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The grave of Louis Leipoldt April 7, 2009

Posted by Jenny in Boer War, history, literature.
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15 comments

After visiting  “The Englishman’s Grave,” I continued along the dirt road that steadily uncurled and unscrolled toward Clanwilliam.  I was in the Cederberg region of South Africa, investigating about the Boer War.

The road between Calvinia and Clanwilliam

The road between Calvinia and Clanwilliam

I stopped several times to take pictures of the interesting rock formations.  None of the pictures turned out.  They are small and dull, while the actual places are huge and luminous.  That always seems to happen with my pictures.  As I drove along in my tiny car that had no air conditioning, on a day when the temperature was 42 degrees Celsius, or about 107 degrees Fahrenheit, I noticed another small sign along the way. This was something peculiar about my whole trip: I did not seem to read about things in advance—they just loomed up unexpectedly and caught my attention, like things encountered along the winding path of a dream.

This sign said, “The Grave of Louis Leipoldt.”  I had no clue who Louis Leipoldt was, and my ignorance remained perfect the day I stopped at his grave, for there was no explanatory marker.  But when I think back on it, I am glad that there were no words to disturb the ineffability of the place.

A metal gate stood at the beginning of a short path that led toward a rock overhang on the side of a bluff.  The gate seemed old-fashioned, like something one would find on a farm.  It was a clangy, swinging-on-the-wind kind of gate, and it displayed within a tidy metal square a name in block letters, on two lines:

C. LOUIS

LEIPOLDT

The lettering style was different in some subtle way from any styles familiar to me as an American: the gate and the sign as a whole had a mysterious and talismanic appearance.

I walked to the overhang, passing close to some of the inventively shaped sandstone boulders that I had been admiring along the road.  The rock had a warm color, like living flesh.  I approached the grave.  It stood on a level rock floor beneath the overhang, which seemed like a cave when I reached it, a distinct space to be entered across a threshold.  Above the grave, on the wall of the cave, I made out faded paintings of animals: created by the San, the bushmen.  I knew that to be the case even though there was no label.

San art at Louis Leipoldt's grave

San art at Louis Leipoldt's grave

Now that I have finally learned a little bit about Louis Leipoldt, I can think of several reasons why it is a good thing that his grave at Pakhuis Pass has no explanatory marker.  It is a grave, not an exhibit in a museum; explanatory words would intrude on the perfect silence of the place: it would be hard to find the right words to describe such a complex person.

You can read a little about him here.  He has some things to say about the Boer War, as a person caught in the vicious crossfire of loyalties in the Cape Colony around 1901 and 1902, and I will write about his haunting poem “Oom Gert’s Story” in another post.

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