The Helle is a Norwegian knife. The factory was started in 1932 by brothers Steinar and Sigmund Helle. They produced the first knives in a forge on their farm, and soon their knives became world famous – quality products that were simultaneously collectors’ items and everyday working tools. But there was one gap in their collection — a proper African knife.
About a year ago Anders Haglund, a representative of Helle knives in Norway, was introduced to me by Corrie Moolman, the South African agent. Anders was thinking about introducing a Helle knife developed by the Voetspore team for African conditions. We were keen to co-operate.
I asked Anders to come up with a few ideas. Instead, he suggested that we develop the design during our next journey, and so we set off with a few prototypes on our most recent expedition, Voetspore in the Great Rift Valley.
Six weeks into our journey, when we were in Kenya, Anders and Corrie joined us for a few days. Anders was not only keen to develop the knife but also wanted to taste a bit of Africa. And he got quite a mouthful!
Anders and Corrie, accompanied by Corrie’s father-in-law, travelled to Nairobi from Pretoria by road in three days. This meant non-stop driving for hours on end, and they eventually met up with us at Jungle Junction in Nairobi, just as we were about to leave for Ethiopia. Our route north was the road from Archers Post to Marsabit and Moyale. This is one of the most difficult stretches of road on the African continent, through the Chalbi and Didi Galgalu Desert.
We reached the desert by late on a Sunday afternoon and set up camp, not far from the road. Setting up camp in the wilderness is something we are used to. Hearing the laughter of hyenas and the howling of jackal makes us feel at home, but for Anders this was an exceptional experience – a true African safari. He was also keen to look at the handmade axes and knives that the locals produced and used. These tools are even more rudimentary than those that the Helle brothers had made on their farm more than 80 years ago.
Anders had brought us a prototype of his proposed knife, and we had a discussion about the handle, steel and size of the blade. One thing was for certain: we needed a working knife.
The guys prepared an excellent meal, as usual. It seemed as though Anders, Corrie and Wynand enjoyed it, even though they were fully aware of the sounds of the African bush around us.
We went to bed, the Voetspore guys on their stretchers under the awnings of the Amaroks and our guests in their pop-up and dome tents.
Next morning we had breakfast and another brief discussion on the design of the knife. Then we continued on our journey north.
The desert in this part of Kenya is known as a challenging region to travel through at the best of times, but it is even worse when it is flooded by rare torrential rain. As luck would have it, this is what happened when Anders and Co joined us.
Just before Marsabit we were stopped in our tracks by a number of bogged down vehicles. The rain of the previous night had made travelling extremely difficult. But we had no choice — we had to get round the obstacles in our three Amaroks. Our guests, on the other hand, had to turn around. They had to get back to Nairobi and then to SA. We continued to Ethiopia and Djibouti, but not before a brief discussion about the name of the first African knife in the Helle collection.
It was decided to call it the Didi Galgalu — the name of the desert where it got its final design.
Back in Norway the Helle knife makers had to refine our design. It had to be a sturdy knife with a big handle, suitable for a South African man’s hand. And it had to be made of African wood. The decision was made to use teak from Zambia. The knife was fitted with three studs, two sunken ones and the third with a hole for a lanyard to be attached.
We finished our journey at Lac Assal in Djibouti and returned to SA.
In April 2015, the fifth Huntex Expo was held at Gallagher Estate,Midrand. It was time again for Anders Haglund, accompanied by Torodd Helle, son of Sigmund and current owner of Helle Fabriker, to return to SA. It was at Huntex 2015 that the Didi Galgalu was introduced to the world.
Now Helle of Norway has a truly African knife to offer, developed on the continent by local guys!