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South Africa - flag songs

Last modified: 2009-03-21 by bruce berry
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Oranje-blanje-blou

Oranje-blanje-blou (Afrikaans for Orange, white and blue) refers, of course, to the old South African flag used between 1928 and 1994. This song was popular especially among Afrikaners when this flag flew over South Africa. The tune is by Henry Hugh Pierson (they don't say whether it was borrowed from this composer), and the lyrics are by an Afrikaans poet who wrote under the name Eitemal.  The attribution for the text reads: "EITEMAL na: ,,O.D., hoch in Ehren''.
(There is a commonly used style of quotation marks, primarily German but often used in Afrikaans, that opens a quote with commas rather than the more familiar  "inverted commas").

The title simply gives the colours of the 1928 South African flag, or, more strictly, the Dutch Princenvlag: orange, white and blue. (I am not  certain of the derivation of "blanje", since it is not used in ordinary spoken Afrikaans, but I would guess that it is a form of the French "blanc", white).

The text reads:

Die Hoogland is ons woning,
die land van son en veld,

waar woeste vryheidswinde
waai oor graf van meenge held.
Die ruimtes het ons siel gevoed,
ons kan g'n slawe wees,
want vryer as die arendsvlug,
die vlugte van ons gees.

Chorus:

Dis die tyd, (repeated)
dis die dag, (repeated)
om te handhaaf en te bou.
Hoog die hart, (repeated)
hoog die vlag, (repeated)
hoog Oranje-blanje-blou!
Ons gaan saam die donker toekoms in
om as een te sneuwel of oorwin,
met ons oog gerig op jou,
ons Oranje-blanje-blou!

(Note: In the sixth line [hoog Oranje-blanje-blou], there is an echo of  "blou, blanje-blou!")

Die ruwe berge-reekse
staan hoog teen awendlug,
soos gryse ewighede daar
versteen, verstyf in vlug.
En stewig soos die grou graniet
ons Boeretrots en -trou,
die fondament warop ond hier
'n nuwe nasie bou.

(Chorus)

Die God van onse vaders
het ons hierheen gelei
ons dien sy grootse skeppings-plan,
solank ons Boere bly.
Ons buig ons hoof
voor Hom alleen;
en as Hy ons verhoor
omgord ons bly die lendene:
Die toekoms wink daar voor.

Translation (off the cuff - any improvements welcome).
Note: the reference to Hoogland (translated here as highlands) is probably poetic licence for Highveld (Afrikaans Hoe"veld), a region which includes large parts of both the former Transvaal Province (Zuid- Afrikaansche Republiek) and the current Free State Province (the old Oranje Vrij Staat).

The highlands are our home,
the land of sun and veld,
where wild winds of freedom
blow over [the] grave of many a hero.
The open spaces have fed our souls,
we cannot be slaves [literaaly "we can be no slaves"]
as freer than the eagle's flight,
the flights of our spirit.

Chorus:

It's the time, it's the day,
to maintain and to build.
High the heart,
high the flag,
high Orange-white-blue!

We go together into the dark future
together to die or win,
with our eye fixed on you,
our Orange-white-blue!

(Sneuwel means literally to die in warfare; oorwin means to win in battle.)

The rugged mountain ranges
stand high against the evening light
like petrified grey eternities there,
stiffened in flight.
And firmly like the grey granite
our Boer pride and loyalty,
the foundation upon which we here
are building a new nation.

(The word awendlug [evening air] seems to be an error; it seems more logical to say awendlig [evening light]; awend is a poetic form [harking back to Dutch] for the more usual Afrikaans "aand").

The God of our fathers
led us here,
we serve his mighty creation plan,
as long as we Boers remain.
Webend our heads before Him alone;
and if He hears us
we gird our loins joyfully:
The future waves us on.

(Source: The FAK [Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereninge] Sangbunde).
Mike Oettle, 06 Feb 2004


Ons Vlag

Nou waai ons Vlag en wapper fier!
Sy kleure is ons vreugde;
hul skoonheid spoor ons harte aan
tot ware, ed'le deugde.

Oranje dui op heldemoed
wat krag vind by die Here;
die Blanje eis 'n rein gemoed;
die Blou verg trou en ere.

Ons Vlag bly steeds ons eenheidsband.
Al kom ook sware tye;
dis God wat waak oor Volk en Land,
Suid-Afrika ons eie.

Translation:

Now our flag waves and flaps bravely!
Its colours are our joy;
their beauty encourages our hearts
to true, noble virtues.

Orange stands for heroic courage
which draws strength from the Lord;
the White demands a pure attitude;
the Blue wants loyalty and honour.

Our flag remains our bond of unity.
Even if times get hard;
it's God who watches over Nation and Land,
South Africa our own.

The forms "sware" (where "swaar" would be the usual way of speaking), "ed'le" (for "edele") and "ere" (for "eer") are poetic forms,  adaptations to the scansion. The same goes for the word "meen'ge" in Oranje-blanje-blou, which would normally be "menige".

(Source: The FAK [ Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereninge] Sangbunde).
Mike Oettle, 10 Feb 2004


De Vlaamse Leeuw

This song is an odd one to find in the FAK Sangbundel, since its title translates as "The Flemish Lion" and the language is Dutch, definitely not Afrikaans. Clearly, it was included because, centuries after the Eighty Years
War, the symbol of Flanders still finds a resonance with Afrikaner descendants of  those Protestant Flemings who fled Spanish rule and went to live in the Seven Provinces. 

The words are credited to T H van Peene, and the tune to K Mirij, arrangement by Dirkie de Villiers (son of M L de Villiers, the composer of  the music to Die Stem van Suid-Afrika, the former South African national anthem).

There are two verses and a refrain:

Zij zullen hem niet temmen,
de fiere Vlaamse Leeuw,
al dreigen zij zijn vrijheid
met kluisters en geschreeuw.
Zij zullen hem niet temmen,
zolang e'e'n Vlaming leeft,
zolang de Leeuw kan klauwen,
zolang hij tanden heeft.

Refrain:

Zij zullen him niet temmen
zolang e'e'n Vlaming leeft,
zolang de Leeuw kan klauwen,
zolang hij tanden heeft,
zolang de Leeuw kan klauwen,
zolang hij tanden heeft.

De tijd verslindt de steden,
geen tronen blijven staan,
de legerbenden sneven,
een volk zal niet vergaan.
De vijand trekt te velde,
omringd van doodsgevaar.
Wij lachen met zijn woede,
die Vlaamse Leeuw is daar.

Here's an attempt at a translation:

They won't tame him,
the proud Flemish Lion,
even if they threaten his freedom
with chains and shouting.
They will not be able to tame him
as long as even one Fleming lives,
as long as the Lion can claw,
as long as he has teeth.

Refrain:

They will not tame him,
the proud Flemish Lion,
as long as one Fleming lives,
as long as the Lion has claws,
as long as he has teeth,
as long as the Lion has claws,
as long as he has teeth.

Time eats up the cities,
no thrones last forever,
the armed companies die in battle,
a people will not disappear.
The enemy goes out to war,
surrounded by deadly danger.
We laugh at his anger,
the Flemish Lion is there.

I have written the word een as e'e'n - each 'e' carries an acute accent. This emphasises the word, giving the meaning "even if only one Fleming is left  alive". The word verslindt means to destroy by eating - this verb is used literally only of animals (never humans) and, poetically, of things that destroy in like manner. I am not certain that I have the right word for "kluisters" - I don't  have a dictionary at hand as I write this - and would be grateful if some Dutch correspondent would check that. "Geschreeuw" can  mean either shouting or screaming, but shouting seems more appropriate. In the second verse, "de legerbenden sneven" - "leger" means army, but "armed companies" seems to fit better with "benden" or bands. "Sneven" (in Afrikaans "sneuwel") means to die in war or in battle (rather than dying of disease, another common way in which soldiers have traditionally lost their lives). I have rendered "een volk" as "a people", but "a nation" could also be  appropriate. "Trekt te velde" means literally to go out into the fields, but its application to an enemy means that it is out on campaign (after all,  campaign comes from a word meaning "fields", also).
Mike Oettle, 02 Mar 2004

Words and tune of this song were created 1847, one of the most difficult times for Flemish identity and Dutch language in Belgium. Since 1973 it has been the official hymn of the Vlaamse Gemeenschap (Flemish Community). 

More information (in Dutch) can be found at:
http://docs.vlaanderen.be/channels/hoofdmenu/vlaamseoverheid/volkslied.jsp

In 20th Century Protestant, and probably also Catholic, songbooks in the (Northern) Netherlands the song was a standard item. It was one of the first tunes I learnt to play on the piano (after listening to my grandfather playing it on his organ).
Gerard van der Vaart, 03 Mar 2004

I may add that the original version was deliberatly transposed (lowered, I believe) at the moment of adoption by the (then) Flemish Community so as to start with the same note as the Dutch hymn, 'Wilhelmus'. 

As can be seen on the link provided, the flag relation is mainly prescribed usage; the Lion is present metaphorically. "Kluisters" are shackles, but "chains" is all right.

There are some who think that the song is old-fashioned, preferring "Waar Maas en Schelde vloeien" (Where Maas/Meuse and Scheldt are flowing").

In the recent past, song festivals such as the "Vlaams Nationaal Zangfeest" (Flemish National Songfest") ended by singing the 'Vlaamse Leeuw', the 'Wilhelmus', and 'Die Stem van Suid-Afrika'. 
Jan Mertens, 03 Mar 2004


Transvaalse Volkslied

The Transvaalse Volkslied, although the official anthem of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek and when the territory was officially called Transvaal (1879-81and 1901 onwards), it was not well thought of by the authorities.

The words and music of the Transvaalse Volkslied are by Catharina F van Rees, and it is dated 1875 - surprisingly it dates to the period before the annexation of 1879, since the emotions seem to blend well with those of the victorious rebels of 1881. Possibly this date accounts for the song's non-avoidance of the word Transvaal, which was the name of the state so strongly rejected in the uprising of 1880-81. The arrangement is by G G Cillie'. (There is an acute accent on the final letter in this surname; it is pronounced "Sil-yee". The surname is French, although its spelling is no longer authentically French; other members of this family spell it as Cilliers or Celliers.) The language is Dutch. (As mentioned previously, Afrikaans was the spoken language of all the 19th-century Boer republics, but was hardly ever written, and was not generally well thought of by
those who had been educated in either English or Dutch.)

Kent gij dat volk vol heldenmoed
en toch zo lang geknecht?
Het heeft geofferd goed en bloed
voor vryheid en voor recht.
Komt burgers! laat de vlaggen wapp'ren,
ons lijden is voorbij;
roemt in die zege onzer dapp'ren:
Dat vrije volk zijn wij!
Dat vrije volk, dat vrije volk, dat vrije, vrije volk zijn wij!

Kent gij dat land, zo schaars bezocht
en toch zo heerlik schoon;
waar de natuur haar wond'ren wrocht,
en kwistig stelt ten toon?
Transvalers! laat ons feestlied schallen!
Daar waar ons volk hield stand,
waar onze vreugdeschoten knallen,
daar is ons vaderland!
Dat heerlik land, dat heerlik land, dat is, dat is ons vaderland!

Kent gij die Staat, nog maar een kind
in's werelds Statenrij,
maar tog door 't machtig Brits bewind
weleer verklaard voor vrij?
Transvalers! edel was uw streven,
en pijnlik onze smaad,
maar God die uitkomst heeft gegeven,
zij lof voor d'eigen Staat!
Looft onze God! Looft onze God! Looft onze God voor land en Staat!

Now for a translation (again lease excuse and correct! any errors):

Do you know the people full of heroic courage
and yet so long servants?
It has offered possessions and blood
for freedom and for justice.
Come, citizens, let the flags wave,
our suffering is past;
be joyous in the victory of our brave ones;
We are the free people!
The free people, the free people, the free, free people are we!

Do you know the land,
so seldom visited,
and yet so wonderfully beautiful;
where nature has wrought her wonders,
and profligately puts them on display?
Transvalers! let our festival song resound!
There were our people stood fast,
where our gunshots of joy resound,
there is our fatherland,
That wonderful land, that wonderful land, that is, that is our
fatherland!

Do you know the State,
yet still a child among the States of the world,
but nontheless by the mighty British power
truly declared as free?
Transvalers! Noble was your struggle,
and painful our suffering,
but God has given the outcome,
and praise for our own State!
Praise our God! Praise our God! Praise our God! Praise our God for land
and State!

In the first verse, "wapp'ren" and "dapp'ren" are poetic forms that omit the  middle vowel. The same goes for "wond'ren" in the second verse. "Geknecht" means "reduced to the state of servants" (not quite slaves).
In the third verse the word Statenrij has no exact equivalent in English, although English occasionally uses the same construction of ending a word with -ry to form a noun from a shorter one, as in "heraldry". 
"Statenrij" is perhaps best rendered as "the multitude of States" or "the  variety of States" (independent states, that is). "Door't" is a typically Dutch construction which has disappeared from Afrikaans, except in one or two idioms, where the definite object "het" is  reduced to its final letter and (sometimes) tagged onto the previous
word. (North country English has a comparable usage, although this is a shortening  of "the".)
Mike Oettle, 04 Mar 2004


Vryheidslied

On flipping through the FAK book I came across a song. The title is Vryheidslied. The lyrics are by Jan F E Celliers, and the music by Emiel Hullebroeck. The words are:

Vrome vad're, fier en groot
Deur vervolging, ramp en nood,
was hul leuse, tot die dood:
Vryheid! Vryheid!

Erf'nis van hul moed en trou
is die grond waar ons op bou.
Juigend tot die hemel-blou:
Vryheid! Vryheid!

Ere wie die dood mag lei
om te rus aan hulle sy,
met die sterwenswoord te skei:
Vryheid! Vryheid!

Op dan, broers, en druk hul spoor,
voorwaarts, broers, die vaandel voor,
laat die veld ons krygsroep hoor:
Vryheid! Vryheid!

Woes geweld mag hoogty hou,
kettings mag ons lede knou,
maar die leuse bly ons trou:
Vryheid! Vryheid!

Jukke mag vir slawe wees,
manneharte ken geen vrees,
duld geen boei vir lyf of gees:
Vryheid! Vryheid!

Now the English translation:

Pious fathers (ancestors), proud and brave
Through persecution, disaster and need
their motto, to the death, was:
Freedom! Freedom!

The heritage of their courage and faith
is the land we build on.
Joyful to the blue heavens:
Freedom! Freedom!

Honours to those led by death
to rest at its side,
uttering their final word:
Freedom! Freedom!

Up, then, brothers, and follow their tracks,
forwards, brothers, the banner in front,
may the veld hear our battle cry:
Freedom! Freedom!

Brutal force might with the day,
chains may chafe our limbs,
but to this motto we are faithful:
Freedom! Freedom!

Yokes may be for slaves,
the hearts of men know no fear,
tolerating no shackles for body or soul:
Freedom! Freedom!

Notes: The word "vader" translates as "father", and its usual plural is "vaders" ("fathers"). The plural form "vadere" (here poetically shortened to "vad're") means "ancestors".  The word "lede" means "members", but is here an abbreviation of  "ledemate" ("body parts" or "limbs"). "Ledemate" is used also of members of a church community, a reference to St Paul's description of the Church as being the Body of Christ, made up of people with different functions. The ordinary translation of "vaandel" is "ensign" (a naval ensign is a vlootvaandel), but in the poetic context, "banner" seems more appropriate.
Mike Oettle, 14 April 2004


Vaarwel aan die Vierkleur

Here are the lyrics of Vaarwel aan die Vierkleur, as they appear in the FAK-Sangbundel (Fourth Edition 1979, sixth printing of 2002) published by Protea Boekhuis for the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge (FAK).

I don't know if I've managed to turn out an acceptable rendition in English. The original is rather tearful I'm afraid. The word 'Vierkleur' I kept, 'Fourhue' rather sounds like a steed ridden by a LOTR character. To 
pronounce 'Vierkleur', say "veerckler" with -er as in 'her'. One strong image gets lost in translation, the word 'vlag' is feminine you see. Here goes: 

No longer may the Vierkleur wave, 
in tears we gave it up, 
it has been buried with our braves 
sunk into an honourable grave 
it has been buried with our braves 
sunk into an honourable grave. 

Happier those who fell 
when still the Flag was borne, 
than us who had to see and mourn 
it dragged into the dust 
than us who had to see and mourn 
it dragged into the dust. 

No happy morning for it there, 
we part from it forever 
now resting in the Nation's heart 
and dedicated to the Past 
now resting in the Nation's heart 
and dedicated to the Past. 

Blessed to those who bore it boldly 
to brave the prideful foe 
whose feeble arms to it did cling 
as they went to their death 

whose feeble arms to it did cling 
as they went to their death. 

Let Future Ages never forget them 
as long as men endure 
till even Heaven is outworn 
and Earth reels before its fall, 
till even Heaven is outworn 
and Earth reels before its fall.
Jan Mertens, 30 Apr 2004


Die Vlaglied / The Song of the Flag

Another flag song, this time abut the former South African flag called "Die Vlaglied" / "The Song of the Flag" which was composed by CJ Langenhoven, the composer of the former South African National Anthem "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika" / "The Call of South Africa".

This song was sung by a Children's Choir at the dedication ceremony marking the establishment of the Republic of South Africa held at the Cape Show Grounds in Cape Town on 31 May 1961.

The English and Afrikaans versions are as follows:

"The Song of the Flag"
Cradled in beauty forever shall fly
In the gold of her sunshine the blue of her sky,
South Africa's pledge of her freedom and pride
In their home by sacrifice glorified.
By righteousness armed, we'll defend in our might
The sign and the seal of our freedom and right,
The emblem and loyalty, service and love;
To our own selves true and to God above,
Our faith shall keep what our hearts enthrone -
The flag of the land that is all our own.

"Die Vlaglied"
Nooit hoef jou kinders wat trou is te vra:
"Wat beteken jou vlag dan, Suid-Afrika?"
On sweet hy's die seel van ons vryheid en reg
Vir naaste en vreemde, vir oorman en kneg;
Die pand van ons erf'nis, geslag op geslag,
Om te hou vir ons kinders se kinder swat wag;
Ons nasie se grondbrief van eiendomsland,
Uitgegee op gesag van die Hoogste se hand.
Oor ons hoof sal ons hys, in ons hart sal ons dra,
Die vlag van ons eie Suid-Afrika.
Bruce Berry, 31 Aug 2007

www.voortrekkers.org.za/literatuur/ander/vk-boeke/Verkenne.../Simbole_van_ons_volk.pdf provides more information on this song:

DIE VLAGLIED
Die betekenis van 'n eie nasionale vlag word nrens mooier en treffender besing as in die woorde van C.J. Langenhoven se Vlaglied nie. Die Vlaglied is slegs die laaste strofe van die gedig Ons eie vlag. Dit is deur F.J. Joubert getoonset.

Nooit hoef jou kinders wat trou is te vra:
Wat beteken jou vlag dan, Suid-Afrika?
Ons weet hy's die sel van ons vryheid en reg
Vir naaste en vreemde,vir oorman en kneg;
Die pand van ons erf'nis,geslag op geslag,
Om te hou vir ons kinders se kinders wat wag;
Ons nasie se grondbrief van eiendomsland,
Uitgegee op gesag van die Hoogste se hand.
Oor ons hoof sal ons hys, in ons hart sal ons dra,
Die vlag van ons eie Suid-Afrika.


Which I translate as follows:
THE FLAG SONG
Nowhere the meaning of an own national flag is expressed more beautifully and fittingly than in the words of C.J. Langenhoven's Flag Song. This is the last stanza of the poem Ons eie vlag (Our own
flag). It was set to music by F.J. Joubert.


Never your children so faithful need ask:
What does you flag mean then, South Africa?
We know it's the seal of our freedom and rights
For neighbour and stranger, for servant and boss;
The pledge of our heritage, from parent to child
To keep for our children's children to be
The writ of our nation of the right to the land.
That was written on authority of the Highest own hand
We'll hoist ov'r our heads, and we'll hold in our heart
The flag of our dearest South Africa
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 31 Aug 2007


The Fallen Flag

While this is not a song about a flag (it has no tune that I am aware of), it is very much a poem about the vierkleur of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, and to my mind belongs with the South African flag songs which have already been posted to FOTW.  This poem was published in England in 1902 as part of a collection entitled "Songs of the Veld".  The book was banned in South Africa by the British
military authorities at that time.   A new edition of "Songs of the Veld" has just been published in Cape Town, with the addition of commentary and historical notes in both Afrikaans and English.  The ISBN is 978-0-620-39432-1.

THE FALLEN FLAG
Inscribed to Albert Cartwright The African Bonivard.

Furl the fourfold banner,
Lay that flag to rest;
In the roll of honour
The brightest, bravest, best.
Now no hand may wave it,
O'er valley, pass or hill;
Where thousands died to save it
The patriot hearts are still.

It flew o'er proud Majuba,
Where the victor farmers stood:
O'er the tide of the Tugela
Dark-dyed with hostile blood.
On Stormberg passes glorious
And o'er Ma'rsfontein* height,
Wher Cronje's host victorious
Withstood the British might.

But a prouder grander story
Is the record of the band,
Which surpassed all former glory,
In the latest greatest stand.
When ten to one outnumbered
Of hope and help bereft,
On ground with graves encumbered,
Defenders still were left.

There were hero hearts to lead them,
On the path where death was won;
To float the flag of Freedom
Where the eagle sees the sun.
To keep the Vierkleur flying
On every fortress hill;
From the cold clasp of the dying
There were hands to sieze it still.

O Land, so fondly cherished
Endeared by patriot graves,
The soil where such have perished
Is not the soil for slaves.
From age to age your story
Shall sound to other days:
You leave your sons the glory
That fallen flag to raise.

O sacred smitten Nation,
Crowned on thy Calvary,
There's a day of restoration
An Easter Morn for Thee.
Vierkleur, young hands shall grab thee
New armies round thee stand;
Men whose fathers died shall clasp thee
On the blood-bought Burghers' Land.

* Magersfontein should thus be pronounced.

[This footnote, explaining the spelling Ma'rsfontein, appears under the second stanza.]
Mike Oettle,  18 Dec 2008