• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Pop on your tartan sarong for a more exotic Burns Night

FOR more than 200 years, Scots have celebrated the life and work of Robert Burns on a wintery night in January with a supper of haggis and whisky.

But for some, next Saturday night's occasion will be a more exotic affair. The dress code will call for tartan sarongs, the heat will make ceilidh dancing difficult - and the authenticity of the haggis might not bear up to scrutiny.

In a year when Scotland will welcome 70 nations and territories to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, BBC2 Scotland's The Commonwealth Of Burns documentary will next Saturday shed light on how distant St Andrews and Caledonian societies keep the Burns Night traditions alive.

Recently retired Church of Scotland minister John Purves knows only too well the trials and tribulations in celebrating the works of Robert Burns in far-off climes.

Purves, of Largs, has returned to Scotland after 10 years as minister of the Scots Kirk in Columbo, Sri Lanka where he was also chieftain of the local Caledonian Society.

Arriving in 2003, he oversaw nine Burns Suppers, entertaining ex-pats, consular staff, businessmen and sometimes bemused locals.

He said: "Everyone came in formal dress, and those of us who had kilts wore them, while others had tartan sashes. Some people would just make up Highland dress as best they could and I remember a lot of tartan sarongs being worn by the Sri Lankans."

Purves also recalls that there were one or two culinary disasters. He said: "There was one time I was about to address the haggis and it was brought from the kitchen. But no-one had told the chef that it actually had to be cooked and it was hardly 'warm, reeking and rich'.

"Another time the cook saw that the recipe called for oats and used porridge oats instead of oatmeal. It was edible, but different … Kind of like a haggis flapjack."

The documentary moves from Sri Lanka to Singapore, where only "pure blood" Scots are eligible to join the club, and to Bermuda, where every Scot on the island has to speak for their supper.

Burns Suppers are also a feature in Ghana, Africa, where they were introduced by Scots who set up a Caledonian Society in 1920.

Former chieftain Brenda Akofio-sowah, 74, who originally hails from Shetland but moved to the country after marrying a Ghanaian 40 years ago, said that the local people were quick to embrace Scots culture.

She said: "The Ghanaians love it. The have a meal called kenkey, which is basically a corn ball and it looks like a haggis, so eating one doesn't seem strange to them.

"And they have a national dress called kente cloth which is very like tartan and has very bright colours, so we have a lot in common."

Across in Canada, proceedings follow a more traditional format.

The Halifax Burns Club was founded in the late 1990s, and is a men-only affair with membership capped at 37, one for each year of Burns's life. However, the club opens its doors for the Burns Supper and had 220 people at its last event.

Past-president John Lewandowski said: "Sadly we are unaware of any haggis-makers east of Ontario.

"We currently source it from a meat shop in Ottawa that freezes it and ships same day to the kitchen at our hotel. I am no expert, but those who know their haggis say it's very good. Of course, a dram or two of haggis sauce doesn't hurt."

Contextual targeting label: 
Food and drink

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

206674