Seduced and boulder-ed over

2012-02-03 07:40

When I was a child, I used to ask my father a childish question every time we visited his place of birth, Ga-Mashashane, a village of giant boulders and rocky hills about 30km north of Mokopane in Limpopo.

“Who,” I would ask, “put these big rocks here?”

Who could blame me? I was a child of the township, where the hand of man had built rows upon uninspiring rows of dull matchbox houses.

I was mesmerised by the beauty of these imposing boulders that towered over people, cattle, houses and everything else.

I was even more intrigued by the shapes of some of these madwala (boulders in isiNdebele, the language spoken here). Some looked like the heads of very ugly people, others like sweets and most like massive makaku (round portions of pap).

The beauty and size of these natural wonders seduced my childish eyes.

I couldn’t understand how a rock the size of my father’s Nissan E20 Kombi could remain balanced precariously on an even larger rock for ages without falling. Or how houses looked like toys under the massive shadows of the boulders.

Sometimes, when visiting relatives whose houses stood near some of these rocks, I imagined them rolling over suddenly and grinding the earth-built thatch-roofed houses into the ground.

Recently, my obsession with the rocks led me to a walkabout around the village. I asked people the same childish question I asked my late father, Kgwadi, about 30 years ago.

I found no one who knew the answer, but I did learn a few myths and beliefs about some of these imposing rocks. There are hills where one is required to pick up a little stone and throw it up a hill before attempting to ascend.

There’s a giant rock near Ngopane Hill that is shaped like the shaft of a spear. It is believed to be haunted by the spirit of the serpent Mamogashwa. It remains taboo for anyone to even think about climbing this rock.

The rock’s narrow tip often glistens with water, which is believed to be the preserve of the serpent Mamogashwa. Once in a while, they say, Mamogashwa moves from Ngopane Hill to one of the rivers or dams across the land to give birth, often leaving fierce storms in her wake.

On a windy summer morning recently, I walked up Boetse Hill with my 10-year-old guide, Lebogang Maleka, whose home is situated on the edge of the hill.

The lively young lad, who seems to know the hill like the palm of his small hands, says villagers whose homes are situated at the foot of the hill often have to contend with a troop of rogue baboons that raid their fields, helping themselves to mealies and water.

Mme Kekana, the Malekas’ neighbour who was working in her mealie field that morning, says the baboons are fearless.

They sometimes even jump over her fence in broad daylight, casually walk across the field to pick a mealie or two, then return to the safety of the hill like someone returning from buying bread from the store.

Young Lebogang says that sometimes daring groups of young men ascend right to the top of Boetse Hill to hunt for rock dassies and harvest wild fruit. Apparently, the flat rocks on the hilltop bear imprints of giant human footsteps.

I was curious to see these for myself, but tales of people coming scurrying down the hill fleeing from baboons pelting them with stones or even fresh, hot stinking primate sh*t put paid to my plan to get right up to the summit.

Still, the hill offers a stunning view of the village’s myriad rocky hills and distant mountains.

But perhaps the most beautiful of these is the two giant rocks that stand balanced precariously – one on top of the other – behind the royal homestead where Nkxosi Magadangele Ledwaba presides over tribal matters.

It is believed that this area, behind Ngopane Hill and just opposite the more rugged hill of Ramahute, is home to the spirits of the ancestors of the MaNdebele people.

Perhaps the beauty of these rocky hills is, as everyone tells me, because these rocks were put here by the gods.

I don’t know.

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