The Lions’ Song

BJ lions sleeps slide 1

As Beverly and I sit in the darkness in our camp in Duba in Botswana we can see a shape out in the tall grass not far away. We know it is a lioness because she settled down there at sunset and is now fast asleep, quite comfortable just outside of the glow of our small campfire. Sometimes a song will pop into your head at moments like this, songs that just seem appropriate at the time. In some cases a song stays ‘alive’ and enjoyable for decades and gets new life for each generation with each rendition of it.

One example is The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and for most people it is one of those much-loved songs that has survived quite well and drags with it memories, personal and indicative of its era. The Lion Sleeps Tonight actually dates back to the 1920’s and Solomon Linda’s version was called “Mbube,” a name that in Zulu points to the central spirit of the song over generations: the lion.

The song probably warns that it is a particularly bad idea to wake a sleeping lion near the village. It’s a simple message of caution, but it is also a message of magic and the beauty of nature, the quiet jungle at night, the distant roar (or snore) of a lion.

As I listened to the song recently I started considering the different time this song spans, for us, for lions, and those villagers that have to tiptoe around at night.

In 1920 when “Mbube” was written, the confluence of Man and Lions was quite small and unlikely even though there were probably around 1 million wild lions in Africa then. The flashpoints were few because we only numbered less than 120 million people in the whole of Africa.

Forty years later, in 1960, there was an —> Read More