Bridging the divide between Heritage Day and braai day

Every year on Heritage Day I hear emotions ranging from irritation to anger about how this public holiday has taken on the perceived one-sided ‘persona’ of Braai Day and thereby excluding much remembrance of pain.

In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, (former) President Mandela stated:

“When our first democratically-elected government de-cided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”

We did so knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture. We knew that, if indeed our nation has to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division and conflict, we had to acknowledge those whose selfless efforts and talents were dedicated to this goal of non-racial democracy.”

The base of the word heritage is heir. I have been wondering about how one disinherits oneself. Can I choose to not accept some parts of an inheritance? I recently read that forgiveness is the choice to look at someone (or something) with today’s eyes. In this way we create a future different to the past. At what point do we start looking to the future in creating a heritage and thus an inheritance of and legacy of love? Could we possibly start with and around a fire on Heritage Day?

On I read: “Heritage Day on 24 September recognises and celebrates the cultural wealth of our nation. South Africans celebrate the day by remembering the cultural heritage of the many cultures that make up the population of South Africa. Living heritage is the foundation of all communities and an essential source of identity and continuity and plays an important role in promoting cultural diversity, social cohesion, reconciliation, peace and economic development. It is therefore important for South Africans to reclaim, restore and preserve these various aspects of living heritage to accelerate the use of living heritage to address challenges communities are facing today.”

I suggest reclaiming a heritage of traditional fire making and thereby fighting the fire of conflict with the fire of reconciliation. Regardless of race, religion, region, language or dietary preference, since this great discovery 1.5 million years ago, we as humans celebrate around fire and with feast.

I know that I have at least one bridge to cross the divide of individual perspectives – and it comes in the form of creating fire like the Bushman.

I was taught the bow method that uses friction and the combination of different woods to create an ember.

This is put into kindling and blown into flame. Anyone can do this with a little bit of will, the wish to hear the call of the ancestors and a fire kit.

I realise that the combination of a hard and a soft wood is a powerful metaphor for how diversity can lead to an ember of opportunity. The word friction comes from ‘to rub’. We can focus on our differences and continue to live with conflict and rub each other up the wrong way. Can we rub each other up the right way?

This fire making method teaches me that friction is a force of Nature, that these woods need to be different in order to work together, that the heat that is created gives birth to an ember that holds the potential for either loving warmth or destructive fire. At this point it depends on its environment and the quality of air that it gets.

When this ember is placed in the nurturing nest of kindling and blown into flame by adding my life force, my breath, I can create a gentle fire that a transmuted phoenix could proudly rise from – depending on my intention, my vision, my wish.

We have a very rich cultural heritage and it is up to me, to you, your family, whoever you spend this day with, to select the inheritance that you choose to carry forward so that you can leave a legacy of acceptance and reconnection. Just like the word ‘braai’ has been taken up in English and most southern African languages, this activity has become part of our collective culture of cooking and of connecting.

All South Africans internationally are invited to light their fires and to celebrate their heritage on this day, wherever they are. I invite you to ignite a phoenix fire around which we can dance a collective dance of diversity.

We make firekits that contain everything that you would need to light your Braai Dag fire like a Bushman and thereby bring our ancestors into your celebration. Contact me on 082 807 7178 or to place your order of a bow fire kit at R350 – free delivery in Somerset West. (I also have kits for the hand drill method, however, I suggest that you get fired up with the bow first.) I also do fireshops for children to corporate.

I leave you with my personal favourite fire mantra: “When you walk into the fire of self-discovery, that fire will not burn you, it will only burn what you are not.” May we all remember that separation is an illusion and may that illusion be burnt in every fire that is lit as an Original Fire.

(PS I have learnt that Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the patron of Braaidag and what a fiery person he is. I definitely will dedicate my traditionally lit Braai Day fire to his health. )


“…that human beings begin to converse for ourselves and with ourselves to find what was old community in future form and develop future community of human beings out of conversations about that which we know and which we wish to know.”

– Paul Myburg