Sinterklaas arrived in Holland well before America’s Black Friday, so advertisers have been promoting small toys for those shoes by the fire-place. Sinterklaas will be stopping by our house this coming weekend to fill the footwear, meanwhile I see the ads like this one and reminisce.
Stuffed animals were some of my cuddliest friends as a child, but I seem to recall it was quite difficult to find exotic beasts in our local Kentucky stores. When I sat on Santa’s knee in Lexington and received a baby elephant, I named her Ella and announced she needed a Mama by December 25th. None could be found.
Poor baby Ella. Did she ever get a Mama?
Did she ever! Her Mama elephant was like no other. With a pink gingham body and huge rose-colored polyester ears, Mama Elephant (as she was dubbed) arrived that Christmas with all the hand-made touches my own mother designed in her efforts to make sure her own doll baby, Kristin, would not be disappointed come Christmas morn.
Days gone by, before Beanie Babies produced every animal we have ever heard of and some we have not in palm-sized forms.
What if your toy company was only going to make a set of four or maybe five stuffed animals? What would they be?
This is why I wanted to share this Dutch advertisement. A stack from bottom to top of elephant and lion (obvious classics), a hippo (less obvious), a rhino (interesting), and…what’s that on top? Is that a water buffalo? I had to find out why this creature was the pinnacle of the stuffed-toy stack in The Netherlands.
My historian husband informed me that the featured bovine was a Cape buffalo, the African cousin to the Asian water buffalo.
As in Cape Town?
Yes, he said, reminding me that long before modern South Africa was a British colony, it was a Dutch colony (Cape Colony). In fact, the Dutch East Indies Company set up a way-station in 1652 for their ships traveling to and from Asia that turned into colony much to their chagrin. Afrikaans is one of the eleven official languages of modern South Africa and the one descended from and closely related to Dutch. You can get by with Afrikaans in Holland, and I have been known to mistakenly assume a new friend was “Dutch” only to find out she was South African.
All these pieces came together for me, an expat whose history knowledge is sorely lacking, and now I see how the great Cape Buffalo found his way to the top of the stuffed toy stack in Holland. Of course he did! Check out the size of his ears and the way they hang down below his horns. Who wouldn’t want a stuffed Cape buffalo?
Now that I think about it….uh, Santa? If you’re not too busy…
Kristin King is an author, animal lover, nonprofit co-founder, and American expat living in The Netherlands. Thinking about giving beyond friends and family? Consider Future Hope Africa, breaking the cycle of poverty through education one child at a time.