African Seeds

The Kudu Horn of the Matabele


The Kudu Horn and the Matabele

The kudu is one of the largest and most beautiful antelope in Africa. It is also the origin of an obscure tradition in Scouting: all over the world, the elegant spiral horns of the kudu, hollowed out as a wind instrument, are used as signal horns to call Scout camps and training courses together.

In the 1890s, Baden-Powell fought in the Matabele campaign in what is now Zimbabwe. The Matabele warriors had a unique method of military signalling, using the deep note of a kudu horn to carry coded signals over long distances. After the campaign, B-P took one of these horns home as a trophy - the horn had belonged to the Matabele officer Siginyamatshe.

The Kudu Horn and Scouting

At the Brownsea Island camp in 1907, the first Scouts were woken every morning by the sound of B-P's kudu horn. B-P had brought together some of his favourite military trophies to inspire the boys. He was a master storyteller and never missed the chance to remind Scouts of the heroic frontier expolits he was famous for.

The Brownsea Camp led on to the birth of the Scout movement, and later B-P gave his kudu horn to the new Scoutmaster training ground, Gilwell Park outside London.

In 1929, the 21st birthday of Scouting was celebrated in a World Jamboree at Arrowe Park. Baden-Powell used the same kudu horn to call the Jamboree together.

Today many Scout camps and training grounds around the world still use the kudu horn to signal to Scouts and campers. You can find out more about The Kudu Horn and Scouting on the Pine Tree Web.

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Horn sketch from Frederick Selous, A Hunter's Wanderings in Africa, 1881. Taken from The Pine Tree Web
Kudu photo from Getaway magazine, November 1997.