Culture History March 04, 2021 at 01:00 pm

Inside Botswana’s Matsieng cultural site where locals say the first human was created

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor March 04, 2021 at 01:00 pm

March 04, 2021 at 01:00 pm | Culture, History

Matsieng Footprints is an important ritual site in Botswana. Photo: Botswana Government/Twitter

One of the longest and never-ending debates about life is the creation of humans. Religion tells us that a Supreme Being created the world and everything in it. Science, on the other hand, tells us that humans evolved from their ancestors all through history to be what we are now: Homo sapiens.

In Africa, the appearance of humans, and many other natural phenomena have been explained in myths. They are as diverse as the communities in Africa, but it is not surprising to see similarities in communities related to or living close to each other.

In southeastern Botswana, local legend has it that the first humans were created in pools at a site known as Matsieng Footprints. The National Monument, which is one of the well-known “Creation Sites” in southern Africa, consists of a slab of sandstone pierced by two deep holes and engravings. The creation story told among locals is that life began when a powerful hunter called Matsieng emerged from a waterhole. Matsieng, who was said to be a one-legged giant (though others say he had two legs), is considered to be the first ancestor of the Batswana.

Local folklore says as soon as Matsieng emerged from the waterhole, he was followed by animals and then his people, and they all sank their feet into the “soft, unformed early earth”. In other words, as Matsieng and his people walked to settle down in surrounding areas, they left their footprints on the soft sandstone to harden over time. The sandstone consists of large natural holes that collect rainwater. More than one thousand years ago, people visited the site to water their livestock or collect water for domestic use.

As time went on, the soft sandstone came to have “a collection of some 170 carvings depicting human feet (gigantic and non-gigantic alike) as well as animal feet (frequently feline) and animals in profile (such as giraffes),” according to Atlas Obscura. These carvings, which have since been preserved as the rock hardened in the long run, represent Matsieng and his people, locals say. Archeologists have interpreted the engravings including the footprints as a form of rock art, created by the ancestors of the modern San people during the Late Stone Age. Yet, locals favor the legend of Matsieng. To date, Matsieng Footprints is still an important ritual site as people continue to collect water at the site for ritual purposes, including for rain-making ceremonies.

In 2019, scientists claimed they have traced the homeland for all modern humans to a region of northern Botswana, south of the Zambezi River. Though the area is now salt pans, it was home to Homo Sapiens 200,000 years ago and hosted a population of modern humans for at least 70,000 years, according to a study released in the scientific journal Nature.

Conversations

Must Read