If I was to compose my own song along the lines of the Sound of Music’s – these are a few of my favourite things… I would include the Nguni Cow. The Nguni cattle breed is indigenous to Southern Africa.
Antjie Krog in her book Change of Tongue writes:
In Setswana, cattle are known as modimo o nko e metsi – god-with-the-wet-nose…. In a poem about cattle, some verses focus on their ability to bring nourishment even to strangers:
Cattle – they who draw the assegais to themselves
Malenkhu a marumo
they who produce warm milky milk
they, the wet-nosed gods
modimo o nko e metsi
with their intense nourishing drink
mogodungwane o molelo
have cream that scorches the whiskers of men
more o fisang banna ditedu
the whiskers drip with cream that they did not plaster on themselves
dinya mafura di sa a tloteng
there is enough – even the mouths of foreigners shine with lustre
selo sa mosimane was Mokalaka
In Sotho culture, the seriti of cattle – their dignity and spirit – is almost as strong as that of humans and can be communicated with. Black cattle have the strongest seriti. The relationship with cattle is personal: each animal has a name and is visited daily and talked about. Precise terms are needed to describe the physical characteristics of cattle down to the finest detail. Where English would require a descriptive phrase, Northern Sotho has a single exact word: white with black markings is pududu; white with red markings, kebja; black with some white markings on the neck, Kgoopa. There are in the region of sixty words just to describe the colours of cattle.
During the Apartheid years, cattle were used as a heart-rendering metaphor for the oppressed by H.M.L. Lentsoane, in his well known poem about the Soweto uprising:
rumours of unrest and revolt are thrown up by motley black cattle that are dumb
cattle that are not sullen, although they obey the rules
cattle that are carefully kept under watch
cattle that murmur in muffled voices
against those who boisterously announce ideas of contempt
eventually they are strung up – they, the motley black cattle
the time of the covenant with the ancestors has arrived
E gorogile melaetsa ka kgonono,
E hlatswa ke thomo ya semuma,
Thomo ya go hloka matepe.
E tsitsinketswe thomo,
Ya fetlekwa ka lepopodumo,
Ya ahlaahlwa ka megopolo ya lenyatso
Mafelelong ya fegwe,
Kgauswi ya ba kgweranong le badimo.
Poetry Friday is being hosted by Julie Larios at The Drift Record. Go treat yourself! Thanks for all the thought provoking comments I received last week for The Slave’s Dream.