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Published: October 25th 2009
It was my last morning on truck duty today. Glenn, Tara and I walked up and stopped in the middle of an empty car park, no trucks in sight. We successfully located the trucks in the staff car park by the nursery. I picked a truck and struggled to get in while holding the cleaning things and my own bag. Fortunately a member of staff spotted me futile attempt to get in the truck and ran to my rescue. I've obviously got the knack of cleaning these trucks now and finsihed the job in twenty minutes. Tara walked up to see the end of my acrobatic routine hanging upside-down on the seats and then we hurried down to the cubs to make the most of our free time. Although we were expecting the day to be much quieter after the holiday weekend truck cleaning is the only morning shift that never really takes the full hour and I wanted to see the cubs before the visitors arrived.
As I was letting myself into the enclosure I did a double take as I saw two lions cubs running down the path outside, closely followed by Emily and Carmel. The two cubs in
nursery have been deemed well enough to rejoin the other cubs. Emily and Carmel were attempting to bring them down to cub world when the cubs wriggled out of their arms and took themselves down to cub world. I'm not quite sure where they though they were going, the excitment seemed to come from running where they weren't supposed to and making all the humans yell and run about. I swear if they could giggle they would have been. Emily and Carmel managed to sweep them up in their arms before they got too far. The group of young cubs were so excited to have two new playmates. I'm not sure if the two had originally been with the others and then taken away because of their respective illnesses or if it was their first time in cub world, but either way they seemed to feel at hoome straight away. They all jumped all over each other, biting ears and pulling tails. The smallest cub, Leah, seemed a bit bemused by it all and soon returned to Carmel's lap. Carmel has spent a lot of time in the nursey and seems to have adopted Leah. The cub actually sits on
her lap and sucks her finger! It's very cute. The appearance of Leah also makes us realise just how big the other cubs are getting... and how much dirtier. The white cubs particularly seem to dive into very mud puddle and roll around in the dirt. I think soon the public will stop believing we have the rare white lions here. We have brown lions and dirt lions!
We sat in with the cubs while they were having breakfast. I watched the older cubs devouring their pieces of meat and disturbingly the local birds seemed interested in the scraps. They perched on the holes of the metal fencing and waited for the lions to turn their backs and then flew down and pecked at the leftovers.
I had giraffe duty so I walked to the curio shop to get the float money, fetched the pellets from the hovel and prepared to meet the public... who didn't arrive. I think it's safe to say that everyone decided to visit the lion park over the weekend because we had barely any visitors today. Even the staff complained it's rarely been so quiet.
I took the oppotunity to read up on my giraffe
FAQs so when the public came with questions I'd be prepared. I now know that male giraffes can weigh up to 1200kg and females 830kg, that their gestation period is 450 days and they only ever have one baby at a time. Giraffes can run at 60kmph, make no sounds as they do not have voice boxes and have prehensile tongues of 45cm long (that explains why Gambit can dribble on both sides of my hand at the same time). Giraffes may lie down to sleep or may sleep standing with their heads resting in the fork of a tree. Their markings are unique to each individual, their hearts pump 60 litres of blood per minute (compared to humans who pump 4.5 litres) and they have 7 vertebrae in their neck. The colective noun for giraffe is a 'journey' and the scientific name is Giraffa camelopardalis which means 'walks like a camel and spotted like a leopard' in Latin. The horns, which are used for fighting, are bald on the males and have a tuft of hair on the females. Giraffes spend most of the day eating, have four stomachs and regurgitate food to chew again.
Our giraffes eat around
50 packets of pellets a day. They have both been at the park since they were a year old. Gambit is now 6 years old and Purdy is 5.
Brimming with all this new information I was delighted when the first visitor of the day bought a packet of food for his kids and asked me a questions 'What type of giraffe are these?'.......'Er..... they're giraffe. There's more than one type?'
I enjoyed the rest of my giraffe duty even though I came dangerously close to dozing off in the sunshine. It's so cold here at night and in the mornings but as soon as the sun comes up it gets really warm. I walk up to the lion park shivering in my fleece at 8am and an hour later I'm shedding all my layers and sun bathing!
After giraffe duty I returned to play with the cubs and see how the new ones were getting on. Glenn was there ahead of me and already a lap full of cubs. I spent a ridiculously long time in with the cubs, my first chance really to just be there and not have to do extra jobs or leave because there are
too many visitors. I cuddled and played, took photos and got scratched and chewed on and generally had fun.
We had booked to visit Lesedi Cultural Village this evening which meant we had to leave the Lion Park before closing time. The other volunteers have already been so it was only Glenn, Tara, Iris, Em-J and myself who piled into the taxi with the excitment of a bunch of school kids bunking off lessons. It felt really weird to be leaving the lion park while visitors were still milling about.
The Cultural Village isn't too far from the Lion Park although we did get hot and cramped all squashed together in the taxi. We stopped off at a cash point and had to had to untangle ourselves from the back seat and stand in the fresh air before continuing.
Lesedi Cultural Village was established in 1993 and the living museum represents five different African tribes. We entered to the sound of drums and people singing. We found ourselves in a market square with a band playing live music and people in traditional dress milling around us. Someone hurried forward with fruit juice for us all while we paid for our
tickets. 'Lesedi' means light and comes from the words the Bosotho king apparently uttered every morning 'Ke bona lesedi - I thank the light'.
We walked into Ndebele Village. The Ndebele are known as the artists of Southern Africa and decorate their mud huts with colourful paintings. We met a Ndebele woman wearing the traditional leg ornaments of a married woman but most of the village seemed to be comprised of tourist accomodation and the craft market. We were supposed to watch a welcome video about the different tribes but our guide was worried about the fading light and so hurried us onto the outdoor part of the tour.
We found ourseleves first at the Zulu village. Our guide said it was his tribal village and called out to the man on watch. Zulu custom dictates that before going on a journey a traveller must spit on astone and throw it on the 'isivivane' so as to propitate the good spirits and bring good fortune on the journey. Since we were about to embark on a cultural journey our guide encouraged us to take our own stone from the ground and toss it onto the pile. We then had to
call out a traditional greeting 'Uku-khuleka' and present ourselves at the gate before being allowed entrance to the village. The Zulu village is comprised of many beehive huts. The first section we walked through was obviously tourist accomodation and beyond that were the huts the tribespeople live in, surrounding the cattle enclosure. Our guide gave us a lecture on Zulu culture and we met a couple of women who showed us the traditional costumes and explained the difference in dress for married and unmarried women. We also got a demonstration of weaving before walking on towards the ancestral hut. As paused outside the gate and were shown Zulu weaponry which would be made at a seperate location away from the women and children. We followed the path, flanked by two colourfully dressed people. Inside the hut sat a woman and her child burning some kind of insense. We took pictures of them and I was glad at the setup of the village which allows us to see the tribal ways of life without invading the local peoples home villages. The people in Lesedi all come from nearby villages. They move into the permenant villages on site and share their history
and culture with visitors. They may move in for a week or two, or much longer, and earn money for their families back home. I certainly prefer the arrangement to visiting people in their actual villages, as the people here have volunteered to talk to tourists and have their photos taken and there is no risk of offending the people or invading their privacy. Their home villages remain simply that, their homes; and their traditioanl way of life continues away from the prying eyes of tourists.
From the Zulu village we walked to the Xhosa village. The Xhosa come from the hills and coastline of the Eastern Cape, and it is from this tribe that Nelson Mandela came.
We walked into the Inkundla (the welcoming place) which is where prospective bridgrooms would barter with the bride's father over the dowry. We also saw the Isibaya the stone cattle enclosure placed in the centre of the village to protect the cattle from thieves and predators.
The Xhosa originally lived in beehive huts much like the Zulus but with the influence of early European settlers they changed to more permanant conical roofed huts with mud walls coloured with white wash and decorated
with natural paints.
We walked next to the Bosotho Village. The Besotho people are from the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Their founder, King Moshoeshoe, was the son of the chief of the Bakotela branch of the Koena (Crocodile) clan, and in 1818 he helped to gain power over smaller fugitive and displaced clans. In 1820, Moshoeshoe became chief of a larger unit of Southern Sotho groups, who had fallen under his centralized authority due to competition for resources, which was intensified by a drought. This competition for resources caused these larger groups to seek protection from other marauding groups, and Moshoeshoe and his people retreated to the mountain fortress of Thaba Bosiu in 1824. Moshoeshoe gave assistance to his defeated enemies by giving them land, which led to the establishment of the Basotho nation.
The first place we vsitied was the Lekotla, or the meeting place, a reed enclosure where the Bosotho meet to discuss community matters and hold their court. The worst offence amongst the Bosotho is witchcraft and the penalty is death for the entire homestead!
Each homestead is surrounded by a reed fence, or Seutlaona, to protect the children as during the Mfecane Wars many people had
turned to cannibalism. Mfecane is a South African experession meaning "the crushing" or "scattering". It describes a period of widespread chaos and disturbance in southern Africa during the period between 1815 and about 1840.
The last village we visited was the Pedi village. The light was beginning to fade as we walked down the path. We saw a few women demonstrating traditional crafts and cooking in the village. I noticed them all sitting idle as we walked down the path and then suddenly coming to life, threading beads, beating grain and spreading cow dung over the floor.
The Pedi come from Sekukhuniland in the Northern Province. Like the other tribal villages this one too had an enclosure for cattle, but unlike the Zulus and Xhosas this one is situated just outside the homestead. The homestead is surrounded by poles on which the Pedi smear medcines to propriate the spirits and ward off any evil.
An interesting story about the Pedi is that during the wars against the British they saw Scottish Highlanders approaching in kilts. Refusing to fight what they though was an army of women they waited until the English men behind approached and therefore were defeated. Since then
the Pedi men have worn the kilt as a reminder of this trickery!
After visiting the last village we finally entered the theatre to watch our 'welcome video'. The theatre is decorated with replica huts and houses either side of the large screen. We all sat on cushions on the stone seating and watched the short video which recounted the descriptions and stories of the tribes we had just visited.
We were next ushered through to the 'Giant Jngoma', the traditional dance show. We sat on the benches around a campfire, people in strange costumes, including the people we'd seen by the Zulu ancestral hut, running around the fire. Suddenly the drums started and the people in costume fled the room as a Zulu man took centre stage. The performance was fantastic. The drums were so loud and the constant beating rythmns were infectious. Each of the different tribes came to dance. A group of people at the back sang and the women threw some incense on the fire causing it to fill the room with scented smoke. It was all very atmospheric and the performers were obviously enjoying themselves. I'm not entirely sure how well they rehearse the performance
as one of the favoured dance moves involved a high kick which resulted in a ridiculous number of the dancers falling over. They all seemed quite cheerful about it and kept on trying. One man fell over three times in a row and yet never stopped grinning. I'm sure he's going to have bruises by tomorrow!
One dance depicted a battle and ended with the women standing over the men on the ground, as according to Pedi tradition women are not to be killed, therefore women could run onto the battle field to protect their fallen men. The were many more dances and the drums pounded throughout the show making the floor vibrate. At the end the dancers stepped forward and grabbed our hands pulling us up to dance to. I was tugged up from my seat by the man who had introduced the whole show and found myself leading a bit of tribal dancing on the arm of Zulu warrior. I kept one eye on my feet trying to copy the steps and ignoring my fellow lion park volunteers who were giggling at me. Em-J said she reckoned she ought to do a bit of matchmaking for me and
she'd explain to Carolina why I was living in a beehive hut instead of returning to work at the Lion Park!
After the show we were sent to the restaurant, the dancers from the show lining the pathway and singing to us while the drumbeats echoed from the hall. We were left to wait a while outside and warmed ourselves by an open fire before finally filing into the restaurant. We took our seats in the colourfully decorated restaurant. My earlier dance partner entusiastically introduced us all to the menu which included some rather exotic varities of meat and then we were free to explore the buffet. The buffet was unfortunately not geared particulary towards vegetarians being mostly meat dishes but there were different rice dishes and salad which was nice.
We finally returned to our taxi outside and bundled into the back seat, quite glad this time for the squash as it kept us all warm. We drove back to the Lion Park and as we went through the gate I realised just how bizarre it was to be coming home to a tent in a Lion Park. We drove over the cattle grid and were dropped off just
outside our camp and sleepily all wandered down to our respective tents for the night.
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