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Archaeologists and modern day witch doctors

Every society has fears, real and imagined. In traditional African society one such fear was a threat from a witch doctor. For example, if your cattle strayed into the farm of a witch doctor you would hasten to pay generous compensation before he made you 'see a miracle'.
By *PHILLIP SEGADIKA (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Archaeologists and modern day witch doctors








If, however, his cattle strayed onto your farm you would be expected to suffer in silence as witch doctors were thought to possess powers, including control of where lighting would strike next.  During last week's international conference of archaeologists here in Gaborone I discovered that scribes can be modern day witch doctors, at least if the altercation between Sandy Grant and some university archaeologists is anything to go by. 

At the centre of the row was the fact that Sandy Grant was attending an archaeology conference without paying the registration fee.  I would have thought these would not be required from a scribe as he could be covering the proceedings.  However, the archaeologists claimed, he was also selling his books in an area reserved for entrepreneurs who had incurred stall and conference fees.

I have no desire to interfere in the dispute between learned diggers and our respected heritage scribe.  Yet we watched helplessly as both sides failed to see any opportunity for compromise and resolution.  After all Grant was offering his Botswana based books to a conference attended primarily by people from outside Botswana - the conference organisers should have actually begged him to offer the books for souvenirs sake!  Yet, in the unnecessary furor, I was taken aback by the helpless Grant, as he made what I assumed would only be a witchcraft-type threat 'you will see...I will write about this in my next column' as he was shown the door by men in uniform.

Grant's threat was not empty.  True to his word, Grant did make archaeologists 'see miracles' by negative publicity through his column The Monitor's Etcetera of Monday July 8, 2013. By the power of his craft, Grant named and shamed the offenders who evicted him from the conference area, poured scorn on the archaeology conference and suggested that the public relations etiquette of the archaeology profession is as archaic and barbaric as its time scale.

Except he misfired, as the Nonofho Ndobochani he accuses, was not at the scene of the crime - and the altercation took place right under my nose.  Instead, it was an 'archaeologist' who looks very different from Ndobochani and who hails from the same district as Sandy's Kgatleng.  Back to traditional society, I suspect that even witch doctors can err when they send lightning to blaze a target - after all they too are human.  I was also left wondering how witches compensate victims of their missed target.

In a modern

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day scenario the falsely accused Ndobochani could sue, or request that a 'matter of fact' correction notice be placed in the next Monitor. When a witchdoctor strikes his target, it is the society that mourns and bears the cost.  This unfortunate treatment of Grant, and his focus on the same, has robbed the nation of excellent feedback on some of the most important presentations of the Association of Southern Africa Professional Archaeologists (ASAPA).

To name but a few, Professor Sheila Coulson, of the University of Oslo, Norway, presented the implications of silcrete provenancing based on research from an international team researching at Tsodilo and the Ngamiland; Apparently due to the signature capacity of silcrete (a type of rock commonly used in the Stone Age), this team has discovered a method of determining exactly where this specific raw material was hewed from.All Stone Age archaeologists will be referring to this Botswana work to answer issues of raw material sourcing for their artefacts.There were many other excellent presentations including one by Vasco Baitseseng who demonstrated convincingly that, since independence, no other Botswana president has invested in the arts and culture and the development of heritage sites to the extent of H.E. Seretse Khama Ian Khama.  Bonny Leeuw of Rusternburg presented a cautionary paper.

Her treatise was on how the profit-driven BTO strategies of hiring professional management companies at heritage sites could backfire with alienation of communities - thus defeating the initial objectives of the Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM). A much discussed paper by Mosothwane highlighted the fact that many human remains from Southern African archaeological sites are stored in numerous USA university laboratories.

A follow-up of this paper shows that while several of Tswana ancestors are in the USA, in the case of Botswana we have rather more in Europe, overdue for repatriation and a resting in peace.  Overall, as the conference demonstrated, Botswana plays a critical role to play in establishing that the infamous English Professor Trevor Ropper was wrong to suggest that 'Africa has no history'.Archaeology offers a privileged opportunity to unveil how our predecessors lived because written records of our region go back only a few hundred years, while most oral records fade even sooner.  So then, perhaps Grant's recent vitriolic attack against archaeology was as misguided as the reasons for denying him unrestricted access into the ASAPA conference.

*Phillip Segadika is Chief Curator at the Botswana National Museum.  He writes in his personal capacity.

 

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