Vol.23 No.94

Monday 26 June 2006    





Cartoon Strip

Business Week



Arts/Culture Review




The Legend

By Mogomotsi Moloi

6/26/2006 4:51:41 PM (GMT +2)

KUBU ISLAND: Kubu is Setswana for hippopotamus. One may conclude that the island was named after the animal because hippos are numerous there, but that is not the case.

A senior tour guide at the national monument, Mmoki Boatametse, explains that the name originated from Allen Berger, a historian, who had difficulty pronouncing the word lekhubu, a Setswana name for a hill and he shortened it to kubu. Boatametse says the original name of the island was Gaing-o - a Sesarwa word for hill - but the Mmatshumu community opted to use the name Kubu because Berger had already marketed the area by that name. Situated 40 km north of Mmatshumu village in the Boteti sub district, Kubu Island is rich in cultural and historical sites. Today, Mmatshumu community runs an eco-tourism project at Kubu Island dubbed Gaing-o Community Trust. The project, which employs 11 locals, kick started in 1999 and helps the youth of the village earn a living. The fascination with Kubu is simple. It is believed that in the past, the hill was used as an initiation centre for boys. It has the shrine, stone piles, look out point, cave and stands - some huge baobab trees. Boatametse says through the project, they want to revive their culture and at the same time find ways of earning a living. From a distance, all you see is an ordinary hill, on closer scrutiny - from all directions of the island, which is sandwiched by Makgadikgadi pans - there are some natural and other manmade physical features that make it unique. Boatametse, popularly known as 'Wago the hero', narrates that Berger compiled a historical pamphlet containing information about the area. He and his companions now use the little knowledge they have together with Berger's pamphlet to narrate the culture and history about the island. A few steps up the hill from the southern part rests a semi-circular stone wall. The Mmatshumu-born Boatametse says the enclosure served as the initiation centre for boys around the 17th century. "Only boys were brought here," he explains. The enclosure is about 70-100m in diameter and 1.2m high. It has two evident loopholes in the walls. "It reads thus there were 24 loopholes, but it is not stated what the holes were used for," Boatametse points out. The next feature after the enclosure to the top are the stones piled in small heaps in a grave-like formation. One interesting thing about the stones is that they are of one size. The senior tour guide says there are two parallel theories about the stones. First, he says, it is believed that those are the graves of boys who died during circumcision - due to haemorrhage. Secondly, it is believed that the heaps were made by boys during graduation ceremonies to mark their presence. "Berger documented that there are 350-500 stones collected in the piles," states Boatametse. He emphasises that the most respected area on the Island is the shrine. That is where local people give offerings to their ancestors. Even some churches organise their rituals there. Boatametse says people of Mmatshumu are a cultural society and they respect the island. He observes that usually they bring powder from the Thambotha tree (morokodi), snuff, clothes buttons and coins as a form of appreciation to their ancestors for goodwill. The hill also has a ritual place. According to the information on record from Berger, that is where the unnamed "leader of the great Zimbabweans stayed" during the intertribal wars. To prove the hill was once a human habitat, there are some pottery and fragment remains and beads made from shells and bones. "Some years back bush men used to ask the gods for permission to hunt around this area. During a hunt if their prey escaped in the direction of the hill, they did not follow it. They believed that it escaped to their ancestors therefore they would not kill it," recalls Boatametse. Apparently other tribes like the Bakalaka pray for rain and good harvest at Kubu Island. The only modern feature on the hill is the lookout point. Though without proper evidence it is said this was constructed by geologists. It is a cement block built on top of the hill and is the highest point in the area. "It is rumoured that about 35 years ago, there was a lake called Makgadikgadi Pallio. The dam was 40m deep. Due to the gradual tilting of the plates, the lake dried up and as the water became saline, chlorine accumulated on the rocks until it became an island," Boatametse explains the island's origin. Kubu Island is also a campsite. It has 13 campsites marked by stones and visitors are expected to keep maximum silence because the place is highly spiritual. "Our clients, mostly whites, are impressed by the natural appearance and they come for adventure," says Boatametse adding that their business is at its peak from April to August. He indicates that tourism contributes to the country's growing economy therefore the area is marketed and kept up to date with relevant resources, to attract more tourists. The tour guide expressed disappointment at the behaviour of some tourists, who are not cooperative and do not want to obey the rules and regulations of the monument. He lamented that they do not get clients during rainy seasons because they get stuck in the pans. Send us your comments about Mmegi newspaper Search For Old Newspaper Editions To advertise contact us through email

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