Tag Archives: legend

The Big Herd Syndrome

image-large_trans++qVzuuqpFlyLIwiB6NTmJwfSVWeZ_vEN7c6bHu2jJnT8.png“I thought England would choose to remain in the European Union,” Servaas says as hy sips his beer. It’s been a quiet morning in Boggel’s Place; Vetfaan is tinkering with the tractor’s engine again and Gertruida must still return from Upington, where she went to get more wool. The blanket she’s crocheting is coming on nicely indeed;  it’s going to be another long, cold winter.

“Ag, I don’t know, Servaas. Whether they’re in or out doesn’t bother me. But you know the English – they’re a proud nation. Or at least…they were. There was a time they ruled the world and now they’re just a small island. Who cares?”

“Money cares, that’s what. The City of London is an economic hub, Boggel. They pull a lot of strings and expect a lot of people to jump when they do. This isn’t good news for the financial world – and we’re not going to escape the effects of this vote.”

They fall silent as the lorry from Kalahari Vervoer stops in front of Sammy’s Shop. When Gertruida gets out on the passenger side, Servaas brightens.

“She’s bummed a lift back! Vetfaan will be pleased; he was supposed to fetch her tomorrow. And…I’d love to hear what her opinion is.”

Within minutes, Gertruida has to listen to a barrage of questions.

“Okay, okay, you guys. Let me tell you a story. ”


Once upon a time – long ago – Zebra had a bright idea.

“Look, we are always scared of Lion and Leopard. Why, as soon as I lower my head to eat some grass, I have to look up again to check out the vicinity.  And when I want to drink water, I can only manage the tiniest mouthful before I have to do the same.

“Now you, Giraffe and Kudu, you have the same problem. So do you, Springbuck and Klipspringer. Even big, strong, Buffalo suffers the same fate.The threat, my friends, is universal – we all are in danger of being the main dish on the supper table of our enemies every day.

“Now, here’s what I suggest: let’s group together and become one big, happy herd. Some could be on the lookout while the others eat and drink in peace. We’ll share feeding, drinking and lookout duties amongst us rather than having to do it all by ourselves. Huh? What do you say?”

The other animals thought about Zebra’s suggestion and couldn’t decide.

“Well, then we’ll vote on this.That’s the only way we’d know whether it’s a good idea or not.” Little Duiker, the most agile of them all, didn’t like such long meetings. There were places to go, things to do.

The animals voted. Yes, the majority said, it’s better if they herd together.

Zebra’s plan worked well for a while. The animals shared lookout duties and they felt safe. Then, something strange happened. Due to a drought in the Baboon Territory, the baboons started looking for a better place to live. When they heard about the Big Herd, they headed that way in big numbers.

“We want what you have,” Baboon told Zebra. “It’s only fair. We are all animals, aren’t we? Go on, share your good fortune with us.”

“But you’re not an antelope, Mister Baboon. You guys don’t eat like us; you dig up the soil to get to scorpions and things that live underground. We only eat bits of grass here and there, allowing the veld to recover again. But…once you’re finished eating, the veld won’t be the same until after it rains once more.

“No, Mister Baboon, I’m sorry but we can’t allow you here.”

“Gee, how selfish!” Gentle Eland shook his head. “How can you be like that? Poor Baboon has nowhere to go; you can’t refuse to give him some shelter and food? No, I think Baboon deserves some compassion. He should stay.”

Now, by that time, the herd had become extremely large. Antelopes of all shapes and sizes grazed alongside each other and the news of Baboon’s plight soon became a topic of serious discussion. Most of the animals seemed to be in favour of allowing Baboon to stay, but Zebra put his hoof down.

“Then I’ll leave. I’ll take my chances. You guys want Baboon to stay? Why, go ahead and be my guest. I shall find my own piece of veld to graze. Goodbye and good riddance!”

The other animals thought Zebra was being stupid and welcomed Baboon with bright smiles.

“Shame, we feel sorry for you,” they told Baboon. “Come, we’ve gathered some berries for you.”

Now, it didn’t take too long for them to realise that Zebra was right. Baboon’s destructive way of feeding soon had the veld bare of grass. Worse, Baboon even started telling them that the veld was his, and they had no right to tell him where to feed. When the animals grumbled about this, Baboon threatened to fill up the watering hole with stones.

“He’ll never do that,” Kudu said. “Did we not help when he was starving? No, he’s just bluffing.”

But Baboon wasn’t bluffing. When the animals went for a drink the next day, they found a great heap of stones where the water once was.  The Big Herd was disappointed, angry and disillusioned all at once.

“It’s your fault,” Kudu told Eland.

“But…I thought Buffalo was supposed to guard the hole?”

“No, it was Klipspringer’s turn…or was it Duiker?”

The herd had become too big. While Zebra was there, he kept an orderly roster of guard duties; but when he left, nobody stepped up to do that. In the ensuing argument, Kudu butted Eland with his giant horns. Eland stomped on Klipspringer. And Duiker, the most agile of them all, simply ran off to search for Zebra.


“You see, the idea of a communal unity seemed like a great idea in the beginning. But the animals ignored one important aspect: they were all different. They ate different sorts of plants. Every specie had it’s own habits. And they all liked the company of their own type. Antelopes come in different sizes, shapes and colours. Zebra has stripes for camouflage, Kudu has horns to fight with and Buffalo is big and strong. Herding them together was a mistake – while they felt safer, they had to give up who and what they were.

“Then, when Baboon showed up, he not only ruined their peaceful co-existence, he also made them aware of their differences.

“A big herd, Servaas, can’t last forever. At some point they have to split up to retain their identities and ways of life. Today you’ll find small herds scattered here and there, because that is the way to deal with outside threats. A smaller herd needs less water and grass, escapes danger with greater ease and can travel farther with less problems.

“It is true for animals. It is true for the UK. It will be true for the European Union…and eventually, after the veld has been destroyed, for South Africa.”




The Ghosts of Kubu Island.

Credit: Lonelyplanet.com

Kubu Island. Credit: Lonelyplanet.com

It’s not true that the group at the bar never talk about ghosts. They do. But when the subject gets raised, they’ll lift their glasses in a silent salute to Spook Visagie, the man at the center of one of the legends Kubu Island. He ‘visited’ the place in in 1965.

Long, long ago, the Makgadikgadi salt pan was a lake. A large one. It collected the waters of the Okavango, Chobe and Zambezi rivers, formed an inland sea and drained into the Orange river. Then the earth’s crust moved, diverting the obj148geo280pg13p28Chobe and the Zambezi eastwards on their present course. Before that, the Makgadikgadi sea provided the early Phoenicians with the route to Zimbabwe and the gold deposits they mined there.  The ‘island’ of Kubu (‘kubu’ meaning : ‘hippopotamus’) used to be a harbour for the fleet of ships carrying the precious cargo. Even today, the remnants of the ruins (resembling the building methods at the Great Zimbabwe Ruins) can still be found on the island. Of course, these ruins are much younger and not a true reflection of the early Phoenicians’ endeavour, but later efforts in the 15th century, most probably by the local population at the time.

Be that as it may, there is a story the locals whisper about around the late-night fires.

breekyster 2010 052aSpook – known by his real name of Koos at the time – happened to be on one of his camping trips back then, when the fanbelt of his vehicle broke. People will later say that it was meant to be, but at the time Koos didn’t think so. With the radiator unable to regulate the engine’s temperature, he was stranded in the overwhelming heat of the salt pans. He could have died there. Some say he did…

The remains of the car – like Spook – is still there if you’re brave enough to go looking for it.

According to the police report, Koos was found about ten days afterwards. One has to be flexible in this. The band of Bushmen who found him, spoke only their original !Kung language – understanding them relied heavily on gestures and sound, rather than interpreting the almost-impossible click-language they used. Gertruida has read the report:

…apparently Mister Koos Visagie was in a severely dehydrated state when he was found. The San people carried him to their shelter and revived him. That’s when they recognised his face.

According to their legends, a white, bearded man once ruled over Kubu Island. It was, they say, a long time ago, when the plains were filled with water and fish abounded. This man, they said, would return every (hundred? thousand?) years to herald a new period of plenty. As far as can be ascertained, the San people communicated this with Mr Visagie. It is unclear whether he understood what they told him.

Apparently Mr Visagie was taken to Kubu Island, where he ‘met the ancestors’ How this happened, was also not fully explained, but a ‘sacred fire’ was made and certain herbs and bushes were involved.  During this process or ceremony, Mr Visagie was said to have started talking in a strange voice with strange words. The San people had never heard anything like it before. Mr Visagie seemed to be conversing with an invisible person(s) in an animated way. 

When the clan woke up the next day, Mr Visagie was gone. No further information was forthcoming from the group. Although an extensive search was carried out afterwards, Mr Visagie remains on the Missing Person’s List.

Comment:  The Investigating Officer’s opinion is that Mr Visagie must have suffered mental damage due to his ordeal. If – as it seems to be the case – he had wandered off into the salt pans, the chances are that his remains will only be found by accident one day. It is suggested that the contents of this file be made known to the nomadic peoples in the area.


Now it is important to mention a certain Gavin Lamont. As a prospector of note, he had been exploring an area in the Tuli Block, many hundreds of kilometers to the east of Orapa.. While camping on the banks of the Limpopo River, as strange man arrived on foot. ‘Strange’, because he was dressed in a flowing white coat, a white suit and hat, and wore polished shoes. He did not at all look like a weary traveller.

After inviting the man to stay for the  night, they sat down to a dinner of Impala steaks and wine. Much to Lamont’s surprise, after the meal (which the man hadn’t touched at all) the visitor then went on to tell him that the search of diamonds in Botswana would yield rich rewards. But, he added, the really significant finds would occur at the southern end of the Makgadikgadi salt plains. While Lamont went to his tent to fetch a map, the man simply disappeared. kubu

In 1966, the year after Spook’s disappearance, the fabulously rich deposits at Letlhakane was discovered by Lamont, changing the history of Botswana.

Gertruida says they can stop looking for Spook. He went – according to her – to ‘another dimension’. The Bushmen were right: he heralded another ‘period of plenty’. Boggel always laughs at her when she says this, reminding her that most of the stories they tell in Boggel’s Place tend to be very flexible about the truth.

Still, you never know, do you…?

Trusting Liar (#10)

Liar's Meteorite

Liar’s Meteorite

Once the helicopter disappeared over the dunes, the group finally stops laughing.

“Oh, Liar, you are sooo convincing! Damn! I started believing you when you threw out that bit about the radioactive Boron. And then you…you…you added the bit about manhood! Shew! I almost burst out laughing right then.” Gertruida slaps Liar’s back as she starts giggling again.

Liar’s indignant response is immediate. “And what, Gertruida, do you think, do they use to accelerate electrons and bits of atoms in Switzerland? Or do you imagine that I’d be roving around here for my entire life, looking for lost diamonds?”

“Oh, stop it, Klasie! You’re killing us!” Vetfaan wipes the tears from his eyes as he succumbs to another bout of laughter.

Servaas gets serious all of a sudden. “You are looking for diamonds, aren’t you? Walter Kempf and the Wolf’s Tears? All that you told us? It’s true, isn’t it?”

Klasie Louw, known as Liar, scoops up a handful of sand and lefts it sift through his fingers. “There are many stories buried in the sands of the Kalahari, my friend. Legends and myths and tales that are more marvellous than anything you’ve ever heard. Here you’ll find the ghosts of the Dorsland-trekkers who tried to escape to an illusive Utopia. Amongst these dunes the history of the Bushmen, the Koranna and the lost civilisation of the gold-miners of Zimbabwe are whispered in the night breezes. Once this was an inland lake bearing boats filled with riches – then the climate changed and the earth moved…and now only the sand remains. This, Servaas, is a magical place. A place were everything is possible.”

“But that doesn’t answer the question, Klasie. I just want to know whether your story is true? We did pick up that diamond, didn’t we?” Getruida points to Liar’s pocket, remembering how he had snatched it away from her.

It is Liar’s turn to smirk. “Ah yes…the aeroplane wreck! Come, I’ll show you. It’s about an hour from here.”


lancaster_desert_500Sure enough, after tramping trough the loose sand in the valley between the two dunes, they arrive at a little plain – an open space with the dunes forming a natural amphitheatre around it. Off to one side, the wreckage is clearly visible.

“This was Walter’s plane. And this is the direction the flood washed his treasure away.” He points towards the south. “And over there,” pointing again, “is the rocky outcrop. I wouldn’t suggest you go near it.”


“I’m still not sure,” Servaas says. They’re gathered at the counter in Boggel’s Place, relieved to be back in Rolbos. “I mean, can we really believe everything he said?”

“Well, all I can tell you is that Boron is an extremely rare element in the universe. Scientists don’t believe it is natural to our planet, and that most of the Boron found on earth is due to cosmic dust and possibly meteorites. There is, indeed, radioactive Boron and it may very well be used in reactors – although the rarity of the substance makes its common use impossible. If that rocky outcrop of Liar’s is pure Boron, it could very well be the remains of an ancient meteorite and as such be a unique find.” Gertruida shrugs. “Who knows? Anyway, I made a few discreet enquiries: our friend Klasie Louw is a multi-multimillionaire. The story of the Reserve Bank taking notice of his activities may be true…”

“And the men? The helicopter and the search?”

“Oh, read the papers, Servaas! There are so many scandals in our country, it’s hard to pick the most likely one. But….I like my theory about somebody wanting to buy silence. Suppose you bribed South Africa into hosting the World Cup in 2010 and now people are starting to ask questions. You have the FBI, CIA, Fifa and even Morocco breathing down your neck. If the story is proved and evidence confirms the corruption, it won’t just impact on one single person. It’d mean that the government, the local organising committee and especially the governing party will be left with more egg on their faces than they can clean off. People will have to resign, and some will go to jail. It’d be a diplomatic catastrophe of massive proportions. International credibility – already at a low point – will fly out of the window.

“You see, Servaas, for some of the officials – from president down to the ticket-sellers – the outcome of an intensive investigation will mean the end of their careers. The money-barrel will run dry. The authorities involved with drugs, smuggling and money laundering will be forced to face the wrath of not only the local populace, but the international community as well. Can you imagine the fall-out?

“So…it is entirely possible that certain men and women will want to buy their way out of trouble – and that’s going to involve massive payments to the investigating forces. Just like FIFA bought Ireland’s silence and avoided legal action, so it may be possible to influence the reports of investigators. For that, not only would billions be required, but there cannot be any paper trail. No Banks, no transfers, no documentation. The answer: diamonds…”

“Ja,” Vetfaan signals for another beer, “desperate times. Desperate measures…”

Servaas shrugs. “Be that all as it may. I still don’t know whether I can believe Klasie Louw…”

l15 copy_edited-1“We’ll never know,” Getruida says as she puts down  her glass. “But he has a good story. Maybe we should trust Liar for a change…”

Below the counter, Vrede thumps his tail on the wooden floor. He sniffed around the wreck and the strange rock out there in the desert. He knows exactly what the facts are. But, even though he’d like to tell them about the weathered shoebox he found under the one Nara-bush, he’d rather keep the secret. It’s much more fun this way.

The End.

The Ant-heap Hater

IMG_2541 (2)Boggel’s Place has been eerily silent for the last week or two. After some welcome showers, the veld is green once more. Vetfaan and Kleinpiet have had to tend to their farms, leaving Gertruida  (with a stack of National Geographics) and Boggel (polishing and repolishing the glasses) alone in the small bar. Oudoom is in Upington for a church meeting.

“Anything interesting?” Boggel glances hopefully towards Gertruida, who puts down the magazine.

“Always. I learn so much from these books. Look at the beautiful photographs of ant-hills.” She holds up the glossy page.

“That’s huge!” Boggel squints. He’ll have to see that optician in Upington sometime. “But such a lot of ants must have done a lot of damage? Must have upset a framer by destroying a lot of veld.”

Gertruida rolls her eyes. “Don’t be so negative, Boggel. You sound like the politicians who try to talk away the wave of xenophobia. Ants, I’ll have you know, are vitally important to our survival. Yes, they make a living by working hard, but the are essential for the spread of seeds. They till the land, remove dead animals and plants, clean up debris. Ants are the most numerous species in the world and have survived everything Mother Nature has thrown at them. They are Nature’s best recyclers; a veritable example to us all.”

“How can you compare ant-hills with xenophobia, Gertruida? It doesn’t make sense?”


There once lived a man who hated ants.

“Look at them! Always scurrying this way and that, never resting. They eat my crops and destroy my stores. This ground is mine, I shall not have it colonised by foreigners. I shall have to kill them all.”

His wife put down the bucket she was carrying.

“Oh, my husband! Always complaining and complaining. All you do is to watch those ants – from dawn to dusk, all day long. How many times have I asked you to dig a furrow from the river so we can have water near the house? And why is the roof still leaking? And look at the house: it’s barely big enough for the two of us, but you refuse to build on a room for the children.” She sighed. If only her husband would do something!

The man got angry and stormed out of the house.  Taking a shovel, he started destroying the ant-hill next to the humble hut they lived in. The ants had no right to eat his meagre crop! He dug all day to try to demolish all the ant’s tunnels.

That night he sat down to his small bowl of porridge, hoping his wife would have calmed down. No such luck.

“There is a huge patch of ground next to the river. Why haven’t you tilled that? Why didn’t you plant enough corn there to see us through the winter? Why…”

He interrupted her rudely, telling her to shut up. He was the man, he’d make the decisions. And anyway, who was she to tell him how to farm? She didn’t know anything…

The man set out the next day to attack more and more ant-heaps. He forgot about his patch of corn, which withered away under the sun. Winter came. When at last springtime arrived, the man and his wife had starved to death.

Outside their small hut, the ants had resumed building their nest.


“That man was stupid, Gertruida. He should have cultivated his land properly and left the ants to do their job.”

“Ja, Boggel. Removing ant-heaps wasn’t the answer. Ants will survive, no matter what. The man didn’t.”

plants_antsGertruida stares out of the window as silence settles in Boggel’s Place once more. People could learn a lot from ants, she thinks. They get on with the job of living, while people are constantly blaming others for their hardship. It’s as if some people have a default setting that forces them to expect others to solve their problems – while they are content to simply complain and object to the success anybody else might have achieved.

“We’ve become a nation of ant-haters,” Boggel says as he stacks the glasses back onto their shelf. “We simply cannot cope with competition because we’re too lazy to work harder.”

Gertruida doesn’t even look up from her reading. They’ve discussed the issue many times before and there doesn’t seem to be a solution. Once a nation has slipped down the slope of unproductivity, it’ll take a miracle to reverse the trend.

“I see they’re going to teach Mandarin in our schools now.” Boggel looks at the front page of yesterday’s newspaper.. “Even teach it to the police…”

“Ja, I saw that. The real ants are coming, Boggel. If we don’t – or won’t – cultivate the land next to the river, we’ll pay the price…”

Who Painted the Moon Black?

MAAN 002 mod“There once was a very tall man.” Gertruida sits back, making up the story as she tells it. “Very tall. Taller than anybody else on earth. He was a soft-spoken man who cared for his family very much.”

Servaas nods to egg her on. He wants to hear another fable, a myth, a legend – anything – to make him forget the way things are in the country.

“He was a good hunter and  an even better farmer. His family ate well every day. But…like his family, he was afraid of the dark. In those days, the nights were black with only a few stars to light up the sky. His family, because of their fear, collected firewood every day so that the flames could drive the darkness away once the sun had set. This made the tall man very happy.”

By now, everybody in Rolbos is listening with rapt attention. Gertruida’s fables aren’t stories to ignore; they all have a moral hidden somewhere.

“But one day he tracked an Eland and he ventured too far away from his home to return to the family’s fire. The sun set. It became dark. And the man was afraid once more.

“Getting up carefully, he stretched a hand into the darkness and to his surprise he touched something. Up there, in the black of the sky, he felt an object nobody had ever seen before. It was the moon. The man sat down and thought about his discovery. If only he could make the moon bright, he’d never have to fear the night again.

“He went home the next day and told everybody what he had found, but nobody believed him. They laughed and told him he must have dreamt it, nothing can exist in such blackness. No, they said, only a few stars could live in the dark, and they weren’t things to touch, anyway. Did everybody not know that those pinpricks of light were holes in the blanket that covers the sky at night? They laughed at the tall man and he felt much ashamed.

“Still, he knew there was something up there, something only he could touch. But how was he going to make the people stop laughing at him? He had to make a plan, so he went down to the river to think. He asked the water to go up there and roar like a waterfall – so the people might hear the object. The water refused, mumbling that water runs down, never up.. Then he asked the crows to fly up at night to nest on the object so they can squawk there, but they didn’t want to. They had to stay on earth to scavenge from Man, they said.

“And so he asked jackall to howl on the moon, lion to roar on the moon, hyena to laugh on the moon. They all refused. Eventually the man realised he would not be able to make the people hear the moon – he had to show it to them…but how?

“That’s when the fireflies came to him to tell him they’d go. They could fly, they said, and make light. If many of them gathered on the tall man’s moon, people would be able to see not only the moon, but also through the darkness of the night.

“The man was delighted. The next evening he gathered everybody around him and watched as the fireflies all gathered on the moon to give them light. The people were amazed and now treated the tall man with respect. They even made him their leader.

“The sun welcomed the moon in the sky and befriended the new source of light. They were very happy.

“But the tall man became old and told the people to elect a new leader – he wanted to rest, he said. So a new leader was chosen and the tall man lived out his days in peace. Once his soul left his body to join those that went before, the people soon forgot about him. Such is the nature of man, after all. Good people are much easier to forget than bad ones.”

Oudoom holds up a hand, interrupting Gertruida’s story. “That’s true, you know? History books are filled with the stories of bad men – when last did you read about something nice and uplifting in the past? It’s there, of course, but there are more Mussolini’s than Mother Teresa’s.”

Gertruida flashes a wintry smile in Oudoom’s direction – she hates interjections. “Anyway, the new leader was jealous of the tall man’s accomplishment and wondered what he could do to impress people. After much thought, he decided to make the moon black again. If his predecessor gave the people light at night, he’d give them darkness. Surely they’d respect him for that? So he went down to the river to fetch long reeds, to which he fastened some grass. He piled mud on this long brush and waited for night-time. Then he painted the moon black again. The fireflies died  and night became dark once more.

“The sun saw what had happened and grieved for his friend the tall man had created. It therefore refused to draw back the night’s blanket from then on, leaving the earth in darkness.

“The people became afraid again and cried out, but the darkness remained.”

Gertruida falls silent and asks Boggel for a beer.

“That’s it? That’s the story?” Servaas shakes his head; surely that can’t be the end?

“Well, that’s as far as the story goes, Servaas. Until another tall man comes along, the land will remain dark. So far, it hasn’t happened.”

Oudoom nods slowly. He grasped the moral. “So, we’ll just have to wait, Gertruida?”

“Yes Oudoom. It’ll remain dark until another Mandela comes along.”

The Bird that would be King

Albatross_Atl_YN_1_clive_harris_01_november“Fire,” Gertruida said, “is a natural phenomenon. Ever since the first thunderclouds gathered in the sky or the first volcano erupted, flames have been at work on dry grass and old wood. Fire isn’t there just to make light and cook food – nature needs fires to clear land, to help seeds germinate and then allow new growth to take over.”

“That may be true, but the fire in Cape Town destroyed much more than a few old trees. Houses, resorts, forests and the mountainside  will need a lot of time and money to recover. People have been left without homes. Animals were burnt to death. I can’t see the bright side this time, Gertruida, I just can’t.” True to her nature, Precilla dabs a tear.

“Nature – like Life – works in endless circles, Precilla. The forest of today is so often the burnt landscape of tomorrow. Beauty yields to age just like summer must bow to winter. Once we understand that, we know that the devastation we now see, will return to be the fairest Cape of all in the near future.”

“Does it always work that way? Even with people?’

Gertruida sighed. This question, she knows, leads to the one exception of the rule. “Not always. You see, Nature will recover from fires and floods and droughts – simply because Nature accepts the cycles of fortune it is subject to. In contrast, we are prone to overstate our importance, which may very well lead to permanent damage. Let me tell you an old African myth, Precilla. . Maybe it’ll help you understand…”


Once upon a time – long, long ago – the earth belonged to the birds. Not only were they the only ones who knew the secret of navigation and seasons, they also could fly high to look for fountains and rivers, forests to live in and safe places to nest. Over the years they became more and more numerous as they occupied the most fertile pieces of the land.

One bird, in particular, outstripped the others in wisdom. It was a  huge animal with beautiful plumage – the envy of all the other flying species.

“I shall rule over the land,” he said as he surveyed the vast continent, “for I am bigger and more beautiful than the rest of my family. And,” he added smugly, “I am so much cleverer than they.”

So this bird – his name I shall tell you in a moment – set about proclaiming his kingship. “I am of royal blood,” he cried, “and all the animals will pay homage to me. It is my right!”

While it was true that this bird could fly higher and remain in the air much longer than everybody else, the other birds accepted his claim and then addressed him as their king. For a while this brought great satisfaction to the self-proclaimed monarch and he bore himself in a manner befitting his new rank. He was gracious and kind and took a keen interest in all those under his proverbial wing.

Then, one day, the big king-bird soared high on the winds and looked down at the small animals grazing on the plains below.

“Is it right,” he mused, “that all the feathered animals proclaim me as their king, and yet those with hooves and paws ignore me? They are surely too small to oppose my rightful claim.”

So the big bird soared down to land next to a tortoise.”I am now your king. You shall respect me as such.”

And the tortoise, slow and small like he was, drew back into his shell to contemplate this.

Next, the bird approached a jackal, repeating his claim.

And the jackal, as clever as he was, slipped into a burrow under a rock to think about it.

Then the bird found a porcupine and informed him that he had to bow down before the new royalty.

And the porcupine rustled his quills and withdrew to analyze the situation.

Finally, the bird landed next to a lion. Before the bird could finish his proclamation, the lion smote it heavily with his huge paw, cursing the bird for being so forward.

“As the king of all the animals, I will not allow such foolish talk. You, who have inflated your importance to the point where you are deceiving not only others, but also yourself….you will henceforth not return to land. You will soar over the oceans, vainly searching for peace and rarely put your feet on solid ground again. Sailors will stare at you in fear, as you will be the symbol of misfortune and bad luck.  A king you shall never be, only a servant of the winds.”

The lion turned to go, but the badly injured bird pleaded for mercy.

“Please, Lion, do not leave me like this. I am but a poor bird and your curse will make me poorer still. Have you no mercy?’

And the lion turned to look at the bedraggled imposter and felt sorry for him. “I am, indeed, merciful. I shall grant you one wish.”

The bird didn’t hesitate.

“Give me something – anything – to help me?”

Lion thought about this and finally agreed. “I shall give you the sharpest eyes of all – so that you may gaze upon the land while you are flying over the oceans. You shall see the land and the rocks and the rivers. You shall observe the animals grazing and playing and hunting. But you, banished over the ocean, shall only see and only observe, for you have laid claim to what isn’t yours and tried to rule over what you have no right to. Your eyes, Bird, will be your punishment and your reward, which will be as one.”

And so the Albatross gathered his feathers and limped away. After he regained his strength, be flew to the ocean, where he resigned himself to his fate.


“That’s such a sad story, Gertruida. But…why tell it now?”

Gertruida smiled as she rolled her eyes.

“Don’t you see? It’s the story of South Africa. It is also the story of most countries. The rulers of today will one day – if they live long enough – wonder why they didn’t go about their tasks with more compassion and kindness. They’ll look back and see what they have lost.

“Sadly, it isn’t only the politicians and the rulers who suffer this lot. It happens to common people – like us – as well. And the source of this hardship, Precilla, is greed. It’s the ego. It’s the demand to be more important than we are.”

Precilla thought about it for a long time. Then: “The fire in the Cape has come. Now it is gone. And nature will recover?”

Gertruida nodded.

“But people who succumb to greed and ego will lose what they craved for? Rulers and subjects alike?”

“Yes, Precilla. The proud and unbowed necks of too many, will wear the albatross of their folly in the end. It’s in every newspaper, every day – radicals, extremists, fundamentalists – once you proclaim that you have not only all the answers, but the only one, the winds over the vast ocean awaits you.”

“The Cape is lucky, then. It’ll recover.”

“Yes, Precilla. That’s the message. Nature can complete it’s cycles. Humans don’t.”

The Crows Are Here.

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com“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?”

IMG_2828“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.

The Legend of the Woman Caught in Between


“That’s a strange photo, Gertruida.” Vetfaan has been peeking over Gertruida’s shoulder while she paged through one of her old photo albums.

“I took this in a remote spot in Zambia, Vetfaan, after the locals told me about The Woman Caught in Between. The picture, like the legend, is most appropriate.”


There once was a woman who lived in a war torn land. Everybody – it seemed – was angry at everybody else, all the time. Towns fought against towns, districts took each other on in bloody battles and there was no peace in any of the provinces. Families were torn apart. Friendships ended in bloodshed.

One day, after the funeral of yet another of her sons, the woman sat crying alone under a big Acacia tree.

“Why,” she asked the thorny tree, “do we have to keep on fighting? Surely we should be happy – there’s enough room for everybody and the land could supply more than enough to eat and drink – provided there is peace. But no! Because we’re battling each other all the time, there are no men to cultivate the land or look after the cattle. Now we’re dying – if not from battle, then from hunger.”

The Acacia tree – used to being scorned because of its ugliness and thorns – listened quietly, understanding every word she said.

“You have to move,” it said.

“What, move to another country? Where? Are you crazy?” The woman was angry now. “This is the country of my fathers, and their fathers before them. I belong here. My children belong here.”

“No, not your country. Your mind.” The Acacia tree tried to look aggrieved, but only managed to grow a few more thorns.

“What?” The woman didn’t understand.

“You have to move your mind, woman. Think new thoughts. Stop contemplating the wars of the past and start considering a time of peace and cooperation. It’s when you stop fighting the wrongs of yesterday – and start building with the rights of tomorrow – that your tears will dry up and the lands will groan under the burden of the harvest.”

“Oh.” The woman didn’t know what to say about the strange idea. But…could the Acacia be right?

She spent a sleepless night before returning to the tree the next day.

“I’m going to do it,” she announced. “Think differently. Move my mind.”

The Acacia was happy and sprouted a few blooms. “Remember, woman, that you have to move everybody’s minds. This is no small task, I can tell you. Look at me: I’d like to get rid of my thorns, but my family refuses. So here I am, stuck with thorns for eternity.”

The woman hugged the tree, despite the thorns. “It must be hard to live with such a history.”

“It is. But you go ahead and try. Maybe you can get rid of your thorns.”

And the woman tried. She spoke to warriors and mothers, to kings and children. And to her surprise, they all agreed: this was a brilliant idea.

When the day came for everybody to move their minds, the woman offered to go first. “I’ll show you how. After all the hardships and sorrow of such a long time, I’ll take the first step to liberate us all.”

And the woman tried. She closed her eyes and made herself deaf to the sound of clashing swords. She shouldn’t have done that. If she had realised that there were still swords dripping with blood, she might have survived. Still, she imagined a peaceful country filled with happy faces.

While she was busy moving her mind, a the fighting soldiers paused for a while. What? This woman wanted peace? How outrageous! No more war would mean they would actually have to work for a living? Exchange their swords and spears for shovels and ploughs? Work from dawn to dusk to provide food? No! That’s not the way to go at all! Yes, some do die on the battlefield, but then you simply take what used to be theirs. That is so much better than working under the hot sun all day!

And so – for a minute or two, the woman got her wish. The fighting stopped. The soldiers turned on her and grabbed her before she could finish moving her mind. The shock of it all stopped the woman, hovering halfway between war and peace.

The fighting continued.

The swords remained red.

And the woman was kept in Between forever.


“That’s a horrible story, Gertruida! So sad. Fortunately it’s just a story…”

“No, Vetfaan. Not a story. Not a legend. It’s the story of Africa in general…and South Africa in particular. We’re sitting next to the Tree of History – actually, the Tree of Knowledge – and we don’t understand a word it is telling us.

“We are, my friend, stuck in Between, doomed to remain there as a reminder of an impossible dream…”

Flowers of the Holy Night

Euphorbia-pulcherrima-GIM002923_0It’s become a tradition in Boggel’s Place to challenge Gertruida – who knows everything – to tell the patrons at the bar a new Christmas story on the night of the 24th every year. Not any old story, though. The theme has to be Christmas, of course…and it has to be (more or less) true. Over the years she has told them the story of Bethlehem; the wonderful tale of Pete, Santa’s helper; and how – on Christmas day – wars were stopped to allow soldiers to join in singing ‘Silent Night’. This year is no exception – she’ll have to come up with something fresh.

“Come on, Gertruida, it’s time for your story.”

Gertruida smiles happily. “Mmmm…okay. Pick a theme, and I’ll see what I can do.”

Servaas stares at the dry desert outside; this summer has been particularly dry and hot. The stunted shrubs of the Kalahari are struggling to survive, with only a few dust-covered leaves as evidence of life.

“Flowers,” he says with a mischievous grin, “tell us a Christmas story about flowers.”

Gertruida doesn’t bat an eye. “Okay…”


It’s been a harsh year for the small family. They usually managed to make enough money by selling eggs and chickens; but that year some disease had struck, killing off most of their stock. Supplementing their income by knitting and cutting wood didn’t help as much as they’d have liked, either. Pepita’s father had to leave to work in the city while her ailing mother became more and more bedridden.

But…it was the night before Christmas. Even if her mother was too ill to leave the home, Pepita was determined to attend mass in the local church. Maybe, she thought, her mother would be blessed with improving health if she attended the service.

Oh, she knew about the tradition in town. Like in the rest of Mexico, the townsfolk would bring gifts to place before the altar in church – usually beautifully crafted gifts, even money or a variety of foodstuffs. And…she had nothing to give. No gifts for the Son of Bethlehem. This caused her to walk slowly, wondering if she shouldn’t turn around and head back home. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she set her jaw: she’d go anyway! She had to pray for her mom…

The cheery greeting from behind startled her. It was Pedro, her rich nephew. He was dressed in the finest clothes and carried a large, wrapped box. Despite the fact that Pedro lived in the better part of town, the two of them often played together and got along quite well.

“Oh Pedro…” She sniffed loudly and wiped away the tears. “I’m so ashamed. Look at me! Look at my clothes. And…I have no gift to offer…”

Pedro felt sorry for her, but what could he do? Even if he had money to buy a gift for her, the village shop was closed on this holy evening.

“Uh…I dunno. You have nothing? Nada? Really? Maybe it’d be better not to go?”

She only managed a nod.

Pedro saw how distraught she was and suggested that they sat down to think. There, at the edge of the dusty track, the two of them decided to pray for an answer. Should she go? Face the ridicule of the town with her threadbare dress and grubby feet…and no gift?

Anything, Pepita. You can bring anything…as long as you do it with a pure heart. 

Pepita looked up in surprise. She had heard those words quite clearly, as if they were spoken right next to her. But … it certainly wasn’t Pedro who spoke. The voice was far too beautiful – it sounded like a woman…didn’t it? And look, Pedro is over there, and the voice came from…here...?

Anything…pure heart.

Pepita looked around. The only thing next to the road, was a wilted weed. Could she? Should she…? The voice said anything…didn’t it?


“And so the little girl walked into that church with a meagre bouquet of…weeds! Oh, the villagers pointed fingers and whispered furiously, but Pepita proceeded down the aisle to lay her weeds at the feet of the statue of Mary and Jesus.  Please, she whispered, this is all I can bring. But…I bring it with love. With a pure heart.”

Gertruida tells the story so well – you can hear a pin drop in Boggel’s Place.

“Well, that little girl scampered from the church and went home. Her mother was still as ill as before. The pantry was still empty. Nothing had changed.”

That night, Pepita cried herself to sleep…again.

It was just after dawn that the excited voices outside made her sit up.

“Pepita! Pepita! Your weeds! Come, have a look!”

She peeked through the torn curtain to see a mass of people outside. Pedro stood right in front, beckoning urgently. After a hasty goodbye to her mother, Pepita stepped outside. What was this all about?

“Come! Come quickly. You have to see this!”

The crowd swept her along, but when they got to the church, they stepped aside – forming a guard of honour as they urged her inside. And when she did, she fell to her knees.

There, in front of the altar, her weeds had changed during the night. The altar was now festooned with the greenest leaves, the reddest flowers Pepita had ever seen.


the-aztec-empire“Those red flowers are now part and parcel of the Mexican Christmas tradition. It’s a beautiful flower, which is why the Aztecs also dedicated the red blooms to their deities. It was so pretty, that the American ambassador to Mexico brought it to America in 1828.

“Now, when you look at these flowers, you’ll recognise the shape of the Star of Bethlehem. The red represents the blood of Christ, of course – or love, if you prefer to think about it that way. imagesAnd the specks of white? That’s the sign of purity. All in all, these flowers –  called ‘Flores de Noche Buena’ (‘Flowers of the Holy Night’)  in Mexico – contain many symbols we’d associate with Christmas, but it is the message of humility and honesty that truly speaks to us.

“Christmas is not a time for extravagance. Forget the dazzling diamonds, the glittering gold and the glamorous gifts. Do what Pepita did: whatever you give – if anything – give it with a pure heart. Give it with love. It is, after all, not the price of the present that counts – it’s the cost.”

“Huh?” Vetfaan sits up straight suddenly. Gertruida can be sooo…oblique!

“In this world, Vetfaan, we look at the tag in the shop. We calculate the effect on the budget and the impression we want to make on the receiver. The more opulent the present, the greater goodwill, see? It is as if we manipulated the whole idea of Christmas into a system of trying to impress others.

“But it shouldn’t be like that. Love and purity aren’t self-sustaining characteristics. They represent hard work, compassion, kindness and conviction. That’s the cost, my friend, and it’s sadly lacking in so many presents that’ll be exchanged on Christmas day. Love and purity remain the most precious gifts anybody can give on Christmas day. Or on any other day, for that matter. It’s priceless

“The flower, Gertruida? What’s it called?”

“It was called after the American ambassador, Servaas. Dr Joel Roberts Poinsett. The Aztecs called ‘Cuetlaxochitl,’ and it’s botanical name is ‘Euphorbia pulcherrima’. Everybody knows it as Poinsettias, but I prefer ‘Flower of the Holy night’.”

Boggel holds up a hand. He has  to know. “And what happened to Pepita and her mother, Gertruida?”

Gertruida falls silent for a while, thinking hard.

“Well, you won’t believe it! Because it was Pepita who brought the miracle to the town, all the gifts in the chapel were given to her and her mother. There were food and clothes, money and gold, ornaments and many more presents. Oh, they were so happy! It was the best Christmas ever! Her father returned from the city and her mother recovered completely.” She sighs happily. “Such a wonderful, miraculous ending…”


Of course Gertruida lied – just a little bit – about the ending. The Mexican legend of the Flores de Noche Buena doesn’t elaborate on what happened to poor Pepita, nor does it say anything about the fate of the family. But it was Christmas, after all, and Gertruida felt the obligation to bring hope to her listeners. It’s been such a hard year filled with so much trials and tribulations, she knew they’d simply love a happy ending.

No, it wasn’t wrong of her to twist the tale a bit. She did it with purity and love – which are the main ingredients of miracles, remember?

A huge ‘Merry Christmas’  to all the readers of Rolbos. May you and your loved ones experience this Christmas as a special one, filled with grace and blessing; kindness and hope.

And love, of course…lots of Love…

Adam’s Calendar…again?

Adams-Calendar-book-cover-268x300“Those guys are crazy.” Tipping the glass upside down, Vetfaan signals for another beer. “To imply that South Africa has it’s own Stonehenge is romantic and all that, but surely it’s outrageous to suggest that some aliens visited us to start our gold-mining tradition?”

He’s been browsing through Adam’s Calendar: Discovering the oldest man-made structure on Earth – 75,000 ago  by Johan Heine and Michael Tellinger, a book Gertruida donated to the church bazaar. It tells the story of  a series of ruins in Mpumalanga in which the authors describe their ideas of an ancient civilisation in that area.

Ale's Stones

Ale’s Stones

“Oh, people just love such ideas.” As usual, Gertruida has to show off her vast knowledge. “Look, there are megaliths all over the world. Most of these structures are badly eroded, for sure, but they retain a certain aura of mystery.

“How do you explain Stonehenge, or Easter Island’s Moai, or Ale’s Stones in Sweden? It is only natural that some will want to explain these as relics from a distant past as signs of a lost civilisation. There is a catch, however: why are these structures spread out all over the world? South America, England, Malta – you name virtually any country – even Russia – and you’ll find something there that science struggles to explain. So, because we don’t believe Neanderthals were capable of more intelligent thoughts than our parliamentarians, we grab at the next best thing: aliens.”

“Well, Genesis does say something about heavenly creatures who visited the daughters of man.” Servaas has never been able to explain Genesis 6, especially the ‘giants of men’ that were born afterwards. “Maybe it were those big fellows who stacked up stones everywhere.”

“And then the Flood came and wiped them out? After travelling a zillion miles across the universe, they drowned?” Shaking his head, Boggel serves another round. “I agree with Vetfaan about some explanations needing to be explained. Circles within circles, that type of thing. However much we delve into the legends of old, we still won’t understand what a pyramid means, or how it was built. Theories? Yes, there are many of them. But can we duplicate those phenomena by building similar structures with no computers and not even a sliding rule?”


Credit: extraterrestrialcontact.com/

“Still, they say the Adam’s Calendar was used to predict solstices and equinoxes and plan for seasons. The other strange thing is that this so-called calendar is on the same longitudinal axis as the Giant Pyramids and Zimbabwe’s Ruins. And…” Vetfaan taps a calloused finger on the counter top, “they found a footprint.”

“Ag, Vetfaan! The fact that you only found out about these things now, doesn’t mean it’s new news. Mr Tellinger has been going on for ages about the strange finds, the gold mines, and extraordinary devices these ‘aliens’ were supposed to have used. According to him, they used river water and electrons to generate the energy to mine gold. There’s even a geneticist who supported the idea that this is where the ancient humans were genetically adapted to become superior beings.

sagancontact“But, as intriguing as these theories might be, they remain mere stories, suggestions, attempts to explain the inexplicable. The question is: why? Why bother with such things if you know very well you can’t really prove what you’re saying? Or do these ideas contain a certain fascination, some form of entertainment, that makes us forget the real issues of the day – like when you’re watching Carl Sagan’s Contact? ”  Gertruida sits back in her chair, apparently exhausted by her long speech.

“Okay, I get it.” You can count on Kleinpiet to muddle up a scientific discussion. He counts the points off on the outstretched fingers of his left hand. “First, you say primitive man erected massive buildings?” He gets a nod. “Then you maintain that these structures endured through the ages?” Another nod. “And that today, we cannot make head or tail of these things because we simply cannot explain why they were erected?” Yet another nod. “Nor do we have the faintest clue as to their function or use?” Nod, again. “And some allege that strange beings inhabited these places – possibly with the aim of digging for gold?”

A strange little smile – or is it a grimace – curls Kleinpiet’s lips upward when the group at the bar utters a prolonged and exasperated “Y-e-e-es? So what?”


Adam’s Calendar

“Them, my friends, Adam’s Calendar isn’t unique or strange. We’ve just witnessed a similar structure being erected in modern times. It’s got all the characteristics: primitive man, no known function, inexplicable… It does have a protective wall around it and contains buildings that apparently are dwellings for a lot of people. It symbolises the solstice of the sun in the life of a single man, and now awaits the winter to come. I’ll bet it even stands on the same axis as the pyramids, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins and Adam’s Calendar – just draw that line farther south. And I predict that in a few years, that place will be as neglected as any site where you find archeologists poking around.”

Credit: timeslive.co.za

Nkandla. Credit: timeslive.co.za

They all get it immediately, of course.

“The only difference, Kleinpiet, is that with Adam’s Calendar we’re trying to explain the past.” Getruida pats Kleinpiet on the shoulder. She’s quite impressed with his analogy. “But with Nkandla, we already know what the future holds….”