Monday, 27 May 2013

25.05.2013 The Highland Gathering, Johannesburg

South Africa is famously labelled the 'Rainbow Nation' and is an incredible country full of diverse traditions which are passionately upheld by its many peoples. Rather randomly this weekend on Africa Day, the local school of the area which we are currently living in, was having a Highland Gathering, celebrating all things Scottish. As my husband is from Scotland this was something we really had to see.

It is not surprising to find Scottish culture and traditions being followed in countries far from bonnie Scotland - even Moscow has a very active Scottish community and I challenge you to find a modern capital city without an Irish/Scottish/Celtic pub in it - but the level of dedication, organisation, passion and skill that we saw at Johannesburg's Highland Gathering was something else. Also the amount of tartan on display was a joy to behold.

The pipes, the pipes were most certainly calling.

At the De La Salle Holy Cross College event (an event which I am reliably informed is certainly not the biggest in the country) 15 different piping bands from across the region (more if you include the junior sections) were competing in different fields such as march, strathsprey and reel. There was also a very impressive competition for young drum majors (the guys at the front throwing around the sticks) and a highland dancing competition which unfortunately we missed.

The large majority of South Africa's piping bands are connected with prestigious local schools and some of these bands were formed as recently as two years ago. However, there are also a number of bands such as the Transvaal Scottish (1902) and the South African Irish Pipes and Drums (1939) which trace their history back to military regiments posted in the region in the early 20th Century.

At first I thought these guys were wearing Springboks colours, then I saw the gorgeous shamrock and  harp detailing. Definitely my favourite kilts of the day

Piping became popular in South Africa during the years of British influence when various Scottish and Irish regiments were based in South Africa. Immigration from Scotland and Ireland also helped the music to flourish and over the years playing in a piping band has become a source of immense pride for youngsters of all backgrounds attending schools with Celtic associations as well as for those of the older generations who trace their roots back to the British Isles.

Old lads in kilts

Young lads in kilts

Marvellous hat and scarf tartan combo

The undoubted highlight of the Highland Gathering is seeing the massed bands perform at the end of the day. All the bands which had competed marched together across the playing fields to the sound of traditional Scottish folk music -and yes, they even played the Scottish national anthem Flower of Scotland! The sound and spectacle was incredibly moving and I have to say it did make me feel quite homesick, but in the best possible way.

At one point it was announced that they would play Amazing Grace in memory of one of the bands' former Drum Major's who had died from cancer that week. A lone piper struck up the tune first before being joined by the whole mass of hundreds of pipes and drums. The sound was overwhelmingly beautiful. As the man standing next to me put it, it was 'enough to bring a tear to a glass eye'.

The Highland Gathering proved to be a really great family day out. There were bacon butties and sausages on the barbeques, a beer tent (of course), a big crafts market plus the chance to try your hand at some fun and games such as throwing tomatoes at a man in a box (random fun) and of course tossing the caber (traditional fun).

Some of the strapping young lads from one of the bands made this caber tossing stuff all look quite straightforward.  

However as my husband found out - it's definitely not as easy as it looks.

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