I have my Ouma’s bed in my flat now and cannot remember a time in my when the bed wasn’t somewhere in my life.
As family history goes my grandparents were amongst the first pioneer column treks into Southern Rhodesia in the late 1800’s.They were young teenagers at that stage, my Oupa or grandfather being fifteen, which was already a man in those times.The eldest of seven children he was already used to working the fields and tending the animals and crops on the farm they had had. His father and he were now the only ones to look after the small herd of cattle plus look after and maintain the four ox-wagons the family were driving on the arduous journey from the Cape of Good Hope through the Southern African Republic and into the newly discovered country of Southern Rhodesia. He had four younger sisters and two younger brothers and the responsibility for their care rested heavily on him.
My Ouma or grandmother was in the same pioneer column as my Oupa but as there were over 100 wagons and thirty families it was many days and many miles before they first new of each other. My Ouma was twelve years old and travelling with her mother, her mother’s parents and an uncle and his family. My Ouma’s father had died a year previously so there was just herself, her mother, an older brother of thirteen and an older sister of fifteen. The whole family was moving to start a new and better life in the new country. They had all their worldly possessions packed into six ox-wagons, the one wagon was for Ouma and her small family and in the middle was the double bed. Well not quite the double bed, the base and mattress were on top of the ornately scrolled wooden head and base board and packed tightly all around were the rest of their possessions.
On the long journey, my Ouma spent many hours playing quietly or reading, snuggled deep into the downy softness of the voluptuous mattress.
They had apparently travelled for eight months before they reached the Great Limpopo River. Although there had been many obstacles on their trip, people being hurt or killed, families deciding they had reached the place they wanted to live and staying at newly built homesteads along the way, this was the biggest problem so far.
All along the journey many tales had been told of this great river crossing. They met numerous travelers turned back once they had seen the expanse of water, the leaders of their column had crossed the river before though so were confident they knew what to do.
Ouma told me the story of her first sight of the wide expanse of slow flowing green water. It was a hot, humid day and the flies had driven her to burrow deep under the covers on the bed when her mother called her urgently to come to the front of the wagon. They had stopped on an escarpment overlooking the huge river valley. Lined up for miles on either side of their wagon were other wagons and people were climbing out and walking down to the river’s edge. She cannot remember how many people but she said there must have been a hundred, there were a lot she said. Further back from where the wagons had stopped a small wagon town had built up of people who had come this far and did not know what to do next so had just camped out.
As my Ouma climbed down and followed her brother and sister down the steep slope she noticed a young man on a horse ahead of her. He seemed to be having a problem with the beast and it was snorting and jiggling against his rein. The young man was trying to quieten the animal which seemed almost too big for him to control and it was taking all the youth’s strength to hold the horse’s head in.
Suddenly, with a sharp neigh the horse bucked and the young man flew into the air. The horse started galloping madly down the slope and straight for the water. Everyone started shouting and people were either running at the horse waving their hats to try to stop it or, the wives and children ran to get out-of-the-way of the charging, red-eyed, frothing monster. Screams broke out as they noticed the young man, his leg still stuck in the stirrup was bouncing along the ground behind the horse!!!
My Ouma says it was like watching everything in slow motion but it all happened so fast. The horse leapt into the slow-moving river and started swimming, dragging the poor young man with it. Everyone watched in horror expecting to see his drowned body float to the surface of the muddy brown water. Next thing, as the horse was about a quarter of the way across they saw the young man surface next to the horse and slowly pull himself onto its back. The horse carried on swimming but although the man pulled at the reins and shouted and tried to force the horse to turn, it refused and continued heading for the other bank.
There was nothing anyone could do but watch and pray. The horse was a large and strong beast and seemed to be coping well with the swirling current of water and after the initial fighting the young man obviously realised he was to far into the river to turn back so it would be better to just carry on. He now bent over the horse’s head shouting encouragement and pleas. The crowd on the bank took up the cries and everybody was urging the horse on to the far bank. Then someone noticed what they, at first, thought was a log, floating steadily in the water aiming for the horse. He shouted to alert the people around him and then they noticed a couple of floating logs – crocodiles!!!.
The crocodiles were still closer to this side of the bank then the other and people started shouting and throwing rocks and stones at them and firing shots. This must have spurred the horse on because he was now nearing the other bank. Everyone went silent, my Ouma says even the birds seemed silent. A lot of people had realised if there were crocodiles on this side of the river, there must surely be crocodiles on the other side. The crowds of people were still and silent as with one silent voice they urged the horse and its young rider to safety.
They made it. The cheer that rang up as the large beast pulled his exhausted body up to the safety of the bank on the other side was heard for many miles. The young man still clung to the horses back but seemed unconscious at first, as he did not move as the horse clambered up the steep cliff. They reached the top and everyone could see the two joined in the silhouette of the setting sun.
Suddenly the horse started neighing and jumping up and down and bucking again. He must be mad, the heat must have gotten to his brain!! The young man had slid or fallen off and standing holding the horse’s head he calmed it down. By now people were shouting instructions across to the young man checking on him and Ouma could see who she realised were his parents and family standing in a huddle comforting each other. The young man replied he was ok and it was all decided he would have to make a camp as best he could and in the morning the operation would begin to cross the river to join him.
The young man, who Ouma had now found out his name was Stanley, started un-saddling his horse and drying it down with dry grass. As he pulled the saddle off he suddenly shouted in shock and dropping the saddle seemed to be jumping and stomping, very similar to how the horse had been acting!! Under the saddle had been three scorpions!! The poor beast had been tortured by their stings and that was why he had gone mad. That night Ouma slept in the bed with her mother and her sister as normal, with her brother under the wagon. Talk of the young man had circled the camp around and around and his bravery and courage were praised.
The following day people prepared and readied themselves as had been discussed with the column leaders at the onset of the journey. The wagons were unpacked and stripped of everything including their huge metal wheels. The flat wooden wagon beds were gently lowered into the river – they floated!! Their wooden poles and planks had been oiled and treated back in the Cape just for this purpose, so they could float across the river.
Six big men climbed onto one of the floating wagons and slowly they poled themselves across the river. What a miracle, what excitement, everyone was laughing and crying at the same time. Stanley on the other side had been calling encouragement to the floating men and when they landed that side they all hugged cheerfully. They had taken some ropes across the water with them and these they anchored to some large trees then they tethered the horse on a long rope to the side of their bed boat and slowly entered the water again, at first having to tug at the horse’s rope to get him to enter the river again.
All day there had been young people and children shouting and throwing things at any crocodiles they had seen and this seemed to have frightened them into hiding, so the journey was made back with no “floating logs” and no problems. Stanley, was lauded and applauded and hugged and kissed and you could see he was quite proud of himself. My Ouma says he did not even notice her watching him from the edge of the crowd around him, he says he did.
The next day early the first of the families and their wagon beds were loaded onto the water, any livestock they had, had been tethered to the ropes and people started across the river for the transfer which was to take three days before everything was safely on the other side, including a lot of new families and wagons who had been camped. Some animals were lost to drowning and crocodiles, my Ouma thinks she remembers two people falling off and drowning but otherwise they seemed to make it.
After a week of resting and putting everything together again they carried on their journey, some of the column started off again, but some stayed behind. There had been much discussion amongst all the leaders and they had all decided to go in different directions.
Almost a year and a half after setting out, my Ouma and her family and three other families including Stanley’s reached an area not far from their river crossing which they decided was where they wanted their future to be and they left the column there. By this time everyone was good friends and Ouma says Stanley and her older sister seemed to becoming good friends.
After a couple of months’, Ouma’s mother remarried a man whose wife had passed away on the journey and they had three children together over the next four years, all born in the wooden double bed which had pride of place in their bedroom.
Stanley never proposed to Ouma’s sister and Ouma and Stanley had become very friendly. he used to talk to her a lot and take her riding and exploring the land around their farms. He showed her a place on a small hill he told her that he was going to build a house there for her.
He did, and when my Ouma was about eighteen they got married and moved to their house on the hill. All the furniture was handmade and it was very basic. The bath was filled from buckets heated on an outside fire and the toilet was half way down the side of the hill, a small building on its own overlooking the bushveld.
As a wedding present they were given the wooden double bed with its carved bed posts and patterns.
My Ouma had six children in the bed, two died and then after my mother got married the bed was given to her.
She didn’t have any children in the bed, as there were hospitals by then, and she and my father actually didn’t sleep in it much and it was kept in the guest bedroom. My mother had never really liked the bed, probably because she had been born in it.
I was the oldest of four children and loved the bed. I used to cuddle down into the soft mattress and read and play with my dolls and dream of handsome men on horses. My Ouma came to live with us after Oupa died and she stayed in the room with the double bed and I used to sleep with her often and she told me the stories about it.
When I became a teenager I demanded the bed as mine and have had it since then. When I married it wasnt our marriage bed as my husband didn’t like it, and I never had any of my children in it, but now I have it in my flat. I love cuddling down in it and reading and I spend hours oiling and polishing the wooden scrolls and swirls on the head and base board and wondering what stories it could tell me.
I have my Ouma’s bed in my flat now and cannot remember a time in my when the bed wasn’t somewhere in my life.