19 October 2007

Botswana: Phuthadikobo Museum - the 'Custodian' of Bakgatla History

Gaborone — With the No.1 Ladies DetectiveAgency movie, based on Alexander McCall-Smith's best selling book premiering in the United States of America (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (UK) in December, hundreds of thousands of tourists are expected to flock to Botswana, the country of the heroine Precious Ramotswe in the near future.

As Mma Ramotswe was 'born' in Mochudi, it is possible a larger portion of these visitors would like to visit the place. In the same breath, it must be mentioned that Mochudi, as the rest of Botswana, is expected to see an increase in the number of visitors in 2010 during the FIFA World Cup that will be held in neighboring South Africa.

One of the must-visit places in Mochudi for the tourists would definitely be Phuthadikobo Museum, established by Sandy Grant working in concert with the late Kgosi Linchwe II and the Bakgatla in 1976.

Phuthadikobo Museum is perched on Phuthadikobo Hill, which is a spiritual place for the Bakgatla-ba-ga-Kgafela and assimilated merafe. Many decades ago, Phuthadikobo and Modipe hills were the places where the morafe would gather to perform traditional rituals like rain-making and some ancient ritual artifacts have since been recovered from the aforementioned hills. Interestingly, the Phuthadikobo Hill, which is the base of the 'custodian' of the ba-ga-Kgafela history, Phuthadikobo Museum, appears to also be a 'keeper' of legends and myths held in high regard by traditionalist Bakgatla. Even in this era of modernity, some Mochudi residents strongly believe that there is a huge dragon or rain snake, kgwanyape that resides in the hills. It is believed that only those who have been ritually 'strengthened' can be able to look at the terrible monster without perishing in the process.

"I have never seen the kgwanyape myself, but a number of people have reported having seen it," says the curator of the museum, Elinah Grant, the wife of the founder.

The museum is housed in a building built by the late regent Isang Pilane between 1921 and 1923. Pilane is regarded alongside Tshekedi Khama of the Bangwato and Seepapitso III of the Bangwaketsi as one of the pre-independence 'modernist' dikgosi.

At first, the place was formerly the Bakgatla National School and the design is 'a mix of colonial and South African Dutch'. One of the interesting things about the museum is that it is set up in a place that somehow gives the visitor a strange sense of peace and serenity, that could be interpreted by some as a spiritual, not that this is strange given the fact that the Bakgatla regard the place as a spiritual haven.

The place also offers the visitor a scenic view of Mochudi and from it one can see the Notwane River (called Ngotwane by the Bakgatla) snaking its way through the village.

Given the recent rains, the green vegetable gardens along the river are also a wonderful sight to behold from the hilltop. Phuthadikobo Hill also provides the visitor with an exquisite view of other hills like Modipe, Odi and Kgale.

Outside the museum, there are two ox-wagons. According to author Sandy Grant, ox-wagons were last actively used in the 1970s in Botswana and the museum must be commended for having countered the elements and termites so as to preserve these wagons.

The inside of Phuthadikobo Museum is equally enchanting and breathtaking. Mmegi photographer Tsele Tsebetsame remarked that perhaps the museum contains the largest historic photo collection in the country and that was confirmed by Elinah Grant. Most of the photos were taken by Professor Isaac Schapera, Duggan Cronin, Senwelo Sejoe, Francis Phirie and Sandy Grant and date from 1896.

The museum also showcases neck rings worn by the Bakgatla women in the 19th Century, the harmonium (a type of organ) owned by the royal Segale Kgamanyane Pilane, metal hut tax disc from the early 1900's, a collection of Bibles given to different members of the Bakgatla royal family over a hundred years back and Isang Pilane's tractor.

According to some accounts, Pilane was the first Motswana to own a tractor and in this case a 1936 American Case. Phuthadikobo has also been able to secure three bellows that were made in 1862. According to Sandy Grant, there are only four such bellows in the country and one is at the National Museum in Gaborone.

In the museum, there are also initiation drums, which are said to be from the 19th century. It is interesting to note that these drums could have been brought from Moruleng in the former Transvaal when the Bakgatla came to settle in Mochudi under the leadership of Kgosi Kgamanyane in 1871. These ceremonial drums are only made available on request.

As most 'district museums' in the country, Phuthadikobo is going through financial challenges. In an attempt to sustain itself, the museum sells wall hangings, calendars, t-shirts, bags and table-cloths. All these items are designed and printed within the museum in the 'curio shop'. Phuthadikobo Museum also allows local artists to display and sell their artworks through the 'shop'.

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