I am driving in the midday heat. The landscape is dry, dusty and barren. My attention is focused only on the sound of the vehicle and its tyres rolling over the gravel road. The bush seems desolate and devoid of life as animals take refuge in the shadows to rest as they await the cooler hours.
From the corner of my eye a sudden flash of colour bursts into view. As this blue-green-purple flash alights on the road in front of me I stop the vehicle. There’s a whipping, jumping and swinging of blue-green feathers, a flare of purple, and then a pause… success, prey has been caught! An enormous locust as long as the bird’s head.
After regaining my thoughts and realising that I am totally enthralled by the scene in front of me, I notice how bright and unique this bird really is. It is especially radiant in its brown, barren surroundings.
The Roller flails and beats the locust on stones and then throws it in the air to reposition it for another beating.
After a while the Roller flies away with the locust in its mouth looking to find a more concealed place to feed.
The traditional African beliefs about the roller are connected to the ceremony of marriage or peace. In Zulu culture a couple – before being married – would have been tied together with a feather from the roller (maybe at the wrist although I’m not sure). If the feather broke before the ceremony was complete, it would have been a sign that they should not be married because their bond was not strong enough and they would not work together as a team. In Venda culture, couples would use Roller feathers as wedding rings and in Afrikaans culture roller feathers were used in wedding dresses. The Afrikaners called the roller a ‘troupant’ meaning ‘wedding band’.
I am again gazing over the barrenness of the winter African bush as I continue driving; the same landscape I was looking at ten minutes before. However, this time I am thinking of the blue-green-purple flash of colour which has historically and oftentimes through tradition connected so many people. I am also thinking about so many others who have had the pleasure of viewing this splendid bird.
Oh, and then… the fate of the locust also crossed my mind!