Richard Siwela is one of Londolozi’s longest serving Trackers. You can tell that he is a man who prefers to listen and observe, even when he’s not tracking fresh spoor. He nods quietly when you are speaking to him and thinks about his answers before he offers them up.
He laughs often and heartily with only his eyes.
Truthfully, I have never walked past his house in the early afternoon without seeing him sitting quietly outside polishing his shoes in preparation for an afternoon with his guests. What I like most about Richard is that – in spite of his reserved nature – if you ask, he’s willing to share. And if you’re patient, you’ll find a storyteller with a rich set of archives.
In the Autumn of 2013, when we started working on the Londolozi Junior Big Five Tracker iBook, I knew that Richard Siwela would be the perfect guide. We wanted to create an interactive book for children that not only introduced the Big Five, but shared real insights on how to find signs of these animals in the bush. I will never forget sitting under a tree outside Richard’s house as he dug up thirty years worth of stories and wisdom. Many of those stories involved Richard coming face to face with leopards and lions.
What follows is an extract from one of the introductory chapters of Junior Big Five Tracker. Bear in mind that it is written for children and translated from the original IsiTsonga. The artwork is original, and was created specifically for this story by Londolozi Artist-in-Residence, Simon Bannister.
The story of how I became a Tracker
When I was still a boy living in a small African village, my father gave me the job of looking after all of our family’s cattle. For a young boy that is a big responsibility. Every morning, just before the sun came up, I would round up the cattle and take them walking in the hills around my village so that they could graze on the fresh, sweet grass.
One evening, when I returned home with the cattle, my father noticed that one of the cows was missing.
“This is terrible,” said my father. “Every one of our cows is worth a lot of money and I will not accept that one has been lost. You must find the lost cow.”
I went to bed that night feeling very sad. I had not given enough attention to looking after the cattle and one of my family’s prized cows had gone missing. The next morning I left the village long before the birds started singing with no water or food. I returned to the field where the cattle had spent the previous day grazing.
I did not know how to begin my search. Where should I start looking? How would I ever be able to repay my father for the lost cow? Tired from walking around, I sat down on an old log and dropped my head in despair. But it was then that my luck changed. The tracks in the sand around the log where I was sitting looked familiar. There was no mistaking it – they were cattle hooves.
But where most of the hoof tracks were headed in the direction of my village, one set of tracks broke off from the rest and headed in the direction of the river. I was excited! I jumped off of the log where I was sitting and started following the tracks. With my head bent down looking for clues in the sand, I followed the tracks across the field, around a tall marula tree, and down the steep hillside on the far side of the field. I followed the tracks all the way to the river. The lost cow must have stopped there to drink early in the morning.
But where did the cow go from there? I could not find any more tracks.
I was concentrating so hard on finding fresh tracks in the sand that when I finally stood up and turned around I could not believe my eyes. There, standing in the shade of a tall acacia tree, was the missing cow.I had never been so excited in my life. I had found the missing cow and would be able to hold my head up high when I returned home to my village and my father.
“My son, you have made us all proud. You are a hero,” my father said to me when I returned with the cow. “You have used the ancient science of tracking to find this missing cow. This is a rare talent, one that will help you in the African bush.”
This extract was taken from Junior Big Five Tracker, an iBook for children that includes interactive games, videos, photos and stories based on conversations with Londolozi Tracker, Richard Siwela. The iBook was created by our creative team at Londolozi to enrich young people’s appreciation of the African “bushveld” and can be purchased on Apple’s iStore by clicking here.
A beautiful and well told story.
Beautiful story & lovely sketches
Fantastic insight into the beginning of a legendary Tracker. I think you have to be born with that amazing instinct because I am sure I would never have found that cow! Thanks for a great blog Ryan, and thank you Richard, for sharing many of your life stories that helped to create such a great book that many children, and adults too, will learn from and enjoy!
Thanks Jill. I love the story because there have been a number of times on game drives that I have thought that the chase was over, and the leopard was long gone. But Richard always persists, and (nearly) always, we find the prize. It’s incredible.
Great story Ryan
Great article. Thank you. I really enjoy reading about the trackers and the rest of the staff. Their background, what brought them into their work, etc. Best wishes.