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Here in Australia we have a Kangaroo Island, a Kangaroo Point and a Kangaroo Valley. In America, New York State has a city called Buffalo, named after the bison which used to drink from the nearby Buffalo Creek. But South Africa went one better, by naming a place Twee Buffels (Afrikaans for Two Buffaloes).

We first heard about Twee Buffels when a Sydney newspaper quoted a former South African as having claimed its full name was tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein.

The 44-letter tongue-twister combined eight Afrikaans words (twee-buffels-met-een-skoot-morsdood-geskiet-fontein), literally meaning in English "two-buffaloes-with-one-shot-starkdead-shot-fountain."

Wondering whether there really is a place with such an improbable name, we searched the internet, and found several websites that claim it's a town in South Africa (but we couldn't find it on any map).

We unearthed a valuable clue at Mike Oettle's Armoria website, which displayed a coat-of-arms featuring two buffaloes. An accompanying story led us to conclude that if there was a place named Twee Buffels, it would probably be in Limpopo province.

That reminded us of one of our favourite childhood tales, The Elephant's Child, in Rudyard Kipling's Just-So Stories for Little Children, which mentions the great grey-green greasy Limpopo river (wonderful alliteration which used to send shivers up our juvenile spine).

Re-reading Kipling's story on another website, we found that, by a happy coincidence, it mentions Kimberley, which happens to be our colleague/webmaster Barry Downs' hometown:

He went from Graham's Town to Kimberley, and from Kimberley to Khama's Country, and from Khama's Country he went east by north, eating melons all the time, till at last he came to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, precisely as Kolokolo Bird had said.

[Was Kipling sipping a coke when he named the Kolokolo Bird? The story was published in 1902. Coca-Cola was invented in May, 1886, by Dr. John S. Pemberton in Atlanta, Georgia. The name "Coca-Cola" was suggested by Dr. Pemberton's bookkeeper, Frank Robinson.]

We decided to ask Armoria if they could tell us about Twee Buffels. It was a lucky shot. The site is run by Mike Oettle, a journalist on the staff of The Herald at Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He replied:

The place, if it does exist, may or may not be in Limpopo Province. It's one of the few parts of this country where buffaloes were not entirely exterminated in the days when anything moving got pumped full of lead. But they are back in their old stamping grounds in the Free State, Natal, the Eastern Cape, and I think even the Western Cape...

I suppose you noticed that I quoted from Kipling in my piece on Limpopo. Khama's country was the land of the Bangwato, the leading Tswana tribe 100 years ago. Khama's grandson, Seretse, became the first president of Botswana, and his son, Ian Khama, is a prominent citizen today, having retired from his position as head of the Botswana Defence Force with the rank of brigadier.

Like Limpopo province, the South African city East London also has a pair of buffaloes in its arms. The coat-of-arms is supported by two buffalo bulls, as reference to the Buffalo River on which the city stands.

Another placename I've heard of is Skilpad-vrek-van-dors, which means "tortoise dies of thirst." Again I don't know whether it's genuine or just a joke, but it occurs in a song dating back to the 60s by Des Lindberg (South Africa's Rolf Harris), called Sixteen Rietfonteins.

Finally, just as we were ready to give up our search for Twee Buffels, we struck gold, in the form of a long article by Professor AM de Lange, of the Gold Fields Computer Centre in the Faculty of Science at the University of Pretoria.

Posted on a message board in October 2000, (and addressed to someone named Eric!) it began:

......Your last sentence reminds me of a name of a farm some 200km west of Pretoria officially registered with the Surveyor General. That was 30 years ago... I doubt whether the name is still allowed today because what spread sheet in today's world of computers will allow for the monstrosity Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein

It is written in my mother tongue Afrikaans and consists of the words
The literal English translation is word for word:
except for the word "morsdood" which I have translated into "stark dead". Its literal equivalent would be "messy dead."

So it seems that Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein is 200 km west of Pretoria, in North West Province (not in Limpopo), in the region formerly known as Western Transvaal.

While we believe Prof. de Lange has solved our puzzle, we still don't know how the farm acquired its wonderful polysyllabic and colourful name. Can anyone out there please enlighten us?


The American plains buffalo is different from the European and African buffalo, although all belong to the bison family of ox-like grazing mammals. For centuries, huge herds of buffaloes grazed the world's great plains, travelling hundreds of miles on annual migrations.

Then, in the 19th and 20th centuries, many of the grazing areas were fenced off, and hunters slaughtered thousands of the animals, until it was feared both species might become extinct. Fortunately, many small grazing areas are now protected, and buffalo numbers are increasing. Hunting is still allowed in some African countries.

South Africa's Buffalo City was formed in 1996 by the integration of the port city of East London and the growing industrial and commercial centres of King William's Town and Berlin. It has a population of about 880,000. More than 80% are African, about 10% white, 6% coloured and just under 2% Asian. Nearly a third of the city's adult population are unemployed.

In the United States, there are Buffalo Cities in New York, Minneapolis and Wisconsin, while Jamestown, North Dakota, calls itself The Buffalo City, and is proud of its "world's largest buffalo," in the form of a huge statue.

Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada's largest national park, a World Heritage Site, is home to one of the world's largest free-roaming wood bison herds.

"It takes us about an hour to fly across the park," heritage writer David Bly said in an article in the Calgary Herald. "From the air, we can't see the park's most famous inhabitants: bison and whooping cranes.

"The park was established in 1922 to protect a small herd of wood bison. Later, plains bison were brought from Wainwright. The park is now home to the largest population of free-ranging bison in the world. But it's not a paradise. Disease has been a problem over the years, and part of the park was closed this summer as an anthrax outbreak took its toll on the bison.

"This is the only nesting place for whooping cranes, once down to a few pairs and still endangered.

"First Nations people are allowed to hunt and trap in the park, and live in a few isolated communities within the park boundaries."




Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

Story first posted January 2004

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