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"Sarie Marais" (also known as "My Sarie Marais" and pronounced "May SAH-ree mah-REH") is a traditional South African folk song, created during either the First Anglo-Boer War (c. 1880) (less likely) or the Second Anglo-Boer War (ca. 1900). The tune was possibly taken from a song dating from the American Civil War called "Ellie Rhee" (itself perhaps a version of the traditional folk song "Foggy Dew"), with the words translated into Afrikaans.
In the English translation, the song begins: "My Sarie Marais is so far from my heart but I hope to see her again. She lived near the Mooi River before this war began..."; and the chorus is: "Oh, take me back to the old Transvaal, where my Sarie lives, down among the maize fields near the green thorn tree, there lives my Sarie Marais." It continues about the fear of being removed far, "over the sea" (as the Boer men in fact were, by the ruling British authorities, who created the world's first concentration camps).
As well as becoming very well known in South Africa, the song was taken up by various people, organizations and singers in other countries.
- 1 Origins of the song
- 2 Later spread and influence of the song
- 3 The actual Sarie Marais
- 4 Sweet Ellie Rhee lyrics
- 5 Afrikaans lyrics
- 6 Translations
- 7 Sources
- 8 External links
Origins of the song
The origins of the song are unclear. One account of the story refers to the American folk song Ellie Rhee, written in 1865 by Septimus Winner (1827-1902) and included in a book entitled "The Cavendish Song Album".
An account on the National Anthems forum supports J.P. Toerien as author and his wife Sarie Maré as the subject of the song. It too suggests the song's origins go back to Sweet Ellie Rhee. The claim is that this song was sung by Americans working in the Transvaal gold mines, and heard there by Afrikaans journalist and poet Jacobus Petrus Toerien, who re-wrote the song in Afrikaans, substituting the name of Ellie Rhee with that of his own beloved Sarie Maré (Susara Margaretha Maré).
Another account is that the song dates from the First Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881). When Ella de Wet, wife of General Louis Botha's military attaché Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet came to the battle front to see her husband she often played on the piano while the nearby burghers sang songs from the Cavendish album. The burghers supposedly wanted to honour their field chaplain Dominee Paul Nel, who often told stories around the campfires about his childhood and his beautiful mother Sarie Maré, who died young.
Whatever its origins, the song changed and got more verses as time went on. This accounts for the reference to the Kakies (af) (or khakis), as the Boers called the British soldiers during the Second Anglo-Boer War. They were known as Rooibaadjies ("red coats") during the First Anglo-Boer War.
Later spread and influence of the song
The song quickly spread due to soldiers coming back from the South African Boer War. The melody was adopted in 1953 as the official march of the United Kingdom's Commandos and is played after the Regimental March on ceremonial occasions. The French École militaire interarmes also sings the song, in its French translation. The song has been sung by Jim Reeves and Kenneth McKellar in Afrikaans.
Sarie, Volksblad's sister magazine, was also named for her. Many hotels and apartment complexes are named after her. During the first international broadcast between South Africa, Britain, and America during the birthday of Mrs. Isie Smuts, the wife of the prime minister, general Jan Smuts, Sarie Marais was sung by Gracie Fields.
During the second world war, there was a unit of soldiers called "Sarie Marais calling". The South African army, as well as the French foreign legion, play this march during parades.
It is also the official song of the Girl Guides of Sri Lanka ( Ceylon ) who heard the Boerekrygsgevangenes (af - Boer prisoner of war) perform it during the beginning of the last century. During the 1930s it was incorrectly played as South Africa's official national anthem. Germans cultivated a pink rose called Sarie Maries which is planted in the Panser school in Tempe, Bloemfontein.
Sarie Marais (1931): the first South African film with sound
Sarie Marais was also the title of the first South African talking picture, directed by Joseph Albrecht (af) and made in 1931. Filmed in Johannesburg, Sarie Marais manages to pack a lot into its 10-minute running time. Set in a British POW camp, the film concentrates on a group of Boer prisoners as they pass the time under the watchful eye of their British captors. One of the internees, played by Billy Mathews, lifts his voice in song with the popular Afrikaans patriotic tune "My Sarie Marais". His enthusiasm catches on with the other prisoners, giving them hope for the future.
Afrikaner nationalism was emerging as a force in these years, and Sarie Marais portrayed the British cultural and economic imperialism hostilely, with the desire to spread the English language, culture and influence even where it was unwelcome.
Shortly after this film's release, a group of Afrikaner nationalists established a film production organisation called the Reddingsdaad-Bond-Amateur-Rolprent Organisasie (Rescue Action League Amateur Film Organisation), which rallied against British and American films pervading the country.
Francis Coley directed a remake of this film, again titled Sarie Marais in 1949 (af).
The contemporary Afrikaans women's magazine Sarie takes its name from this song. Originally entitled Sarie Marais – a name which at the time (1949) of its first publication was synonymous with the idea of empowered Afrikaans womanhood – it was the first Afrikaans magazine to focus on the female market, with a content ranging from fashion, decor, and beauty to relationship advice and family planning.
The actual Sarie Marais
It is not clear if Sarie Marais was a real person or fictitious. Two persons have been mentioned as being the real Sarie Marais: Sarie Maré (full name Sara Johanna Adriana Maré) (1840-1877) and Sarie Maré (full name Susara Margaretha Maré) (1869-1939).
Sara Johanna Adriana Maré
Sara Johanna Adriana Maré was born in Uitenhage, Cape Province on 10 May 1840. She married Louis Jacobus Nel in 1857 in Pietermaritzburg. Maré died at the age of 37 after giving birth to her 11th child, and was buried near the old homestead on their farm Welgegund, near Greytown, KwaZulu-Natal.
As noted above, one of her sons was field chaplain Dominee Paul Nel, who served in the First Anglo-Boer War and supposedly often told stories around the campfires about his childhood and his beautiful mother Sarie Maré, who died young.
Susara Margaretha Maré
Susara Margaretha Maré (1869-1939), eldest daughter of Jacob Philippus Maré and Cornelia Susanna Jacoba Erasmus, was born on 15 April 1869 at die plaas Eendraght (Eendraght Farm), in Suikerbosrand, Transvaal. In later life she was also nicknamed Tant Mossie (auntie Mossie).
At the time when Susara Margaretha's parents settled in the area, the town of Heidelberg still did not exist. The greatest concentration of voortrekkers could be found near the Mooirivier, where Potchefstroom stands today. Suikerbosrand was at that time in the Mooirivier Ward.
When she was 16 years old, she met Jacobus Petrus Toerien - journalist (and later a well-known poet) who wrote under the pseudonym of Jepete in "Ons Kleintje" and was editor of "Di Patriot". As a representative of the Patriots of Paarl, he was in Pretoria to conduct a meeting with her father.
They were married and had sixteen children, of whom only eight survived.
One common version of the song's origin attributes its authorship to Toerien, who heard the song Sweet Ellie Rhee from American workers in the Transvaal gold mines. In the time between the First War of Independence and the second one - as the wars with the British were considered - Toerien re-wrote the song in Afrikaans, substituting for the name of Ellie Rhee that of his own beloved wife Sarie Maré. The words still did not exactly match the ones we know today. Maré later became Marais due to a misspelling.
In 1899 Sarie was hit by a bullet. She was not hit by the English soldiers, but by others.
Sarie was a very religious woman, and in later years tried her best to disassociate herself with the song.
She is buried in an unmarked grave in the Memoriam-begraafplaas (memorium burying place) by the Vrouemonument (woman's monument)
Sweet Ellie Rhee lyrics
Sweet Ellie Rhee, so dear to me
Is lost forever more
Our home was down in Tennessee
Before this cruel war 
Then carry me back to Tennessee
Back where I long to be
Amid the fields of yellow corn
To my darling Ellie Rhee
Originally in the Afrikaans version it was Sarie Maré which then became Marais.
Original Dutch version (ca 1880 )
Mijn lieve Sarah Marais is ver weg van mij,
maar ik hoop om haar weer te zien.
Ik ontmoette haar voor het uitbreken van de oorlog
in de Mooi River County.
- Oh, lang ik om terug te gaan naar de Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek,
- waar mijn lieve Sarie woont.
- Daar, tussen het koren en het groene doorn boom,
- daar woont mijn lieve Sarie Marais.
Translation: My dear Sarah Marais is far away from me,
But I hope to see her again.
I met her before the outbreak of war
In the Mooi River county.
- Oh, I long to go back to the South African Republic,
- where my dear Sarie lives.
- There, among the corn and the green thorn tree,
- there lives my dear Sarah Marais.
Another version in Afrikaans
My Sarie Marais is so ver van mij af
Ek hoop haar weer te sien
Sy het in die wijk van Mooirivier gewoon
Nog voor die oorlog het begin
- O bring my terug na die ou Transvaal
- Daar waar my Sarie woon
- Daar onder in die mielies by die groen doring boom
- Daar woon my Sarie Marais
Modern Afrikaans version
My Sarie Marais is so ver van my hart,
Maar ek hoop om haar weer te sien.
Sy het in die wyk van die Mooirivier gewoon,
Voor dat die oorlog begin.
- O neem my terug na die ou Transvaal,
- Daar waar my Sarie woon.
- Daar onder in die mielies, by die groen doring boom,
- Daar waar my Sarie woon,
- Daar onder in die mielies by die groen doring boom
- Daar woon my Sarie Marais.
O altyd was sy bang dat die Kakies my sou vang
En ver oor die see wegstuur;
Toe vlug ek na die kant van die Upington sersant
Onder by die groot Rivier.
Die Kakies is mos net soos 'n krokodillepes,
Hulle sleep jou altyd water toe;
Hul gooi jou op 'n skip vir 'n lange, lange trip,
Die josie weet waarnatoe.
Verlossing het gekom en die huis toe gaan was daar,
Terug na die ou Transvaal;
My lieflingspersoon sal seker ook daar wees
Om my met 'n soen te beloon.
Translation of the additional Afrikaans verses (ca 1900)
I was quite afraid that the British troops would catch me and send me in exile abroad, so I fled along the Orange River into South-West Africa; the town of Upington is 121 km upstream from the point where the Orange River becomes part of the border.
The British government is just like a malign crocodile—it keeps dragging one into the water. They put you onto a ship for a very long journey to the devil alone knows where.
The war has come to an end and I want to go back to my dear country, the South African Republic. My dearly beloved will doubtless be there to reward me with a kiss.
Sarie Marais English lyrics
My Sarie Marais is so far from my heart
But I hope to see her again
She lived in the area of Mooi-river
Before the war began
- Oh bring me back to the old Transvaal
- Where my Sarie lives
- There by the maize
- By the green thorn tree
- There my Sarie lives
I was so scared that the Kakhis would catch me
And send me far across the sea
So I fled to Upington
there next to the Grootriver
The khakis are just like crocodiles
They always drag you to the water
They throw you on a ship for a long long trip;
Who knows where they're taking you
Relief came and it was possible that we could go home
back to the old Transvaal
My love will probably also be there
to reward me with a kiss
- Louise Bethlehem (2003). Transferential Zionism? Manfred Nathan's Sarie Marais: A Romance of the Anglo-Boer War.
- South African Library catalogue entry AP.1998-227
- The American Civil War