Some tall tales from the Cederberg - March 2010

 
Dear Reader,

“Cederberg Accommodate” is our Red Cederberg monthly newsletter. Our newsletters cover a variety of topics, written in the same way as we speak.  

We recently sat around the fire at Bakkrans, telling Cederberg stories. I decided to share some with you.

Moonlight, Footpaths and Wolwe

By now many of you already know that a clear full-moon night at Bakkrans is a very special occasion. The clarity with which one can see the surrounding landscape into the great Karoo is extraordinary. Those of you who have walked in the moonlight along the 4x4 tracks to the viewpoint in the Akkedisberg Pass and back, will especially appreciate the following tale.

There is this wonderful Cederberg story of something that happened on a full-moon night, many years ago in the (now) Rooi Cederberg Karoo Park – so long ago, that wolwe (wolves, i.e. brown hyenas (strandjut)) were still plentiful in the Cederberg.

An old skaapwagter (shepherd) wanted to visit some friends one Saturday night. He decided to take a well-used footpath through the veld, which was a convenient short-cut. It was, after-all, full moon and he could see for miles. While he was walking along the footpath, dressed in his best outfit and playing his homemade ramkie (tin guitar), he suddenly fell into a large hole in the footpath. His problem was that this hole had originally been dug and suitably camouflaged to catch a problem brown hyena - and the hyena was already in the hole. So much for being able to see in the bright moonlight!

Anyway, this wolf was aggressive and not very welcoming towards the intrusive musician - unless he kept playing on his ramkie. And so our man kept playing to keep the wolf happy and less snappy. All night he had to play, without stopping.

The next morning when the farmer came along to see whether he had managed to catch the hyena, he could hear, as he approached the trap in the path, a strange ping – ping – ping sound. He was just in time to save our man. He had only one string left.   

The Brown Hyena

Brown hyenas were plentiful in the Cape in years gone by. They were, however, not able to withstand the onslaught from stock farmers and were eventually totally eradicated in the Western Cape. Today there are many places named after this wolf. Such as the Wolfberg in the Cederberg.

Small populations of brown hyenas can still be found in regions to the north of South Africa, with an estimated total of between 5000 to 8000 individual animals. Wonderful research is being done on brown hyenas in the Namib. Visithttp://www.strandwolf.org.za and  make a contribution. Also check http://predatorconservation.com/brown%20hyena.htm for more fascinating information about these hardy and elusive animals. 

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Picture obtained from www.strandwolf.org.za , where fantastic research is being done on brown hyenas. 

Wonderful Cederberg Wild Honey

Honey is a prized delicacy for most people, but it is especially so for those folks who turn it into a potent brew called heuningbier (honey beer). This beer is normally mean enough to make you seriously wobbly and cross-eyed – and sometimes, I must add, a dangerous menace to the rest of society .

These brewers normally have their own beehives where possible, but they also know where to find wild honey bee nests in the veld. Many are on properties that are off-limits to them. All the same, the locations of bee nests are mostly closely guarded secrets. One needs to be quite careful and sneaky to get to some of these honey nest sites.

By the way, one of the best ways to find bee nests is to follow the bees by tracking them against the sunlight. This sometimes takes a while but most veld experts are successful in locating honey sites this way.  

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At Bakkrans, in one of the high cliffs on the picture above, is a substantial bee nest in a very high rock face. It is almost beyond belief, but many years ago someone climbed down from the top of this cliff face to the nest by sticking bees wax to the rocks in places to grip onto. I still wonder if this was bravery or plain stupidity.

Lets just stay with this picture for a while. You will notice that the veld is covered in spring flowers. This is what spring looks like in Bakkrans Reserve after small stock was removed from this veld 12 years ago. Every year the profusion of plants and flowers increases. Now there is plentiful food for many insects, especially bees – and moths at night, which are also important pollinators in nature.  

One more story: Once, during the early 1900’s, a Cederberg local and renowned brewer of homemade honey beer just disappeared. No-one knew what had happened to him, until someone eventually suggested that he had probably secretly gone to steal some honey. He might have encountered some misfortune along the way.

A few search parties were put together to look for the missing man, hoping to find him at one of the known honey sites. And so it turned out to be. They eventually did find him eight days after his disappearance, where he was lying at the bottom of a high cliff. He had tried to reach a nest high-up in the rock face, but had slipped, fallen down and broken his leg.

By the time they found him, he had already eaten all the juicy leaves of a large patch of skilpadbossies (zygophyllum) below the krans, as he had had no food or water with him. Just the bare stems of the bushes were left.

Lucky man, having landed amongst skilpadbossies!

Greetings from the Red Cederberg.
Johan van der Westhuizen 

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