The history of braai

The history of braaing, the origin of fire and the controlled use of fire are all pretty connected, not only to each other, but also to South Africa. Scientifically speaking South Africans are not only the best braaiers in the world, but braaing also originated here.

Some of the burnt bones excavated at Swartkrans which conclusively proves that controlled fire and braai originated here.

Earlier this year I visited the Swartkrans excavation site, which forms part of the Cradle of Humankind fossil site, together with the pioneering scientist Dr Bob Brain (real name). Dr Brain found conclusive proof that early humans controlled fire for over 1 million years. Our command of fire, which is also called “pyrotechnology”, is distinctive to hominids (humans and our direct ancestors) and represents a major turning point in human evolution. It basically transformed us from prey to predator.

Dr Brain taking me through the evidence

The theory is that the first braais happened when meat was accidentally dropped into fires, later removed and then eaten. The early humans found that the meat not only tasted better than raw meat, but could also be chewed easier. The rest is history, as they started dropping meat on and into fires on a regular basis. An additional advantage of their control of fire was that they were now able to ward off predators. The early humans also crafted stone tools like axes and cleavers. Their control of fire together with the tools also meant that they could leave Africa and travel into the colder northern hemisphere.

The scientists proved that the early humans who were living in the area were responsible for controlling the fire. The sharp reader will think that the fires were not necessarily controlled, as they could be bush fires started by lightning. But Dr Brain tested the charred remains of the bones that were excavated and found that the ferocity of the burn that created the charred remains were much higher than any heat produced by bush fires, it had to have been a fire that was fed with wood repeatedly.

Considering that the origin of braai is in South Africa, very fitting then I think you will agree, that South Africa has a National Braai Day.

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 28, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    “…South Africans are not only the best braaiers in the world…”

    While I love a good braai, this is a bit like saying Americans always win the World Series, or a woman wins every Olympic event in which they compete :)

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] braai buffet is a superlative spread of what you’d expect to find on a braai and more. All the side salads and condiments are supplied – you can tuck in for just R140, which […]

  2. By Lenorf.Com on November 11, 2014 at 4:14 pm


    The history of braai |

  3. By Heritage Day | Twaksak | Tobacco Pouch on September 27, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    […] We have in South Africa, on the 23rd of September every year, a public holiday what we call – Heritage Day.  The purpose of Heritage Day is a symbol of reconciliation; a symbol of all South Africans, irrespective of our cultural background, to embrace and celebrate our different cultures.  Archeologists have found objects in the “Craddle of Mankind” which were clearly used for cooking on a fire (ref). […]

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