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Luangwa River

Luangwa River

Sunday, August 21, 2005


One of the probable origins of the myth of the Unicorn, it seems to me, might be the fact that eland in the extreme South of Africa sometimes are born with a single horn. These animals were and are believed to have very strong spiritual connections, especially among the San ( Bushmen ). The word for Eland and the word for Dance are the same in several languages, which is significant since Dance is what is used to connect with the spirit world, shamans will dance into a trance to find medicines, to banish evil, or draw strength. In rock art eland are often depicted ,far more often than other animals, and quite often these images show one horn. Eland fat was the preferred type of animal fat used to mix with pigments when making paints for this art, and when making medicinal potions and ointments.
Early sea-going visitors to the Cape very probably picked up on the spiritual connections made by the San, and possibly saw one horned specimens too. When Telling the Tale back home of course, fact became a little inflated and over time changed to myth. Early Dutch records refer to the yearly migration of eland herds, and to the occasional presence of single-horned individuals among them. In the McLeod Clan chief's castle in Scotland, there is a Unicorn Horn which has been identified by biologists as an eland horn.
Mature eland are large, and defend themselves and others in their herd against lions, unlike most other African antelope, which prefer flight over fight when facing lions. Since lions were extremely difficult to defend against with small poisoned arrows, an animal which could beat lions would have been worthy of special notice. A single- horned eland, an old hand-reared camp-ground frequenter in a Swaziland Game Reserve, killed a lion a few years ago. He was then shot by the young Swazi King, (who considered this an insult to his namesake beast,the lion ) thus epitomising the ancient conflict.


Bar Bar A said...

Interesting. I heard there is a certain breed of gazelle that have very thin horns and if they stand in a certain way and view them from the side, it looks like they only have one.

fildup said...

The gazelle with thin horns may be ibex, which live in very hot dry places, where heat haze will cause strange visual effects, especially when you view from a distance.

Anonymous said...

Interesting & well written...too bad that young Swazi king got away with it.