Thursday, 28 February 2008

Ten cows, You Can Marry My Daughter

The Thongas are a beautiful people-long legged, slender and moon-faced with large round eyes. They originally moved over from the area which is now Monzambique in the 1970s, due to internal tribal disputes.. They had to submit to Zulu rule in South Africa so many young people do not even know they are by origin Thongas, not Zulus. The Zulus are worriors and cattle farmers while the Thongas are even tempered fishermen.

I did not know there was this treasure of interesting culture of the Thongas awaiting me. Having been to this part of SA before a few times, I expected all local tribes to be Zulus. A few days ago, I was desperate to find a hot and humide place to get rid of my two-month old cough so I won't become like my grandma who suffered severe coughs throughout her long suffering life. So I came to this more remote corner- Kosi Bay.

It took me an entire day to travel to my destination from Laohu Valley: two different car trips and two airplanes. To my surprise, the weather was neither hot nor humide. The Turtle egg laying season was also over. But what was missing in heat and humidity was made up by the tranquility and unspolt beauty of the place, which forms part of the St Lucia Wetland system, which I had visited in its northern part a few years back.

The gamble I took not to take any anti-malaria drugs also paid off- I think I encountered one or two mosquitos during the 4 night stay at the Kosi Forest Lodge, whereas at Laohu there must have been 2 mosquitos per square centimeter lately. Further I was richly rewarded by learning about the culture of the Thonga people.

Interestingly none of the young Thonga men who took me out for canoeing or boat ride was married. They ranged from 27 to 41 years of age. The common reason quoted was they needed to pay the bride's family 10 or 11 cows before marriage could be granted. If one gets his girl friend pregnant, an extra cow and goat are added to the account. Initially I found it curious that this tradition still exists in modern days. But then, many tribes in South Africa still allow men to have more than one wife too.

The young men were all very handsome and they seemed not to have any grievances against this custom. "I don't have a father, or uncle and aunt to help me. So I just have to work hard to earn enough cows to get married," they say. And that because they had to work hard for the marriage, they will treasure their one wife. What I like most is that they say since life is so expensive, they can't afford to have more than one or two children. Good family planning aside, this is to ensure the next generation is much better educated. Frankly if I had the power, I would want this ten cow-custom introduced to rural China!

There is a marked difference in attitudes between these Thongas and the people living in Philipolis. Many men in Philipolis do not marry their girlfriends but expect to get state subsidiies for the children their girlfriends bear them, as the State gives subsidies to each child from an unmarried mother. Some men simply live on this and would have a large number of children by their girl friends to collect state money.

The Thongas are a pround people and are excellent fishermen. They have a special environmentally friendly system to catch the fish. They set up their unique "kraals" in shallow parts of the lakes. The Kraals are made up of different kinds of tree branches which funnel the finsh into a trap, where the fishermen could spear or catch the trapped fish. The Kraals are set up only in one direction so the fish that swim into the inland lakes from the sea to lay eggs are not trapped. They also allow small fish to escape so they have the opportunity to grow.

I was very lucky this weekend, being the only guest in the lodge. I will miss this pristine litle corner of South Africa- its people, its forest, the songs of the birds, and the unspoilt golden beach attended by mighty waves, with just myself.... walking in its wake...

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Letter to the Editor of National Geographic

Please print retraction re National Geographic Article

Dear Editor,

I have always believed that National Geographic Magazine had public interests at heart and was a truth seeking magazine. How could you reconcile that interests with the facts that your magazine wrote about me and my project without ever contacting me to verify the facts? How can the core value of journalism -seeking truth and fairness, seeking always views of both sides, be totally ignored by your magazine?

Your article in the Chinese version of the Huaxia National Geographic (ISSN 1673-6971) Jan 2008 issue, Vol 67. On "China Tigers' Current Status Report" (page 40) wrote on page 55:
"On 23rd Nov, 2007, news from South Africa says one South China Tiger cub was born. Li Quan said, the cub would be taking rewilding training from early age. it would be returned to china after proper training. However, where in china could be the tigers' habitat? According to Li Quan's plans, domestic animals would be provided for tigers to hunt in the rewilding reserve of China, which would be open to public for tourism."

If your magazine has any journalist integrity, you would have easily interviewed me instead of printing such blatant lies.

If your reporter has any journalistic discipline, he/she could easily have checked our website, and found enormous amount of work has gone into the survey, selection, and planning for habitat restoration of the South China Tiger Pilot Reserves for the return of the South China Tigers, restoring the entire ecological chain and pushing time line to as far back as a few thousand years. This is unprecedented ground breaking work in terms of gaining new habitat for wildlife through returning the South China Tigers back to the Wild. Yet your magazine dismissed it with a single and wrong sentence!

Even if your magazine bears grudges against our project, you have the journalistic responsibility to interview me or my colleagues to get the other and true side of the story. To simply print untruthful facts about a ground breaking project you may disagree with is an insult to your readers' intelligence.

We have contacted your office in China who said they would check with the reporter. Unfortunately nearly three weeks have passed we have heard nothing.
I would like to ask you to get the facts straight and print a retraction. In the event you are not bothered to interview the very person you have wrongfully quoted, you can at least check the facts and reports on our website:

Further, I would like to ask your reporter, who is the source of thisinfo: "According to Li Quan's plans, domestic animals would be provided for tigers to hunt in the rewilding reserve of China???"

Thank you for your attention.

Li Quan
Founding Director

Save China's Tigers