Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A bird in the hand is not worth two in the bush

me posing with gun
A proud little nomad posing with his pellet gun and squinting into the sun. Taken at my childhood home in Matola, Mozambique.
grandmother, mother and uncle
My teenage mother and uncle with my grandmother on a riverbank outside Johannesburg. My uncle is supporting his gun - they must have been shooting at birds or hoping to do so.

I shot my first bird at eight soon after having been given a pellet gun by my uncle. Both he and my mother had grown up shooting flying things with alacrity. It was thought that a pellet gun would be a great source of fun for me.

They were right.

I loved shooting bottles and tin cans off walls. A masala (*), especially if overripe and hit in the right place, exploded impressively. Loquats and marulas didn’t explode but hitting them took much more skill. Shooting at birds began as soon as I got the gun. It was what you did with a gun. Boys that didn’t have guns, killed birds with catapults. And none of them had a mother who waxed lyrical about her youthful shooting sprees and immediately christened my gun by shooting several mousebirds. Their limp, soft, warm bodies fascinated me.

I wanted to shoot one too.

mousebirdShooting a bird wasn’t as easy as shooting fruit or tin cans. Aiming while pointing a gun upwards wasn’t that simple - I always missed or they’d fly away before I had time to shoot. I decided to ‘cheat’. There was a very large marula tree in the paddock that was always full of birds engorging themselves on the fruit and the fat mopani worms that infested the tree at certain times of the year. The paddock gate was just the right height for an eight-year old to rest a gun on it while taking aim. I took aim and shot. A small green bird plumetted to the ground. With a loud shout of glee, I ran towards it.

My first bird!

It’s broken body lay amongst the rotting fruit; blood trickled out of its beak and through a hole in its chest. Instead of picking it up immediately, I stood looking at it. Watching its blood stain the ground. I didn’t want to touch it, I wanted to run away. I wanted to hide.

I picked it up and wept.

This was colonial Africa. Animals and birds were being killed around me all the time. Killed for sport and slaughtered for food. On festive occasions, our neighbours would sometimes slaughter a pig by slitting its throat and letting it bleed to death. The chickens we ate were often slaughtered by the cook in the backyard. My mother continued using my gun to shoot birds. The better shots amongst my friends killed with their catapults. None of this bothered me but I never killed again.

Not until many years later, that is.

(*) also known as groenklapper, elephant orange, monkey ball, monkey orange, Natal orange, spiny monkey ball, kaffir orange, mpapa, mtonga, angora

11 Comments:

Anonymous Tom Cat said...

shammme Reluctant Nomad - the poor bird! I get distraught and feel terribly guilty when i run over dumb pigeons who refuse to move out of the car's way.

And then as I watch them exploding in a plume of feathers and blood, I wonder if I should give them a proper send off etc etc etc

(but i don't)

ps - thanks for the comments bunny. i'm gonna make yer blog a regular read.. ;) it's kewl.

11:33 pm  
Blogger Alan said...

Not until many years later ... You sound like a mad axe man !!!

1:04 pm  
Anonymous frog with a blog said...

I love your childhood stories and especially your old black and white photos that look like you lived in Africa sometime in the 19th century. But you're actually not THAT old, are you?
;-)

6:40 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

tomcat: I'm glad you're going to be visiting more often. Always good to have another sefefrican moffie visit. :-)

alan: more stories of murder and mayhem will be forthcoming

frog: No, not THAT old!!

7:31 pm  
Blogger J. David Zacko-Smith said...

There is nothing like shooting a gun - it truly gives one a sense of power - which, I suppose, explains why guns are so popular, especially here in the good old US of A (we love our violence). My father used to be a hunter, and he'd take me out to shoot - not animals, thankfully, but targets and cans and such, and I LOVED it. But, I could never imagine actually killing anything (though I did kill a chipmunk with a BB gun once - and hit a deer with my car - and I felt horrible for days afterwards on both occasions).

12:37 am  
Blogger Alan said...

I can tell you that he is that old !!! I used to be a pretty good shot with a rifle (target shooting) but hated peopel that shot animals for fun - not vermin control or food. The only shooting I do now is of a completly different nature.

8:35 pm  
Blogger herschelian said...

Scuse me RN, you just said "this was colonial Africa.." but SA was a self determining Union within the Commonwealth not a colony when you were a lad. I was an infant/child (though almost certainly older than you) in Northern Rhodesia which WAS a colony as it was ruled from Westminster. Having been pedantic about your comment, I should say I totally understand what you meant, that was a world and a time where all Africa seemed like a colony. More to the point it was a world and a time where the wildlife and carefree attitude to the natural flora and fauna was commonplace and everything seemed so plentiful that people could shoot anything they fancied with impunity. BTW I see your first bird shot was a little green job, just as well - Moffie kills Mossie would be a daft headline!

10:48 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

herschelian: Moffie kills Mossie, I like but as regards your protestations about what was and what was not colonial Africa, all I can say is read (READ) properly. If you look closely, you will see that my childhood was NOT South African. So much for you being keen on reading!! :-)

12:21 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

Oh, and another thing, just how much older than I are you? If anything, not much at all. How strange this is to be trying to prove how old I am.

12:25 am  
Blogger herschelian said...

You are SO right RN, I should have read your post properly, that'll teach me to write a comment after too many glasses of wine! Matola - wonderful place to be a child I should imagine. I went to Mocambique several times as a kid and always loved it. BTW I knew there was a chorizo recipe on a blog I'd read, but couldn't remember where - thanks for reminding me.
I am NOT getting into an "I'm older than you are, nah nah ne nah nah" contest - I have SOME pride ;-)

9:48 am  
Blogger angel said...

aaaaaww, poor boy!
i've never killed anything- mostly coz i'm too chicken to do anything exciting.

4:11 pm  

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