Thursday, July 30, 2009

Of Bees and Baboons from the memoirs of Terence Basil Baillie

Telling stories about the village leads to Ailsa Tudhope meeting the most interesting people. In May Lin Davies got in touch with her. Lin’s Ouma was a daughter of the van der Hoven clan of Prince Albert. Her grandfather, John Henry Baillie is buried in the cemetery on the corner of the Weltevrede road and Christina de Wit Street. In his latter years, Lin asked her father to write down his memories of his boyhood, some of which was spent in Prince Albert after his father's death. Terence’s stories give a fascinating insight into life here in the 1920's. Lin reckons Terence was an excellent storyteller, one who wove magic around the accounts of his boyhood. Here is one of his tales:

Early summer mornings walking through the orchard with the first white loose pipped peaches ripened and wet with morning dew, ready for picking. You hold the peach upside down and take hold of the pointed tip and unwind the skin off the peach and pop the cool succulent fruit into your mouth, where it simply melts away. Or pick a ripe pear, also wet with dew, which also melts in your mouth. Truly the fruit of the gods!

When the fruit and mielies were ripening, we boys regularly went on baboon patrols, as these critters created havoc with crops which my uncle could ill afford to lose. When the baboons came into the fields there was always a sentry on look-out duty and if he spotted anybody, he would warn the troop with a sharp bark and they would run for safety. We discovered that the baboons could count up to three people, the sentry barking if he saw that number come into the field. When three left, the baboons would come back. We would wait a while and then yell, scream and bang on empty tins, making as much noise as we could. The baboons would run all the way to the top of the mountain ridge and tackle the sentry for not keeping proper watch. If any of the troop had been hurt or killed, they would tear him apart. Their social code of behaviour was very strict and each one had their place on the totem pole, so to speak.
My farm cousins told me many tales about their adventures with the baboons. I always loved the saga of the three boys and the wild fig tree with a hollowed out branch which rested on an outcrop of rock. One day they were on the slope of the mountain, about thirty metres above the stream which flowed through the poplar forest, searching for ripe wild figs.

The boys and a small troop of baboons arrived at the tree at the same time, each party scrambling to get to the figs first. In the general melee one of the baboons jumped onto the hollowed out branch, which snapped, being rotten inside, and out came a swarm of very angry bees, attacking everybody in sight!

Boys and baboons ran for a large pool in the stream, with the bees in hot pursuit. My cousins were surrounded by baboons, who covered their snouts and sat dead still, while the boys tried to stay underwater and come up, just for a second, for air. Some of the baboons did not make it to the water, and sat, hunched up, covering their snouts with their paws and keeping their hairless, large bottoms flat on the ground so that the bees couldn’t sting their rears!

Baboons were barking, my cousins were yelling, the bees were buzzing and stinging, a terrific noise was made. Every now and then one of the baboons on the ground would lift his rump and try to make a run for it, but before he could move the bees would strike! Up went the baboon’s hind legs as it dragged itself forward with its front legs, roaring in pain from the stings. Eventually the baboons made a break, splitting up, each one for himself, surrounded by bees!

My cousins looked a sight, all puffed up from the stings they had received and each sopping wet. Despite the pain, they said the sight of the baboons dragging their butts on the ground was the funniest thing they had ever seen. Even my uncles had a good laugh when they were told about it!

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