Animal Breeding / Books and chapters / Cattle / Indigenous Breeds / Livestock / South Africa / Southern Africa

‘The Abundant Herds’ and the poetry of Zulu cattle naming


The Zulu name for this kind of coloured Nguni cow is inala, or ‘abundance’. The illustration is from The Abundant Herds: A Celebration of the Nguni Cattle of the Zulu People, written by Marguerite Poland and David Hammond-Tooke and illustrated by Leigh Voigt, republished by Fernwood Press in 2015.

A new edition of a stunning coffee table book about one of Africa’s livestock treasures—the indigenous Nguni cattle of South Africa—has been published.

‘Long the mainstay of traditional Zulu culture, [the Nguni] are possibly the most beautiful cattle in the world, with their variously patterned and multicoloured hides everywhere in demand.’

The Abundant Herds: A Celebration of the Nguni Cattle of the Zulu People, first published in 2003, ‘is an appreciation of the creative imagination and linguistic versatility of the Zulu people. Written by acclaimed author Marguerite Poland and social anthropologist David Hammond-Tooke, it is an overview of the history of the Nguni cattle and their economic, social, political and spiritual importance to the Zulu people, both past and present. . . .

‘With beautiful oil and watercolour paintings and sepia drawings by artist Leigh Voigt, The Abundant Herds examines the role played by cattle and cattle-related imagery in the oral tradition of the Zulu people—how cattle terminology can form part of the worldview associated with Zulu culture. . . .

‘Animals with specific colours and patterns on their hides are given unique Zulu names, which translate as follows:

The eggs of the lark—a creamy coat spotted with fine rust speckles

The gaps between the branches of the trees silhouetted against the sky—a deeply dappled animal

The hornbill takes to flight—a dark beast which shows a flash of white beneath its flank when its walks

What stabs the rain—the upright points of a young steer’s horns

Cattle imagery also abounds in Zulu oral history and poetry; in tales, proverbs, riddles and the praises of individual beasts, celebrated by their owners for their fertility, their vigour and their character and which subtly reflect the changing fortunes and social concerns of the Zulu people.

Read the whole review in of The Abundant Herds: A Celebration of the Nguni Cattle of the Zulu Peoplewritten by Marguerite Poland (based on research for her 1997 doctoral thesis at the University of KwaZulu-Natal) and David Hammond-Tooke and illustrated by Leigh Voigt, with 144 pages, 43 oil paintings, 107 watercolours, 6 sepia drawings, 8 archival lithographs, 23 photographs and a map.

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