The braai. A transcendent feature of South African culture, which unites black, white, coloured, Indian and politicians. Yes, politicians are a race all on their own.
If the world were to end tomorrow, I would have a braai today and invite everyone I knew. Okay, maybe not everyone. But the point is that a braai is one of those things that everyone could come along to if they wanted to. It’s the one thing that doesn’t exclude anyone. Desmond Tutu was on to a good thing when the national holiday in South Africa – Day of Reconciliation – was branded colloquially as “Braai Day” by the former Archbishop.
When our sports team aren’t living up to their promise, there’s nothing like a traditional braai to salve the wounds of the red-blooded South African male.
Plus, braai just sounds more manly. BRAAI. There’s no manly way of saying barbecue.
A braai, by any other name, would smell as savoury – “Baa-arbie” for the Aussies and “barbecue” for the English and Americans – but for one important ingredient that makes the South African version unique: boerewors! The essential ingredient that makes the difference between a cocktail evening and a proper South African meal.
There is no steak, espetada, rib, wiener, burger, shrimp equivalent in the world that evokes the same response from the indigenous Saffer man. The aroma alone transports them to fond childhood memories of family gatherings, sport history and near-religious bonding experiences. It has captivated a multitude of cultures in South Africa who all lay claim to its mystifying power that reverts men to their primal nature, gathering around open fires, making burnt offerings and deliberating vociferously.
Braais as family events illustrate the instinctive herding instincts of the men, women and children. Men gather around the fire, within reach of ice cold beverages and will graze on the bowl of potato chips, peanuts and the “samples” off the grill. Conversations are animated, coarse and fixate on topics of a masculine nature which broach a number of subjects such as sport, politics, business and the fairer sex.
Women gather in the living room and kitchen, where they can easily replenish the refreshments and snacks for the men and children, prepare the non-meat complement of the braai and tend to wounded or over-stimulated children. Discussions are equally animated but are punctuated with shrill laughter and exclamations of amazement. The subject of these conversations are a mystery to men, as conversations usually cease when a wandering man, who has depleted his fodder, finds himself stranded in the middle of the female herd, which in most cases causes the self preservation instinct to kick in, causing him to beat a hasty retreat after securing replenishment for his herd to protect them from similar danger.
Children are more migratory in nature when corralled in larger numbers at the braai, equally happy to run in packs outside or congregate in bedrooms or in front of entertainment systems. Often consuming food in quantities large enough to cause vomiting or hypoglycemia, they do however exhibit amazing recovery times. Frantic excitement usually escalates until an injury is suffered to one member of the pack, which usually has a calming effect on the group and no further incidences are common.
The entire event has a narcotic effect on all participants, leaving them with a sense of well-being, acceptance and security which nullifies the potential negative stresses amply provided for in South Africa today. It no doubt accounts for the typical fortitude that South Africans have become known for.
Nowhere else is a South African more at home, more in touch with their soul.
Life in South Africa is an online social experiment by the Ryan Calder Band to produce online animated webisodes.