Michael and I have just emerged from a torrid several weeks of responding to our UK editor’s suggestions for the third Detective Kubu mystery, Death of the Mantis. The suggestions were excellent and have improved the book. Of course, there was a short deadline because she wants to bring the South African edition out in May.
Death of the Mantis has as its back story the plight of the bushmen in the Kalahari. However I’m not going to discuss that in this blog – perhaps later, after the current set of lawsuits has run its course.
In our book we have created a fictitious place in the middle of the Kalahari, which we call The Place. It is revered by Bushmen, who regard it as the most important religious and cultural site in their world. In the real world, there is a similar place in the Kalahari, that the Bushmen regard as the birthplace of Mankind.
|The Male hill|
It is called Tsodilo, and comprises four hills that rise abruptly out of the desert in northwest Botswana. The largest hill is called The Male by the Bushmen. It is the highest point in Botswana at 1,400 metres above sea level, rising 410 metres above the surrounding desert. Then there is The Female; then The Child. The fourth hill has no name, although it is thought to be the Male’s first wife, whom he left for the taller Female.
|The Female hill|
The Tsodilo hills area was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001. The preservation is only 10 sq. km in extent (about 3.6 sq. miles).
There are probably two reasons for this proclamation. First it has seen human habitation for 100,000 years. The original inhabitants were probably the Bushmen, who are generally acknowledged as being the First People of the Kalahari. There have also been a number of Black tribes, such as the Hambukushu, who have lived in and around the hills. All of them regard the hills as sacred.
The Bushmen believe that the gods made mankind at Tsodilo. They point to the knee-like impressions on The Male – the most sacred of all places - where the First Spirit knelt and prayed after creating men and women. They believe that their ancestors and gods live in the caves and overhangs of The Female. Similarly, the Hambukushu believe that their tribe and its livestock were put on earth at Tsodilo by their god, Nwambe. They point to the hoof prints in rock on The Female in support of their belief.
The second reason for the proclamation of Tsodilo as a World Heritage Site is the stunning rock paintings – over 4500 in all. Although I have not been able to find consensus as to their age, guestimates range from the oldest being 20,000 years old to being 2,000 years old. It is probably one of the two or three richest sites on the planet for such art.
It is not only the number of paintings that is remarkable, but they frequently are of a different style than other sites, the nearest of which is 250 kms away. When I went there, the most stunning painting I saw was that of two whales next to a penguin. One whale is spouting. The nearest ocean, the Atlantic off Namibia, must be 1000 kms away, across some of the most inhospitable and demanding terrain.
|A penguin and two whales|
The older paintings are in red, and the later ones sometimes in white – an unusual colour for rock art. The red ones are made from red ochre extracted from hematite, which is plentiful in the area.
A common image at Tsodilo is of men with semi-erect penises. I have read, but not verified, that it is typical of Bushman men to have a semi-erect penis as their everyday lives. Some people think that the figure paintings represent a trance dance, which results in an altered state of consciousness in which, the Bushmen believe, the dancer can heal the sick and control the natural and supernatural. The dancer can also communicate with the ancestors.
|Bushmen with semi-erect penises|
The highly controversial Laurens van der Post visited Tsodilo (The Lost World of the Kalahari). In it he tells of when his party ignored the advice of his Bushman guide and killed a warthog and steenbok in sight of Tsodilo, which upset the spirits of the hills. When they reached the hills, a camera inexplicably kept jamming, tape recorders stopped, and the party was attacked by bees. These things only came to an end when Van der Post buried a written apology to the spirits below one of the spectacular rock faces.
I know Tsodilo is far off the normal tourist routes, but it is one of the special places on earth. It is intensely spiritual, as well as providing a fascinating glimpse into the past. If you visit southern Africa, I recommend that you put it on your itinerary.
Stan - Thursday