Buffalo Thorn, Ziziphus mucronata, Blink-blaar-wag-‘n-bietjie (the translation from Afrikaans would be “shiny-leaf wait-a-bit”), umLahlabantu (Zulu). This tree represents life as we know it as the young twigs are zigzagged, indicating that life is not straight forward. The tree has two thorn shapes, one straight and one hooked. The straight thorn indicates where we are going and the hooked where we have come from.
A blend made from the roots is uses as painkillers and for dysentery while the bark and leaves are used for respiratory ailments and sepsis on the skin. A paste made from the roots and leaves will treat boils, sores and swelling. The above can be attributed to the peptide alkaloids and antifungal properties isolated from the bark and leaves.
Historically the Zulus planted a Buffalo Thorn on the grave of a deceased Chief as a symbol of where the Chief was buried thus the Zulu name umLahlabantu meaning “that which buries the Chief”. Even today a branch from the Buffalo Thorn is used to retrieve the spirit of a deceased person from the where he died.
A family member will go to the place where the death occurred carrying a branch of the Buffalo Thorn which the spirit is able to hold onto. This will be taken back to the deceased homestead and the spirit will be given a new resting place.
During the transportation of the spirit the carrier will at no time look backwards, he will pay for two seats on a bus or a taxi and communicate with the spirit explaining exactly what is going on. For example if they are to cross a river the holder will tell the spirit “we are now crossing the river, we will get a lift on the other side etc”.
If there is a lightning storm the Zulus believe that standing under a Buffalo Thorn tree will protect the person from a possible strike as it is immune to lightning. They also believe that if a Buffalo Thorn is cut down during summer a drought or hail storm will occur.
To hear more of this and the history of South Africa – make sure you join us on a Battle fields trip.
Nigel Anderson – African Insight