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Open Features: Boy Scouts

Marianne Hall tells of the origins of the Boy Scouts’ song.

‘Een-gon-yam-a Gon-yam-a In-voo-boo!
Ya-Boh! Ya-Boh! In-voo-boo!

‘He is a lion! Yes! He is better than that:
He is a hippopotamus!’

The Eengonyama song is a chant the Zulus used to sing to their Chief. It has been adopted by the Scout Movement, is known as the “Scout’s Chorus” and is shouted on marches, used as applause at games, meetings and camp fires.

July 31 marks the anniversary of the inauguration of the movement founded in 1908 by Sir Robert Baden-Powell.
Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell was born in London on 22 February 1857. In 1870 he gained a scholarship to Charterhouse School. At nineteen he joined the 13th Hussars and did military service in India. In Africa he fought against the Zulus, the Ashanti and the Matabele. He was much respected by the tribesmen and given the name of Impeeza – ‘the wolf that never sleeps’ – because of his amazing tracker abilities and scouting skills.

The idea of a Boy Scout Scouting for Boys movement originated in Mafikeng Town, formerly Mafeking, part of Mmbatho, the capital city complex of the North West Province of South Africa. The year was 1899, and the British forces at Mafeking were under siege by the Boers in the early months of the South African War. The town was held by a garrison of 800 men commanded by Robert Baden-Powell. The boys of the town were organised into a non-combatant corps, known as the Mafeking Cadet Corps. They carried messages and acted as orderlies, risking their lives under heavy fire. Those first scouts well deserved their medals at the end of the war.

Baden-Powell wrote Aids to Scouting in 1899 and this was soon used in boys’ schools. A handbook, Scouting for Boys, in six fortnightly parts illustrated by himself followed, and he realized that scouting was to be his real life job. He resigned from the army in 1910.

In 1920 the first Jamboree was held in London, and he was proclaimed ‘Chief Scout of the World’. ‘B.P’, as he was affectionately known, travelled extensively throughout the world promoting the movement. B.P was influenced by African tradition and incorporated much of their knowledge in his teachings. The ‘Scout’s Dance’ originated from the young men of the Kikuyu tribe.

Zulus learn ‘scouting’ young. When a boy is considered old enough to become a warrior he is stripped of his clothing, painted white all over, given a shield and a spear, and turned loose in the bush. He has to outsmart his enemies, keeping alive until the paint wears off, which usually takes a month. An animal has to be killed for food and clothing, a fire to be made, a shelter erected for protection against the elements and wild animals. It is imperative he remains well hidden and leaves no tracks.

Drums have long been used in Africa to signal messages from village to village. The Scout uses the Morse Code – based on sound lengths. In South Africa tracking is known as ‘spooring’. The Zulu scout crawls on all fours, flat on the grass. Movements are slow, and he keeps his head steady to blend in with the surroundings. He walks on the balls and not the heels of his feet. The emphasis is on survival.

Scouts receive training in woodcraft, mountaineering, path finding, signalling, hut building, bridging, camping, observation, spooring, stalking, the eco-system, health, disease and life saving. In a wider context the movement aims at nation building. Personal qualities of trust, loyalty, usefulness, courtesy, chivalry, endurance, obedience, cheerfulness, thrift, cleanliness and self-discipline are instilled and developed.

‘Help your country, and be of service to others who may be in need of help’ said Robert Baden-Powell. ‘That is what the best men are out to do’.



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