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Cow Print Blankets: The Incredible Story of The Iconic Nguni Cow Print

February 21, 2022 6 min read

Ngnui cow print blanket lying on couch in contemporary home

Cow Print Blankets are the rage in homes around American learn about the most iconic print of them all.

Did you know: The Nguni cow is very protective of her calf. This motherly instinct is an innate characteristic among all Nguni cows that will muster in a group to protect any young calf. Other cows will also help a cow in labor and ensure the calf and membranes are cleaned up. We find this incredible!

A Nguni cow herd of the Makhathini ecotype

A Nguni cow herd of the Makhathini ecotype image by Justin Jerez

The prominent role the Nguni cattle play in African Culture

Cattle have played a prominent role in African culture from early recorded history. The Nguni breed revered by the Bantu people slowly evolved to withstand the harsh African conditions over thousands of years.

 

Nguni cowhide boasts unique color patterns on each cow, and this trait was used by King Shaka Zulu of the Zulu nation to rank his military units.

 

In modern times, Nguni cow print blankets bring the cultural significance of the Nguni breed into the home.

 

These cow print blankets have unique traits and are manufactured in South Africa by Aranda Textile Mills and made available through Thula Tula. The African blanket range pays homage to African cultures.

 

The range would not be complete without including Nguni cow print blankets, as these African cattle have great symbolic significance among the many different Bantu (Nguni) cultures.

Close up of an Nguni cattle cow

Unique characteristics of the Nguni cattle breed.

Unlike most cattle breeds that came about through selective breeding programs, the Nguni breed evolved naturally through exposure to the harsh African climatic and environmental conditions. Severe life-threatening conditions in Africa's eastern and southern regions have turned the Nguni cow into a formidable survivor in so many ways.

Origin of the Nguni breed.

According to protein analysis, the Nguni breed has gene characteristics from Bos Taurus and Bos Indicus cattle breeds, yet Nguni characteristics place the breed apart from both origins.

 

This research concludes that Nguni cattle were shaped by natural selection in the harsh African environment over thousands of years.

 

The home range of Nguni cattle includes Zululand in South Africa, Swaziland, and Mozambique, an intensely disease-ridden and climatically harsh region with periodic severe droughts and torrential downpours.

 

Nguni cattle can also be found in other eastern and central African countries along the Bantu (Nguni) migration route. 

Other great animal print options

Great maternal instinct.

Nguni cows display unfaltering motherly devotion to their young. A calf is born weighing about 22.5kg and is only weaned when they reach about 175kg or about 40-50% of their body mass.

 

The cow will protect her calf from any predators. This protective motherly instinct is an innate characteristic among all Nguni cows that will muster in a group to protect any young calf.

 

Other cows will also help a cow in labor and ensure the calf and membranes are cleaned up.

 

The mother produces a high quantity of milk for a non-dairy breed and will teach the calf how to forage and what to eat at certain times of the year or season.

Nguni cattle in field in south africa

Nguni cattle are a small, robust cattle breed.

A Nguni bull weighs between 500 and 700kg (1100-1550 lbs.), and cows weigh between 320 and 440 kg (700- 975 lbs.) The bulls have rounded humps, while the cows have an inkling of a hump which is virtually non-existent.

 

What makes these cattle so hardy is their tolerance to heat and light and the fact that cows are less prone to difficult labor (dystocia) due to their small uterus and the low birth mass of calves.

 

They remain productive for many years and can have ten or more calves in their lifetime.

Easy care due to an advanced immune system and a wide-ranging diet.

Ticks and tick-borne diseases play havoc among domesticated livestock within the Nguni region.

 

Yet Nguni cattle have developed a resistance and immunity to ticks and related diseases that significantly reduce veterinary costs as disease incidences are minimal and the mortality rate low.

 

They graze selectively during specific seasons but are known to eat weeds and tree bark when times get tough. If and when available, sweetgrass will be their preference, but they are not likely to go hungry.

 

Where other breeds and wild animals succumb to drought, the Nguni will persevere and even calf in such times.

Unique hide markings complimented with a good temperament.

The cattle have thick oily pigmented skin and fine short hair of different colors: black, white, red, brown, cream, and dun or nut-brown.

 

They have a gentle temperament that contributes to their thermal control, especially in hot conditions.

 

Nguni cattle have traits and characteristics lacking in other cattle breeds, but cross-breeding programs have proved successful. Nguni cows can limit the birth weight of their calves irrespective of the species they are crossed with, and their survival characteristics are also carried over.

 

Calves from cross-breeding programs also sport the typical Nguni color-rich hide, which is sought after as it adds value to an already low-maintenance investment. 

Flat lay of Nguni cow print blanket

The cultural and spiritual significance of Nguni cattle.

Nguni cattle are the Zulu people's prized possession as they play an economic, social, cultural, and spiritual role within Zulu communities.

 

Traditional Zulu villages or homesteads are built around a cattle kraal, and all doors open to face the kraal. A man's status in the community is measured by the number of cattle he owns.

 

Color significance in Zulu Culture 

The color white has spiritual and ritual significance in the Zulu nation. White is associated with purity, harmony, calmness, the absence of pollution and is the color of the ancestors and divine entities.

 

For this reason, any white calf born in a subject's kraal was automatically given to the king.

 

IMAGE:

Utimuni, nephew of King Shaka, strikes a warrior pose 

Utimuni, nephew of King Shaka, strikes a warrior pose

The cultural significance of "lobola." 

Cattle are used as "lobola," a gift of appreciation and acknowledgment of worth from the groom's family to the bride's family.

 

Lobola is often misunderstood as a financial transaction that signifies "purchasing a wife." Cattle have significant economic value, but the value dwarfs this value the bride brings to the social standing of the groom and the creation of a new family.

 

The number of cattle agreed upon reflects the value placed on carrying the Zulu culture forward and does not reflect the current value of the bride, if it can be measured at all.

 

The significance of cattle being a connection to the ancestors brings spiritual blessings for the marriage.

The status of Zulu warrior regiments.

During the 19th century, Zulu warrior regiments under King Shaka were designated different color Nguni hide shields.

 

Black was for the youth or inexperienced warriors, whereas white hides were reserved for the king's elite guard comprised of aged and experienced warriors.

 

Married or mixed regiments used red cattle hides. The king and his advisors could then quickly tell the status of a warrior and who was in charge of a specific unit.

 

Retlaw Snellac Photography from Belgium, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Traditionally Zulu outfits for reed dance

Nguni cattle were named after nature. 

Cattle identification and classification were based on the unique shapes and shades of color on the hide with fitting names taken from images in nature.

 

"The gap between the branches of the trees silhouetted against the sky" is an example of the name given to a spotted cow, and "The hornbill takes flight" for a dark cow that shows a flash of white beneath its flank while walking.

 

Other examples of these poetic names are "sour milk" given to cattle with creamy dun-colored hide and brown or red cattle with large spots and faint white edging were called "The stones of the Ngoye forest."

Cow print blankets carry a legacy rooted in aged African culture.

The Zulu, Sotho, and Tswana people shared the common culture of Ubuntu (humaneness), which helped to empower poor homesteads to own cattle. A rich man would loan a poor man a few cattle from his herd for a few years.

 

The poor man would look after the cattle, milk the cows for nourishment, and keep some of the offspring when the loan was repaid.

 

This type of arrangement benefited both men as the rich man made an ally out of the poor man and reduced the grazing impact of his herd and the risk of his entire herb being infected by disease or afflicted by natural disasters.

 

These arrangements without collateral are unheard of in western societies, yet both families benefit from a wealth growth perspective.

 

Cow print blankets display the essence of African cultures and highlight their dependence on the hardy Nguni cattle breed for their socio-economic, cultural, and spiritual wellbeing. Bantu nations view cattle as Godly or an intermediary between man and God. Cattle are their link to their ancestors, and in Xhosa tradition, a bull must bellow during the preparation ritual of sacrificial slaughter as a sign that the ancestors approve. If the bull does not bellow, the sacrifice does not continue. 

 

There is so much rich history that stems from the colorful, unique hides of Nguni cattle, and taking impressions of this natural art to make warm, comfortable cow print blankets is in its rite a sign of respect and admiration. Cow print blankets and throws from Thula Tula are luxuriously soft and cozy.

 

In essence, these hypoallergenic blankets are keepers of memories, both from the past, the present, and your future memories.

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