Sunday, 16 September 2012

Huberta the hippopotamus

The journey of Huberta the hippopotamus began in 1927 north of the Black Umfolozi and ended in April 1931 south of the Buffalo river, near East London in South Africa.

Lowry refers to the journey of Huberta the hippopotamus in his novel Ultramarine; " 'Well, I can't rightly say as I've ever been on a ship with animals before but this much I will say, and I ain't tellin' you the word of a lie, that I was on a ship once that was carrying a stuffed hippopotamus, for Christ sake! She was called Huberta or something of that and she'd been shot in Cape Province, you know, King William's Town. This hippo'd been the bloody masterpiece in South Africa, see? They reckoned she'd walked ten thousand miles and the natives thought she was a goddess or something and sacrificed oxen to her. And I ain't telling you the word of a bloody lie but a special law was passed - nobody could shoot her, see? She walked all the way down from Vongolosi and Lake St Lucia to Durban where she walked into a concert just as they were starting Tchaikovsky's 1812 or or something of that and she walked through the main street of sodding Durban too, only in the end four bastards of farmers shot her-' " (Pg. 127).

The probable source of Lowry's account of Huberta's journey in Ultramarine is in an unidentified news paper as news of the hippopotamus's walk received widespread coverage across the world. The story was also told by G. W. R. Le Mare in his The Saga of Huberta: Being the Tale of the Hippo who Walked Back 100 Years published by Robinson & Company and the Central New Agency in 1931.

The hippo's story was initially publicised in 1928. The press originally called the hippo "Billy", later changed to "Hubert". After her death, her name was altered to "Huberta" when it was discovered that hippo was female.

Among the exploits eagerly followed by the public were appearances at Umhlanga Lagoon, in the city of Durban, various South Coast resorts, and a sojourn in the Nahoon River near East London.  She became known as South Africa's "national pet" and "the Union's most famous tourist".  Crowds of curious sightseers dogged her trek along the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast, often hurling stones, bottles and sticks in order to make her emerge from hiding places. 

On 23 April 1931, her carcass was found floating in the Keiskamma River, 30km from King Williams Town. Great public outrage followed the discovery that Huberta had been killed by a hail of bullets. The killing was discussed in parliament and the police were instructed to investigate. Four farmers eventually appeared in court for killing royal game. Each was fined £25. Huberta's bullet-perforated skull formed a gruesome (and somewhat smelly) exhibit in court...........Amathole Museum

Huberta's body was sent to England to be mounted and returned from London on the S.S. City of Hong Kong in 1932, she was displayed at the Durban Museum.

Lowry's account appears to be accurate in most details - see Geo-Coaching though whether the hippo disturbed a concert remains unknown to date.

Lowry's inclusion of the story in Ultramarine is another example of him using something which is outside the 1927 time line of the novel - see further examples - Love' Crucifixion and Liza

Geoffrey Durrant suggests in his article 'Aiken and Lowry'; "What may seem at a first reading to be a loosely organized novel appears on more careful reading to be carefully constructed, with every detail, however much it may at first appear to be merely casual or anecdotal, taking its place in an elaborate pattern of significance. The sailor's yarn about the hippopotamus Huberta, which wanders four thousand miles to find a tragic fate from the guns of farmers is itself an animal Odyssey." (Canadian Literature 64 Spring 1975 Pgs. 24-40).

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