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In order to propagate the language they started Tamil schools in their homes by gathering a few children together in the evening. The only reader in use in the early days was the " Aritchuvadi " which was used from the beginning to the end, and whoever completed the whole reader with success was regarded as reasonably learned in Tamil. With the establishment of various organisations in different parts of the country , Tamil schools were established on modern lines. New readers graded from 1 to 6 were imported from India.
It must be noted that nearly all the Tamils of the early period spoke only Tamil and hardly knew English. As a source of communication and t give news about the country adopted, as well as India the first Tamil newspaper - VIVEKA BANU - was introduced. The Tamils read this with avid interest. This came to an end when the principal editor went back to India. The 1930’s saw the appearance of another Tamil newspaper - SENTHAMIL SELVAN - that satisfied the desire of the Tamils for news in their own language. Several other publications followed but they were short-lived for want of material support. The Tamil immigrants pursued, in a modest form, aspects, of their culture, at the same time exposing their children to them. They spoke their mother tongue within the confines of the barracks compound and outside and worshipped their chosen Deity at their simple make - shift temples. Some of the children were fortunate enough to receive the rudiments of Tamil from educated elders who may be counted among the many unsung personalities of early Tamil education. In spite of steady progress being maintained, Tamil leaders began to express concern about the future of Tamil education, because they feared that, as a strong priority was given to English education and there was motivation for it, the promotion of Tamil education would be neglected. More Tamil leaders emerged to promote Tamil culture vigorously.
To sustain interest and to keep the language alive, organisations like the Natal Tamil Vedic Society have established Eisteddfod committees which organise elocution, drama and music on a competitive basis for the pupils attending Tamil schools, especially in the small towns and suburbs.
An important aspect of the Tamils social life in South Africa revolves around the observance of cultural traditions, which include weddings, funeral rites, amongst others the various festivals, and poojays such as the Adi and Puratassi months. Tamil weddings are well organised and conducted timeously amidst music appropriate to the occasion. At any of these weddings, one would see a colourful spectacle of South Indian women gracefully attired in saris, approved by their culture.
Hindu women in South Africa, like their counterparts in South India, represent a resilient aspect of Tamil life, as it is she who makes up the home. In every Tamil home religion is a dominant idiom as it is with the other sections of the Hindu community. A room or part of it is set aside for daily worship before a sacred lamp and she is in complete charge of it.
South Africa is presently undergoing a new order where the different races are coming in close contact with one another, learning together and working together and all this would be expected to change the lifestyle of every South African citizen. In spite of the acculturation that is taking place, important features of ethnic cultures would continue to be promoted. Indian culture in general and that of the Tamils in particular, which is of great antiquity, possesses a lasting richness in human values and the spirit - elevating features of culture brought to South Africa by the Indian immigrants continue to be pursued, promoted and nurtured.
Wherever Indians settled, their approach was one of selecting, synthesizing and harmonising with the best in all fields of thinking and endeavour. This involved the synthesizing and harmonising of old ways and new: orthodox and unorthodox; sacred and secular; religion, science and mysticism; and most importantly, the synthesizing of western, eastern and indigenous cultures and traditions. Yet in all these cross-cultural exchanges, their roots remained and weathered many storms and continue to do so.
MATHAVAKRISHNAN MUDELIAR (KAJAN)
1. Fiat Lux, Durban vol 2 1988
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