Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Geography for Giants - Limpopo, South Africa

'One more thing, the Samango Monkeys are very friendly. You may want to keep your windows and doors closed If you're not in the  mood for  visitors." Mike Gardner, Tourism Expert - Limpopo 

Lush valleys and meandering rivers where samango monkeys keep watch over hippos and crocodiles, where myth and fact are bedfellows. This is Limpopo, land of mist and mystery, and this is where giants live.

One such giant is quirky founder of his own religious sect, diminutive sculptor Jackson Hlungwane

A visit to his place in Mbhokota, a village located in Elim in northern Gazankulu, finds him comfortably ensconced on his throne, a rusty steel chair and holding court in New Jerusalem. Labyrinthine styled New Jerusalem is his stone palace to the Glory of God. It is the place of worship Jackson and his followers built. Here he lives, creates and preaches his own religion, Jerusalem One Christ, a form of mystical Christianity firmly rooted in African culture.

He's wholly engrossed in a book depicting religious icons. A bit of an oddity, he crackles, pointing out different saints. It is clear that he's been through it a number of times already and is particularly impressed with the fact that some saints seem to be missing a finger. "See, see no finger. Just like Jackson". Its proof enough for him that he's a saint too.

An oddball, mischievous saint though. His advice "Go home now, You must make a baby. You will have twelve". 12 for the twelve disciples? What a thought.

Jackson forms part of the South Africa's big 5. No, not wildlife, though you could be forgiven for the mistake as Jackson is as wild and free as a monkey. Big 5 as in the case of a group of 5 world-renowned artists who all hail from Limpopo. His sculptures, much acclaimed, grace South African and European art galleries. He says 'The whole country is Jackson" an ideology which is carried through in his art depicting Christianity through all of Africa.

Giant of another sort, The Sunland 'Big Baobab in Modjadjiskloof is the oldest and quite likely the largest living thing in the world.

Anna Mahasha, head cook who is on hand for visitor ‘liaison" at Sunland Baobab Jungalows informs groups that the tree is more than 5000 years old, is 47m's wide and 22 metres high. In a word, massive.

There is a surreal sense of wonder and reverence about it. Fantasy novel 'The Belgarath Series' speaks of the One Tree, ancient meeting place of the Gods. Surely this must be the tree of author David Edding's inspiration. It seems as old as time itself. 

A quick calculation: it is possibly older than the Giza Pyramids and was certainly here thousands of years before the birth of Jesus Christ. When the first leaves sprouted the Sahara Desert was still lush and green and our Iron Age ancestors were roaming the land. With things put into perspective, the miracle of the tree is even more astounding.

In 1993 the owners, Doug and Heather van Heerden cleared out the hollow centre of the tree and installed a railway sleeper pub inside the trunk which has space for nearly 60 people. At a sqeeze.

"The pub is not allowed to trade", says Anna, "we're waiting on the go ahead from the authorities. So now you can't experience the whole thing. Hey, it's a pity".

Almost as old as the baobab, and just as spellbinding is the reign of Modjadji, the Rain Queen

Late Queen Makobo Modjadji VI who died in June  2005 is a direct descendant of the first rain queen, Dzugundini, who’s father  the King of Monomotapa gave her a magic horn with the necessary 'medicines' to make rain and to defend her against any enemies.

Her dominion is a fascinating world of cultures and legends and encompasses an entire district named in her honour.

This honour extends to the special place of respect she has always held amongst African leaders including the great Zulu king Shaka and Nelson Mandela.

The royal house of Modjaji is located on top of lush hills and is surrounded by the Modjadji Cycad Reserve where the world's largest cycad trees, reaching up to 13 meters in height grow in profusion under an unbelievable mist and rain belt.

James Ndhlovu, a local cultural expert explains, "There are many, many mysteries and legends about these cycads. Also, they are protected by Queen Modjadji and they are sacred for the Bolobedu people." Even in the midday African heat, the forests have an evocative atmosphere.

True giants dating back almost 300 million years, the Modjadji Palm is the most famous of all the cycads.

Limpopo, land of legend, mystery, myth and miracle is rich in culture and abundantly populated with innumerable giants who's presence has you yearning for more