Ouma Griet Jantjies, one of the last 5 remaining spekers of the N/uu laguage, is laid to rest in a traditional ceremony in Upington. David van Wyk and Khomani San Queen Katrina Esau enter the marquee. Picture Jeffrey Abrahams. Reporter Sandiso Phaliso.

Sandiso Phaliso

The weekend saw the burial of one of the five last remaining Khoisan speakers of the NUU language, in an emotional but celebratory traditional ceremony.

Ouma Griet Jantjies, 70, lived in Rosendal, Upington, since 2008 after moving from a farm. She died on December 31 after being admitted to hospital due to a lung infection.

Ouman Griet’s cousin, Khoisan Queen Katrina Esau, also attended the funeral.

Last year, Queen Katrina was awarded recognition by President Jacob Zuma for the work she did in the community of Upington to preserve the Khoisan heritage.

Queen Katrina, her sister, Griet Soekoel, 84, her younger brother, Simon Sauls, 65, and Johanna Koper, 95, are the only NUU speakers left.

The language is one of the oldest on the planet.

Ouma Griet leaves two sisters, three sons, three daughters, 36 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren.

On Saturday, the service started with a traditional dance by the Staar na die Stene (Stare at the Stones), an organisation in Upington that preserves NUU and Khoisan heritage.

A sacred horn of the eland, which the Khoisan descendants have used for centuries in their ceremonies, was placed next to a fire at the entrance gate of her home. The smoke was waved over her coffin throughout the ceremony.

Ouma Griet was buried at the Kameelboom cemetery after the two-hour ceremony.

Her eldest child, Lena Oor, said her mother would be sorely missed for her parenting and keeping the family together for generations.

Oor said she would miss the unconditional love from her mother. “She wanted us to learn the Khoisan language very much. She was very traditional.”

Neighbour William Lieties, 50, described her as |a loving person, and talkative about tradition and culture.

“We would talk for hours when I came from work. She loved the Bushmen culture, spoke N|UU fluently and encouraged everyone in |the community to learn it and not be ashamed of being Bushmen,” said Lieties.

Staar na die Stene’s David van Wyk said it was worrying the language and culture might become extinct. His worry echoed that of the four remaining N|UU speakers.

Working with Queen Katrina, he opened a school that teaches young people to preserve Khoisan culture and teach them about the N|UU language’s legacy.

“We try to help children understand their language and culture, but is never easy with inadequate resources,” said Van Wyk.

Weighing in on the matter, Queen Katrina said: “It makes my heart sore that my family, as old as we are, are the only people knowing the language. People don't want to learn and when I am no longer able to help them’, they will suffer… I want to help them.”