/ / / / The Abundant Herds: A celebration of the Nguni cattle

The Abundant Herds: A celebration of the Nguni cattle

This book is an appreciation of the creative imagination and linguistic versatility of the Zulu people. It is a book about human creativity. Not the creativity of the plastic arts, or of music, but rather that of the poet, the wordsmith. It gives 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.

ISBN: 9781874950691 Categories: , Tags: , ,


With oil and watercolour paintings, and sepia drawings by internationally acclaimed artist, Leigh Voigt, The Abundant Herds examines the vital role played by cattle and cattle-related imagery in the oral tradition of the Zulu people – how cattle terminology forms part of the total way in which the Zulu think about their world. Throughout the ages, the well-being of the herds and the well-being of men have been so closely connected that cattle have become a part of the spiritual and aesthetic lives of the people. This perception of them has given rise to a poetic and complex naming practice. The fine and subtle nuance of the Zulu language captures the delicate interrelationship between cattle terminology and the natural world where the colour and pattern of a hide or the shape of a pair of horns, is metaphorically linked to images in nature: ‘The eggs of the lark‘ is a creamy beast spotted with fine rust speckles; a deeply dappled animal, ‘the gaps between the branches of the trees silhouetted against the sky‘; a dark beast which shows a flash of white beneath its flank when its walks, ‘the hornbill takes to flight‘; and, the upright points of a young steer’s horns, ‘what stabs the rain‘ – a traditional but also dynamically inventive variety of terms which descriptively bind colour-pattern or horn-shape to the names of animals, birds, plants and the everyday objects familiar to pastoralists.

While these terms form the core of a fascinating system of classification, 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.

Although cattle terms continue to be used today among peasant farmers in rural communities throughout Africa, for the younger generation, the urban dweller, this knowledge is fast fading. Despite the resurgence of interest in the economic importance of Sanga-Nguni cattle in South Africa today, there is a real danger that a precious branch of indigenous knowledge will ultimately disappear. The aim of this work is not only to record something of this heritage for posterity but also to celebrate the richness of Zulu linguistic versatility and the creative imagination of the Zulu people.

Additional information

Date Published








Hardcover, 144pp, 28×28 cm