The Great Trek

(Redirected from Great Trek)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Great Trek (Afrikaans: Die Groot Trek; Dutch: De Grote Trek)

The saga of The Great Trek

This refers specifically to the migration by wagon trains of Dutch-speaking settlers from the Cape Colony into the interior of modern South Africa from 1836 onwards. The main impetus was the increasing tensions between rural descendants of the Cape's original European settlers and the rules imposed by the British government in Cape Colony. The families who took part in the Great Trek identified themselves as Voortrekkers, meaning "pioneers", "pathfinders" (literally "fore-trekkers") in Dutch and Afrikaans.

Like the Anglo-Boer War, the (often idealized) saga of The Great Trek would become one of the cornerstones in the construction of an Afrikaner history and identity, and thus a major theme in art, literature and performance. (See the list given below in section ) Of course, research since has not always agreed that all the trekkers (or voortrekkers as they are often known) were as idealistic or innocent as often depicted, for the trek was probably also a good opportunity for those seeking to avaoid the law , to hitch a lift north. Some more recent works have actually sought to redress that matter in various ways.

In many ways this iconization of the event is reminiscent of the similar role played by the great wagon trains heading to the "Wild West" in American history and the psyche of that nation, and as in that case there are also a number of major sub-themes in the broader history of the Trek which have become specific themes of their own in the arts and literature. Some are discussed below.

The rebellion of Slagtersnek

Dingane and Piet Retief

The Day of the Covenant and the Battle of Blood River

Geloftedag, known in English as The Day of the Covenant or The Day of the Vow , refers to an important event in the history of the Afrikaner people of South Africa, not only celebrated with pageants and performances annually, but the core set of events that surrounding it (such as the rebellion against British rule, the trials and triumphs of the Voortrekkers and The Great Trek[1], the death of Piet Retief, the covenant itself and the Battle of Blood River (Afrikaans: Slag van Bloedrivier; Zulu: iMpi yaseNcome) ) have been the central theme of numerous historical studies as well as works of art and literature, including many texts written and created for stage, media and film.

The Day of the Covenant and the Battle of Blood River

Known in Afrikaans as Geloftedag, or The Day of the Vow in English, refers to an important event in the history of the Afrikaner people of South Africa, originating from a oath taken on 16 December 1838 by the Boer leaders of the Great Trek in Natal to honour God in perpetuity if He granted them vistory in the forthcoming Battle of Blood River. As a consequence of the victory, it has been celebrated as a religious public holiday in South Africa from that day onwards.

Initially called Dingaansdag ("Dingane's Day]), 16 December was made an annual public holiday in 1910, before being renamed Geloftedag (the "Day of the Vow") in 1982.

These celebrations gained a particular political significance in the country after the 1938 symbolic re-enactment of the Great Trek of 1838 and the eventual construction and inauguration of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria (1949).

In 1994, after the end of Apartheid, the name and the intention was changed, it now being called the Day of Reconciliation, an annual holiday also on 16 December, intended to celebrate the dream of final reconciliation between all people in the country.

Celebratory events

Representations of Great Trek personalities, events and history in the performing arts

The particular works are simply listed here, click on the name of the particular text to find details on its origins, publication and/or performances.


Di Voortrekkers (1916)

Die Bou van 'n Nasie ("The Building of a Nation", 1939)

Inspan (1953)

Untamed (1955)

Die Voortrekkers (1973)

The Fiercest Heart (1961)

Plays, tableaus and historical enactments

Piet Retief (Anon., 1904)

Die Pad van Suid-Afrika (C.J. Langenhoven, 1913)

Die Vooraand van die Trek (J.R.L. van Bruggen, 1934)

Bakens: Gedramatiseerde mylpale uit die Groot Trek (J.R.L. van Bruggen, 1938)

Inauguration of the Voortrekker Monument (Anon, 1949)

Voëlvry (Opperman, 1968)




Go to ESAT Bibliography

Return to

Return to PLAYS I: Original SA plays

Return to PLAYS II: Foreign plays

Return to PLAYS III: Collections

Return to PLAYS IV: Pageants and public performances

Return to South African Festivals and Competitions

Return to The ESAT Entries

Return to Main Page