Category: Africa

By Elizabeth Doyle

a zebra in Botswana

Dikakapa – There really are few countries in the world more musical than Botswana.  It’s said that every school there features musical education and the learning of old songs as a critical component in its children’s curriculum. Traditionally, music there relies solely on voice and clapping.  Of course, instruments have gradually been added to the folk music. But voice and complex clapping is still the staple.  It’s natural that rap became very popular there very quickly, because that’s a natural extension of a lyrics-first musical ascetic.  South Africa and Europe have both brought musical ideas that Botswana has integrated into its music.  But Botswana has, in turn, founded musical styles like Kwaito Kwasa that have gone out and re-influenced the influencers. I like the rap, and the rock, and the Kwaito Kwasa that comes out of Botswana, but my favorite is still the folk music, like Dikakapa’s, addressing family issues, love, and sometimes just the rain: Click here.

handwoven Afghan rugs

Ahmad Wali –  Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, he was a very popular singer in his country from a very young age. He sang beautiful love songs and poems, and in the days when he was performing internationally, like at the famous Shiraz Arts Festival in Iran, all must have seemed to be going so well.  And then 1978 came.  He was placed under house arrest for having performed for the Afghan King. (I imagine it would have been hard to say no!) And it wasn’t long before he was simply forced to flee, using a fake passport.  In retrospect, one could say he actually made it out just in time!  That military coup turned out to be just the first of a very long line of tragic events in Afghanistan.  Ahmad Wali lived in Germany after his exile, and gave concerts to raise money for other Afghan refugees. His soothing voice and lovely music serves as a reminder of an older, happier Afghanistan.  This is apparently typical of what you would have heard on the radio back then.  Here he is at that concert in Iran – so long ago!  Click here.

Maori wood carving


Maisey Rika — New Zealand is one of those countries, I’m embarrassed to say, if I don’t think about it, I sort of think of as having been empty before the Europeans arrived. I have the feeling I’m not the only one. But of course, that’s not the case at all. The Maori have lived there for at least 500 years longer than the Europeans, and they still do.  Their legends tell of how they all arrived on boats from a mythical Polynesian island called Hawaiki.  (Of course, how do we know for sure that it’s mythical?  Maybe they really did.)  Centuries of island isolation gave the Maori a distinctive warrior culture, and traditions that are absolutely unique to them.  Historically, they were known to be pretty fierce (and even fearsome) hunters and warriors, but performance art and music has always been an important part of their community, too. In modern times, they’ve had an astounding number of international musical sensations from the famous operatic soprano Marie Te Hapuku to the 1950s and 60s crooner, Prince Tui Teka.   It’s really unprecedented for such a small group of people to have had so much musical stardom.  And if you happen to be my age, you’re going to appreciate this next one most of all:  You know Flight of the Conchords? In real life, Jemaine is half Maori.  For real!  But this is my favorite singer of Maori descent.  She isn’t very famous yet, but I don’t know why. Here she is singing in both Maori and English: Click here.

Top photo:  © John Loader /

Second photo: © Catherine Ortega /

Third photo: © Nikolai & Olga Vakhroushev  /

By Elizabeth Doyle

Elephants of Samburu, Kenya

Jami Sieber – I just bought this album.  It’s called “Hidden Sky” and it’s inspired by elephants. Yes, elephants!  Apparently, according to the album notes, a visit with the elephants in Thailand just about changed this musician’s life. Changed how she sees herself, and all those around her.  And changed how she plays music.  This is definitely the most haunting music she’s ever made. If I didn’t know it was about elephants, I would never have guessed.  But now that I know, I think I can feel their ancient gentleness in every note.  A portion of the proceeds of the album go to help elephants, so I can feel good about that.  And there is something absolutely mystical about what those giants have done to this music …..  I do believe that their presence is behind it. Click here.

A Dogon granery, Mali

Salif Keita – This guy’s really interesting. He’s literally descended from kings in Mali.  But he was born albino (lack of pigment in the skin), and for that reason, was cast out by his family.  If it hadn’t been for that, being in the caste he was in, he might never have become a singer, but as it was …. he went on to become a musical star! One theme in his music, naturally enough, is trying to teach that “different” does not mean “bad.” (Apparently, albinos can face some terrible persecutions in some parts of Africa – including human sacrifice.)  In addition, in interviews he’s spoken about some religious pressure from some mosques back in Mali that don’t like music.  But he seems to have no trouble uniting his love of his spiritual faith with his love of sound, and seems to be doing a lot of good in the process:  Click here.



Ergyron— I’ve always admired people who used to live in the Arctic … before we had indoor switches that turn on the heat.  I can’t imagine falling asleep in subzero temperatures every night and awakening every morning to …. More subzero temperatures.  I feel like I’d have a permanent case of the flu.  But of course, snow is

A Chukchi woman

also magical, mystical and romantic… when you don’t feel its bite.  And I think you can see both sides of Arctic life in traditional Arctic song and dance.  I feel like you can see the harshness of life – and also the wonder of snow glistening pink in the morning sunrise.  Ergyron comes from the Arctic of Russia (the Chukchi people). The group calls themselves Chukchi-Eskimo: Click here.







Top photo:  Sharon St Joan / elephants in Kenya

Second photo: Michelealfieri / / A granery in a Dogon village, Mali

Third photo: Konstantin Shevtsov / / a Chukchi woman


Do you remember when

I knew you before?

When I was there

Like a crow-spoken shadow

In the leaves of the night.

(But I could recall

Only the wind that went

On and on.)

We listened together then

There in the canyon

Of moonlight

To the feet

Of gazelles

That rang

On the rocky hill,

To the call

Of the owl among the green bells

In the luminous cave.

Do you remember?  It was not

So long ago,

Before the earth was bent, by chance,

Before we forgot,

Before the walking one and the chattering one

Had gone


On their separate strands,

Along the wandering, wave-crossed shore.

It was the time when still

The acacia trees sang

In the yellow


And the blue rivers woke to greet

The elephants at dawn

With the beginning of their silver dance.

(And I could recall

then the voice of the sea-wind lost

Among the stars of stone,


Stone that shone

In the rainbows

Washed up on the radiant wave.)



Written October 16, 2010






Birds of Samburu


Weavers' nests in acacia trees


Paul, our guide at Samburu National Park in Kenya, knows everything about wildlife.  He is a wealth of information, especially about birds.  He knows the name of every bird, which I especially appreciate, being a bird person.  Also, Paul is exceptionally patient, being asked endlessly to stop and start so we can take photos.

There are Helmeted Guineafowl that resemble the Vulturine Guineafowl—easy to spot by the roadside.  Distant relatives of the jungle fowl that one can see in the forests of India—who are the original chickens, since transported all over the world.  They are also related to peafowl, turkeys, pheasants, grouse, and quail.  All these birds are ground dwellers, running about on the ground, hiding, and nesting undercover.  When startled they spring into the air and fly just a short distance.  These Helmeted Guineafowl we actually saw at Nakuru, before visiting Samburu.  You can see the little helmets on their heads.  The males and females are alike; the ones without helmets are the young ones.


Helmeted Guineafowl at Nakuru


Amazingly, although the bird species of every continent are different, the families are pretty much the same, and one can easily identify the general family of bird: dove, eagle, heron, raven, and the hundreds of other families, but not the specific species, which are nearly all different. The Birds of Africa book that I bought was so heavy that I left it at home and didn’t bring it, which I very much regretted—though I guess if I had, I might have spent most of my time with my nose buried in the bird book.  The birds in Africa have such startlingly beautiful colors.

Two or three Common Scimitar Bills flying among the trees reminded me of the Phainopeplas in Utah.  They’re not related, of course, and the Scimitar Bills have long curved beaks which they use for digging through leaves.  The similarity is the white patches on the wings of the black bird, which in flight, give an illusion of transparency.

In several places, including in the treetops of the lodge where we are staying (the Serena Sopa Lodge), we see Red Billed Hornbills.  They are big and easy to spot.  They have white heads, with black backs, and black and white spotted wings, with brilliant red bills.  Apparently, when the female is nesting, she is encased in a hole in a tree and the male brings food for her and the babies, until they are ready to fledge.  Doesn’t sound very pleasant to be stuck in a hole in a tree, but maybe it is for protection, and it may feel like a place of security to her and the babies.

Many of the trees are filled with weaver nests, which are lovely.  They look like special decoration for the trees, hanging from the branches, swinging gently in the wind.

There are over 50 different species of weavers, many of them gold colored, or gold and black.  Standing near one of the trees (not too near), it’s easy to see them dart in and out of the hole in their nest or pause perched on the outside.  They’re very lively and chatter constantly.  They also land occasionally, as do some of the other birds, on the tables in the dining room. Thankfully, they are not chased away, since people here don’t seem to feel that anything that moves is likely to be life-threatening.

Near the lodge, just in front of the open dining area, there is a water hole, maybe fifty feet away.  Clearly it’s been placed there so that we can watch the animals, and there are a steady stream of birds and animals that come there to drink.  One is a Tawny Eagle.  He is there quite a while.


Imperial Eagle


At another time, on a game drive, we see another bird that was thought to be a Tawny Eagle, but looking at the photos (very far away and fuzzy) I felt that this must be a vulture, because his or her head seemed to be bald, and an eagle can’t have a bald head.  Looking again though, it’s possible to see two white patches on the back—and that the head is not bald, but golden-colored, and this is an Imperial Eagle.  I am remembering now that Paul did identify this bird as an Imperial Eagle, but since I’d never heard of an Imperial Eagle, I’d simply forgotten until this moment.

The Eagle was very hard to see at first, gigantic, but on the ground and blending into the dry grass, perhaps protecting her food.  She turned around, but didn’t move otherwise—an enormous presence, as old as the world probably.

There are two species of Imperial Eagles, the Spanish and the Eastern Imperial Eagle, which is the one that migrates to a central strip in Kenya, where we are (as well as to other parts of Africa and Asia) and who comes from Hungary and Slovakia, from the Carpathian Basin (as I am finding in Wikipedia), which is the only place where these eagles are increasing in number, though they are rare and endangered.  As well as Hungary and Slovakia, the Carpathian Basin comprises parts of Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia, Austria and the Ukraine.  In Hungary, there are 105 breeding pairs of Imperial Eagles left.


Imperial Eagle at Samburu


And there was this amazing enormous bird, in the wild lands of Kenya, with a wingspan of 33”, who had come here from so far away, who looked like she had always been here, like the great, winged mother of the earth.


Top image:  Sharon St Joan / weaver nests in an acacia tree

Second image: Sharon St Joan / Helmeted Guineafowl at Nakuru

Second image: Wikipedia / Public domain / Eastern Imperial Eagle

Third image: Sharon St Joan / Imperial Eagle

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Two male elephants playing/fighting, with a third following



Surakoti samabrabah

Nirvighnamkurume deva

Sarvakaryeshu sarvada

Lord Ganesha, big-bodied, with a curved trunk, and the brilliance of a million suns, remove all obstacles from all my endeavors, always.

Dr. Nanditha Krishna has written the Sanskrit words, at my request, and explained them, on the occasion of Ganesha’s birthday.

Ganesha, the elephant God, is a being much loved in India.  He is the bestower of knowledge, wealth, good fortune, and as mentioned in the prayer above, he removes all obstacles.

Ganesha removes all obstacles just as the elephant himself does in the forest.  He clears the way for other animals.  He even digs water holes, into which the rain can collect so that all the animals can have water to drink.  He is kind and beneficent, and, as we all know, a highly intelligent and sensitive being too.

Normally, all Hindu prayers and rituals, begin with a prayer to Ganesha.

Ganesha Chaturthi is a ten-day festival that falls between August 20 and September 22, culminating on the fourteenth day of the waxing moon. Chaturthi means fourteen.

In the Samburu National Park, in Kenya, where several of us were traveling after attending the Africa Animal Welfare Action Conference in Nairobi, I had no knowledge of this festival, until I first heard of it on Saturday, September 11.

Elephants in the river, Vulturine Guineafowl on the bank

On a drive through the park  — they are called “game drives” (though that seems an unfortunate name since it reminds one of hunting and doesn’t seem like a respectful way to refer to animals) – we came again, as we had the day before—to the beautiful river that runs along Samburu –the Ewaso Ng’iro.  The name of the river can be spelled in a number of different ways; it means muddy water, and is a good-sized river for this arid area, providing all the birds and animals with water.

There are many bushes and acacia trees here, some with weaver birds’ nests dangling from them, some covered in vines, some with just the skeletons of tall branches or trunks reaching up to the sky.  The foot-high grass in between the trees is yellow, and it seems to rain rarely, so the river is essential, originating on the heights of Mt. Kenya which, at 17,000 feet high, is the second tallest mountain in Africa (after Mt. Kilimanjaro).

Kenya takes its name from Mt. Kenya.  Located in the center of Kenya, it is covered in glaciers and provides water for the entire area.  From the road to Samburu, it can be seen in the distance, encircled in clouds.

The Ewaso Ng’iro river is perhaps 100 feet wide, with a swift current.  It appears shallow, but really there is no way to tell.  There are crocodiles, and the first day, we watched two Marabou Storks chasing one of the crocodiles from the bank into the water.  Obviously, they didn’t like him much.

The Ewaso Ng’iro River

The first day also, we watched a whole parade of elephants making their way down to the river, including some young males that seemed to spend most of their time fighting or playing (or both at the same time) with each other.  There were baby elephants too, who were adorable.

They paused before going down to the water’s edge, and it seemed that the matriarch elephant had sensed some sort of danger, because there was a bit of a delay.  Then the coast was clear, and they all trooped down to the water.

The next day, on the morning of Ganesha Chaturthi, as we drove down near the river, there across the water on the other side, we were greeted by a most amazing sight.  27 elephants, all ages and sizes were lined up in a row on the opposite bank, with just their toes in the water, all exactly in a row, facing pretty much straight ahead—though one little baby was facing in the opposite direction.

Twenty-seven elephants all lined up.

Clearly, this was a special, formal occasion for the elephants, and we concluded that they must have been lined up to celebrate Ganesha Chaturthi!

Though these are African, not Asian elephants (there are some differences—African elephants ears are huge and tend to go out sideways from their head–also both the males and females have tusks in Africa), still an elephant is an elephant, whether African or Asian. Clearly, all have an affinity with Ganesha.

Dr. Nanditha Krishna, an authority and an author who has written many books on Indian culture and tradition, tells us that on this festival, traditionally, Indian people make a statue of wet clay of Ganesha, using two bright red seeds to make his eyes.

Ganesha is a God who is much loved.  The elephants are remarkable, and in this land, in Africa, so far removed from the hustles of modern civilization, they seem to have a profound connection with the peace and innocence of the original earth.

Photos: Sharon St Joan

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The Rocks of Samburu

Two lion cubs

One of a pair of lion cubs nudges their mother.  Mom, who is resting, doesn’t want to get up to play and swats the cub.  So the pair of cubs wander off to find something or someone to play with. They go through the dry, yellow grass of Samburu National Park, pausing behind a bush now and then.  After a while, they find themselves on one side of some tall brush, while on the other side a very large giraffe is having his dinner of leaves.  After the cubs scratch around the bush for a bit, the giraffe moves away.  Though the giraffe has a powerful kick, which could easily dispense with a lion cub, he seems wary of them.

Perhaps he only smells them and doesn’t know how small they are.  Anyway, he moves away across the road.  They follow, but as he continues to move away, they give up the chase—just as well since they are in some danger if he were to decide to kick them.  They head back together towards their sleeping mom.

One of the lion cubs

The next day two female lions are lying down, resting in the grass—they seem entirely unafraid of people—and don’t getup or move away.

Superb Starling

The Superb Starling is genuinely superb—rust-colored underneath with an iridescent blue-green back, a black head and cream-colored eyes, they hop along the ground feeding.

In a more wooded area, with a few taller trees, a young leopard circles the van—and other vans of visitors.  He walks along a tree branch on the ground, pauses, crosses back across the road, walking slowly right along the side of the van, and then off into the brush.  He is breathing hard and is clearly stressed, yet does not seek to run away from the people watching him, though he easily could.  Perhaps the cause of his stress is not the people at all. Perhaps instead he is hungry. He is very beautiful with all his spots.  Hopefully, he will find enough to eat and will lead a long and peaceful life.

The next day, another leopard appears in the grass, off to the left.  Crossing the road, he moves through the yellow grass and brush up a hill, at a measured pace, not running and seemingly unafraid of people.  He also is breathing rapidly. After a while he moves farther up the hill, disappearing into the grass. Perhaps he is angry and agitated, rather than frightened, at this intrusion by unwelcome human visitors into the peace of his existence.  Not knowing the leopard’s behavior, I don’t know.

Giraffes nibbling on an acacia tree

The giraffes tower over the prickly acacia trees, whose flat, feathered tops of leaves are dotted across the plain.  Samburu is arid, and the dry habitat seems to suit giraffes, antelopes and gazelles.  It is hard to imagine that these are really giraffes, standing there, tall and graceful—and not the sort of fairybook characters that some fanciful author has invented.  They look just like all their pictures—elegant and aloof.

On the horizon, a few hundred meters away, stand the rocky hills of Samburu, with dark gray rocks that meander up the hillsides and along the top.  In this desolate place, that is teeming with life, but that is mercifully devoid of the turmoil of human existence, there is a profound sense of being present before the world began—of being at the origin of all things.  The visitors’ vans—including our own—seem inconsequential, like a mirage that will soon vanish; they seem not to touch the underlying serenity that is here.

Samburu rocks

In the silence, broken only by the calls of birds, the rocks speak, telling tales of long ago—not thousands of years—but tens, even hundreds of thousands or millions of years.  Of a time when a visitor came this way from ancient Egypt—and of a time many eons before that, when the consciousness of the rocks was a part of the eternal presence of the earth itself.  Of a time before time when the awareness of the lions, the gazelles, the giraffes, of the acacia trees, and the speaking rocks were one, indefinable consciousness of innocence—the sacred life of the earth.

Ancient hill

Then, since that time when there was no separation of one consciousness from another, no distinction between the language and thought of man and that of the animals, the awareness of the cosmic dream has been remembered and spoken of by the eternal rocks, the guardians of spiritual awareness—the rocks who write, record and take note of the magical worlds that have always been—and will be again–beyond time and space—until one day when the passing smoke of an alien modern existence will have wafted far away on the wind—forever gone—leaving once more only the songs of the birds and the beauty of the gray rocks on the hills.