Long ago, animals and people from different clans lived together in the Kalahari. One of the clans was the San. The San men hunted with bows and arrows, while the women cooked food in clay pots that they made themselves.
One day, a huge sandstorm came from the sky, and when it was over everything had changed. The San moved away and all that was left were the animals.
So begins the fable of !Qhoi n|a Tjhoi. Skilpad en Volstruis. Tortoise and Ostrich by language teacher Katarina Esau, as told to her granddaughter Claudia Snyman, with illustrations by Stanley Grootboom. In this trilingual book for ages 3-7 featuring N|uu, Afrikaans and English, readers are asked to think about who would win a race between Tortoise and Ostrich.
On one hand, Tortoise is notoriously slow. He carries his home on his back so he’s never in a rush for anything. On the other hand, Ostrich has looooong legs and is officially the world’s fastest runner on two legs. Priding himself on this fact, Ostrich makes a deal with Tortoise: they should race each other to decide on the ultimate winner of the beautiful San clay pot that they have discovered.
While Ostrich relies on his speed, Tortoise emerges triumphant because he uses his intellect to outwit his competitor. Such a tale is as old as time, reminding readers that determination and creativity can sometimes be better than physical strength.
This book was made possible through the efforts of Katarina Esau; the recipient of the Order of the Baobab in Silver, her family and Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, which was recently awarded UNESCO’s King Sejong Literacy Prize. It highlights the N|uu language which UNESCO classified as “critically endangered” because it has less than three remaining speakers in the world. The “extinct” category already features seven South African languages.
Claudia Snyman wrote the story down in Afrikaans after it was narrated to her by her 88-year-old grandmother, Katarina, the oldest speaker of N|uu. Diana Ferris then translated it into English. It signifies a great effort towards cultural preservation for the San people who are debatably the first human beings on earth.
Below is a video of Katarina Esau and her family, the only remaining speakers of the N|uu language, for SABC Education Shows.
Story by Katarina Esau as told to Claudia Snyman
Translated by Claudia Snyman and Diana Ferris
Illustrated by Stanley Grootbom
New Africa Books, 2021
Page count: 32