THE LIGHTNING BIRD
On March 17th 1989 Channel 4 produced an extraordinary film in its ‘ Survival’ series about lions in the Serengeti (Bulletin No 33). In the same series and shown on June 24th was another film about Tanzanian wild-life. This was made with the cooperation of the National Parks and the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority. It is the work of Joan and Ann Root and its title is ‘The Legend of the Lightning Bird’. As Andrew Sachs started his commentary we saw what we have learnt to expect from wild-life films of Africa South of the Sahara Kilimanjaro, elephants in the forest, lions on the savannah, herds of wildebeest and fantastic, glorious birds.
Who is the King of the Birds? Is it the huge ostrich, the powerful eagle, the handsome superb starling or the regal crested crane?
Legend says it is none of these. It is the hammerhead or hammerkopf. He is related to herons and storks, stands a foot high, is uniform brown with a tuft of feathers at the back of his head and looks like a kindly dunpy pteradactyl. The hammerheads spend most of their lives fishing. This they do effectively but without display. When they are excited they jump on each others backs, flap their wings and squawk.
According to legend these dowdy avian monarchs receive homage from subjects who bring contributions to the palatial nest, help build it and even guard it. The hammerheads are also credited with magical power over rain and floods. None of this is true. They cannot swim and have no special weather sense.
Visitors to the big nest come for their own purposes. A silver bird takes what she needs to build her own nest; an Egyptian goose tries to take over the penthouse until thrown out by the owners; she then finds a disused nest downstream. A grey kestrel is small enough to use the old nursery but finds her way barred by a family of acacia rats and a large African owl nest on the summit, ostensibly on guard.
The hammerheads, far from being feudal lords, act more like the local housing aid centre because they re-use an old nest. At the beginning of the rainy season they start to build in the fork of a tree overlooking a river. For nearly three months they each make journeys totalling about three hundred miles to build a nest four feet high and weighing two hundred pounds. It is so strongly woven that it can bear the weight of a man jumping on it. The entrance is sensibly kept away from the tree trunk and the roof is decorated with feathers, shed snake skins, little bones and porcupine quills. This nest even had a wildebeest tail.
Most of the film was concerned with the building of this nest and the mating of the hammerhead, kestrel and goose families. I particularly enjoyed the emergence from the nest of the two-day-old goslings who plopped in the water below one after the other like children going down a chute. One gosling had unfortunately fallen out a day earlier and had had a Disneyesque adventure with hippos and a crocodile. He found a diminutive island for the night and miraculously met up with his family again the next day.
There seems to be no scientific explanation for the hammmerhead’s extravagant use of energy. We are told the species is the only member of its family. I wonder if there were others now extinct who decided to build Hiltons and died in the attempt.
Anyway, Good Luck to the eccentric loveable bird. Long may he reign! Congratulations too to all concerned with the production of this delightful, tantalising film. Shirin Spencer
TANZANIA: COUNTRY STUDY AND NORWEGIAN AID REVIEW. Kjell J. Havnevik and
Others. Centre for Development Studies. University of Bergen. 1988.
There was a time when it seemed as though almost everyone wanted to write a book about Tanzania. The early years after independence are well documented in several comprehensive studies. Nowadays, this is no longer true. As far as the Bulletin has been able to determine there are no recent comprehensive studies covering all sectors of Tanzania’s economy other than those provided from time to time by the World Bank. It is for this reason that this Norwegian book is so useful. It is useful primarily for those wishing to up-date their knowledge (references and statistics go up to 1988) and those who do not know Tanzania and do not have the time or the opportunity to study the innumerable short papers available in the better libraries. It is concise (the whole country is covered in 193 pages), clear and, as they say nowadays, ‘reader friendly’; it does not appear to be over afflicted, as so many papers on Tanzania are, by ideological bias. It contains a useful up to date bibliography but, surprisingly, no index. It has particularly strong sections on women (for example, the effect of villagisation on them) and reveals much cause for alarm in its section on AIDS.
The second part of the book critically analyses Norwegian aid programmes. Although the authors state that Norwegian aid does not differ from that of other countries (Norway comes second only to Sweden in the ‘league table’) those interested in sea fisheries, coastal transport (in both cases associated companies went bankrupt!) sawmilling, hydropower and the maintenance of rural roads can learn much from this book.
One interesting item (Page 13) states that after the First World War the idea was considered of giving Norway the task of ruling Tanganyika Territory – DRB.
(We are indebted to Mr. Karl Aartun for sending us a copy of this book – Editor).