The past few weeks a strange thing occurred daily. Every morning, before our daily routine rolls out, Andries our gardener,  or my minister of household, Elisa, or depending on the day of the week, myself,  go  to fill up the bird feeders and the water in the bird bath. We all notice that one bird bath is emptied out regularly. We ponder this, as it has never dried up like this. We look for cracks, find nothing amiss. So, we fill it up, and repeat for a while.

One morning I walk to my bedroom window to adjust the curtains. Through the lace something catches my eye. The empty birdbath mystery is solved. The culprits, new arrivals in my garden. Two yellow billed hornbills carousing in the water. True comics of nature with their curved yellow bills, polkadotted wings and playfulness.  They  made me feel joyful.

Once I learnt their indigenous name and its meaning, my feelings when I saw the hornbills, became crystal clear.

They are known as umkolwana.  Bruce Arnott of  Londolozi describes the meaning so beautifully:” Umkolwana means “believer.” When the hornbill sits on the branch of a tree it always seems to look up at the sky as if it sees something or as if someone is up there. Over centuries, the African people started to see the bird as a symbol of faith and, specifically, of human faith in a better tomorrow. The umkolwana is an optimist who says that ‘all shall come right in the end’. Even when there is the biggest drought, you will never see the umkolwana’s beak drooping earthwards; it is always facing upwards, because it has hope for the future.”


You see, the place where I live is on a farm of an old friend, who asked us to live on the farm as the couple have become old and frail and moved to town. I love the place with all my heart. Now, in Covid lockdown, the farm was put up for sale. We were sad, restless for some time.  Where will we go, what are we to do, as our own property is in Graaff-Reinet, and we make a living in Polokwane.

This morning, I get up early, fill the birdbath and a pair of Umkolwana sit high in the syringa, basking in the sun. I stand and greet the hopeful believers and pray in gratitude for my surroundings, the worry set aside for the moment.

Just after midday, our friend arrives. He and my husband stroll out and are away for quite a while. Worry besets me. Are we getting the dreaded news that our time here is over?

Hubby comes back, our friend has left. “What news,” my daughter and I chorus. Hubby smiles. This place means too much to the family, it will not be sold. The children have decided to keep it.

I dance out into the garden, the dogs look on in puzzlement.

“Lord, thank you for sending Hope and Faith, the Umkolwana pair to my garden. Thank you for Your grace, thank you for the privilege to live here on Waterval*. Thank you that ‘all comes right in the end’.

(*Waterfall in Afrikaans)