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THE ABUNDANT HERDS TALK (article first published : 2004-07-9)

The Abundant Herds: a celebration of the Nguni Cattle of the Zulu People was the title of a lecture given by writer Marguerite Poland in Grahamstown at the Winter School which formed part of the 2004 National Arts Festival.

Attending Marguerite Poland's lecture on the significance and markings of Nguni cattle in African culture I was alarmed that the room was filled with caucasians only.

In retrospect this may have been just as well, for it is white people who have for so long disregarded the importance of cattle to indigenous peoples, and we stand to learn the most from the intricate relationship between them.

Kicking off her lecture with a fond childhood memory of cattle kicking up dust, an event that was to awaken a lifelong interest, Poland then moved on to explain that the idiom of cattle pervades the Zulu language. During her extensive research she discovered that the defining of cattle was common to the whole of Africa, and that similar themes could be found throughout the continent.

Her interest lies mainly with the Zulu culture through which she learned that cattle are intermediaries between ancestors and the living, and that their unique markings are translated into observations about nature. This naming is integrated into a wider cosmology, and Poland observes how these names reflect the concerns of people. She speaks of how Arcadian names gave way to names influenced by the Apartheid State of Emergency and how, ten years into our democracy these names are now beginning to reflect the aspirations of South Africans.

With her wry sense of humour this white woman with an African heart took us on a fascinating visual journey of collaborator Leigh Voigt's original oil paintings, explaining the markings on cattle and the names associated with these markings.

These paintings form part of the magnificent coffee table publication, The Abundant Herds by Marguerite Poland and David Hammond-Tooke. They are also currently on exhibitiion in the Thomas Pringle Hall at the Monument in Grahamstown as part of the National Arts Festival’s main programme. The paintings have been bought by Nicholas Oppenheimer, who has bequeathed them to the nation on the proviso that the collection is never split up. A far-sighted and philanthropic gesture.

The Abundant Herds is a costly R275, but in hardcover and beautifully illustrated it is worth every cent. – Clinton Marius

The exhibition of Leigh Voigt’s paintings is on show alongside the magnificent Keiskamma Tapestry.




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