South Africa

A contribution from Charlie.

In South Africa we have many folklores regarding weather forecasting.

  1. When swallows fly just above the ground it will rain and when they fly high in the air, it is not going to rain.
  2. Being near table mountain in Cape Town we find that when it is going to rain the animals decend from the mountain.
  3. The Burchells cuckoo (the "rain bird") can be heard when there is a storm being developed.
  4. When the turkey buzzard starts building it's nest, the seasons are changing.

From Peter AdcockRainbows in the Mist

In 2010 Peter Alcock published a 600 page book on South African indigenous weather beliefs, titled 'Rainbows in the Mist'.
Clicking on the cover will allow you to down load a pdf file with full details.


In 2014 Peter advised as follows:-
The below website carries my second book entitled:
"Venus Rising: South African Astronomical Beliefs, Customs and Observations".


The book was completed a while ago. Various actions (not of my doing) have resulted in delays in publication. I have therefore decided to release the book in PDF electronic format on the Internet.


The book examines traditional South African celestial knowledge, ranging from the Venda in the north to the /Xam San (Bushman) in the south. Cover of Venus Rising Also considered are eclipses, comets and meteors. Likewise discussed are place names, stories, poetry and riddles as well as other linguistic expressions which are linked to the heavens.


The book, the first of its kind in this country, is a beginning and not an end, given that there is still more information to be collected in the vastness of South Africa's cultural heritage.


Readers, reinforced with information contained in this book, are invited to scan the night skies from a truly South African perspective.


Please note that you will be able to read and print the book out. You can also search the file using key words of your choosing.
http://assa.saao.ac.za/astronomy-in-south-africa/ethnoastronomy/venus-rising/




Back in 2010 Peter was also good enough to provide us with some of the interesting items in his first book, as listed below.

It is said that rain is coming when the male Coqui Francolin or Swempie starts calling. A farmer near Vryheid maintains that these birds even begin calling ('predicting rain') when a cold front reaches Cape Town.


The calling of the Bokmakierie in the Cape is thought to announce a change in the weather. An old Afrikaans farming belief was that bad weather (wind and rain) could be expected in the afternoon when this bird began calling before dawn, and continued calling for several hours thereafter. A Xhosa belief is that the Bokmakierie changes its call to a 'trilling sound' when rain is imminent.


The Xhosa, in previous years, regarded this bird as a further rain bird, which was capable of bringing rain. The bird was captured during a drought, killed, and placed in water. Rain then fell. The habitual calling of the bird in a given locality, as per the Xhosa, indicated

  • that the site was a good one for a cattle enclosure, or
  • that the number of cattle would increase in a satisfying manner at an already existing cattle enclosure.

Another Xhosa 'bird of the cattle' (a bird of good omen) was the Cape Wagtail or Gewone Kwikkie. The presence of this sacred bird at, or near, the cattle enclosure ensured that livestock numbers would grow. The household cattle, however, would die if these birds were killed. Anyone misguided enough to actually eat the bird would be a poor man, since he would never have cattle. [It follows that a gratifying increase in cattle numbers, regardless of alleged causes, implies optimum conditions (grazing and fertility), and therefore a good rainfall year].


The old Afrikaans farmers, in turn, believed that the latter bird was a sign of rain, when it hunted energetically for insects in the grass. The theory here is that the insects 'know' when rain is coming, and seek mates at or near ground level where the humidity is less. The bird is attracted by the variety and numbers of these insects.


An additional Xhosa belief is that the Hadeda Ibis or Hadeda, when continually flying overhead, foretells a rich harvest. The bird is thus a positive omen. This is perhaps a different way of saying that the rains will be good that year.


The frequent harsh and rattling cry of the Hartlaub's Gull or Hartlaubse Meeu is a warning of impending rain in winter in the Cape Peninsula.


An old Cape belief is that bad weather can be expected when storm petrels gather around ships. Green advanced the explanation that these tiny birds 'find it easier to feed in the wake of a ship when the sea is rough'. Based on Green's overall description of the birds, it is apparent that the species referred to is the European Storm-Petrel or Swartpootstormswael.


An indication of forthcoming rain, on the Cape west coast, is when seabirds make for the land to avoid the bad weather.


The old Cape fishermen believed, and some continue to believe, that the calling of plovers in the early evening along the Cape west coast in the period March-May, means that fog will be present the next morning.


Further bird-lore regarding weather amongst the old Afrikaans farmers, includes the Southern Boubou or Suidelike Waterfiskaal/Kokkewiet and the Burchell's Coucal or Gewone Vleiloerie. Rain is coming when the former calls and is joined in song by the latter (as indicated, a known rain bird). Another version is that it will rain if the Southern Boubo sits under a bush and calls, although good weather can be expected if the bird sits high up in a tree.


Bad weather is around when certain birds conceal themselves (seek shelter) in the veld. Examples are the Southern Anteating Chat or Suidelike Swartpiek as well as doves, shrikes, finches and sparrows. A sign that rain is nearby inter alia in the Heidelberg district of Gauteng, is the loud, nocturnal calling of the Crowned Plover or Kroonkiewiet.


When guineafowl lay many eggs then good rains will fall that year. A difficult year can be expected, however, if these birds do not breed and lay eggs. It is possible that the Helmeted Guineafowl or Gewone Tarentaal, a common resident in South Africa, is the species referred to. The bird lays its eggs in the rain, usually during the months of October-March.


An old Afrikaans belief in the environs of Malmesbury, is that the behaviour of an unidentified species of lark indicates good weather. The bird, known in that area as the mooiweersvoëltjie, flies down to the ground and turns its head to the north.

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