Some weeks ago, I was at the Mampoerfees (Mampoer Festival) in Cullinan, just east of Pretoria. I wrote about the bizarre sense of alienation I felt as an English South African here, but realise in retrospect that I completely forgot to actually talk a little more about some of what I actually saw at the event. Which makes for a fascinating probe into at least one part of traditional Afrikaner culture. Trying to get a grip on the weirdness in order to write about it was also one of the initial reasons for going in the first place. So that story will be told now
The mampoerfees is basically a large fair celebrating Afrikaans food, culture and traditions, whose centerpiece is a competition to judge the best mampoer (ridiculously strong moonshine) in the area. Various competing distilleries would bring increasingly undrinkable variants of the stuff to be judged and accorded medals and ranks – similar in many ways to how judges of wine might operate, I imagine. Except that while I am told that Oom Schalk’s Peach Witblits may have a nose of fresh fruit and a warm, nutty flavour, the experience of actually drinking the stuff is more akin to sipping petrol, without the subtle tones of nutmeg and cherries which usually make petrol such a delightful beverage.
If you are not partial to mampoer though, there was much else to keep occupied with. Such as the various food stands selling vetkoek (essentially deep fried pockets of dough filled with mince) or the ever-popular South African staple, biltong. For those who have never come across the stuff (the word, unfortunately is not directly translateable), its closest approximation would be beef jerky. Except that I am reliably informed that beef jerky is nowhere near as delicious as biltong – a god among the dried and spiced meat delicacies of the world.
Being vegetarian, I had cheese toast. Yum.
The centerpiece of the event, though, was undoubtedly the mampoer tent, outside which a large queue had already begun to form by the time we arrived. On entry, you would get your shooter glass and colourful tickets which could then be exchanged for either shots of mampoer or various liqueurs.
Ranging from the usual peach, apricot and other fruit varieties, to more exotic versions derived from rose petals, aniseed or almond, the liqueur table threw up something new with every visit. So to speak. The whole event was in fact much more sober and civilised than that statement (and the immense volume of bootleg booze) would suggest.
There were also a good many attendees, like this man, who were dressed in varying degrees of blue in support of the Pretoria rugby side, the Blue Bulls. They were playing the Chiefs from New Zealand in the final of a three nation tournament which, for the average die-hard South African rugby fan, amounts to the last battle in a proxy war between us, New Zealand and Australia that had been raging for the last few months. In the end, the bulls would win. Thoroughly. You can see the presumed reaction of the losers here.
There were also tractors. Lots of tractors. Which lent an occasionally blindingly colourful agricultural element to the proceedings. Whether your thing was steam engines, hay baling demonstrations or (in my case) shooting tractor porn with your camera, you were well taken care of.
There were also elements of the truly bizarre, like this gentleman’s stand selling the stuffed rears of animals which had been modified to pour spirits out of the metal pipe extending from the…erm… posterior. Without the photo, I am not sure I would believe anyone who told me such a story. Who buys this stuff? While it would make the most attention-grabbing cocktail party accessory known to man, would you really not mind drinking from the ass of an animal?
Not everything, unfortunately, is merely whimsical or bizarre. Some cultural dinosaurs from South Africa in the mid 1980’s were also in attendance. In this case, selling delightfully colourful drinking glasses with the old South African flag and the eloquent ‘fok die nuwe suide afrika‘ (fuck the new south africa) lovingly stencilled on the side. I could write a whole separate post on the cultural politics of the Afrikaner nation after their near-complete loss of political power during the creation of the new South Africa, but that would take a blog post far longer than this one to properly articulate. And would not have allowed me quite the same liberty with colourful pictures of tractors and warthog-ass shot pourers, which I so very much wanted to show you.
The very obvious truth that this event revealed, in retrospect (and when compared to the day spent burning firebreaks), is that in some areas this country still remains starkly divided along racial and cultural lines. It’s not completely true in all spheres though, and certainly far less true of the younger generations, but it remains uncomfortably obvious to see on occasions like these, where it would seem that some truths can be as close as two sets of photographs away.