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There are numerous examples of large groups experiencing severe trauma and humiliation, leading to violent re-enactments. The book International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma edited by Yael Danieli was published in 1998. [i] There are 38 articles most of which deal with the effects of large scale traumatic events on subsequent generations. The traumatic events include those involving the Aboriginal people of  North America  and Australia, Russia under Stalin, World War II and the Holocaust, the Armenian and Cambodian genocides, the Vietnam war, the Balkan wars following the break-up of Yugoslavia, and wars and ethnic or religious conflicts in Chile, Argentina, Nigeria, Iran, and the experience of black South Africans under Apartheid.  No studies had been done on Afrikaners.

Vamik D Volkan, a Turkish born American Professor in psychiatry, psycho-analyst and prominent Psychohistorian has written extensively about large group conflict and its consequences. He has introduced several important concepts that are helpful in understanding the causes and effects of large group behaviour.

One of these concepts is “chosen trauma” which refers to a shared image or mental representation of an event and the associated feelings of shame, humiliation, helplessness, victimization, and rage, usually resulting from the actions of another large group.

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This chosen trauma can become an important part of the identity of the traumatized group.  When a traumatic event or events occur, when a group suffers losses of individuals, land or prestige, the extreme humiliation born out of this trauma prevents groups from mourning their losses. Caught in a state of frozen trauma the group is unable to move forward. Losses that can’t be mourned are passed on to the next generation.

Psychohistorian and Psycho-analyst Howard Stein, speaking about the transgenerational transmission of trauma says:
‘What cannot be contained, mourned, and worked through in one generation is transmitted, for the most part unconsciously, as affect, mission, and task to the next generation.’ [ii] He then crucially adds: ‘the fate of repression and dissociation is enactment.’ [iii]

Psycho-analyst Peter Loewenberg, in explaining the psychohistorical origins of the Second World War contends that the later hostility of German youth mostly originated during the First World War ’The generation born between 1900 and 1915 shared common traumatic experiences, such as material and psychological deprivation’, and ‘the fragmentation of families,’ These experiences led to ‘feelings of anxiety and hostility in the young people’. [iv]

The fragmentation of Afrikaner families after the ABW is no different. Neither is the anger that peaked in 1939 when the surviving children and the first generation born after the ABW reached adulthood. For Afrikaners the war did not end in 1902. They still had to succumb to daily humiliation by the English, and were discriminated against in employment and training. A fierce rage would follow.

In the struggle hero Mamphela Ramphele’s book Laying Ghosts to Rest (2008) she speaks about how humiliation breeds self-hatred and rage [v], and how constant humiliation over centuries leads to defensiveness regarding ones past and  culture, and a tendency to romanticize the past. This is true for many black people; it was also true for Afrikaners who suffered the psychological legacy of humiliation and trauma at the hands of the British. They also revered and idealized their forebears, the heroes who had suffered and endured, were victorious in battle, and created two economically and politically independent Republics, until they were destroyed by the British.

Stein contends that trauma is not just about the initial terrible experience of the trauma – it is, he says, about ‘what happens to that experience in the social world.’ He asserts that it is most often culture and economics that shape the narrative of the trauma afterwards – often leading to silence about its ‘causes, dimensions, and consequences’. [vi] As such there is a ’negation of a healing process’, what he calls disenfranchised grief – an inability to mourn; which guarantees continued suffering, ultimately leading to many different kinds of enactments including passing the trauma on to  following generations. [vii] Stein warns: ‘Those who must not acknowledge their grief find that the loss has come to “posses” them’ [viii]

Davoine and Gaudilliere (2004) contend that when the experience of trauma is excluded from social discourse it will ‘return as a ghost, usually in the form of enactment.’ [ix]

[i]Danieli, Yael,(ed) International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma
[ii] (Howard Stein/LiT/3151-61)
[iii] Ibid
[iv] P. 137
[v] Ramphele, M., Laying Ghosts to Rest , p73
[vi] Stein, (3127-38)
[vii] Ibid
[viii] Ibid
[ix] Davione, F., Gaudiliere, JM
., History Beyond Trauma: Wherof one cannot speak, therefore one cannot stay silent

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