People, throughout Africa, believed many strange things regarding birds. The bakgatla people have a proverb that says “if you shave the great earth mother’s green hair, she will lose her feathered lice”. In other words, if you destroy trees, birds will no longer come to bring fertility.

The red-billed hornbill, or the umkolwana, is a bird that brings laughter to one’s heart. What is the name, umkolwana? In Zulu, if you say “I believe” you say “ngiakolwa” and a “believer” no matter what your religious belief is known as ikolwa.

Southern Red-billed Hornbill

Now, what has this got to do with the red-billed hornbill? The answer is very simple! A hornbill is a strange bird which when it sits on a branch of a tree, always looks up at the sky as if it sees something or someone up there.

Over the centuries, our people began to believe that the umkolwana is the symbol of faith, the symbol of human faith in a better tomorrow, the umkolwana, the little believer, is a bird of optimist who says, “all shall come right in the end”

Even when there is the biggest drought, you will never see the umkolwanans beak drooping earthwards, it is always facing upwards because it believes in a better tomorrow.

Southern Red-billed Hornbill

This is one of my favourite bird folklores which I enjoy sharing with my guests. It happens to be very interesting for them and they always ask me to write it down to share with their loved ones back home. As a ranger, it means a lot to be able to share stories about my culture with people from all around the world.

By River Lodge Ranger Queen Manyike- Photos by Mike Brown
Post courtesy of Kapama Game Reserve

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