Following closely on from St Helena day is Africa Day; probably less well known in the northern hemisphere than here on St Helena, with its very strong connections to South Africa and in particular Cape Town.
I would hazard a guess to say this is because of the Ship’s connection through the many years of tooing and froing between here and Cape Town. Loved ones have settled in Cape Town, any medical situation which cannot be fixed here will be sent to Cape Town and more poignantly, may die there or on the journey. Much of our regular supplies come from Cape Town and its one of the first ports of call for Saints to go on Holiday, other than the UK of course.
St Helena currently has quite a large proportion of the population either originating from South Africa or who work here and still live over there. Basil Read, the contractor for the airport has had as many as 400 persons working here from all over the continent.
So what is Africa Day? Well over here it’s a day when all Africans take the opportunity to celebrate their nationality and to enjoy festivities, foods and company with their fellow citizens.
Officially its origins started to honour the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). On this day in 1963, 30 leaders of the 32 independent African states signed a founding charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which later led to the current organisation known as the African Union.
I was invited to the home of Julia Benjamin, my colleague and friend who hosted an Africa Day celebration at her home.
The guests did all the cooking and what a feast it was and how proud each cook was of his/her dishes; woe betide anyone who didn’t try everything. Countries represented at Julia’s included: Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.
There was Brai (Barbecue to anyone in the west), Braised beans, rice cooked with peanut butter, slow cooked pigs trotters, greens cooked with onions, “Fat Cook or Vetkoek” which is a sort of savoury doughnut, Pap, which is a maize dish similar to grits or polenta and potjiekos (stew) made from oxtail.
Malva pudding was the grand finale, a dense rich sugary sponge pudding containing Apricot jam and served with custard of a similar mass.
Dancing followed on from the copious quantities of food, everyone was expected to participate and participate we did.
The atmosphere throughout the day and evening was uplifting and exceptionally open and friendly. I have attended parties (as I am sure we all have) where people group into cliques and no one mixes. This was the opposite. Although we all hailed from a huge variety of backgrounds, ages and countries we celebrated together as friends who had known each other for years. The fabulous food and openness of all to try new things set the stage as did the keenness to celebrate Africa.
I went home thinking how fortunate I am to have experienced such an uplifting event and how powerful food and dining together with strangers can be. Something to remember in our dysfunctional society and perhaps something which could be considered in situations which are overheated, whether at family or country level.
St Helena people love parades and parties.
There are around three or four major celebrations through the year and a number of lesser ones when the Scouts and Guides march with the local police force and the local brass band.
The St Helena day parade celebrates the day that St Helena was discovered by the Portuguese navigator Joao da Nova on his voyage home from India in 1502. Over here it is always a public holiday and more so this year as we were expecting the opening of the new airport this weekend. Sadly that is not yet to be but it didn't stop the party from happening.
The year 2016 is noted for it not only being my last St Helena Day, at least for a while, but also that of the RMS St Helena, moored in St James’s bay ready for one of her last voyages to the UK which set off a couple of days later.
These celebrations actually started earlier in the year when each district of the island planned the assembly and theme of their floats. Considering we are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, it is amazing the amount of items are sourced for the floats and the amount of ingenuity which goes into each project. The theme for this year was transport through the ages.
Weather was pretty much perfect for a day in the open air. Not too much sun but enough to make the temperature a pleasant 24 degrees. As quite a windy island, with dusty blasts sometimes gusting debris into people’s eyes, it was a relief to know that today the wind stayed away.
Eventually things got off to a start around 3.30 with the procession winding its way down upper Jamestown toward the market and the main town and onto the sea front.
Although in terms of distance it’s only around a mile from start to finish the convoy takes its time and eventually arrives at the finish having entertained the whole island with displays of music, colour and laughs.
The winning float was chosen to be the St Pauls District entry which was the donkey and cart. A not so long ago form of transport used here up until very recently. The entry was complete with sound system which brayed loudly across the valley just in case we didn't know it was a donkey.
Following on from the parade were celebrations at the Mule Yard, Donny’s bar and Sea Front which lasted until the wee hours.
I missed the firework display at 8.00pm which was a shame.
I went home to check on my photos and never made it back out of the house.
Must be something to do with my age!
I did however get some nice pictures of the town in the early evening sunlight and managed to start this blog.