argest wooden wa­ter wheel in South Africa, was built and (af­ter its con­ver­sion to elec­tric­ity) was in use un­til 1972. Re­stored with the as­sist a n c e o f t h e R e mbr a n d t To b a c c o Cor­po­ra­tion, it was opened as a work­ing mu­seum in 1974. The mill op­er­ated un­til 2006 but has since bro­ken down, and the huge mill wheel to­day stands mo­tion­less and silent.

In­side the his­tor­i­cal build­ing the ma­chin­ery can still be seen; of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est are the old cogs made of Aus­tralian jar­rah wood, as well as the huge mill­stones. Part of the build­ing is used for the G&S Water­meul Res­tau­rant, which is run by Elim res­i­dents Gillian Wilma and Jane Speelman, and his­tor­i­cal pho­tos of Elim and its one­time res­i­dents adorn its walls.

What was once the quar­ters of vis­it­ing mis­sion­ar­ies has been turned into a guest house, and we spent a com­fort­able night in one of its five en-suite rooms, pay­ing R160 each for bed and break­fast. The at­trac­tive build­ing is spa­cious, with high ceil­ings and thick walls. There is a fully fit­ted kitchen, a din­ing room and a lounge with TV. The house is run by Elim res­i­dent Christina Afrika, while her l ong-t i me f r i end, Mag­gie Schip­pers, pre­pares guests’ break­fasts. The money gen­er­ated from the guest house is paid into a trust ac­count for the ben­e­fit of the com­mu­nity.

The most strik­ing build­ing in Elim is its church, the largest Mo­ra­vian church in South Africa. Built en­tirely by the lo­cals, it was com­pleted in 1835. Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est is its clock, which is the old­est church time­piece in South Africa. Built in Zit­tau in 1764, it was used by the Her­rn­huter com­mu­nity in Ger­many for 140 years be­fore be­ing re­tired. A vis­it­ing pas­tor from Elim heard of the clock and ar­ranged to have it shipped back home and in­stalled in the church. De­spite its age, it keeps per­fect time, and we found its melo­di­ous chimes de­light­ful.

On en­teri ng t he c hurch An­dreé ex­plained that the walls and ceil­ing, as well as t he outer walls, are painted white as a sym­bol of pu­rity and sim­plic­ity. “The pews were made in 1835 and the back­rests were made in 1935, so for a hun­dred years they couldn’t fall asleep! We also have that dis­tinct par­tit i on down t he mid­dle be­cause t he Ger­mans were adamant to sep­a­rate man from woman, and they suc­ceeded be­cause we still sit sep­a­rately. Here and there you’ll find a wife sit­ting with her hus­band, but nor­mally they are sep­a­rated.”

The church or­gan, man­u­fac­tured in Lud­wigs­burg, is more than 200 years old. An­dreé, who is the church or­gan­ist, demon­strated its rich sound and the per­fect acous­tics in the church by play­ing for us. The church also hosts a brass band, which chil­dren from the age of 12 can join.

As we left the church An­dreé pointed out a mon­u­ment across the road. Erected in 1938 by Elim res­i­dents, this sim­ple me­mo­rial com­mem­o­rates t he 1838 l i be­ra­tion of s l aves i n t he Cape, and is the only such mon­u­ment in South Africa. In time it fell into dis­rep a i r, b u t wa s r e s t o r e d i n 2 0 0 4 t o co­in­cide with the 180-year an­niver­sary of the set­tle­ment. It is a tan­gi­ble link for the peo­ple of Elim with their an­ces­tral slave her­itage.

Apart from com­mu­nity farm­ing at Eli m, t wo com­mer­cial f arms sup­ply fresh pro­duce to Bredas­dorp. In 2008 a dairy farm was es­tab­lished, and Elim now has its own dairy herd of 128 cows, the milk from which is col­lected by a lo­cal dairy com­pany.

An­other i ni t i a t i v e i s t he pr i v a t e na­ture re­serve of Geelkop, so named be­cause of the yel­low leu­co­den­drons that grow there. Whereas the lo­cals used to use the fyn­bos as fire­wood, this sus­tain­able re­source now pro­vides flow­ers for ex­port to Ger­many and the US. An­other im­por­tant fa­cil­ity in the vil­lage is a state-run home for the phys­i­cally and men­tally dis­abled.

An­dreé then took us to see the vil­lage bak­ery, which was started late in 2007 by a lo­cal lad, Ter­ence, who, as­sisted by his sis­ter Lola, bakes for the com­mu­nity. As we ap­proached our nos­trils were as­sailed by the de­li­cious smell of freshly-baked bread. We watched them at work, and when we saw that hot cross buns were also be­ing made, we or­dered a tray, which we later col­lected and en­joyed with cof­fee in the guest house.

Next we walked down to the res­i­denti a l por t i on of t he v i l l a ge, a nd An­dreé showed us Elim’s old­est cot­tage, which dates to 1826 and con­sists of one bed­room and a kitchen. He told us that the last own­ers had 10 chil­dren, most of whom had t o be f a r med out t o relatives, as they couldn’t be ac­com­mo­dated in the tiny cot­tage.

Nearby is a colour­fully painted cott a g e n a med I ma­neul , whi c h o n c e housed the lo­cal shoe­maker. The lady of the house gra­ciously al­lowed us to peep in­side the tiny dwelling, which was chock-full of fur­ni­ture and or­na­ments and is ob­vi­ously a well-loved home. By con­trast the house next door, though still of the white-washed, thatched va­ri­ety, has been ren­o­vated and en­larged, and con­tains all the mod-cons. Here a gai n t he l a dy of t he house k i ndl y showed us around.

Now left to our de­vices we wan­dered around the vil­lage ad­mir­ing the lovely streetscape. I noted that there are many fig trees, and I won­dered if these also have a bib­li­cal con­no­ta­tion. Al­though the vil­lage is not quite as pic­turesque as the Elim we vis­ited about 40 years ago when there were no vis­ual in­tru­sions of street lights or tarred roads, it is much neater than it used to be, and t h e moder n c o n v e n i e n c e s , whi c h in­clude wa­ter-borne sew­er­age, have been a boon to the res­i­dents.

Fi­nally we vis­ited Elim’s grave­yard, where many past min­is­ters and their fam­i­lies lie buried. This was a poignant re­minder of those who were in­stru­men­tal in mak­ing Elim what it is to­day – a vil­lage with heart.

CHAR­AC­TER­FUL: Elim’s his­tor­i­cal cot­tages of­fer a char­ac­ter­ful façade.

PRETTY: The en­trance to Elim.

THE WHEEL TURNS: Elim’s mill.

FREE RANGE: Chick­ens wan­der about with­out con­cern.

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