30 Years and Counting - Cuyler Manor's Rosie
On the outskirts of Uitenhage is Cuyler Manor; a historical giant in Nelson Mandela Bay gently tucked away between the Swartkops River and the old road to Port Elizabeth (R367) where a 200-year old Cape Dutch house reflects a bygone era.
The house, built in 1814 was the homestead of Jacob Glen Cuyler, Uitenhage’s founder and district magistrate. In 1966 the municipality bought the house from the Cuyler family, restored it and to this day it still acts as a museum where the yesteryear stories and way of living carries on.
There is always one thing that sets some museums apart from other museums: the people who work there, the people who tell the stories, the people who are passionate about their job. At Cuyler Manor, that person is Rosie Mtyingizane.
It's been 30 years since Rosie first step foot on the farmstead of Cuyler Manor. She arrived at Cuyler Manor in June 1986 and was officially employed in January 1987. Her eyes light up when she talks about the late Mrs. Alta who showed her how to do everything at Cuyler Manor.
“She always told me to steal with the eyes, not with the hands, so I watched her. She showed me how to make soap, how to make candles. I didn’t know. She told me to listen so that I will know what to say when she is not there anymore. I listened and watched how she talked to the children who visited Cuyler Manor, she showed them the cows, the goats and the chickens. I listened, now I know. She is not here anymore. She passed away.”
In 2012 Rosie got nominated for the Walking the Extra Mile award.
She talks about the school groups who have slept over in the hall during excursions. She takes me down memory lane and moments of my 1995 Cuyler Manor sleepover come to me in flashes of nostalgia. The more she talks, the more I remember of how we were divided into groups, how we made coffee, fire, kneaded the dough for stokbrood, fetched the eggs and tried our hand at making candles and soap.
I walk with ouma Rosie around the farm yard; we stop at Valie and Boeboe, the two resident donkeys and feed them carrots. Here, there and everywhere she tells tales of Cuyler Manor and oupa and ouma Cuyler. We stop at the old ovens that were used for bread making during the years of the Prickly Pear Festival which started in 1987. She explains how they’ve used the windmill in the old days and the ox wagons; with every story comes a little joke. She knows the place like the palm of her hand. Her humble heart and kindness is unmatchable. I quickly pick up from her enthusiastic spirit that showing me around is not just her job; it is her life, her passion.
I join Rosie and a group of men and women from a nearby retirement home on a guided tour of the old Cape Dutch style house. Rosie dresses the one lady in a period dress and a kappie. Everyone lift up their phones to capture the moment. The tour is insightful with jokes of how ouma Cuyler used to use the toilet; Rosie is a true entertainer, the visitors stand in awe of her stories and knowledge.
In the kitchen I chat to Rosie while she is making vetkoek; the visitors stop by and one after the other they thank her. She gives a humble smile, the same smile she started with 30 years ago. She puts a pot of tea in front of me with roosterkoek and prickley pear jam. The roosterkoek is as light as air, the best I’ve ever tasted. She shuffles around in the kitchen in front of a pot of sizzling oil; golden brown vetkoeke get lifted from the pot, the one as perfect as the next.
“Rosie”, I ask, “do you know that you make the best roosterkoek?”
There comes that humble smile again.
“Many years ago they showed me how to make roosterkoek and vetkoek. I watched. I listened. Now I know.”
Visit Cuyler Manor
For many visitors Rosie is the cherry on top of their visit to Cuyler Manor. It’s not difficult to understand why she is such a loved figure at the museum.
If you grew up in the Bay during the last three decades chances are good that you have visited Cuyler Manor on a school trip and listened to the tales of Rosie Mtyingizane, you might even remember some of her witty anecdotes, her knowledge and her kind heart.
But whether you remember, forgot or even if you have never visited Cuyler Manor before, this place preserves a space and time important to the history of Nelson Mandela Bay and it is worth a visit, a revisit and a roosterkoek.
Cuyler Manor Museum is open from Monday to Thursday 10h00 to 13h00 and 14h00 to 16h30 and Friday 10h00 to 13h00 and 14h00 to 15h00. Entrance fee R5 per person for an unguided tour or R10 per person for a guided tour with Rosie.
Wednesdays are usually roosterkoek days, so gather a few friends, give Rosie a heads up at 041 994 2237 and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee with roosterkoek and Rosie at Cuyler Manor Museum.
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