Guarding the Flame with Ingwavuma I

In the second StarLion featurette, Linda remembers her Lion Guardian, Ingwavuma I. The “spirit-in-form” lion had entered Linda’s dreams as a child and, later, introduced himself in the flesh – a reminder of the primordial agreement through which we were gifted the use of Fire and all that it represents by way of the continuity of Life.

Of late, I have been haunted by the following question: How will humankind restore our Original Contract? It takes me back to my first book, Mystery of the White Lions, where I explored how the primordial agreement through which we were gifted Fire was broken at the moment we decided to exercise dominion over Nature.

Sharing caves at the Cradle of Humankind with our feline guardians, our ancestors were granted the use of fire. With this gift came the responsibility to uphold the Flame of Life through the day, just as the Lions, as nocturnal predators, hold it through the night.

For the vast majority of homo sapiens’ history, we seemed to honour this contract and maintain the cosmic balance needed for all to thrive – living in harmonious coexistence with all beings, passing the flame on to future generations in the continuity of Life.

However, somewhere along the way, humanity became enamoured by the power of the gift and chose to use it to dominate and control Nature; Mother Earth became a mere “resource” to be plundered and exploited. Fire became our instrument of destruction: firearms, fossil fuels, seismic blasting, atomic bombs… and in that process of dominion, we used Fire to extinguish rather than to perpetuate Life.

In my previous article for Earth Day, I spoke about my experiences in the Kalahari Desert around the burning embers of a small fire with my old friend, Oom Jan Si Ku. He was a profound Khoisan Hunter and healer who, amongst many wisdom teachings, shared the knowledge that in the First Nations language “Lion” and “Star” is the same word: “Tsau!”

His wisdom – and that question of the Original Contract involving Fire – led me back to my own story with my Lion Guardian Ingwavuma, the first “StarLion” I encountered in the flesh.

Medicine people identified Ingwavuma as my ancestral “spirit” guardian, yet he was also a real living, breathing, roaring lion who roamed the wilderness of Timbavati (a name which means “Place where the StarLions came down” in the ancient Shangaan language). Tragically, he was later gunned down by an American trophy hunter on the last day of the month of Leo at the turn of the millennium, a heart-breaking saga that I detail extensively in my books Mystery of the White Lions and Saving the White Lions.

I could not see it at the time, but his death was sacrificial, part of a larger cosmic plan. Ingwavuma’s presence brought a reminder of the primordial agreement that humanity undertook to be in service of Mother Earth, upholding the right use of Fire.

Fire is inherent in all of Nature. And through the photon ray of sunlight, plants synthesize oxygen (“photosynthesis”) which sparks the breath of Life for us humans and countless numbers of other species. At the tip of the Pyramid of Life, the Lion regulates and rebalances all species, thereby ensuring the continuity of Life in a process now named by ecologists “trophic cascading” – guarding the flame from one generation to the next.

This was Ingwavuma’s role.

Ingwavuma I, in the background, was Linda Tucker’s spirit lion guide. It was believed that he carried the last of the rare White Lion gene code. But after his death, White Lions began appearing in Timbavati carrying the very same rare genes that he had likely passed on to lionesses. (Image: National Geographic)


As the apex animal in the ecosystem, and the dominant lion roaming a vast territorial range, Ingwavuma took down only that which was needed, and his governance role meant that he had the favour of females from several different prides in the region.

Ingwavuma was a huge black-maned lion with a body of gold. At the time when I first met Ingwavuma, White Lions were extinct in the wild because of the many forced removals from their natural endemic habitat of Timbavati. However, according to Maria Ndlovu (Khosa), Ingwavuma would sire the future White Lion cubs.

From her words, I understood that this golden lion must possess the rare White Lion genetic code. However at the time that Ingwavuma was targeted as a trophy, I had no way to prove that he was a bearer of the White Lion gene, and unable to justify to the powers-that-be why my Guardian Lion should not be hunted. When Ingwavuma was killed, it seemed the last surviving gene was lost with him.

My project has always united indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) with leading-edge science, and the Global White Lion Protection Trust went on to collaborate with teams of geneticists in seven different countries around the globe. It took many years of collaborative study to finally identify the genetic marker of the White Lions (TY260G>A) in 2013 – too late to save Ingwavuma.

The senseless murder of Nature’s King is exactly the kind of cruel act that epitomises our contractual breakdown with Nature.

However, several years after Ingwavuma’s life was extinguished for the price on his head, White Lions started reappearing in the region – illustrating the flame of continuity in Nature, despite humans’ misuse of Fire. I realised that Maria was probably right: Ingwavuma’s uniquely rare gene was likely passed down through the lineages of lionesses (through a genetic process associated with Mendel’s Law of Inheritance), such that it suddenly reappeared in the local prides two or three generations after his reign.

Through Ingwavuma, I came to realise that Life is a gift, not a right. Life is a sacred gift of the flame: spirit-in-form. We must remember our contract and honour our obligations, failing which we will become the architects of our own destruction.

Lions are the original keepers of the flame. In an evolutionary event in the caves of the Cradle of Humankind, they passed that flame to us, which ushered in the Anthropocene era that we find ourselves in.

Emerging LionHearted Leadership today

Ingwavuma’s killer was driven by the base needs of the homo ut dolor – man as consumer. Consumerism is characterised by greed, waste, and a complete disregard for the livelihood of other sentient beings, and its prominence in modern human history has ultimately frayed the ties between humankind and Nature. Instead of guarding the Flame of Life, we operate under the aggrandised sense that we own the Fire and therefore misuse it to control the world.

But what is the alternative leadership model? What has been shown to me, over 30 years of deep listening and learning from the luminous White Lions is that new-paradigm leadership must be based on the indigenous and shamanic traditions of serving Nature. In my work, I call this LionHearted Leadership™.

As a Guardian of the Flame, Ingwavuma’s legacy survives to this day in my project. Whilst we are on the verge of ecosystem collapse, the White Lions’ message of unification and continuity is the key to preventing catastrophe, and ushering in harmonious coexistence.

This raises the burning question: will humanity use the flame to extract or revive Life? If we honour our Original Contract, we have the opportunity to co-create with Nature and restore Paradise on Earth.

Written by Linda Tucker

CEO: Global White Lion Protection Trust and Linda Tucker Foundation

Author: Mystery of the White Lions (2001) Saving the White Lions (2013) LionHearted Leadership™ (2016)

Creator: LionHearted Leadership™ online training

Speaker: TEDx: Ignite your LionHeart! I speak for the Lions

Feature Image: Linda Tucker’s time with Ingwavuma I might have been short but he had a great impact on her life. His legacy survives in her project of spreading the White Lions’ message of harmonious co-existence with the planet. (Image: National Geographic)

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