Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wag-’n-bietjiebos – The Buffalo-Thorn Tree = Ziziphus Mucronata (Bis!)

I wrote this article when I decided some time ago to relocate - at least virtually - in South Africa. I have always been very fond of Afrikaans that I had learnt as a child and that truly impacted my cultural way of thinking. Maybe subsequently to the fact that I had early got Dutch, but this was still to close to German. Afrikaans is a special "Creolized" language or "dialect" constructed on the basis of the arrival of Dutch speakers. The language has dialects, various pronunciations and accents. A language of those who participated in the Grote Trek as a spiritual Pact or Covenant that faced different sorts of adversity and hate.
Afrikaans has never been a political choice. It is fascinating the way it got simplified in contact with the African native tongues and English, together with some Hugenote French. Verbs may not apply the required tense once the sentence is open and the phrase on the go.
I met with some "resistants", especially those who wanted to cancel the hidious system of apartheid. But i could not imagine that, serving as an Israeli priest at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, I would so often encounter South Africaners who were Israelis and would never speak Afrikaans at home. They do know the language, usually. But in Jerusalem, they felt they needed to feel they were special. And this is how I often see and hear afrikaans in the Old City... quite amazing and still very open-minded and friendly.
Th is is what happened tonight in the Old City of Jerusalem. A lot of tourists arrive from Europe because they are on holidays for Easter. But also from the bottom of Africa. We spoke very nicely and spent the evening with "Religionslehrer/Teachers of Religion, both Catholic and Protestant" that had come from Germany.
In terms of spiritual reflection, the Holy Land is for all a great opportunity to face the urgent requirement for "reconciliation". It does not mean that reconciliation/Versöhnung/Vergefnis are real here; they are at the heart of the way people can build something. Israel does build and has been building over the century and since the 1880. Today, Arabs at Ramallah, inter alia, are doing the same and do not want to get trapped into a problem of persistent war, damages. They succeed to build and this allows a wonderful collaboration between Jews and Arabs.
I had written this article two years ago. The situation in Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Israeli society) changes drastically even if peopescan be rather unwilling to openly speak of what they do and how they live.
A lot fo tourists, pilgrims come and it is easier since there is a sort of cease-fire and the visitors do not encur real danger. It allows the pilgrims to be lodged in Bethlehem, i.e. in the Palestinian Territories. The ycome back to the Israeli part every day, especially those who arrive from the Federation of Russia. Others come from Ukraine (now they do not need visas). We see Asians, Indians, Africans, Chinese, Japanese and so many visitors from Nigeria and Indonesia. Some days ago, I also met with Central Asian Russian and Uzbek-speaking Orthodox women with their children. Brazil is quite present.
Africa is also -- so far scientific researches can describe true historic facts - the human cradle of historic mankind that later moved and emigrated to the North and to the East. Plants seem to follow the same path and inculturation!
The Christian tradition considers how the throny crown of Jesus was made and what wood had bee nused for that purpose. It appears that the Ziziphus Mucronata present in South Africa did arrive to the Holy Land. This is why the branches are similar - so far it is possible to prove - to the Sout hafrican Ziziphus and the throny branches of Jerusalem. The interest also resides in the way the bush is called in Afrikaans: "Wag-'n-bietjiebos = the wait a little bush"! It shows some sort of real patience. and there is a part of the story!
South Africa has very rare trees and cactuses, plants of all sorts, ancient, antique, remote and splendid, huge, immense, high, tremendously "pragtig, wonderful". Just as we have them in Israel, the ancient times that spread from the coast and reached the Middle-East. A kind of phlegmatic nonchalance that can listen to the noises of the earth, of the soil, as dust and sand of bushes and small woods are covered with much history that tracks back to the cradle of all civilization. When humans somewhere mutated from fish to apes, apies, then turned to some inmates with social life and brains, souls and language.

There are a lot of trees in South Africa and they developed in small bushes and woods or forests. We have no forests in Israel. We were used as members of the Yiddishkayt/Jewishness of the East to cross and even dwell in immense forests in Russia! I remember that when I crossed Ukraine and Belarus from Kiev to Chernobyl and then to Minsk, whitened trees over miles of damaged areas, kale bome, trees that got white and "lanky". As trees as like humans in the Biblical and Talmudic traditions, they looked "kaalkoppe, baldheaded"; right at the moment, they are threatened again with fires and nuclear attacks and blows. Psalm 1 underscores the role of trees as the image of the fruitful body and the soul of a human being and a Jew, a beleiver who trusts in God and in whom God can trust and entrust the beauty of creation. "The man who scans, meditates and studies" the Law of the Lord, i.e. the man who is like a cow that ruminates God's Word and think of It, refle'cts on It, dink oor "yehgeh" It day and night (Hebrew order...!). It sounds so sweet in Afrikaans: "soos 'n koei wat herkou..., (zoals een koe, die herkauwt (Dutch))", which just corresponds to our love for chewing.

But most of the trees and plants have thorns down there! Just as we have so many in the Holy Land. In English and Afrikaans, the word for "tree" can be either "bos" or "boom (Germ. Baum)" which is comparable to "bush" and "tree" in the local description of the landscape and the nature. One tree is definitely striking!It is called in English "Buffalo Thorn Tree" and traces back to Latin "Ziziphus mucronata" that came from Greek "Ziziphos". The word is not Indo-European at all, it is rooted in the Semitic languages that haunted from old the coasts of the Mediterrean and down through Zanzibar to the South and the Arabs. "Zizûf" exists in Arabic and constitutes the radical of a name that primarily might be misunderstood for some Westerners.

Afrikaans has a very special name for the tree: "Wag 'nbietjiebos - Wag 'nbietjieboom". It is very clear and quite amazing. It means: "Wait A Little Bit Tree". It is full of thorns everywhere; very green with some fruit, and it definitely looks mice and appealing, charming, but it is full of thorns. The word "Zizuf" does not exist in Aramaic or in Hebrew and is not mentioned in the Talmud. On the other hand, the tree is cell-known in the Middle-East and in particular in the Holy Land and Eretz Israel: we have such a tree with thorn, not exactly the same. But, according to the Christian tradition, the Thorns that were put as a crown on Jesus' head came from the same "Ziziphus micronata, Buffalo-Thorn Tree" and thus from a "Wag 'nbiejtiebos". It is evident that the local thorns and those of the Southern african bush tree have been compared and somhow identified as being of very close species.

It is amazing in our context. In 1938, Albert Einstein, questioned on the possibility of a Jewish State, was a bit suspicious and prevented that the Jews should carefully handle such a project in order to work together. They are used to worked in other countries and various cultures, but not to build up their own "self-identity country". He then added that, if God willing there would be a very special and unexpected reason for the creation of a Jewish State, i.e. in order to shelter and harbor the Jews, yeas, it would make sense and the dream may come to be true. He said: "Tolerance (patience) and wisdom" which in his mother-tongue was "Geduld und Weisheit".

The words are everywhere in Israel. "Todah al hasavlanut: thanks for being patient", "savlanut = patience" are blah-blahed night and day and at every minute in the country and the area, both by the Hebrew-speakers and the Arabs or any other ethnicity. It is our national "must, duty, plight, obedience, awareness". I would consider that the same is real for South Africa on this 100 year anniversary of the Union (1910-2010). But the amuzing part is that there is a tree, a bush-tree, full of thorns that, in the Christian faith, reminds that we need to wait with much patience and deceny for the Second Coming of Jesus, in glory, just as the Jews expect with much patience the adventus, the coming of the Messiah Ben David, christ son of David as stated in Talmud Sukka 52b.

Patience: the word is always connected to "suffering, "pathos"" in the Western cultures as it is also in "sevel", in Hebrew. But the thorns, as our trees or cactuses have more: they protect against violence and abuse. Once the thorns are removed, the bush-trees are soft and mild, tender, just as the famous "sabra, local desert cactus, also the name for the Israeli youths".

Some youths these days are maybe lost or confused, as teens or just-after-teens and post-adolescents can be when they only met with thorns or fences. Patiences becomes then a tremendous fight against framing ourselves; the others that did not share such an experience and cannot be patient because as we say in English "I can't wait" that curiously also can be Afrikaans "ek kan nie wag!". We do not live in cultures that are fed with history. Short-sighted about our past, even 65 years ago from Auschwitz to Hiroshima. "There are times and delays, yesh item uzmanim" as stated in Kohelet/the Book of Proverbs. This bows us not to act like lazy carpets, but to kneel down and be patient with a patience that drives us to something merely divine and not generated by our own desires.

In South Africa, the model is also striking for another reason. There is a pop group of singers that is called "Wag 'nbietjie, wait a little bit", like the tree and the fact that when people are planted in such a soil, they must identify with the nature and surely with the care of waiting some time, a little bit.

"When you have suffered just a little bit, I shall reinstall you..." is a key word in the Gospel that complies with the Talmud thought and makes sense in Jerusalem and the Land. There is a tree, and if the psalmist says we are like trees, we may have to behave like the Ziziphus i.e. like the Wag 'nbiejtiebos.

av aleksandr (in my South African blog "Cradle of the World/Wieg van die Wêreld)