Walking in the footsteps of our great forebears

2012-01-20 12:50

 A nervous ripple swept through our group of nine when our guide Johannes Masalesa mentioned there was a lion lurking somewhere nearby.

“Ah!” came the chorus, a mixture of shock and curiosity.

For some reason, all eyes suddenly turned to Masalesa’s rifle strapped on his shoulder.

“Where?” we asked, heads turning sideways, scanning the veld for a glimpse of the king of the African bush that apparently lay in wait, seemingly for a New Year’s meal of some tasty human flesh.

We all waited in anticipation for Masalesa to advise on the next step. We had just emerged from an underground archeological display at the bottom of Mapungubwe Hill, a Unesco World Heritage Site located at the Mapungubwe National Park in Limpopo. We had enjoyed an intriguing half-an-hour lesson about the history of Mapungubwe, which we are told, was a thriving Bantu civilisation between the years 1200 and 1270.

Masalesa, himself a descendent of the people of the great city of Mapungubwe, fused his deep knowledge of the area’s history with a wicked sense of humour. He paused often to invite questions from us and responded patiently to them.

But it was the issue of the lion apparently lurking nearby that almost spoiled what was a beautiful New Year’s day afternoon. That was until, of course, we spotted a mischievous smile on Masalesa’s dark-as-night face.

“Aaaahhh!” a chorus of relief greeted Masalesa’s explanation that the “lion” was actually the 147 steps that awaited us to get to the top of the ancient hill where, we were told, the royal family, advisers and wise men and women of the Mapungubwe dynasty resided.
But as we made the punishing ascent up the wooden stairs, I wondered if some of the older and bigger people in our party didn’t wish they were better off facing a real lion than this demanding task. But it turned out to be good fun, with the stronger among us often stopping to help those struggling.

Earlier, we had left the safety and comfort of our game-viewing vehicle and walked quietly in single file through a beautiful natural amphitheatre made up of sandstone hills and giant rocks. A troop of baboons suddenly appeared from a nearby hill, volunteering itself as car guard.

We had walked only a few minutes when we spotted a herd of elephant munching on trees about 50m away. Some of the gentle giants paused briefly to give us a curious look before resuming grazing. The view from the hilltop is spectacular, particularly the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers which shimmered in the distant northwest.

Masalesa explained that in the olden days, the people of Mapungubwe believed it was taboo to point out the hill to strangers or to even mention it by name. Those who violated this rule, were believed to have bad luck visited on them in the form of lightning strikes or illness.

As we descended the hill, the black clouds that had been steadily moving towards us from the south, suddenly unleashed a mild shower of rain.

Walking back to the game- viewing truck, I wondered if the rain wasn’t perhaps a sign that the Mapungubwe gods were sending their blessings .?.?.

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