Botswana has over 2,500 National monument sites, of which more than 100 have been gazetted. The National Monuments and Relics Act of 2001 ensures that the sites are adequately protected. Most are free to visit and some have full time guides. Continuing the series of articles, MIKE and JEREMY BROOK* cover Tachila Game Reserve, Domboshaba ruins and Lepokole Hills, all within the north-eastern areas around Francistown
Tachila Nature Reserve
Just under 5km from the Francistown city boundary, the Tachila Nature Reserve was established in June 2007 on 82km2 of land donated by the Tati Company.
It is managed by the Tachila Nature Reserve Trust and its eastern boundary is the Tati River. The idea to create the reserve was reached in 2005. Tati Company agreed to lease out the land to Tachila for 99 years and the fencing of the land started in 2009.
The idea of protecting an area of well-preserved natural habitat near Francistown was initiated by Nicky Bousfield, a longstanding resident of the city. Tachila means “saviour of all living things” or “rejoice for we are saved” in the native Kalanga languages. Out of over a hundred entries, “Tachila” was unanimously voted the most suitable name for this inspiring project. The objective of the reserve is to preserve part of the natural and historical heritage of Francistown in order to provide a practical environmental education and recreational facility for its peoples, promote wildlife and other natural resource conservation, and increase local ecotourism potential and employment opportunities.
The reserve comprises varied habitats – open grass fleys, lush riverine habitat, high granite kopje’s, and hosts a variety of animals, including vervet monkeys, leopard, hyena, kudu, impala, bushbuck, duiker, rock dassies, warthog and klipspringer. Some of the naturally occurring rare bird species include the black eagle, fish eagle, giant kingfisher, lappet-faced vulture and boulder chat.
Game species that have disappeared from the area are to be re-introduced to re-establish their historical range and, generally, sustain the areas biodiversity. Some endangered and rare species of game are to be introduced to increase their conservation status and range in Botswana. By creating environmental awareness through a proposed environmental education centre, Tachila will help promote long-term conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources. Eventually rhino, sable, roan, cheetah, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and eland will be introduced onto the reserve. In 2011, Orapa Debswana diamond mine donated 30 zebras to the nature reserve from their own game park.
Tachila works closely with the Mokolodi Nature Reserve, in the south of the country. Mokolodi, a “Tusk” funded project, was created over 20 ago to provide similar facilities to the population of Gaborone. In particular, its education programme has been incredibly successful – over 10,000 children visit Mokolodi each year and Tachila hopes it will have a similar influence on the population of Francistown.
Domboshaba Hill (loosely translated means “red” or “Eland hill”) is located in the North Eastern District in Kalakamati village along the Francistown-Nata Road.
Domboshaba principally consists of dry stonewalls. It was occupied towards the end of the Great Zimbabwe period (1250-1450AD) of the Iron Age. It was a regional trading centre in the classic middle ages. The first part of the site is a hilltop. The second part is at a lower level, in a valley. There are six enclosures on the hill and one main enclosure at the lower level. The most spectacular element is “wall 28” which was rebuilt by archaeologists and incorporates beautiful, flowing dolerite and granite blocks coarsing around boulders and trees.
The archaeology shows that the settlement pattern is such that the chief lived on the hill surrounded by stone walls that formed a series of private courtyard enclosures abutting four houses with thick fire hardened daga floors.
The main enclosure is on the northern end of the site and was guarded by a house on the lower terrace. This is believed to have been occupied by the court clerk whose responsibility was to control access to the chief. In front was an open space that is believed to have been the men’s meeting place.
Below the hill, and to the south is a large stone walled enclosure with a number of daga house remains with hardened house floor remains. This area is believed to have been the residence of the chief’s wives. Commoner houses were believed to be to in the west.
The first reported excavations in Botswana were undertaken here in 1928 by a German group known as the Frobenius Expedition. Chinese celadon porcelain, glass beads and clay birds were found here.
The artifacts and crafts found at the ruins also prove indeed that the Domboshaba hills were an area of trade. Some of these artifacts include gold, copper, ivory, porcelain from China and India, pottery and bones (of both humans and animals).
These items show that Domboshaba was part of the Eastern coast trade network going as far as Mozambique. Most of these artifacts have been taken to the national museum in Gaborone for preservation purposes.
Domboshaba Ruins have a natural habitat that is home to many birds which include swaison’s francolin (lesogo), guinea fowl (kgaka), laughing dove (lephoi), yellow billed hornbill (korwe), quelea (thaga), and the go-away bird (mokowe). Three panels of rock paintings are located behind Kalakamati village Kgotla. The paintings depict a variety of scenes ranging from dance, hunting, finger prints and various animals which were left behind by the ancestors of Basarwa.
The Lepokole Hills are located 25km north-east of Bobonong and are the southernmost extension of the Matopos Hills in Zimbabwe, and are made up of the same immense granite blocks, often piled high into tall castles.
The site main features are a cave entrance, rock paintings and Stone Age ruins of what was once a significant settlement. A community based tourism project for the development of Lepokole is being administered through the Mapanda Conservation Trust.
Lepokole Rock Paintings are located at approximately 8km north of the village of Lepokole and are generally thought to be an extension of the better-studied rock art of Eastern Zimbabwe. Lepokole rock paintings site is painted on a granite panel existing below an overhang that looks like a cave. Depictions of animals were painted using a fine brush even though it is also possible that some of these paintings were done using fingers. The paintings are characterised by a prominent antelope, probably an eland. The panel also has a kudu, 2 rhinoceros, giraffe and several smaller antelopes painted below the prominent antelope.
This shelter has two areas where water drips from two crevices to create a white impression on which the paintings are found. This feature is unique only to Lepokole among all known rock art sites found in Botswana.
This art is probably about 2,000 years old and it is believed that the Late Stone Age people who inhabited the Hill were the artists. Numerous Late Stone Age artifacts have been found near the paintings. The presence of some Late Iron Age ceramics found along the main trail leading to these paintings suggests occupation of the area by some farming groups.
The site is in a bush land rich in plant diversity. Some of the common plants found in the area include lavender fever-berry, red bush willow and knob thorn. Other woody plants in the area are: white syringa, marula, velvet corkwood, mallow raisin, velvet sweet berry, sickle bush, paper bark corkwood, sandpaper raisin, cork bush, velvet bush low, snot apple, umbrella thorn, sjambok pod, low veld cluster leaf, weeping wattle, baobab, mophane, apple-leaf and white raisin. Most of plants found in this area are very useful to the communities living around the site. Morula trees growing in these hills are one of the most useful plants found in this area.
The fruits of this plant are delicious and usually exploited by people for a variety of purposes such as making jelly, jam, sweets and evening brewing of morula alcohol which is a favourite among elderly people.
Kernels of this fruit are also edible as they are highly nutritious. The bark of morula is used for medicinal purposes and is a reliable source of brown dye which is usually used for weaving of baskets. The wood of the plant is used to make a wide variety of household utensils such as dishes, spoons, traditional chairs and stools.
The most outstanding use of the site is related to spiritual use of the rock paintings by several groups of people who frequent the site and use the rock shelter as a shrine where they pray and make offerings to their ancestors. These people believe that this area is a dwelling area for their ancestors and claim that the site offers them an opportunity to have spiritual connections with them. The Stone Age ruins comprise mostly Zimbabwe type stone walls located to the west of the Lepokole rock paintings. The site is located on a plateau between two hills near a gigantic baobab tree. The dry stonewalls comprise gneissic granites that were acquired from nearby hills.
Although little archaeological research has been conducted in the Lepokole ruins, it is likely that the people who lived here were leaders either sent directly from Great Zimbabwe or some chiefs who had copied the Zimbabwe style of elite and sacred leadership as a way of acknowledging the king who ruled over them from Great Zimbabwe. There is a long free standing wall from which short walls that connected houses to the main enclosure created private interior courtyards. *From the book, Wild About Botswana