Those who follow my posts will be aware that I have been out of the studio for well over a month, traveling through southern Botswana and the Limpopo Province of South Africa. It was a necessary break, and an opportunity to gather ideas and inspiration for the year ahead. Exactly what will come out of it, only time will tell, but for the time being, I am happy to sit with my experiences and gradually unravel them as the weeks and months go by. Over the next few posts, I will introduce you to some of the characters I met on my journey and share a few of the highlights.
I chose my traveling companion well, for Petra Terblanche is a cultural anthropologist, who has spent many years living in remote places, researching cultural traditions and setting up museums where the public can go to learn more about the different tribal groups and their material culture. Born and raised in Namibia to German parents, Petra studied at Stellenbosch and Pretoria Universities before moving to Limpopo where she became chief cultural officer for the province, and thereafter a freelance heritage practitioner and museum human scientist, still mainly operating within Limpopo, Namibia and Mozambique. Her knowledge of the Limpopo area, with it’s rich history and traditions is immense, and even after ten days of talking as we traveled, I felt that I had only scratched the surface of what she knows. A kindred spirit on so many levels, she was the perfect person to assist me in my quest.
And what exactly was my quest? To get back into the bush, to travel to places I have not been before and to hopefully meet some of the artists who live in the area. The Limpopo Province in renowned for it’s talented sculptors, several of whom I have met on a previous expedition with Petra. When planning the itinerary for this trip, Petra had suggested that we might visit a traditional dance group and go walkabout in the Makgabeng Plateau, a place I knew absolutely nothing about. And then of course, she had promised to take me to the mystical Mapungubwe, a place I have always wanted to experience. So with all this lined up, my adventurous spirit was rearing to go and I knew I had much to look forward to.
The morning after the wedding, we packed our bags in preparation for our journey, and wandered down the pathway to say our goodbyes to the remnants of the wedding party.
We hadn’t got far, when the cheerful owner of the Bahurutshe Cultural Lodge, Mmankudu Glickman, invited us in for a cup of tea. A warm and hospitable lady, we were soon to learn that she is every bit the 21st Century African entrepreneur.
Worldly, yet rooted in her own culture, Mmankudu shared with us how she came to be running the centre.
Throughout her long and interesting life, Mmankudu has traveled extensively, and has been exposed to the ways and traditions of numerous other cultures. On her return to Botswana she had a desire to create a place where travellers could come and experience life in Africa, and in particular her rich Setswana culture, so she developed the facility at Mmankodi Village, approximately 30kms outside Gabarone, which she now runs with her family. The centre is nestled into the indigenous bush and is beautifully organised and maintained. Guests can either stay in traditional Setswana huts in the kgotla or in the more up market en suite chalets, which we found extremely comfortable.
They have a camp site and conference facilities, serve traditional Setswana food and entertain their guests with traditional dancing and storytelling. It’s a beautiful place and well worth visiting. If anyone should be going that way and want to stay the night, you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or (+267) 72419170
Heading out towards Gabarone, our first stop was to collect Petra’s dog and cat, who had been travelling with her from Namibia and had spent the wedding weekend in the kennel.
Still in party spirits, we headed North towards Palapye, a mining town 240kms from Gabarone, and fairly close to the South African border. We decided to stop here for a couple of days and to use it as a base whilst we ventured out to explore the surrounding countryside. The highlight of our time in this area was a visit to Old Palapye, previously known as Phalatswe, once the Bangwato capital and the original home of the Khama family, where we were shown the ruins of both Khama III’ s house and a magnificent old church that was built by the missionaries of the London Missionary Society between 1891 and 1894. To get to this Old Palapye monument, we passed through the village of Malaka, which is on the north west rim of the Tswapong Hills. We stopped to admire the ancient Ana trees that have been fenced off for protection at the centre of the village.
We drove around the village, admiring the many beautifully painted houses and were fortunate to be invited in to watch one proud homeowner hard at work.
Eight kilometres further on, we arrived at old Palapye and after announcing our arrival at the kgotla, we were taken by a guide through thick bush to visit the ruins of the old town centre and church. Apparently at the time of settlement there were up to 30,000 people living in Phalatswe, including resident European missionaries, wagon traders, hunters and adventurers.
The ruins of the church are absolutely spectacular and it is a breathtaking experience to come upon them, standing there so proudly in the midst of the surrounding bush.
As soon as I saw this church, I was reminded once again of the layers of history that have gone before us and the layers of history that are still to come.
Our journey continues in my next post…