As I walk along the Berg River I always wonder why so few people do that...is it really nicer to walk through a busy touristy type of place in preference to experiencing this pure, honest earthy national treasure called Bokkom Lane ? The boats have two-stroke engines nowadays, but I am happy to report that even though some of them really "cowboy" it over the estuary, the birds are totally unperturbed. The pelicans, flamingoes and waders go about their business, while the gulls would optimistically follow...hoping for a morsel of fish.
I want to take you back in time when a little sailing cutter called "Die Alibama" would hitch a ride on a gentle breeze upriver to collect cut reeds which were used for roofing and for matting of beds. In our colourfully expressive Afrikaans language, in which some words are derived from the Malay culture and language, it would be called dekriet and matjiesgoed. The boat would return to Cape Town and feed the busy industry where a new bed was made for every Malay bride to be presented to her all made up, shiny, frilly and lacy, on her wedding day.
And here is where the famous song "Daar kom die Alibama" finds its origin. It refers to the cutter which brought in the bedding material to make the rietkooi (reed bed). This song is the main song on festivals like "Tweede Nuwejaar". (I tell all about the Minstrel Carnival on Tweede Nuwejaar in an earlier blog). No Minstrel Carnival will pass without "Die Alibama" and the beds being remembered in song. I wonder if the thousands of singers pouring down Adderley Street in Cape Town know the role of the Berg River in their favourite song?
There is another boat with a history in the West Coast. That is the American boat "Alabama", linked with Saldanha Bay and I must tell its story some time! How confused the two stories became over time, I cannot tell! Local folklore can be like that!