Playing the name game in Africa
My 60th birthday was approaching and while most travellers choose a specific destination for its culture, cuisine, architecture or ancient history, my interest is colour. Teaching colour theory, one would imagine my choice would be an exotic eastern place with a spectacular array of ethnic creations, but the colours, textures and love of Africa are in my blood, as I was born in Cape Town.
Visiting South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia and Mozambique, I was keen to photograph the wonderful wildlife and varied landscapes, ranging from extreme arid areas in the Manyeleti Game Reserve to the lush palmed regions of Zambia. We enjoyed rare sightings, including half a pangolin digging into a termite hill. At night, with no electricity and its distractions, I began to reflect on the people I met along the way. Not so much my fellow travellers, but the warm, funny and interesting local guides and trackers.
They would always smile, shake my hand and introduce themselves … with names like Life, Memory, Vin- cenzo the chef (adopted by an Italian couple and who spoke perfect Italian in the heart of Zambia), or Watson, because his parents knew of Sherlock Holmes and thought he may be curious. Puns were hard to suppress (“How’s Life?”) but always received with good humour.
Their names intrigued me. I would ask the origin and there was always a story.
One ranger, Bottle, a well-built, quiet man, didn’t offer the origin of his name but I found out later his mother had lost four babies and called him Bottle as she thought he was fragile. Life was named by a mother who had lost many of her family, Moses to be a leader; and then there was Intelligence, Hope, Spirit, Happiness, Promise.
Every parent had a reason, whether it was from a wish to predict their child’s future or inspiration drawn from a church sermon or book.
My favourite person in Mozambique was Castigo, who spoke a Portuguese-English mix. He was kind, funny and knew more about politics than most. His name meant jail. We didn’t ask its origin but there was an undeniable sadness lying quietly beneath the smiley surface of this special man.