“Crows,” Gertruida said as they listened to the squawking outside, “are most intelligent. They can manufacture and use tools, but they prefer living in areas where they can feed on refuse and garbage and food they didn’t have to work for. Most of them gang together in groups and scavenge for a living.”
“I don’t like crows,” Precilla wrinkles her nose. “On Kleinpiet’s farm they have taken to catching tortoises. They spy a small one, and they’ll grab it with their claws and lift it high above the ground. Then they’ll look for a suitable rock and dash it to death – and then feed on the corpse. They always target the weak and defenceless. Quite disgusting. Maybe that’s why the collective term for these birds is a murder of crows…”
“Ah yes…and there’s a story the Bushmen tell,” Gertruida rejoins, “about the way crows are the messengers of disaster – especially to the unjust and the proud…”
Long ago, after !Kaggen caused mankind to step from the tree, there was peace on earth. There were no conflicts, no war, no bloodshed. As mankind multiplied, they spread out over the land so that every family had enough space to hunt freely. After the first rain of summer, the families would get together to tell the others what had happened during the last year.
Oh, these gatherings were joyous affairs, with lots of eating, dancing and talking. Such was the excitement, that they sang a new song every year – a song dedicated to their happiness and love for each other, for life and for nature.
One year, the Biggest Family sang their own song:
We have multiplied, we are blessed We are wonderful, we are the best.
The Other Families listened to the song, and an Old One stood up and said it wasn’t the way they did things. Nobody is better than anybody else, for did !Kaggen not create them all equal? Why would the Biggest Family want to be better than the rest? It’s not done, he said, sitting down sadly.
But lo! The Biggest Family then became exceedingly angry and beset themselves onto the others, The fight was short and bloody. When the sun set that day, only a few of the Smaller Families were left. They had fled from the wrath of the Biggest Family, hiding high up in the mountains. There they gathered once more, but not with either joy or excitement. Now their meeting was one of fear – even loathing – for they had seen what the Biggest Family had done to their kin.
Some of the younger men suggested an ambush while others wanted to attack them at night – but the Old One held up a hand and said they were too weak to attempt such a folly.
“No,” he said, “that won’t do. We must not do something we’d be ashamed of. Look, we know there are too many of them. And, my children, killing your enemies will only result in more killings. Does the tree not put out many shoots once lightning has struck it down? We, my children, must wait.”
The Young Ones respected the Old One’s words, but still couldn’t refrain from asking him what they must wait for.
“The crows, my children. We’ll wait for the crows.”
And the Young Ones became much frightened, for they thought the crows were the spirits of the dead – they weren’t like the other birds at all. A trembling young voice asked again, and was answered by the Old One.
“Mankind is as the sand of the desert. The wind blows it here, the wind blows it there. But…the wind can not blow the sand away, no matter how hard it tries. See the dunes out there? It’s sand. It’s the same sand I saw when I was young. It doesn’t go away.”
The Young Ones listened patiently. It would have been rude to interrupt.
“We are a people, as are the others. All people form a dune, that the wind blows this way and the wind blows that way. But no matter how hard the wind blows, the dune will still be here tomorrow and the days after that.
“And, my children, our actions are as the sand of the desert as well. Like us, our actions gather, become more, and create dunes around us. The wind may blow it here, the wind may blow it there, but the dunes will be here tomorrow and the days after that.”
The Young Ones finally understood the wise words. A done deed cannot be undone. It is added to the dunes forming around us and can never be blown away, no matter how hard the wind tries to do so,
“And the crows, Old One?” A small boy at the back wanted to know more.
“Ah, the crows. Some believe them to be the spirits of those departed. But no, my children. Those black birds are more than that – they are shamed beings, but also messengers, prophets, scavengers of the future. Let me tell you about crows…”
When the world gathered her horizons around her and the wind was born, the wild animals were given tasks. Lion was to be king, dove was a peacemaker and oryx the judge. There were animals which dug the earth, which cleaned the veld and which kept the rivers clean. But crow? He was lazy and not fond of work. He flew away when the tasks were given and hid in the night.This, the other animals said,was wrong. Crow was then given a black coat and sent away in shame.
Now, the crow couldn’t return to the other animals. It became angry and began hunting the weak and the vulnerable. It had become a scavenger of left-overs.
“But why would the crows want to go to the Biggest Family?”
“The dunes of the actions of that family contains much shame,” the Old One said. “The crows would feed on that. The Bigger Family will think the crows have come to eat away their shame and wrongs, and then – relieved of that burden – they will do even bigger wrongs. The crows will eat and eat and the wrongs will become more and more. The wind will blow the dunes this way, the wind will blow the dunes that way – but they’ll just keep on growing and becoming bigger.”
“And then, Old One?”
“The dunes will become too big to remain where they are. The sand will start trickling down their slopes. The bad the Bigger Family had done, will run down the slope and cover them, suffocating them in their own wrongdoing.”
And the leftover families listened to the Old One and waited for the crows.
“That’s a crazy story, Gertruida. Crows and sand dunes and wind…? These old stories are fun to listen to, but sadly – their meanings have been lost in time,”
“Not so, Vetfaan.” Gertruida wags a knowing finger in the air. “The government is of the opinion that their actions are condoned by the masses on the dunes around them. They are feeding the crows, my friend…”
For those who can’t follow the Afrikaans words:
I know an age-old song
about life’s joys and woes;
about shipwrecks long forgotten
to the cellars of the sea.
The words are lost forever
but still, the tune remains —
like a vaguely recalled image
from a very old folk tale.
Visions, dreams, and names,
have been scattered by the wind
and where all the words went
only a child could see.
Nomads, with no direction;
Seekers that won’t find…
In the end, we are all just
children of the wind.