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In Sesotho, the native language of South Africa, Naledi means the rising star but the cave named Naledi, tucked in the depth of earth, is almost a black hole. Millions of years ago, it had devoured many dead, though the exact date is yet to be established. Since last week so much of this dark chamber has been exposed in the media that my blog is not going to reveal anything new. But, still, since it has sparked some memories or thoughts in many of us, I would like to share mine.

To begin with, the news of the discovery of a new species of Hominin in South Africa has taken us back to the 1950s to East Africa, to Tanzania and the Olduvai Gorge, where Louis and Mary Leakey discovered hominin fossils and reconstructed a part of the human family tree. In September 1960, the National Geographic magazine covered their story and made Leakeys a household name and Africa the ‘Cradle of Mankind’. In 1999 another site, rich in fossils and located in South Africa, in the northwest of Johannesburg was declared ‘Cradle of Humankind’  by UNESCO, this is where Naledi is located.

Africa is also known to the world for its most precious animal bones. In the ‘Heart of Darkness,’ Joseph Conrad reveals their value through his protagonist Charles Marlow. As a child, Marlow had a passion for maps and he remembers several blank spaces – South America, Africa, and Australia. These changed as Marlow reached boyhood: “the map began to fill up with lakes, rivers and names…Congo appeared like a huge snake.” And the fascination of that great river leads him to Africa. What follows in the novella are the atrocities of colonialism and sufferings of humans and animals marked with the dreadful ivory trade. The legacy is not lost and elephants have become one of the most endangered species. This year, after an absence of three decades, Richard Leakey has made a comeback to head the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). An anthropologist and a son of Mary and Louis he is also known to be a strong voice against the poaching of elephants and other wildlife in Kenya.

While Leakeys’ research was building an impressive image of the African continent, Chinua Achebe, the great Nigerian writer, was preparing a native’s response to Conrad’s fiction. In 1958, just a year before Mary Leakey discovered and reconstructed a 1.75 million years old skull, Achebe published “Things Fall Apart.” In this masterpiece of postcolonial literature while showcasing the Igbo culture, Achebe actually proves that before the emergence of imperialism an indigenous civilization existed on his land. These are but a few examples of individuals who have explored Africa in different ways and who came to mind as I read the discovery of Naledi cave. Perhaps, it is the ancient most cemetery on planet earth where dead were neither buried nor cremated, just thrown from above or pushed through a very narrow chute into the cave. Though Richard Leakey feels “there has to be another entrance” but others suggest that these “early hominins intentionally deposited bodies of their dead in a remote and largely inaccessible cave chamber.” If that is true, it will be very hard to conceive that Homo Naledi, with a brain which was half the size of modern humans, were capable of thinking and choosing a site of no return for their dead.

Regardless of all the argument, what is encouraging is the existence of a little window which allows a peep in our ancient past. When Lee R. Bergen first spotted the trove of bones through it, I am sure the moment for him was no less than Howard Carter’s lighting upon the treasures of Tutankhamon. There is no comparison between the two sites, but then from Naledi to Nile is a long journey in time. The good news is that many young men and women are still willing to explore that journey; Naledi expedition constituted a significant number of women in the position of ‘underground astronauts.’ Still  there remains a lot more to be explored in the land strewn with fossils and diamonds below and the rising stars above, Nelson Mandela being above all.

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http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/nelson-mandela/10142046/Nelson-Mandela-dies-aged-95.html

Good old Madiba dies at the age of 95.

He will always be remembered for his heroic struggle against apartheid, for the restoration of human rights and for setting up The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. On his departure media will be reminding us of all his spectacular achievements, somehow, I am reminded of a simple passage wherein he wistfully describes his village. It reflects the honesty and innocence of a man who longed for freedom and who suffered a long and rigorous prison term under the man-made unjust laws.

Rest in peace Madiba in the grassy valley with green hills and clear streams.

“THE VILLAGE OF QUNU was situated in a narrow, grassy valley crisscrossed by clear streams, and overlooked by green hills. It consisted of no more than a few hundred people who lived in huts, which were beehive-shaped structures of mud walls, with a wooden pole in the center holding up a peaked, grass roof. The floor was made of crushed ant-heap, the hard dome of excavated earth above an ant colony, and was kept smooth by smearing it regularly with fresh cow dung. The smoke from the hearth escaped through the roof, and the only opening was a low doorway one had to stoop to walk through. The huts were generally grouped together in a residential area that was some distance away from the maize fields. There were no roads, only paths through the grass worn away by barefooted boysand women. The women and children of the village wore blankets dyed in ocher; only the few Christians in the village wore Western-style clothing. Cattle, sheep, goats, and horses grazed together in common pastures. The land around Qunu was mostly treeless except for a cluster of poplars on a hill overlooking the village. The land itself was owned by the state. With very few exceptions, Africans at the time did not enjoy private title to land in South Africa but were tenants paying rent annually to the government. In the area, there were two small primary schools, a general store, and a dipping tank to rid the cattle of ticks and diseases. Maize (what we called mealies and people in the West call corn), sorghum, beans, and pumpkins formed the largest portion of our diet, not because of any inherent preference for these foods, but because the people could not afford anything richer. The wealthier families in our village supplemented their diets with tea, coffee, and sugar, but for most people in Qunu these were exotic luxuries far beyond their means. The water used for farming, cooking, and washing had to be fetched in buckets from streams and springs. This was women’s work, and indeed, Qunu was a village of women and children: most of the men spent the greater part of the year working on remote farms or in the mines along the Reef, the great ridge of gold-bearing rock and shale that forms the southern boundary of Johannesburg. They returned perhaps twice a year, mainly to plow their fields. The hoeing, weeding, and harvesting were left to the women and children. Few if any of the people in the village knew how to read or write, and the concept of education was still a foreign one to many.”

 Nelson Mandela “Long Walk to Freedom.”

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