Cairns have significance in a number of cultures, and have their origens in KhoiSan culture, where they were used to mark a burial place or a place of religious significance. Travellers would add a stone to the cairn as a mark of respect. They also feature in isiXhosa culture (isivivane), a practice probably adopted from contact with the Khoi.
The Princess Vlei cairn was started on 22 September by Khoi elders and religious leaders from different faiths, as a symbol of our commitment to save the space, and also to honour the memory of Father John Oliver. Stones have been brought from all over Cape Town, from the mountain and rivers and sea, to show how the Princess Vlei brings us all together. We invite all to keep adding stones to the cairn.
Emma Oliver, wife of the late Father John Oliver who was a passionate champion for Princess Vlei and other environmental and social causes, led a ceremony involving pouring water from Princess Vlei around and onto the stones.
"This is water from the Princess Vlei. And as the water is poured around the stones we remember all those from the past for whom this is a sacred site. We also remember and honour my late husband John Oliver. John loved the water. He loved to be in it, swimming, he loved to be on it in his kayak, he loved to be beside it, watering, planting, weeding, tending and caring for this earth that we are standing on.
...We remember with gratitude his attempts to draw together people of all faiths, and we look around with gratitude at this gathering today, people of different faiths and cultures but all one gathered together. So we remember and honour John’s work and the work of the Princess Vlei Forum to save this sacred site from becoming a mall.
As we pour the water, as it washes over the stones, it symbolises the washing away of our differences, the washing away of the disputes of the past, the washing away of heavy dust and dirt that weighs us down. We pour water over the stones to cleanse and make new, to make a new start and energy and commitment to caring for this place, for Princess Vlei. We pour water to make new, renewed energy for working together... to symoblise this new start that we are making together today. "
Bradley van Sitters, a Khoi descendent in the House of Xoraxouhoe and Nama scholar, led the ceremony. This is what he said:
What we are doing now is making a symbolic grave site for the Princess of the Vlei. We don’t know where she’s buried but we feel her spirit here because her name is here. If you pass on the road, remember to put a stone in your car, and then bring your stone here. If you pass here, don’t just pass, bring a stone. Collect them by the rivers, by the oceans, by the mountains so that this little pile can become a mountain and every time we pass here, we bring a stone. This is the Khoikhoi culture. It is still with us ...
This is the first time in your life you are singing in Khoikhoi, but you have been speaking in khoi khoi all your life... when you say uh, for yes, and uhuh for no, or when you say, “kyk die kogga... quagga... kieries.”
In England they speak English and they’re English. In France they speak French and they are French. But Khoi means a person, a human being, the human nature of all people.
When I went to learn Nama in Namibia, and I said how difficult is this language... my Great Grandmother spoke it, my grandmother could count to ten, my mother could not speak anything... when it came to me, I said, no, I must bring this thing again to my people.... We lent many clicks and words to the Xhosa, so we have shared our language with many people, we even shared our land, so much so that today we are without land. But we are people of great love.