40 + Incredible Afrikaans Idioms with English Equivalents and Meaning

Afrikaans Idioms with English Equivalent and Meaning

Another incredible list of Afrikaans Idioms, their English equivalent and meaning, because we like them and need them so! Patience, repetition, making connections with expressions already known as well as with visual clues are key to understanding idioms, as some are easier to decode and grasp than others.

40 + Incredible Afrikaans Idioms sorted A to Z, with English equivalents and meaning.

‘n Appel en ‘n ei (Eier)
Literal translation: An apple and an egg.
Corresponding English Idiom: Dirt cheap / as cheap as chips / dime a dozen.
Meaning: Very cheap.

Appels swaai
Word for word: Swinging apples.
Corresponding English Idiom: To roll with the punches.
Meaning: Fighting with fists / fisting / boxing.

Afrikaans Appels swaai swinging apples boxing

Die baba / kind met die badwater uitgooi
Verbatim: Throw the baby out/away with the bath water.
Corresponding English Idiom: To make matters worse / Add insult to injury.
Meaning: To lose the essential element by indiscriminate rejection / Mising the big picture by pointing out small mistakes / To share the good and reject the bad / To lose valuable. ideas while attempting to get rid of what is unwanted.

Balke saag
Exact translation: Sawing beams.
Corresponding English Idiom: Sawing timber.
Meaning: To saw the air / sleeping, one is snoring.

Die bul by die horings pak
Literally: Taking the bull by the horns.
Corresponding English Idiom: To take the bull by the horns.
Meaning: To take up a large task / to face a situation head on, especially a difficult or dangerous situation.

Die dam onder die eend uitruk
Literal translation: Yanking the dam from under the duck.
Corresponding English Idiom: To go overboard.
Meaning: To go overboard, to the extreme with something / To act without restraint in some area.

Die dam onder die eend uitruk = Yanking the dam from under the duck. To go overboard.

Op eiers loop
Word for word translation: To walk on eggs.
Corresponding Idiom: To walk on eggshells.
Meaning: To act very carefully as to not offend someone.

‘n Eiertjie lê
Verbally translated: To lay an egg.
Corresponding Idiom in English: Adding your two cents worth.
Meaning: To always have something to say.

Die goeie tegelyk met die slegte verwerp
Exact translation: reject the good at the same time as the bad.
Corresponding English Idiom: Take the rough with the smooth.
Meaning: To reject both the negative and positive aspects of something. The phrase is typically used in an acknowledgement that nothing is perfect.

(Kan/Sal/Gaan) nie hond haaraf maak nie
Translated word by word: (Can/Shall/Will) not take a dog’s hair off.
Corresponding English Idiom: Bite off more than you can chew.
Meaning: (Can/Shall/Will etc.) not get something right / unable to finish the task at hand.

Die Olifant en die Skaap
Die Olifant en die Skaap

Snuffel op die Internet rond / ‘op die net/Internet rondkuier/rondsnuffel/rondrits’.
Literally: Browse the Internet.
English Idiom: Surf the web.
Meaning:Be online / connect to the Internet.

Jakkals trou met wolf se vrou
Literally: Jackal marries wolf’s wife.
Corresponding English Idiom: The devil is beating his wife.
Meaning: The sun is shining while it’s raining (a sunshower).

Jong osse inspan
Literally: To harness young oxen.
Corresponding English Idiom: As sick as a dog / Looking green around the gills.
Meaning: Vomiting.

Afrikaans Jong osse inspan harness young oxen vomiting

Aan jouself begin twyfel
Literal translation: To begin to doubt yourself / your abilities.
Corresponding English Idiom: Keep your eye on the prize.
Meaning: remain focused on a particular goal or award, especially when the path to it is long or arduous.

Katte skiet
Literally: Shooting cats.
Corresponding English Idiom: As sick as a dog / Looking green around the gills.
Meaning: Vomiting.

In die kollig
Word for word: In the limelight / spotlight.
Corresponding English Idiom: Be in the spotlight / under the spotlight.
Meaning: To be in the center of attention.

Koppe bymekaar sit
Literal translation: Putting heads together.
English Idiom: Put your heads together.
Meaning: To work together to come up with an idea or solution.

Sy lot is beslis
Translation: His fate is certain / sealed.
English Idiom: Time puts everything in its place / His fate is sealed.
Meaning: To have the knowledge that an unpleasant thing will happen to someone.

Al is jy nie op jou mond geval nie
Word for word translation: Even if you did not fall on your mouth.
Corresponding English Idiom: Be a know-it-all.
Meaning: Never be at a loss for words, have a fluent / ready / smooth tongue (or a tongue in one’s head), be lippy’ / always have an answer for everything.

Ek meneer en jy meneer, wie sal die wa smeer / As almal baas wil wees, wie sal dan Klaas wees?
Word for word translation: Me, sir, and you, sir, who will lubricate the wagon / If everyone wants to be the in charge, who will be Klaas? (see below).
Corresponding English Idiom: If two ride on a horse, one must ride behind / I stout and thou stout, who shall bear the ashes?
Meaning: When two people do something together, if both want to be in charge, there will be nobody to do the work. In Afrikaans, definition where Klaas is the ‘subordinate’.

“The translation “master and servant” reflects the typical understanding of the idiom “baas en Klaas.” “Klaas” independently is simply a forename (hence its capitalization) and not the Afrikaans word for either “servant” or “slave”— it acquires this meaning by virtue of its use in combination with “baas,” or in a context in which a class relationship of subordination is being invoked.” (Danelle van Zyl-Hermann, for Cambridge Core).

As almal baas wil wees, wie sal dan Klaas wees? If two ride on a horse, one must ride behind

Met die hele mandtjie patats vorendag kom
Literally: Coming to the front with the whole basket of sweet potatoes.
English Corresponding Idiom: To spill the beans / To let the cat out of the bag.
Meaning: Giving all the details about something (normally in a bad sense).

Met ‘n ander man se kalwers ploeg
Literally: Plowing with another man’s calves.
English Corresponding Idiom: Plowing with someone else’s oxen / Steal the thunder.
Meaning: To use someone else’s e.g. idea / Take credit for someone else’s work.

Nat agter die ore
Literally: Wet behind the ears.
English Idiom: Wet behind the ears.
Meaning: To be inexperienced, immature or poor skilled.

Jagluiperd Hond Amazon Patricia Furstenberg

Ek is nie onder ‘n kalkoen uitgebroei nie
Literal interpretation: I didn’t grew up under a turkey.
English Idiom: Born yesterday.
Meaning: Not as dumb, naive or inexperienced as you think.

Ou koeie uit die sloot uitgrawe
Literally: Digging old cows out of the ditch.
Corresponding Idiom: Digging up bones / Turning over rocks.
Meaning: Reviving an old quarrel / searching for something hard to find.

Pêrels voor die swyne werp/gooi
Literally: Throwing pearls before the swine.
Corresponding Idiom: To cast pearls before the swine.
Meaning: To impart wisdom or knowledge to someone who won’t appreciate it / to waste your time offering something that is helpful or valuable to someone who does not appreciate or understand it.

Pêrels voor die swyne werp/gooi, = To cast pearls before the swine - To impart wisdom to someone who won’t appreciate it

‘n Perd van ‘n ander kleur
Literally: A horse of a different color.
Corresponding Idiom: A different kettle of fish.
Meaning: A person that is different from others / a subject that is totally different from what has been discussed until then.

Die room afskep
Literally: Skim off / scoop up the cream.
Corresponding English Idiom: To strike while the iron is hot.
Meaning: To get the best out of a situation / to take advantage of a situation.

Skape tel
Literally: To count sheep.
Corresponding Idiom: Counting sheep.
Meaning: To try to go to sleep by imagining lots of white sheep jumping over a fence one by one and trying to count them.

So skaars soos hoender tande
Literally: As rare as chicken teeth.
English Idiom: Once in a blue moon.
Meaning: Something occurring very rarely.

Gaan stap vir stap te werk
Word for word translation: Work step by step.
English Idiom: One step at a time.
Meaning: slowly and carefully, doing just a little at a time, step by step.

Swartgallige uitkyk
Word for word translation: Melancholic outlook.
English Idiom: Expecting to raining on your parade / A half-empty kind of guy / Bursting his bubble.
Meaning: Having a negative or pessimistic approach, or outlook in life.

Die Leeu en die Hond
Die Leeu en die Hond

Twak verkoop
Literally: Selling tobacco / rubbish.
English Idiom: To beat one’s gums / To talk one’s ear off.
Meaning: Talking nonsense.

Te veel hooi op die vurk laai
Literally: Loading too much hay on the pitchfork.
Corresponding Idiom: To bite off more than one can chew.
Meaning: Undertaking more than one can handle.

Die verkeerde perd opsaal
Literally: To saddle the wrong horse.
Corresponding English Idiom: Barking up the wrong tree.
Meaning: Looking in the wrong place for something / Using the wrong way to get. something right / waste one’s efforts by pursuing the wrong thing or path.

Om wolf skaapwagter te maak
Literally: To make wolf shepherd.
English Idiom: A wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Meaning: To give an untrustworthy person the responsibility / A villain with an innocent appearance / a hypocritical person / someone who outwardly looks harmless and kind with good intentions but inwardly is full of hate, evil and deceit.

Afrikaans Om wolf skaapwagter te maak  = To make wolf shepherd.. A wolf in sheep's clothing.

Vergewe en vergeet
Word for word translation: Forgive and forget.
English Idiom: Kiss and make up.
Meaning: To become friendly again after an argument.

Soos mis voor die son verdwyn
Literally: The fog disappears before the sun.
English Idiom: Gone into thin air.
Meaning: Disappeared without trace .

Op die vingers tik
Word for word translation: Tap on the fingers.
English Idiom: Slap on the wrist.
Meaning: To show disapproval .

Deur die wingerd loop met die wingerdgriep
Literally: Walking through the vineyard with the vineyard flu.
English Idiom: Drunk as a skunk / Three sheets in the wind.
Meaning: Being tipsy or drunk.

Om in die wolke te wees
Word for word translation: To be in the clouds.
English Idiom: To be on cloud nine / Over the moon / In seventh heaven.
Meaning: be delighted, excited, very happy.

Wrange vrugte pluk
Literally: Picking rotten fruit.
English Idiom: The chickens come home to roost.
Meaning: Having unexpected, bad consequences from your past actions.

Wrange vrugte pluk = Picking rotten fruit. Bad consequences from past actions

Wys waar Dawid die wortels begrawe het
Literally Translation: Show where David buried the carrots.
Corresponding English Idiom: Showing the ropes.
Meaning: To show / teach someone how a job is done.

Why are idioms so important?

The comprehension of figurative language, such as idioms and similes, expands one’s understating of a language, language use, and semantics. And this, in turn, affords the speaker access to a more dynamic use of one’s vocabulary.

Idioms, an Acrostic Poem

Intruding my peace one word at a time,
Defenseless am I in front of such speech:
Idioms, expressions, phrases with grime.
Obey elusive King Speech, what an itch!
Maybe I ought to forget my old spine –
Surely a slug needn’t know such tall speech?

©Patricia Furstenberg
Idioms acrostic poem Patricia Furstenberg

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6 Idioms Linguistically Identical in Afrikaans, German, English and Romanian

6 Idioms Linguistically Identical in Afrikaans, German, English and Romanian

Because idioms can be fun, here are 6 phrases linguistically identical in Afrikaans, German, English and Romanian, with a little historical background too. How else? 🙂

1. Hit the nail on the head – as old as the Bronze Age

(AFR) Slaan die spyker op die kop
(GER) Den Nagel auf den Kopf treffen
(ENG) Hit the nail on the head
(RO) A pune punctul pe i.
Meaning: to do exactly the right thing and also to know that acting differently will cause a great deal of pain. Ouch!

The origin of the phrase ‘to hit the nail on the head

Carpentry comes to mind and thus this expression must be as old as, well, the Bronze Age – bronze nails dating to 3400 BC were discovered in Egypt.

Searching for the use of hit the nail on the head in writing, The Phrase Finder mentions a medieval text, ‘The Book of Margery Kempe’ written during the 1430s. The book is a dictation of the life and divine revelations experienced by a woman, an English Christian mystic and pilgrim, yet not a nun, and is considered to be the first autobiography in the English language.

“If I hear any more these matters repeated, I shall so smite the nail on the head that it shall shame all her supporters.”

The Book of Margery Kempe, 1430s (in modern English)

In this context, the expression ‘hit the nail on the head’ probably means to speak severely.

idioms Afrikaans German English Romanian, Hit the nail on the head - as old as the Bronze Age

2. When the cat’s away, the mice will play – in Ancient Rome

(AFR) As die kat weg is, is die muis baas.
(GER) Ist die Katze aus dem Haus, tanzen die Mäuse auf dem Tisch.
(ENG) When the cat’s away, the mice will play.
(RO) Cand pisica nu-i acasa, joaca soarecii pe masa.
Meaning: when any kind of authority is lacking, someone will always take advantage.

When the cat’s away, the mice will play – its history

When the cat’s away, the mice will play is an idiom / proverb originated from the Latin dum felis dormit, mus gaudet et exsi litantro (when the cat sleeps, the mouse leaves its hole, rejoicing). The idiom was also encountered in 14th century France, ou chat na rat regne (‘Where there is no cat, the rat is king’). Surely, at any time throughout history it was observed that without moral standards, chaos ruled.

idioms Afrikaans German English Romanian. When the cat’s away, the mice will play - in Ancient Rome

3. Take the bull by the horns – in Ancient Greece

(AFR) Die bul by die horings pak
(GER) Den Stier bei den Hörnern (an)packen
(ENG) Take the bull by the horns.
(RO) A lua taurul de coarne.
(SPANISH) Coger el toro por las astas
Meaning: to face a difficult situation head-on.

Take the bull by the horns – its history

As many would have guessed, the rodeo practices of West America have bulled this saying into the everyday English vocabulary. During the 18th century, wrestling steers (castrated bulls) was part of the everyday working life of American ranchers.
Yet the practice of bullfighting and cattle wrangling originated with the sixteenth-century conquistadores, the conquistadors (soldiers and explorers of 15th – 17th centuries Spanish and Portuguese Empires), and the Mexican vaqueros, cowboys.
Obviously, a cowboy of any origin would be quite handy at controlling a bull by its horns, thus the literal use of the expression ‘to take the bull by the horns’ was long in use before it gained a figurative meaning.

What I love about idioms is that they seem to have an invisible connection with literature. And I remember now The Twelve Labours of Hercules (Heracles in Greek), especially the seventh one: capturing the Cretan bull.

Thus, could the expression ‘to take the bull by the horns’ originate in 600 BC with The Labours of Hercules written by Peisander of Camirus?

idioms Afrikaans German English Romanian. Take the bull by the horns in Ancient Greece
Detail – mosaic with the Labors of Hercules, 3rd century AD, found in Liria (Valencia), now at National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid, photo Luis García for Wikimedia

4. To have someone wrapped around your (little) finger – during the Middle Ages

(AFR) Sy draai almal om haar vinger
(GER) Jemanden um den Finger wickeln
(ENG)To have someone wrapped around your (little) finger
(RO) Il are la degetul mic
Meaning: to exert total emotional control over someone, but without a lot of effort, to have someone under total control without no effort

This phrase ‘to have someone wrapped around your (little) finger’ is my favorite of these six idioms linguistically identical in Afrikaans, German, English, and Romanian – because of its origin. You see, it could originate in sewing or… falconry!

A seamstress would reel thread on her index finger, then draw out the yarn as needed in her sewing work – taking stock for later use.

In hawking, the hunter will have a leash tied to the bird’s foot. After the bird lands on their arm, the falconer would wind the leash around their little finger so the bird won’t take off again that easily.

hawking, a possible origin for the idiom 'To have someone wrapped around your (little) finger' - during the Middle Ages
Goshawk Falconry, Lord Lilford on Birds, 1903. Hutchinson & Co. – wikipedia

In writing, a 1743 letter appears in The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia could be the oldest known mention of the idiom ‘to have someone wrapped around your (little) finger’:

“Watson could wind Parker round his finger; yet he was ready to swear twas all false.”

The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, 1743

5. To walk (tread) on eggshells – during the revolutionary 16th century

(AFR) Op eiers loop
(GER) Auf Eierschalen laufen
(ENG) To walk (tread) on eggshells
(RO) A calca / a merge ca pe ace
Meaning: to act cautiously as to not upset someone.

The oldest known written mention of ‘to walk (tread) on eggshells’ is in the 1591‘s translation of Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso by Sir John Harington:

“So soft he treads, although his steps were wide,
As though to tread on eggs he were afraid.”

1591’s translation of Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso by Sir John Harington

Surely, the expression is much older than that, dating from a time when humans would tread carefully looking for the places where (wild) hens and birds would have built a nest (or not) and hid their eggs.

Madonna-with-Child-Portal-of-the-Virgin-and-a-bird-nest-Notre-Dame-Cathedral-by-Lysandra-Furstenberg - To walk (tread) on eggshells - an idiom as old as the revolutionary 16th century
Madonna with Child, Portal of the Virgin and a bird’s nest, Paris Notre Dame Cathedral, Photo by Lysandra Furstenberg

6. To hang onto every word during the Industrial Revolution

(AFR) Aan iemand se lippe te hang
(GER) An jemandes Lippen hängen
(ENG) To hang on to (someone’s) every word / hung on her every utterance
(RO) A atarna de fiecare cuvant
Meaning: to listen very intently to someone.

I think this might be one of the youngest idioms in use, as it originated with the phrasal verb “hang on”, which came in use during the 19th century, when the cloth hangers were invented: 1860, hang on, meaning “to remain clinging.”

Although, here is a of beautiful quotes from the Bible, from Luke:

“and they could not find anything that they could do, for all the people [stayed close to Him and] were hanging on to every word”

The Bible, Luke 19:48

An idiom is a group of words that has a deeper, figurative meaning, other than its literal, word for word, denotation. But I think that an idiom also reflects the times when it surfaced, carrying even a minor historical aura around it.

Transylvania’s History A to Z: 100 Word Stories
Transylvania’s History A to Z: 100 Word Stories

I hope you enjoyed these 6 Idioms linguistically identical in Afrikaans, German, English and Romanian.

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Happy Romanian Language Day, 31st August

Transylvania, Romania, Its Origin and Etymology, fir tree symbology in Romanian folklore

Happy Romanian Language Day, today 31st of August, celebrated by twenty million Romanians plus ten million Romanians living outside Romania’s borders…

Why celebrate? Even with a thought, because the language we took our first steps through forms the code that keeps our spiritual DNA together.

Why only Romanians speak a Latin language in southeast Europe? people usually ask me. Well, I wrote is a little explanation on my blog here. You can also enjoy Romanian folklore, myths and legends on my blog here and time-travel into Romania’s past or take virtual travel trips to Romania here.

Oh, This Sweet Language of Ours

100-word Story about the Romanian Language, a book extract from Transylvania’s History A to Z

“The shepherd, bushy moustache hanging like sunset’s haze over his lips, thumbs thrust in his wide belt, wears a woolly hat, a sheep-skin thrown a-back.
A curtain of fir-trees hangs between him and his hamlet, alive along a brook steaming like a dragon’s swampy breath. A dragon he’d tamed, as says the Doina tune he whistles.
From childhood-cradle to colt years, his life moved between the sheepfold and the shepherd’s hearth. Making cheese and whey-cheese; keeping company with Dog who brings him great joy, although it never knew the collar.
Not a taintless, or a barren life either. But glad.”

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

cioban frm Hunedoara, Transylvania, Dacian origin

I translated for you two old Romanian verses:

“Codru’ este mare
Si lumina n-are;
Codru este des
Intri, nu mai iesi…”

“The woodland is wide
And has no light;
The woodland is thick
You enter, never to leave…”

Romanian ritualistic song, translated from Romanian by Patricia Furstenberg
Romanian folk aphorism about trees and forest
Codru’ este mare Si lumina n-are; Codru este des Intri, nu mai iesi…” “The woodland is wide And has no light; The woodland is thick You enter, never to leave…

“Sufletul statea
Si mi se ruga:
Brade, brade!
Sa-mi fii frate:
Intinde-ti, intinde,
Eu sa le pot prinde
Varfurile tale,
Sa trec peste ele”

“My soul stopped
And it implored:
Fir tree, fir tree!
My brother thou be:
Spread thou, spread
Your tree tops shed,
May I over ’em fled.”

Romanian ritualistic song, translated from Romanian by Patricia Furstenberg
Transylvania, Romania, Its Origin and Etymology, fir tree symbology in Romanian folklore
Codrul Frate cu Romanu’ – The Woodland, Romanian’s Brother

Romanians all over the world will spend a minute today, I hope, thinking of “oh, this sweet language of ours”, as Romanian is ever so melodious. Thank you for taking the time to learn a bit bout my mother tongue.

When do you celebrate your native language?

Would you like to learn a Romanian word or expression? Ask me 🙂

O zi a Limbii Române fericită vă doresc!

Transylvania’s History A to Z: 100 Word Stories

Transylvania’s unspoiled natural beauty, its tumultuous history, and the people who touched it are depicted in this book.
Patricia Furstenberg uses the confining rules of the 100-word story form to stirringly capture Transylvania, Romania’s historical and geographical region.

Greed, of the Roman Kind, 100 words story

Greed, of the Roman Kind, 100 words story

Greed, of the Roman Kind, is the next 100 words story following the timeline of Falx vs Gladius, Dáoi vs Romans and of Echoes of a Battle, the Getae before it. You will find a short explanatory paragraph at the end.

Greed, of the Roman Kind

From his balcony of marble whiter than Venus’ bosom the King found solace in the Seven Hills of his beloved urbs.  Here, in the heart of his Empire all dreams, glory or greed, came alive. By Jupiter!

Yet tonight the same nightmare returned to shake this King awake.

He was an eagle with wings spanning across Mare Nostrum. His heart, fearless. His beak, fatal. He took down the Phoenix in one dive.

Then a temple, ahead, sheltering small birds. He, still ravenous, fell upon them. Again and again. Till the last brown bird killed her chicks leaving the King lonesome.

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Greed, of the Roman Kind, 100 words story - Scene from Trajan's Column in Rome, The Burning of a Dacian Town
A scene from Trajan’s Column in Rome, scene XXV, The Burning of a Dacian Town

Greed, of the Roman Kind – a few comments

Seven hills – a geographical location found in the heart of Rome

Urbs (Latin) – city.

Jupiter was the Roman king of Gods, is even depicted on Trajan’s Column as supporting the Roman cause in their wars against the Dacians.

The eagle (Aquila in Latin) was a symbol for the Roman army, and a symbol for Rome as the ideal ruler in the global sphere.

Mare Nostrum (Latin) – the Mediterranean Sea, literally translated to ‘Our Sea.’

At the Battle of Carthage (146 BCE), the last to fall was the Temple of Eshmun, where the wife of a Carthagian commander sacrificed her sons right in front of the Romans, then killed herself. The Romans attacked out of revenge and greed, killed all Carthagians, then wiped the city off the face of the earth.

Plutarch wrote in Pompey, on the fall of the Roman Republic: “Greed and personal rivalry… had brought the empire to such a pass… here the whole manhood and might of single state was involved in self-destruction – a clear enough lesson of how blind and how mad a thing human nature is when under the sway of passion.”

For the greed (greed for power and land) of Roman Emperors prompted and accelerated the collapse of moral integrity and tradition, by propelling a corrupt political system that undermined trust. Glory and power belonged to the riches, skills and expertise were no longer appreciated and honored. On the other hand, poverty and virtue were considered a stigma, and soon even the masses became to welcome and fill themselves with greed, thus bringing the foundation of the Empire to collapse.

NEW: A – Z, 100-Wors Stories are inspired by Transylvania’s history, from the Paleolithic Period to WW1

Transylvania’s History A to Z: 100 Word Stories
Transylvania’s History A to Z: 100 Word Stories

Why African Wild Dogs Hunt Impalas and Zebras, die Afrika Wilde Honde

Why Wild Dogs Hunt Impalas and Zebras, African folktale

African wild dog or die Afrika Wilde Honde in Afrikaans, is a wilding with as many nicknames as, well, a pack of dogs: African hunting dog, Cape hunting dog, wild dog, hyena dog, painted wolf, painted dog, or – my favorite – ornate wolf. To the scientific world it is known as Lycaon pictus.

Enjoy the next installment in the series Babadiertjies van Afrika, baby animals from Africa.

Why Wild Dogs Hunt Impalas and Zebras

When the Ndebele people migrated southwards in the 17th century, along the eastern coast of Africa, pushed by winds and floods, they brought with them their colorful geometric patterns, their beads, and their large, bright smiles. A century or so later they were joined by the Nguni people fleeing eastwards, away from the wars of King Shaka in Natal.

Be it a folktale drawn from a hunter’s observations, or a tale meant to teach youngsters a lesson, it is to them that we owe the story of why the wild dogs hunt impalas and zebras.

At the beginning of time, their story goes, right after God had finished creating all His animals and was wiping his brow, His creatures would all play and live together. It was exciting to be alive, to smell the wind and taste the water, to feel the rain on one’s fur – or skin, or scales, or feathers – and to bask in the sun, and wonder at the stars.

So when the first wild dog became sick – it was a mother wild dog tired after taking care of a big litter of pups – naturally that all the other animals showed their concern.

An Impala with softly curved horns went to seek Hare right away, for Hare had great healing knowledge. Hare gave Impala a calabash full of medicine for Mother Wild Dog. Then he warned Impala not to turn back on its way back to Wild Dog’s den.

Why Wild Dogs Hunt in Packs - Hare gave Impala a calabash of medicine for the African Wild Dog mother.
Why Wild Dogs Hunt in Packs – Hare gave Impala a calabash of medicine for the African Wild Dog mother.

Alas, soon Impala’s nostrils flared picking up the fresh scent of a leopard – instinct above all – and she turned back, looking for a safer path. She held the calabash tightly in her mouth, she did, Oxpecker saw her, and everyone knew that Impala and Oxpecker were as close as heat to fire. Matriarch saw her too. Yet the medicine inside the calabash spilled nevertheless, as Hare predicted. Had Impala perhaps leaped too? She could have… poor Impala.

Zebra went to see Hare next, to ask for medicine for Mother Wild Dog. By now word of Impala’s misfortune had reached Hare, so he wasn’t in the least worried that he had to brew the same potion, for the same patient. Yet when he handed the medicine-filled calabash to Zebra, he gave her the same advice. Do not turn back from your path.

Zebra neighed softly in agreement, a small cloud of steam leaving her nostrils in the cool African dawn. Her short mane shook a bit too, and then she was off at a leisurely walk. Not even a drop will she waste, careful as she was not to spill the calabash. She loved Mother Wild Dog who always made sure to share her findings of fresh grass. Tiny clouds of dust lifted as her hooves touched the ground, the earth still full with moisture and morning dew.

On Zebra went, and the shadows were still long. Focused on her path she was, till something caught her eye. A movement in the grass. A long shadow, a slither. Zebra’s long lashes battered against her soft cheek, her nostrils flared, and more of her front teeth showed off for in the grass, near the road, Black Mamba was nesting. Waiting.

Instinct took over and Zebra turned from her path and, no matter how hard she held onto the calabash, it broke. The medicine spilled, a dark patch on the sandy road still visible today, the Ndebele people whisper.

Zebra neighed like she never neighed before, an anguished high-pitched sound. Her ears flicked back and forth, her eye rolled in her head and she even flicked her tail, lifting then lowering it.

It seemed to last forever, and nobody could tell when the Zebra’s neigh stopped and when the dog’s yelping and howling started. For the Wil Dogs’ den was right behind the turn in the road. The den where Mother Wild Dog lay sick.

Alas, they all knew that the terrible had happened. Mother Wild Dog did not make it.

Wild Dog stepped outside his den and saw Zebra standing over the broken calabash just like he’d seen Impala the day before. Next, Wild Dog howled, and as he lowered his head the call turned into a cackle of laughter, then a rumble of short raspy shouts.

In a blink of an eye another wild dog joined the call, then another, and another. It was heartbreaking to listen, yet everyone knew that things will not end there.

It didn’t, for to this day Wild Dog and his family chase and hunt Impalas and Zebras, this being their revenge for the death of Mother Wild Dog, who could have been saved if only Impala and Zebra would have listened to Hare’s advice and not turn back from their path.

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

African Wild Dog

African hunting dog, Cape hunting dog, wild dog, hyena dog, painted wolf, painted dog, ornate wolf

Wild dogs live like wolves in a pack led by a male and female pair. Soon, their annual litter becomes the center of their daily lives. The cubs stay with the pack for about two years. Afterwards, some will break away to form their own packs, while others will remain with their mother and father. The average pack consists of ten to fifteen dogs.

AfricanWild Dogs start and end each day with a greeting ceremony, wrestling and playng. If one of the dogs gets hurt, the other dogs will take care of him. They will lick his wounds and bring him food.

But the cubs get the most attention. The mother gives birth to up to fifteen babies. There are a lot of mouths to feed and each member of the pack has to help take care of the cubs. At first the pups stay close to the den and they often have a babysitter while the other dogs hunt. When the big dogs return, they bring along meat for the cubs. Sounds whimsical, and it is, as the little ones love these bits of fresh meat.

Young wild dogs start moving along with the pack from the time they are three months. The older dogs will hide them in the bushes before a hunt and will always fetch them after the prey has been caught. The cubs then stand at the front of the feeding queue.

Herds of wild dogs use all kinds of sounds to talk to each other. They bark, chirp and cry.

At one time there were wild dogs in sub-Saharan Africa almost everywhere, but now they only live in a few places. In South Africa there are only 400 left in the wild and they are southern Africa’s most endangered meat eater. The largest group of wild dogs is located in the Kruger National Park.

Wild dogs live in groups of up to fifty and are very social. They migrate over large areas and that’s why they started colliding with people’s new habitats, as humans started building villages and farming on the wild dog’s land. One way to preserve the wild dog is to release herds into new, safe areas.

Die Afrika Wilde Honde

Why Wild Dogs Hunt Impalas Zebras, an African atmospheric  tale - wild dog and pup

Wildehone leef soos wolwe in ‘n trop wat deur ‘n mannetjie en ‘n wyfie gelei word. Hul jaarlikse werpsel word die middelpunt van hul daaglikse lewe. Die welpies bly vir omtrent twee jaar in die trop. Dan kan party van hulle wegbreek om hul eie trop te vorm, terwyl ander by hul ma en pa blye. Die gemiddelde trop bestaan uit tien tot vyftien honde. Hulle begin en eindig elke dag met ‘n groetseremonie: hulle stoei en speel hasieoor dat dit klap. As een van die honde seerkry, pas die ander honde hom op. Hulle lek sy wonde en bring vir hom kos.

Maar die welpies kry die meeste aandag. Die ma kry ‘n werpsel van tot vyftien babas. Dis ‘n klomp monde om te voer en elke lid van die trop moet help om die welpies te versorg. Eers bly die kleintjies naby die gat en hulle het dikwels ‘n babawagter terwyl die ander honde jag. Wanneer die grotes terugkom, bring hulle vleis vir die welpies op. Klink grillerig, maar die kleintjies is dol oor dié happies.

Jong wildehondebegin op drie maande saam met die trop trek. Die ouer honde steek hulle voor ‘n jagtog in die bosse weg en gaan haal hulle nadat ‘n prooi gevang is. Die welpies staan voor in die tou vir kos.

Troppe wildehonde gebruik allerhande klanke om met mekaar te praat. Hulle blaf, kwetter en huil.

Why Wild Dogs Hunt Impalas Zebras, an African atmospheric  tale

Op ‘n tyd was daar suid van die Sahare byna oral wildehonde, maar nou leef hulle net op ‘n paar plekke. In Suid-Afrika is daar net 400 in die natuur oor en hulle is suider-Afrika se mees bedreigde vleiseter. Die grootste groep wildehonde is in die Kruger-wildtuin.

Wildehonde woon in groepe van tot vyftig saam en is baie sosiaal. Hulle trek oor groot gebiede en dis hoekom hulle met mense begin bots het. Mense het op hul grong begin dorpe bou en boer. Een manier om die wildehond te bewaar, is om troppe in nuwe gebiede los te laat.


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