Erin writes . . .
Now that you know a little bit about sangomas, I thought I’d tell you about a creature that fills the hearts of thousands in Africa with terror. In fact, just the mention of its name sends people scurrying to the sangoma for protection amulets. And if it flies over your house, then it would be better to burn your home, because that is the very worst omen of all – someone in your family will surely die. So what is this creature, you ask?
Let me introduce you to the LIGHTNING BIRD.
Some say it is a mythical creature, but to those who have seen it (Seth and me included) it is very, very real. We saw it Shenaya, but there are people alive today who also claim to suffered at its talons. They report that the Lightning Bird usually takes the form of a black and white bird, the size of a human. But that’s only half the story. The Lightning Bird we saw in Shenaya even had two heads. Worse, a Lightning Bird can summon thunder and lightning from its wings and talons. If that’s not bad enough, it is also said to be a vampiric creature, often the servant of a witch or witchdoctor. Legend says it has an insatiable appetite for blood. There are even reports that it sometimes appears as a beautiful young man to seduce women. Seth and I know that it definitely ensnares souls.
Now I know you are probably very skeptical of these claims, and that’s okay. Before I went to Shenaya I was too. In fact, when I first heard about the Lightning Bird, I was convinced – like everyone else – that it was nothing more than an incarnation of Hammerkop. It’s not hard to see why . . . the Hammerkop also seems to have two heads.
The HAMMERKOP, or HAMMERHEAD (Scopus umbretta), is found throughout Africa (except the Sahara) and Madagascar. It has unusually large wings for a bird of its size. Though not very big (50 cm /20 inches tall), it builds an enormous nest on either a rocky ledge or tree. As you can see from the pic (c/o Wikipedia), the nest has a flattish-topped roof, and a small entry hole.
SO WHAT ELSE DO WE KNOW ABOUT THIS BIRD OF ILL-OMEN?
The Hammerkop is the second most feared bird in southern Africa (first prize goes to the fish eagle!) The worse thing that can happen to someone is to dream about a Hammerkop flying by or wading in water. This means a huge calamity will befall you.
It is also known as the symbol of human vanity and futility. That is because it spends all its time staring at its own reflection in the water. And futility? A Hammerkop feather floating down a river teaches people that their vanity and their lives are nothing when cast against the tide of time.
As you can imagine, CAUTIONARY TALES about this bird abound. . .
The Kalahari Bushmen believe you will be struck by lightning if you raid a Hammerkop nest. And according to an old Malagasy belief, anyone who destroys its nest will develop leprosy!
Some people even say it's a shape-shifter because a Hammerkop will fly into the nest, but another animal, often a cobra, will be seen leaving. But because its so feared, the bird survives and flourishes in the presence of man. Maybe the rhinos and other animals on the endangered species lists should learn a few tricks from this guy . . .
Let me know if you enjoyed this post. If you did, I’ll share some more useless information about the fascinating creatures we met in Shenaya, which still roam southern Africa today.