Names and naming: Birds as weather forecasters

19 May, 2019 - 00:05 0 Views
Names and naming: Birds as weather forecasters

The Sunday News

COSMIC and terrestrial zones are interlinked and intertwined; each communicates with the other, in particular, with the intervening zone. All the zones have a bearing on lives of both flora and fauna on the latter zone. The most named zone is the most immediate habitat, the terrestrial zone. The zone above it is the next in terms of influence on terrestrial life. Naming wise, the immediate habitat or terrestrial zone is the one that is most extensively named followed by the intervening zone. The furthest is the least named and the least understood. Naming within a zone is a rough measure of human knowledge of that given zone.

The equilibrium that existed between the two, that is the terrestrial and atmospheric and other spherical zones has been disturbed by human technological advances. The broadening disequilibrium translates to climate change which, from very preliminary observations, will usher in more devastating environmental effects. In the final analysis, Mother Earth will restore the lost equilibrium. The agents and culprits of disequilibrium will be the victims of devastating fury, ferocity and wrath visited upon humanity by the grossly angered and incensed Planet Earth. No technological intervention can ever hope to resist the rage and fury of the restorative processes.

Our thrust in this article is on the named intervening zone with a view to finding out what we learn from it with regard to foretelling or forecasting the atmospheric conditions such as amount of rainfall in the coming season. Weather forecasting is closely related to conditions above the earth. Birds fly high above it though they ultimately land. There are birds whose behaviour is an announcement of an imminent season. Amangabuzane, the black and white storks, are migratory birds that fly from Europe when lands in the northern hemisphere begin to experience the onset of the winter season.

Their arrival heralds the onset of the wet season when temperatures begin to pick and trees are budding and flowering. Winter, ubusika, characterised by biting or piercingly cold temperatures, hence the name, will, at that time be bidding farewell. Amangabuzane begin their migration in response to changing temperatures associated with changing seasons. We could say they are moving in tandem with the migrating sun, in reality the revolution of the earth around the sun.

The black and white colours on the plumage of the birds are associated and interpreted in rain terms. The black colour is associated with the black rain-bearing clouds. The fluffy white cumulus clouds are symbolised by the white on the birds. Rain dances capture this reality through the attire of rain dancers. Among the BaKalanga male dancers of Woso Dance (Amabhiza in IsiNdebele) don black and white headgear comprising ostrich feathers. By so doing, they are symbolising rain ambience which is captured by amangabuzane. At the same time, the choreography of the dancers is such that it captures the movement of twirling clouds that depict air currents within clouds. The resulting ambience seeks to replicate conditions that are associated with falling rain. Both hand and leg rattles enhance the ambience by symbolising falling rain when it hits the ground.

There are other types of birds that are rain indicators. UThekwane, the hammerkop, is one other such bird. The IsiNdebele language has an expression, izulu lithwele othekwane.” The rains are driving hammerkops. This was as a result that it had been observed that when heavy rains resident in pitch black clouds drove ahead of them hammerkops. It seemed as if the birds were avoiding being rained wet hence their flight ahead of advancing and menacing rain storms. Whereas amangabuzane marked the onset of the rain season, hammerskops indicated rains that were just about to fall, in a matter of minutes.

Swallows, izinkonjane are also associated with rain. I still remember a poem we recited at primary school about swallows:

 Nantiya ilanga,

 Libomv’ empumalanga,

 Selivusa izimbali,

 Lavusa lezinyoni,

 Kukhihlizile kuhle,

 Phezul’ ezulwini,

 Ngibon’ izinkonjane,

 Zihwith’ amahlabuse,

 Woza zulu lenala.

The emphasis here is on the swallows that appear frolicking in the sky as they swoop in flight to catch the big-bellied ants which emerge after the rains. Swallows will appear at the onset of the rain season as they too, like storks, are migratory birds that follow solar migration which marks the change in seasons. Sailos Ngoma, a fellow pupil at Sankonjana from 1958 to 1962, was very good at reciting the poem.

The name inkonjane was captured in cattle ear notching. It was important to identify a man’s cattle through distinctive ear notching. Each notch had a name on the basis of its design. Inkonjane was a design informed by the bird’s wing shape, with its characteristic acute angle. Here is an example of design-informed naming. The variations in notches were quite numerous, each with its own name: icici, isikeyi, ijodo, intenjane, umchwachwa, inter alia.

 The importance of these seasonal indicators lies in the fact that human agriculture is synchronised with seasonal changes. Rain or water are critical ingredients in crop production. Natural rain gives moisture to the soil upon which crops depend. Water is life for both flora and fauna. A parched earth is infertile and cannot support life. No wonder therefore, human communities devised cultural interventions to induce rain to fall. These range from cloud seeding to holding of rain making rituals which rely on different and alternative cultural knowledge and skills to achieve the same goals. Critically important is to appreciate that all the methods are cultural. Often times there are people who think science is not culture. It is!

The ground hornbill, insingizi is another bird which, when it calls, indicates rain that is imminent. Male and female birds sing together and their song is welcome as an indicator of impending rain. The birds are not long-term forecasters. Rather, they are short-term weather forecasters. Inkanku, so named on the basis of its call, is another bird whose call or song is a welcome sound. It too is associated with impending rain, in the short term.

Last week we made reference to the lunar halo, umkhumbi wenyanga. The circular halo comprises water droplets and thus it is an indicator of the presence of moisture. When the moon had a halo, that was interpreted as indicating a fairly good rain season.

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