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Exploring Botswana’s wild

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VILLAGE ELDER: Reverend Omphile Bojopo

Goo-Moremi – the village of the Ancestors

Home to the rock that broke into pieces when Sir Seretse Khama died

I had heard a lot of scary stories about GooMoremi ancestors. People claimed that going to the village at night was doing so at own risk and that the ancestors had to approve before one sets his/her feet into the ‘sacred place’.

This according to my experience turns out to be all lies.

I intended to go to the village two weeks but the trip was cancelled because it was late. I must say I started to suspect that the ancestors did not want me snooping in the village. Come last Saturday, however, I was so determined to go that it was going to take much more than ancestral disapproval to stop me.

1200 I leave Gaborone.

1400 I arrive in Palapye and get something to eat. After having my fill, I start asking people the way to Moremi and I can see confusion and fear in the eyes of some. “What are you going to do in that village!? Aren’t you afraid of Badimo?

1430 I am on my way to the Bobonong junction, but I stop at the bus stop to confirm if I am on the right track. “You have to go back to the Martin’s Drift junction,” I am told. Confused I make a u-turn, but when I get to the stop on the opposite direction I decide to confirm again and I am told to go to the Bobonong Junction. By this time I am starting to believe that the Badimo are playing games with me, maybe to scare me off.

1610 I finally find the turn off to Moremi after stopping several times to ask people on the road side just to make sure I haven’t passed it. A few minutes after the second turn I start to smell snakes and I can feel my hair becoming kinkier and my skin developing goose bumps as fear sets in. I remembered one of the stories I had heard that Badimo can manifest themselves as huge black snakes.

1645 The village appears and I can feel a sense of relief as some of the fear escapes. It is just like any other Setswana village; a mixture of traditional huts and modern house as well as quiet and curious onlookers as I pass. I am wondering what lies ahead as the car rolls down to the Kgotla.

I can now clearly see the majestic Tswapong hills and I can understand why people’s imaginations run out of control. I stop at the Kgotla, but there is nobody. The chief does not live in the village but comes to the village in the morning then retires to his house in Palapye.

A shop assistance in a nearby store tells me all visitors must see DC (Boitshepo Otsweleng) and shows me the way to his house. DC is a field assistant for the national museum and he is going to take me to the much feared gorge.

He tells me that it is not a good idea to go camping as it rained and he is afraid my car, a toyota Avanza might get stuck in the clay mud and advises me to go back to Palapye and return in the morning.

HOLLY WATER: One of the many Moremi waterfalls

I go to the local bar- I’m actually surprised there is one because I was told booze is not allowed in Moremi. I get into the bar and find some villagers sharing Chibuku brew. The stories I come with are news to them. Though one of them says he has heard something like that, he hastens to say that it is all rumours by people who haven’t even set foot in the village.

1845 I start off for Palapye. The smell of snakes is not giving me fear anymore, now that I know there are no big black talking snakes in Moremi.

0855 I am back in Moremi and I find DC has organised his friends, Bonewamang Mokhure, Tlhalefang Moilwa, Fox and Hazard Tsholofelo, to come with us to help us push should we get stuck. Because my companions have already ruled out the possibility of coming across giant spirit snakes, the only thing I am still to see is the boulder that is believed to have fallen to pieces when our first president, Sir Seretse Kgama, died

We cross a small bridge and after about a couple of hundred metres we get stuck in the black clay mud and struggle for at least 20 minutes before we manage to pass.

0930 In the distance I can see the yellow machine that is unmistakably earth moving machinery and I remember somebody had said I would find a dead earth moving machine belonging to a company that was trying to build a road. I get relieved when DC tells me that there are some developments taking place.

The machinery belongs to Wharic, the company contracted by Tourism Board to build chalets for tourist visitors. I am also informed that Manase, a fencing company has started work on the fence and there are going to be animals introduced to the enclosure so that tourists can have more to see.

After going past six chalets of different sizes we start to descend to the gorge, Manonnye (the place of the vultures). We pass two camping sites, Day’s camp and Kgosipedi camp- I was going to camp here yesterday- and we stop at a place that DC explains used to be a tobacco garden. There are a couple of information boards, one with the history of Moremi village, and I’m relieved there is none warning of giant snakes.

Soon we are walking between two hills and I am about to see one of the most beautiful sites in the country. Water, which none of my companions have any clue where its coming from, is making its way around rocks in the opposite direction. I later find out from the UNESCO website that “absorbed rain water seeps through the porous rock along fault zones as springs.  These springs give rise to streams forming waterfalls with deep moss-edged pools”.

Before long we arrive at the place where pieces of Seretse’s alarm rock lie. DC shows me two pieces of rock and says; “When Lady Ruth Kgama died this stone also broke into pieces.” Amazing stuff.

After much amazement and a lot of climbing to avoid the pools we come to the third pool with water falling from a very tall cliff making a very beautiful waterfall.

1220 It has started to rain and DC suggests we get back before the slippery spot becomes impassable.

1315 We are in the village heading to a Badimo medium, Mokhure Lengonapelo and I cannot hold back my excitement.

1325 We are waiting for the old man who comes after about 15 minutes. I introduce myself and tell him what I have come to do. He is not satisfied and asks me again who I am. I tell him my names again and instead of saying I am from The Voice I say I am from Marapong and add that I am also a Mopedi.

To this he smiles says something I do not understand and then gets up and says; “Your time will come.” He then head to one of his huts and disappears inside. DC hints that the old man might be consulting Badimo.

After about an hour he still hasn’t come out of his hut so we get worried and then it dawns on us that maybe when he said my time would come he meant that he would not talk to me today. We ask Bonewamang to go remind his father that he has visitors. He hesitates and then after a while he goes to knock on the door. After chatting with his father he comes back to us and informs us that the old man has said he is done with us.

1420 Disappointed we leave the old man’s yard to see a headman who is also not able to help us with any information. He directs us to Omphile Bojopo’s yard across the street.

Bojopo is wearing a cream white blazer and a striped shirt which he says were given to him by President Ian Khama Seretse Khama. Apparently Khama is an annual visitor to the village and hills and on one of his visits he had bought the village elders suits.

The old man who is a preacher in a church called Revelation tells me that the Badimo shrine in the village is like that of Nswazwi’s people. “We are the same people with BakaNswazwi. In fact had there been land here Mhaswa would have come because he wanted to come to his people.”

SIR SERETSE KHAMA’S ALARM ROCK: Pieces of the rock that fell down when SSK died

Bojopo also confirms that the story about the fallen rock and Seretse is true. “He was the owner of the land that man. I was at Masimo, (the lands) and it is quite a distance from here, when I heard a big explosion. When we went to Manonnye to investigate we found the rock had fallen and the following day we heard that Seretse had passed away the previous day. That’s when we knew it was an alarm.

The old man also explains that the only time that people are not allowed in the village is when there is Mophaso (a ritual whereby somebody’s ancestors are called to solve problems). I also learn that there was a Mophaso the previous night and if I had come after 12 mid-night the car would have stopped at the junction until the ritual was over.

1510 I leave Moremi satisfied after a great tour of the Tswapong hills and the information I got. I am wondering if the car would have stopped. It would have made an even greater story.