The Quena identity
This is another delivery in a series by Sydney Opperman in which he sheds light on the origins and names of the country's indigenous (first) nation. "Quena" was the religious name of the Otentottu. When a Quena man was asked by the Danish missionary Ziegenbalg in the early 1700s "whether he believed there was a
God" he responded as follows: "Let him who believes there is no God, look upwards and downwards and round about him; and then let him continue in his opinion if he dares..."
The Quena ("Red People") believed in the "Red God" and perceived God as occupying the entire sphere of creation; that God was not a single person residing somewhere in the sky; but that he was everywhere and manifested himself in all the natural phenomena.
The sun, the full moon and the new moon were the "visible appearances of God" they worshipped.
Their "simple" but meaningful stone structures (observatories / shrines) like
Magia (the dancing place) near Laingsburg in the Moordenaarskaroo, or the more "sophisticated" structures like "The dying sun Chariot" near Carolina in Mpumalanga are positioned to view these phenomena, such as "the dying sun" (winter solstice) and the "birth of the sun" around 21 June every year (in the Southern Hemisphere).
In the Northern Hemisphere winter solstice falls on 21 December.
The sun then "sets" for 3 days on the same spot till 24 December and then begins to "move" in the opposite direction on 25 December. (Ancient people referred to this as the "birth of the sun", celebrating the birthday of the sun god, Sol Invictus. During the fourth century AD, the Roman Catholic Denomination decided to also celebrate the day as the "birth of the Son").
The Quena had a cosmological understanding of God. This understanding is reflected in the forms of their worship. At the new and full moon the Quena danced, their faces sometimes to the west, sometimes to the east, and up and down. They acknowledged a certain order in
God's creation, an order that rested on the quartering of the universe by the cardinal directions.
The highest peak of the Outeniqua "dik !Areb" (direction Mountain) directly north of the "Tree" on Sandkop in Pacaltsdorp is an example of their cosmological sensitivity.
This awareness - which is present in all cosmologically based religions, especially those of India - finds its reflection in the external and internal organisation and in the architecture of their temples and shrines, as can be seen in the "dying sun chariot" in Komatiland (Hromnik's Explorations in Indo-African and other History).
Sydney Opperman, sydneyopper[email protected] gmail.com, 14 Lynx Street, Pacaltsdorp, 083 378 4237
(Opperman's previous articles can be read online at www.georgeherald.com.)
The winter solstice sunset observatory at Geelbek, Moordernaarskaroo, where the Quena welcomed the New Year. Photo: Dr Cyril Hromnik