Bushwise Field Guides

Picking up where the writer left off on sharing some local myths and legends surrounding Leydsdorp in my previous blog, I thought perhaps the reader would be interested in further such interesting tit bits and researched other place names and origins thereof to share. Little did I realise that the canvas I had chosen is a huge, complex and finely nuanced one, thus I am painting a big picture with broad strokes, sometimes generalising and sometimes over-simplifying. Non-the-less, I hope the read will keep the reader enthralled.

First off, some well known place names in the Lowveld such as Phalaborwa and Tzaneen

During the 18th Century, the Ba-Phalaborwa (loosely meaning the people of Phalaborwa) settled in present-day Phalaborwa. It is said that they originally came from the north and settled at Bushbuck Ridge. From there they moved to between the Letaba and Oliphant Rivers where they called their settlement Phalaborwa, meaning ‘better than the south’. Their main trade item was iron, which they smelted themselves as far back as 400 AD. Masorini, near Phalaborwa gate, is a reconstructed Ba-Phalaborwa hill village, with huts, grain storage areas, and an iron smelting site.

Tzaneen began life as a research station for the fruit growing industry in a valley that has a tropical feel to it due to its rich soils and good rainfall, hugged by hills and the placid grey waters of a dam fed by the Letaba river. A little further South is the rugged wilderness known as the Wolkberg (cloudy mountains) once rich with many animals but were sadly hunted to extinction by the secretive growers of marijuana who lived in these mountains and lived off the land. It was through this countryside that the old Zeederberg coaches hauled passengers and goods from Pietersburg across the Letaba river to mining towns such as diggers rest and Agatha Hill and then tortuously to the fever-ridden mining town of Leydsdorp.

Another well-known town is Acornhoek
A village some 29km south-east of Hoedspruit and 165km north of Komatipoort, in Mpumalanga. The name is either derived; after Bushveld mice which are smaller than squirrels or the Pari Nari Curatellifolia or ‘cork tree’s’ fruit. Which are similar in appearance to acorns and are edible. The name is variously explained as being an adaptation of Eekhoornhoek (‘squirrel corner’); derived from the German surname Eichhorn and named after the acornlike fruits of the marula tree.

Mention should also be made of the town White River

At the end of the Anglo-Boer War the government of Lord Milner decided to establish an irrigation farming scheme for unemployed British soldiers returning from the war. Although not successful, it was the forerunner of a small farmer’s township. In 1904, Milner ordered the Transvaal Land Department to survey the valley. Building a weir over the river and constructing a canal, a hundred plots of land were offered up for sale. Several British ex-servicemen from the Boer-War began citrus farming in what would become known as White River. The White River was known as Mhloppemanzi in SiSwati and Wit Rivier in Afrikaans, because of its milky colour which is caused by high levels of kaolin in the water.

Other fascinating facts I picked up on are the origins of the area known as the Timbavati.

The name of this area—”Tsimba-vaati”—is derived from the ancient Shangaan language and means “the place where star lions came down from the heavens.” Sometime ago, over 400 years, during the reign of Queen Numbi, there was a streaking light seen in the heavens, falling to the earth. Not long after this, the golden lions of Timbavati began giving birth to pure white offspring. The African Elders began to call these white lions “Tsimba-vaati”, also referring to them as the “Children of the Sun God.” They also saw them as the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy identifying these majestic creatures as angelic messengers from God! and teaching us that the White Lions are ‘enlightenment-bearers’ – not white as in skin colour, but white as in pure sunlight, the giver of life.

Although sightings of White Lions were first reported in the 1930s, scientists were unable to document their existence until they were spotted again in the mid-1970s. It is not clear when the White Lions re-emerged, but by all accounts, this is a recent occurrence, and legend has it that the White Lions are, in fact star beings who came to our planet for spiritual purposes.
Incredible stuff and I hope the reader has enjoyed the read. With the next installment I hope to find more fascinating facts about the different cultures that lived in the area, that helped shape the Lowveld into what it is today, but to give you a taste of what is to come I have included the following:

The Makhutswe people are made up of two clans: the Banareng ba Sekororo and Mahlo. Their totem is Nare (the buffalo) Tradition has it that originally these people lived in a country they called Balaodi, which is supposedly to be around the present town of Sabie in the Eastern Transvaal, now known as Mpumalanga. The reason for their departure from Balaodi was the invasion of the Makhema, a cannibal tribe from the South. I make mention of the Makhutswe people as past and current students will now know the origin of the name of the river that runs through the reserve that we train on, the Makhutswe river!

Until next time, happy reading!
Trevor Myburgh