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JOHANNESBURG -- It's much more prevalent than a butterfly, and the noise it makes sounds like a bunch of stinging bees.
It's been called obnoxious, been blamed for World Cup losses and television viewers have complained that its constant presence makes it virtually impossible to watch a World Cup match without a supersized bottle of Advil.
Meet the vuvuzela, a plastic horn that has become the official villain of the 2010 World Cup.
The African noisemaker has, well, created a lot of noise -- especially from some of the top players. Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo said the incessant buzzing made it impossible to concentrate on the pitch.
Said Argentina's Lionel Messi: "It's impossible to communicate. It's like being deaf."
Added France's Patrice Evra: "We can't sleep at night because of the vuvuzelas. People start playing them from 6 a.m."
Bleat, bleat, bleat.
The vuvuzela is merciless on the ears, but what sounds even worse is all of this complaining and whining about an $8 plastic horn.
It just reeks of cultural arrogance. The way some people are acting it's as if African fans were the first fans to invent a way of rooting for their teams that annoys people. In other words, one shouldn't throw ThunderStix in glass houses.
Frankly, I'm amazed at the furor. There's even a website (http://www.banvuvuzela.com/) dedicated to banning the vuvuzela. On the website, more than 80,000 people have voted on whether to ban the vuvuzelas, and so far 74,847 have voted against the noisemakers. Although you can still view the voting results, the website had to be shut down because it generated so much traffic.
"You know it can sometimes be a little harder to communicate," said Netherlands defender John Heitinga. "You have to deal with that, all countries have to deal with that. Who knows, it might get banned, but that's not up to me."
Thankfully, FIFA president Sepp Blatter cleared the air on Monday, saying he fully supported the use of vuvuzelas and that it would be disrespectful for FIFA to come in and change an African tradition. Blatter's comments came after World Cup organizing committee chief Danny Jordaan hinted previously that banning the vuvuzelas might be an option.
"It's our culture," said Trmon Zamba, a South African fan who has two vuvuzelas on his pickup truck. "It can be loud, but it's good for us supporters."
The point of having the World Cup in South Africa isn't to give the tournament a flavor that's European, American or South American. The point is to accept Africa as it is, and that means dealing with the bleating noise that comes with it.
Whereas shooting cheap T-shirts from a cannon is nothing more than a marketing gimmick, at least the vuvuzela is rooted in a real tradition.
The vuvuzela's roots can be traced back to the kudu horn, which was made from an antelope horn. The kudu horn was blown in African villages to summon villagers to meetings or signify other traditional happenings in the community.
Pedro Epsi-Sanchis is a music educator who formed a vuvuzela orchestra that plays throughout Cape Town. The orchestra also has played at soccer games, including a U.S.-Africa match in 2007 during the Nelson Mandela Challenge at Ellis Park. He thinks the vuvuzelas are a perfect instrument for a soccer game, no matter how off-key.
"It's a way for African fans to demonstrate their excitement when a goal is scored or when there is a near miss," said Epsi-Sanchis, whose orchestra blends the sound of the vuvuzela in effortlessly with cellos, violins and flutes. "It's very powerful."
Besides, it's not just the African fans that use the vuvuzelas. Fans of every World Cup team have blown them delightedly to show support for their national teams.
"Just wear your earmuffs," said Emanuel Ugwu, an Australian who extended his stay in South Africa to see the World Cup. "C'mon, this is the spirit!"Jemele Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org