So much has happened in Kew's South Africa Landscape at the British Museum this summer. Find out about some of Chris Spring's highlights. Chris is the Curator of Northeast, East and South Africa collections at the British Museum.
I have been meaning to tell the story of the wonderful workshops with my friends and colleagues from South Africa Mario Mahongo and Andriy Kashivi of the !Kung San people which took place up to and including Mandela Day. They started on a very sad note as Mario and Andriy’s friend and colleague Manuel Masseka was taken seriously ill on arrival and has only just returned to South Africa, though much recovered thanks to the wonderful treatment he received at University College London hospital.
Every cloud has a silver lining though, and by an amazing stroke of luck I was introduced to the South African musician, percussionist, composer and director Eugene Skeef at a party the next day organised by John Battersby in honour of our San guests. Eugene immediately volunteered to stand in for Manuel and ever since then he has become one of the family at the British Museum.
Dr June Bam-Hutchison and the Reverend Mario Mahongo in the South Africa Landscape.
Together with my friend Dr June Bam-Hutchison we proceeded to have some great story-telling and musical jam sessions in the South Africa Landscape and the African galleries. Andriy played the San mouth bow/khou which makes a small, but very beautiful sound, while Eugene played a whole range of instruments including the berimbau which is a much larger musical bow with a gourd resonator – and I became quite proficient on the udu (a ceramic drum in the form of a pot made by the Igbo people of Nigeria).
Our music would be punctuated by stories in the !Kung San language narrated by Mario Mahongo, then repeated in Afrikaans to June who then translated into English for the audience. Sounds complicated, but it was entrancing for all concerned. Human languages are composed from a selection of approximately 160 sounds which the human voice, throat and mouth can make. Languages such as English and French contain approximately 40 of these sounds – !Kung San, with its wonderful repertoire of clicks and glottals, utilises approximately 120.
I saw Eugene yesterday with his wife and children beside the Landscape after one of his show-stopping musical story telling sessions in the African galleries – all resulting from that chance meeting – and they all said how much they feel at home with us. Eugene and I, together with Caroline Cartwright of the British Museum and Steve Ruddy of Kew, will shortly be going on a ‘Sensory Walk’ in the Landscape together with a group of blind and visually impaired people. My next blog!
- Chris Spring -
Curator, British Museum
About Steve, Tony and Richard
Steve Ruddy is Manager of the Garden Development Unit, and is responsible for concept design, planning and delivery of a diverse range of projects, services and activities at Kew.
Tony Hall is responsible for Kew’s Arboretum, managing the globally important plant collections and heritage landscape. Expert in all aspects of plant growth and care, Tony manages the Arboretum Nursery ensuring the collections are safe guarded for the future. You can find out more about his work by following the Arboretum team blog.
Richard Wilford is the Collections Manager in the Hardy Display Section at Kew. His responsibilities include both nursery collections and collections on public display such as the Alpine plants, Grass Garden, Woodland and Rock Garden, and Order Beds at Kew. Richard also frequently contributes to the Alpine and Rock Garden team blog.
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