It was in the Kruger Park, in 2002, maybe? A while back, anyhow.
I woke earlier than the others and footed down to a fenced water-hole, fed by a river, near the camp.
Traipsing around the perimeter, I was alarmed by heavy snuffling and snorting sounds.
In the din of numerous bird calls, wild dog yaps and yodles and, who knows, hyenas? - in other words, the bright summer dawn's natural orchestra - I could not discern the origin of those very close-by, heavy breathing sounds. The water still lay completely in shadow and trees and reeds created dark, secret nooks.
Then, miraculously, as it seemed, I was spotted - targeted by an eye with raised eyebrow, as it felt.
The hippopotamus' large pupils floated peacefully on the silvery surface, keeping focus all the time on me, even as her enormous body slowly turned, now left, now right, balletically below the water.
She - it was a lone hippo and, for all I know, a he ... but I'll allow myself the luxury of projecting my own gender onto him - now that I had identified her, or she me, she breathed her morning bath's utter tranquility into my own heart.
She never disappeared.
I left, eventually, having less time to myself than she did, and she slid into the deep shadows further down the water-course.
But she has stayed with me ever since.
Anne Keating, in her book Wild Voices, gives the word contemplation as key for this animal. She writes:
Hippopotamus is Female, expressing the quality of:
By contrast, Credo Mutwa, in his book, Isilwane, writes:
The hippopotamus is regarded by African people as a symbol of rebellion, uncontrollability and unruliness.
Furthermore, "it is also an animal of confusion. It cannot make up its mind whether it is a rhinoceros or an elephant!"
The Zulu word for hippo, Mutwa writes, imvubu, can mean 'the mixed-up creature' or 'the creature which is unable to make up its mind what it is.'
When I used to tune into the spirit of what for me is quite a frighteningly fearless animal, the hippo, I found that the quality of confidence surfaced more than anything else. The hippo's confidence, however, was something I knew eluded me always - at least it did in the uncool human world.
Recently, she has snuffled herself back into prominence in my consciousness. Her beautiful raised eyebrows keep gazing her sensitive intelligence towards my soul.
Mutwa's own praise poem to the hippo speaks to the privilege of my encounter. Here are some extracts:
You, whose eyes see everything
And whose ears can hear the smallest whisper of a lover hidden among the reeds
Your feet can dance where no Zulu can ever dance
And no Venda can ever gyrate
You dance under the waters
You dance under the lakes
You rejoice among the reeds
You are the light that mocks me as I approach a great lake
You are the great pumpkin of Africa that walks on four legs, delighting those who see you
Oh animal of love
Oh animal of fertility
May your snorting always be heard in the great lakes and the rivers of Africa!
|Photo by Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr|