Thursday, 26 April 2012

Spotted in Africa

   I watched a televised nature documentary the other evening, it was set in the Kenyan plains, various familiar characters from such programmes were present; dead and dying rhinos with their horns hacked off to supply other people with other remedies, white people driving around in Land Rovers, black people scratching a living. The dominant character was a white woman who was studying mortality rates among big cats. The cats were regularly being killed by herdsmen whose livestock was under threat. Local Maasai people had informed her that the body of a big cat had been found in some remote spot so she drove out to identify the species. Surrounded by her informants our protagonist explained, with a practised forbearance, that identification in such cases was difficult without her seeing the animal for herself as the Maasai language didn't differentiate between “cheetah” and “leopard”.
   I suspect I wasn't the only armchair ethnologist to find this assertion surprising considering the Maasai have been living alongside these disparate types of feline for countless generations. I would wager that despite the supposed paucity of its vocabulary there is more than one word in Maasai for “self-proclaimed expert from elsewhere”.

Orkedi [Maa], or Spotty Cat [Eng.]

Olowaru keri [Maa], or Spotty Cat [Eng.]