Saturday, May 15, 2010

Storms River Mouth and Ancestral Memories

Near the mouth is a large cave which was once used by the Strandlopers for shelter. It's about forty metres deep and very dark and eerie. -

Many years before I even became aware of my ancestral connections to the "Strandlopers" (Beachcombers of the Cape) I felt an inexplicable attraction to them and none as powerful as at Storms River Mouth near Knysna on the Garden Route.  We first visited Storms River Mouth in July 1994. I then described my first impressions...

"Storms River Mouth in the Tsitsikama Nature Reserve where mighty oceans pound, mysterious forests sing to the song of loeries, and a massive cave haunts the human heart. At Storms River, ocean, forest and cave come together in a mighty orchestration of emotion. It is a crescendo of sight, sound, and scent. The churning tides and crashing of the waves was for me a picture of the turbulence within my heart. This must surely be the most enchanting place I have ever visited." (Journal 15 July 1994)

Why did the confluence of river gorge, enormous waves, and wild indigenous forests affect me so? Indeed, what magnet drew great-grandfather Laurance Garvie from Scotland to these very forests near Knysna? I don't know but near the mouth of the Storms River is a cave that might well hold the answer. You get to it by means of a scary suspension bridge swaying over the restless tides far below. The synchronicity of sea, skies, and the sun coalesced there for me in that cave, "deep and very dark and eerie".

Knysna author Hjalmar Thesen captures something of the spirit of this link between Europe and Africa in his Strangers from the Sea. I first read this story many years before I even "met" my ancestral Khoikhoi great-grandmother Eva Krotoa. She was a Strandloper. Thesen's story gripped my imagination with a strange familiarity that I couldn't explain. He starts...

"The woman cradled a tin cup in both hands and, as the moon began to spread its purple across the dunes, her eyes shone with a wild brilliance, for she was drugged with the dagga she had smoked. She sipped from the cup of brandy... The woman wore a tattered skirt and her shoulders were covered with a thin shawl. Her breasts protruded uncovered and they were shapely full, curved and pointed with youth... The hypnotic sea droned in splendour and from beyond, where the lights of the fort began, there came the needle point of a violin. The night cast its spell and the woman's voice became the sound of the surf and the lilt of the violin and the weeping of the jackal." (p.1f)

Perhaps there is something in what psychologist's call "ancestral memories". Carl Jung termed it "racial memories". It is said that an object or a place can trigger a genetic memory you share with your ancestors resulting in a deja vu experience. One experiences a "flashback". That is exactly what it seemed like as I spent a few quiet moments in the Storms River Cave. I had been there before! The StateMaster Encyclopedia explains:

"In Jungian psychology, racial memory is a hypothetical type of memory which is not gained through experience or conditioning, but is inherited genetically, as part of a "collective unconscious" of the human species. Racial memory does not define a memory insofar as a specific recollection of an event; instead it references an inherent genetic recollection of the experiences of the ancestral line of any given individual, and how this influences his or her behaviour."

Remarkably, the day before visiting the Cave I had bought and read another of Hjalmar Thesen's books, The Echoing Cliffs. In my Journal of the 14th July 1994, the day before visiting Storms River Mouth, I had unconsciously made an ancestral connection with the Khoi long before I had actually discovered it as fact in 2010. I wrote:

I read Thesen's The Echoing Cliffs. I was amused by a Jungian quaternary, a symbol of wholeness, that came to mind:

Laurance Garvie                     Johanna Garvie
  - child of the forests                    - child of the seas

The Khoi                                 The San
- people of the seas                    - people of the bush

Curious as that experience might be, ancestral memories haven't been scientifically proved but our DNA could very well hold the key. Are we not all collectively joined together by invisible threads and family ties? Whatever this feeling of connectedness to a particular place might be, Storms River Mouth remains for me one of several magical "thin places"  I've come to revere here in South Africa.

©Colin G Garvie HomePage:

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