South African Music Studies

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Mothers of the Church: Coloured women’s society music and South African gender issues

M Jorritsma


´n Hen wat kraai se nek word omgedraai. Daar’s net ´n haan mos op ´n kerktoring—baie kerke— het jy al gesien? [A hen that crows gets its neck wrung. There are only roosters on church towers—many churches—have you seen this?] (Joyce Grootboom, 2005)
Die man is die dak van die huis. [The man is the roof of the house.] (Community proverb)

On 3 July 2005, I attended a communion service at the East Street Congregational Church in the residential area for coloured people known as Kroonvale, near Graaff-Reinet.1 The organist played hymns as background music before the service began and, sheltered by the sound, the congregation became unusually talkative. After a shout of ‘Stilte’! (Afrikaans for ‘Silence!’), the vrouediens (women’s society) and the jongsusters (young women’s group) began a series of koortjies (choruses),
thereby forcing the congregation to sing instead of to discuss the news of the week. The congregation sang dutifully and order was restored. Later in the service, after communion, the vrouediens and jongsusters members again took charge of the situation. This time, they rose to their feet, formed a line and danced around the church singing a loud, joyful koortjie, ‘Die engele roer die bad om siekes gesond te maak’ (The angels stir the pool to heal the sick).2 Led by Suster Hendriks, a short, wiry older lady with lively, mischievous eyes, they wound their way around the church aisles. For those few minutes, the women of the church controlled the space.
AJOL African Journals Online