The meaning of Mafunyane
Mafunyane was one of a renowned group of ‘big tusker’ elephants that lived in South Africa’s Kruger National Park over thirty years ago. Collectively named after the 1960 Hollywood movie, the ‘Magnificent Seven’ became poster boys for the park’s conservation efforts. They even have an entire museum dedicated to them at Letaba Camp, where I lived and worked for a year in 2005.
The most famous of the Magnificent Seven was named after quick-tempered park ranger Lou Steyn, whose Tsonga nickname (Mafunyane) meant ‘the irritable one’.
Like his namesake, Mafunyane the elephant showed “disdain and intolerance” of humans. His irritation might have been due to a 10cm-wide hole in his head (thought to have been created by the attacking tusk of another elephant), which penetrated so deep he was able to breathe through it. His 2.5m long tusks were also so straight that they dragged against the ground as he walked. Despite all this, he lived to the ripe old age of 57 and is thought to have died of natural causes.