As we celebrate Heritage Month in September, we review award-winning journalist Sylvia Vollenhoven’s book Keeper of the Kumm: Ancestral longing and belonging of a Boesmankind. It speaks to all South Africans who have ever struggled with their identity and place in this world.
Over the years, much of South Africa’s heritage, culture and history have been lost, but Sylvia was compelled to become the “Keeper” of the Kumm. It was a spiritual calling that she could not ignore. The Kumm is the stories of Bushman lore, and in the book she shares her discovery of her link with her ancestor //Kabbo, a respected Khoisan storyteller.
The book is divided into four sections Mixed, Coloured, Black, and Khoisan and each section takes you through a different part of her life, what she experienced, her pain, and how she overcame everything. Sylvia shares what she uncovered while delving into the Bleek/Lloyd archive (12 000 handwritten pages conveying //Kabbo’s story as told to Lucy Lloyd during the 1800s). The archive has since been entered into the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.
Readers will also gain insight into the life of a young coloured girl growing up during the apartheid years and you soon realise how hard life really was. As a child growing up Sylvia spent a great deal with her grandmother, or Ma, as she calls her. Sylvia grew up struggling with her identity and sometimes felt that she was too dark to play with her coloured friends, but she wasn’t black either.
Keeper of the Kumm deals with a very difficult subject in an extremely respectful way. Many of the issues in this book are still prevalent today in South Africa, but one of the themes in the book is bridging the class, cultural, and colour division in South Africa.
Keeper of the Kumm is a must-read for any South African and Sylvia tells her story beautifully. The book forms part of a bigger project consisting of a play and film. Get your hands on a copy via Exclusive Books, Loot, and Takealot.