Bush Folklore

News update: 28th July

Scattered around the edges of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin are numerous Shangaan villages, rural communities with names like Huntington, Lillydale and Justicia. The majority of Sabi Sabi’s lodge staff are drawn from these villages, with their employment providing a vital source of income in these outlying areas. The Shangaans are a warm, generous, friendly people who long ago took their name from King Soshangane. They have a rich heritage of culture and folklore, as well as a tradition of healing and spirituality centered around the much revered sangoma – with customs and beliefs passed down from generation to generation. Their myths and legends, many of which revolve around the bushveld and its myriad animals, plants and trees, are a source of absolute fascination to our guests. Safaris are filled with interesting insights, as the rangers and trackers impart their knowledge, with facts about the flora and fauna wonderfully woven together with bushveld healing methods and age-old stories.


Animals feature prominently in ritual and belief throughout much of Africa, offering a colourful history of superstition; an abundance of cranes or herons are signs of a poor harvest; never look into the water at the same time as a hammerkop, it can be a harbinger of death; an owl screeching near a the home is considered very unlucky; lions hold the key to superior strength and elephants are wise beyond our imagining. The plants and trees too, are surrounded by legend. One of the most emotive beliefs is that of the ziziphus mucranata, the Buffalo Thorn tree, commonly known as the Wag ‘n Bietjie (Wait a While) tree. A common thorny acacia seen throughout the Sabi Sabi area, the Buffalo Thorn possesses mystical properties in local lore. The young branches of the tree are a very distinctive zigzag shape, symbolizing that the path of life is never straightforward. There are two very sharp thorns at the nodes, a small hooked thorn pointing backwards – reminding us never to forget from whence we came, and a long sharp thorn pointing forwards – representing the path ahead. The Shangaans believe that the thorns of the tree gather up the spirit. When a loved one dies, a Buffalo Thorn branch is brushed across the chest of the deceased, releasing the spirit from the body. If a person dies far from home, a family member may travel to the body, collect the spirit and then bring the thorn branch and captured spirit back home for burial. A ticket will be purchased for the branch, and it will have its own seat in the bus, taxi or train, with the space respected by other passengers.

These and countless other stories captivate everyone who hears them. At night in the boma, with a backdrop of the sounds of the bushveld, under the canopy of the African night sky and warmed by the good food and a welcoming fire, the age-old African tales transport all who are listening, back into the realm of ancient mystery and symbolism.