The day of the Vow

The Day of the Vow


The Day of the Vow (Afrikaans: Geloftedag or Dingaansdag) is the name of a religious public holiday in South Africa until 1994, when it was renamed the Day of Reconciliation.The holiday is December 16. Commemorating a famous Boer victory over the Zulu, the anniversary and its commemoration are intimately connected with various streams of Afrikaner nationalism.According to an Afrikaner tradition, the Day of the Vow traces its origin as an annual religious holiday to The Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838.

The besieged Voortrekkers took a public vow  together before the battle, led by either Andries Pretorius or Sarel Cilliers, depending on whose version is correct. In return for God's help in obtaining victory, they promised to build a church. Participants also vowed that they and their descendants would keep the day as a holy Sabbath.

During the battle a group of about 470 Voortrekkers and their servants defeated a force of about ten thousand Zulu. Only three Voortrekkers were wounded, and some 3,000 Zulu warriors died in the battle.Two of the earlier names given to the day stem from this prayer. Officially known as the Day of the Vow, the commemoration was renamed from the Day of the Covenant in 1982. Afrikaners colloquially referred to it as Dingaansdag (English: Dingane's Day), a reference to the Zulu ruler of the defeated attackers.

The wording of the Vow is:

Afrikaans: Hier staan ons voor die Heilige God van hemel en aarde om ʼn gelofte aan Hom te doen, dat, as Hy ons sal beskerm en ons vyand in ons hand sal gee, ons die dag en datum elke jaar as ʼn dankdag soos ʼn Sabbat sal deurbring; en dat ons ʼn huis tot Sy eer sal oprig waar dit Hom behaag, en dat ons ook aan ons kinders sal sê dat hulle met ons daarin moet deel tot nagedagtenis ook vir die opkomende geslagte. Want die eer van Sy naam sal verheerlik word deur die roem en die eer van oorwinning aan Hom te gee.

English: Here we stand before the holy God of heaven and earth, to make a vow to Him that, if He will protect us and give our enemy into our hand, we shall keep this day and date every year as a day of thanksgiving like a sabbath, and that we shall erect a house to His honour wherever it should please Him, and that we also will tell our children that they should share in that with us in memory for future generations. For the honour of His name will be glorified by giving Him the fame and honour for the victory.

The  official version of the event is that a public vow was taken by a Trekker commando on December 16, 1838 at Ncome River (Blood River) which bound future descendants to commemorate the day as a religious holiday in the case of victory over the Zulu. In 1841 the victorious Trekkers built The Church of the Vow at Pietermaritzburg, and passed the obligation to keep the vow on to their descendants.

As the original vow was never recorded in verbatim form, descriptions come from the diary of Jan Bantjes possibly written on December 9, a dispatch written by Pretorius to the Volksraad on December 23, 1838; and the recollections of Sarel Cilliers in 1871. A participant in the battle, Dewald Pretorius, wrote his recollections in 1862, interpreting the vow as including the building of churches and schools.

Jan B. Bantjes (1817–1887), Pretorius' secretary, indicates that the initial promise was to build a House in return for victory. He notes that Pretorius called everyone together, and asked them to pray for God's help. Bantjes writes that Pretorius told the assembly that he wanted to make a vow, "if everyone would agree" (Bailey Bantjes does not say whether everyone did so.
Perhaps the fractious nature of the Boers dictated that the raiding party held their own prayers in the tents of various leading men , Pretorius is also quoted as wanting to have a book written to make known what God had done to even "our last descendants".
Pretorius in his 1838 dispatch mentions a vow in connection with the building of a church, but not that it would be binding for future generations.

we here have decided among ourselves to make known the day of our victory...among the whole of our generation, and that we want to devote it to God, and to celebrate  with thanksgiving, just as we promised  in public prayer.
Andries Pretorius 

Contrary to Pretorius, and in agreement with Bantjes, Cilliers in 1870 recalled a promise , not a vow, to commemorate the day and to tell the story to future generations. Accordingly, they would remember:the day and date, every year as a commemoration and a day of thanksgiving, as though a Sabbath and that we will also tell it to our children, that they should share in it with us, for the remembrance of our future generations

Sarel Cilliers 
Cilliers writes that those who objected were given the option to leave.
At least two persons declined to participate in the vow. Scholars disagree about whether the accompanying English settlers and servants complied . This seems to confirm that the promise was binding only on those present at the actual battle. Mackenzie (1997) claims that Cilliers may be recalling what he said to men who met in his tent.
Up to the 1970s the received version of events was seldom questioned, but since then scholars have questioned almost every aspect. They debate whether a vow was even taken and, if so, what its wording was. Some argue that the vow occurred on the day of the battle, others point to December 7 or 9. Whether Andries Pretorius or Sarel Cilliers led the assembly has been debated; and even whether there was an assembly. The location at which the vow was taken has also produced diverging opinions, with some rejecting the Ncome River .
Disagreements exist about the extent to which the date was commemorated before the 1860s. Some historians maintained that little happened between 1838 and 1910.Historian S.P. Mackenzie argues that the day was not commemorated before the 1880s. Initial observations may have been limited to those associated with the battle at Ncome River and their descendants. While Sarel Cilliers upheld the day.

In Natal
Informal commemorations may have been held in the homes of former Voortrekkers in Pietermaritzburg in Natal. Voortrekker pastor Rev. Erasmus Smit announced the "7th annual" anniversary of the day in 1844 in De Natalier newspaper, for instance. Bailey mentions a meeting at the site of the battle in 1862.

In 1864 the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in Natal
decreed that all its congregations should observe the date as a day of thanksgiving. The decision was spurred by the efforts of two Dutch clergymen working in Pietermaritsburg during the 1860s, D.P.M. Huet and F. Lion Cachet. Large meetings were held in the church in Pietermaritzburg in 1864 and 1865.

In 1866 the first large scale meeting took place at the traditional battle site, led by Cachet. Zulus who gathered to watch proceedings assisted the participants in gathering stones for a commemorative cairn. In his speech Cachet called for the evangelization of black heathen. He relayed a message received from the Zulu monarch Cetshwayo. In his reply to Cetshwayo, Cachet hoped for harmony between the Zulu and white Natalians. Trekker survivors recalled events, an institution which in the 1867 observation at the site included a Zulu.

Huet was of the same opinion as Delward Pretorius. He declared at a church inauguration in Greytown on December 16, 1866 that its construction was also part of fulfilling the vow.

In the Transvaal
Die Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek declared 16 December a public holiday in 1865, to be commemorated by public religious services. However, until 1877, the general public there did not utilize the holiday as they did in Natal. Cricket matches and hunts were organized, some businesses remained open, and newspapers were sold.

The name Dingane's Day appeared
for the first time in the media, in an 1875 edition of De Volksstem. That newspaper wondered whether the lack of support for the holiday signaled a weakening sense of nationalism.

After the Transvaal was annexed by the British in 1877, the new government refrained from state functions.The desire by the Transvaal to retrieve its independence prompted the emergence of Afrikaner nationalism and the revival of December 16 in that territory.

Transvaal burgers held meetings around the date to discuss responses to the annexation.
In 1879 the first such a meeting convened at Wonderfontein on the West Rand. Burgers disregarded Sir G.J. Wolseley, the governor of Transvaal, who prohibited the meeting on December 16. The following year they held a similar combination of discussions and the celebration of Dingane's Day at Paardekraal.
Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal Republic, believed that failure to observe the date led to the loss of independence and to the first Anglo-Boer war as a divine punishment.

Before initiating hostilities with the British, a ceremony was held at Paardekraal on December 16, 1880 in which 5,000 burghers  piled a cairn of stones that symbolized past and future victories over the Zulu and the British