Kamba – in Chichewa (the language of our spiritual home), and other Bantu languages means tortoise.

Supreme surprises

Christmas came early this year for us, in the early hours of the 17th November to be exact, in the form of a lovely unexpected equine bundle.

Yes we know!  “How could you not know she was pregnant?” is the question we have been asked several times.  And yes, we have indeed been admonished at length, not least by our 4 children.  But the answer is, no, we didn’t  know Tina was pregnant! We just thought she was having extra helpings at chow time.

What’s in a name?

Once we had recovered from the shock of his unforeseen arrival, we were faced with the task of naming the little fella.  As most parents will concur, this can sometimes be quite a daunting task with hours spent pouring over books listing hundreds of name choices in alphabetical order with their subsequent meanings.  His father is known to us in the neighbourhood and has the delightful name of ‘Guns and Roses’.  As one would expect, a list of quirky suggestions came flooding in, not least the famous hit single of ‘November Rain’ by said music band.  We are currently experiencing the worst drought in years in Botswana as a result of the effects of the dreaded El Nino and with much needed rain this could have been a lucky omen.  However, the choice of Kamba was in the end a very easy and obvious decision as he shared a birthday with the much loved and much remembered late Robert Alexander Barclay who had been nicknamed tortoise by his legendary grandfather Jack Bousfield.

Karin Barclay, Rob’s mother, recounted how he and his older brother John (soon to be son-in-law) would take forever at the dinner table to finish their food when visiting their grandfather in the bush.   This was much to his annoyance as he was eager to get out of the gauzed “dining” tent to sit under the stars, smoking his familiar pipe and recollecting the events of the day.  Meals were not the only time these two young lads were known to drag their feet when in Jack’s company, so inevitably they were to become known to him as ‘Snail’ and ‘Tortoise’.

At Rob’s memorial service, in the picturesque surrounds of Worcester in the Cape, I will always remember how his Mum recalled how she knew he was there in spirit as during the service, out of nowhere, tortoises were seen making their way across the well kept lawns of his Aunt Debbie’s farm. Since then, there have been several occasions of uncanny sightings of these unique land-dwelling vertebrates at times when Rob’s name has come up.  Rob appears in a filmed documentary set at San Camp in the Makgadikgadi Pans during his stint as camp manager, explaining to the wonderfully wacky journalist and film maker Scott Goetz, the mating habits of the tortoise whilst demonstrating this somewhat awkward and peculiar enactment with some empty shells showcased in the camp.  His connection with the tortoise was clearly deep-rooted!

The Character of the Tortoise

Next to the hare, fittingly the tortoise is the most conspicuous figure in Bantu folklore.

Tortoises have one of the longest life spans of any animal and, as a result, in some cultures are the symbol of longevity.

With reference to The Legends of the Tortoise:

‘It is easy to see why the tortoise should get a reputation for uncanny wisdom. There is something mysterious about him. Absolutely harmless and inoffensive in himself, the tortoise does not prey on even the smallest of insects, but subsists entirely on the fallen fruits of the forest. He has very few enemies and thus the tortoise has been practically immune from attack-a fact that in a great measure explains his longevity. His reputation has been enhanced by the fact that he can exist longer without food than perhaps any other animal.

In the process of time, the word which stood for ‘tortoise’ became a synonym for cunning and craft, and a man of exceptional intelligence was in this way known as tortoise. Although slow, he was sure, and this sureness, in the native mind, implied doggedness and a fixed determination, while silence and secrecy implied mystery and a veiled purpose, behind which it is impossible to get.’

Robert Alexander Barclay may be gone, but he will never be forgotten and as we keep his legacy alive in the form of our already much loved Kamba (and every tortoise we see) – we hope that he will in turn emulate at least some of Rob’s much loved character traits in time – not least his intelligence, calm, laid back approach to life, irresistible charm and affection for all creatures.

So far, in his almost 4 weeks of life, Kamba has delighted us with his strength, sure footedness and lively demeanour.  We look forward to sharing his journey and adventure through life as he continues to grow……. watch this space!