Arts & Crafts
Piet van Niekerk
is a fine craft, and today it is a rare craft.
There are only a few people alive in South-Africa who can still make a real leather whip.
Oom Piet is an expert in the art of whipmaking,
I dare say Oom Piet is one of the best, if not the best!
National Heritage ...
This designation would not be amiss in the case of oom Piet van Niekerk of
Groot-Marico. He is most probably the only person in South-Africa (if not in the
world) who occupies himself on a daily basis with the plaiting of whips, much
like his ancestors of yesteryear.
According to Oom Piet, Dr. Johan van Niekerk of Kroonstad, who recently
investigated the status of the craft in South-Africa, told him that it is only a
matter of a year or five before this tradition will have disappeared. As with
most future projections, this may be a questionable assumption; after all, there
are many people in rural South-Africa who still depend on animal
traction to get around, and for them the whip will always be an indispensable
Just a short while ago, a young girl from New Zeeland, who visited Oom
Piet, demonstrated her skill by awakening great echoes with one of his whips in
the Draaifontein ravines. She told him she came from a sheepfarm where whips are
still regularly used. In the kloofs of the Marico cattle and sheep have always
been accustomed to the familiar crack of the whip at sunset, reminding them to
return to the kraal.
On the other hand, it must be conceded that there are probably not many
people left who can produce a whip of the same high quality as Oom Piet. It is
perfectly balanced complete with stick, hinge (hingsel), core around which the
whip component is plaited with eight thongs; the core continues as agterslag and
ends in a replaceable whip-lash (voorslag).
One of the reasons why whip plaiting may seem a dying craft is because the raw materials from which a whip is assembled are not readily available over a shop counter or even the internet for that matter. It has to be painstakingly prepared by the whipmaker himself, once more demanding know-how and considerable skill. This includes the selection of appropriate skins e.g. kudu and eland for the core, rooihartbees for the plaited thongs and bushbuck for the whip-lash; followed by the preparation of skins e.g. removing the hair and softening the material by means of braying and the addition of animal fats. Oom Piet process the whole skins and cuts his thongs afterwards with a sharp pen-knife.
Those objects made of tanned leather and sold at fleamarkets pretending to be whips are at the best bad imitations of the real thing, and totally impractical for use as a farm implement.
It may well be that the crack of a whip (when its thin whip-lash breaks through the sound barrier) is on its way out. But in the mean time Oom Piet cannot produce whips fast enough to supply the demand. And when visitors turn up at the farm he removes the large ox-driving whip (made of the hide of a black wildebeest) from the wagon and dextrously cracks it to reverberate along the krantzes and kloofs of Draaifontein.
he may nostalgically recall these lines of a long-ago poet (is it A.G. Visser?):
more before I die
like to hear the large ox-whip resound
Across the fallow land."
Article written by Egbert van Bart
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