Book review: The Griqua's Apprentice

2009-06-03 00:00


The Griqua’s Apprentice

Antoinette Pienaar


WHEN Antoinette Pienaar finds herself fighting to stay alive after contracting cerebral malaria (black water fever) in Mali, she realises that she must reassess her life.

As a young girl growing up in the Karoo, she’d always loved being out in the veld. She’d wished then that she could unlock the secrets of the landscape around her. But studying drama at university took her on a different path. After many years of singing and acting in concerts around the country, she began to travel to even farther-off places. After her life-threatening illness in Mali, however, she finally returns to a family farm in the Karoo to recuperate.

As her red bakkie drives up to the crumbling buildings on the neglected farm of Theefontein, an old Griqua man appears to be waiting for her arrival. Oom Johannes Willemse greets her with the words: “So you have arrived here at last, Juffrou.”

For 40 years, Oom Johannes had “seen” the woman to whom he would pass on his knowledge of the medicinal herbs of his beloved Karoo veld which his own grandfather had passed down to him. As a clairvoyant, he knew she would arrive in a red bakkie. And Pienaar recognises that Oom Johannes is the person she’s also been waiting for, the one who will finally unlock the mysteries of the veld for her.

Pienaar writes lyrically about her lessons from the plants, as well as her own healing process during her seven-year apprenticeship. Waking daily at 4 am to go into the veld to dig for plants, walking up to nine hours some days in search of particular roots, she learns the ancient healing arts of the Griquas.

This is a lovely book in all senses of the word. Pienaar’s evocative yet earthy writing captures the essence of the Karoo. The glossy photographs complement the information about the rich plant life and make this a beautiful coffee-table book too. Most important of all, though, is the mine of information about herbal remedies for many ailments, from shingles to heart disease.


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