Finding Amabala

Sit back and pour yourself a fine G&T … it’s a long story.

The launch brand of BrackenHill Craft Distillery is the Amabala range. Nguni cattle play an important cultural and social part in many South African’s lives. Famous for their variety of multi-coloured hide patterns and different horn shapes these cattle are the pride and joy of their owners. In KwaZulu-Natal the Zulu people have a particular poetic and aesthetically rich naming practice for their cattle, many times in relation to birds, bird’s eggs, animals, snakes, insects and plants that they encountered on the grazing lands.

Amabala is a description literally meaning “spotted” and refers to a white Nguni with black spots, some of which may be large or fine and speckled sometimes so dense to be described as mottled.  

The story of our Amabala originated on a field trip I was on north of Empangeni in KwaZulu-Natal.  I was walking along a cattle path ahead of the group of community members I was with at the time and I came to a river crossing. On the other side of the river stood this magnificent Nguni bull.  Alone, regal and aloof. I took a few pictures with my cellphone camera. When we came to deciding on the branding route to take at BrackenHill we wanted to base it on local traditional roots, not only with the use of heirloom traditional grains but also in our physical branding.  Our original mockups were done using an Nguni image purchased from Shutterstock but this lacked the personal story. We then tried substituting in my pictures taken from my cellphone of my Amabala.  The resolution was just not good enough.

Finding Amabala We needed to track down and photograph the original Amabala bull again so I asked my friend, Jeff Ncambe, who had been on the original field trip with me if he could try and find out who owned the bull.  It took a day or two but he came back positive and we agreed that when we received news that Amabala was in the kraal we would drive up and photograph him.  That day came and we headed up the 3 hour drive to the community in which Amabala resided. Only to be told that he was not in the kraal but out on the ‘lands’ somewhere. The ‘lands’ being over 1000 Ha of dense northern Zululand bush! With reassurances that we would find him we set off along old cattle paths for about an hour. At one stage Mr Khumalo pointed out across the vast valley at a white dot in the bush and stated “there is Amabala” . He instructed us to go back and wait by the road and he and an accomplice set off to herd him to us. Two hours later – failure! So plans were made that Amabala would be brought into the kraal in the next week and we would be notified.

Sure enough the notification came and we once again headed north. This time to arrive at Mr Khumalo’s homestead only to find him and Amabala missing! So after some discussions we decided to head off and look for another bull of similar colour pattern to photograph. As we drove out the homestead and onto the main road who should walk out the bush in front of us – none other than my Amabala!

Swiftly pulling over and parking the vehicle I set off on foot. What ensued was two hours of growing intimacy with Amabala and over 300 photographs! Shortlisted down to six photographs the eventual final choice now resides proudly on our statin black launch bottle of gin.

Mr Khumalo received his commission and will receive royalties on every bottle sold in the Amabala range!

Hell I may even buy Amabala one day.

Carl Grossmann

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