Basotho Elders believe the remains of ancestors possess special powers which shape their traditional way of life, but shaking old bones to bring rain may not be enough to shelter them from the technological torrent driving them forward into the digital age.
Journey of Bones
‘. . . these stories become what we know, what we understand, and what we are, or, perhaps we should say, what we have become, or can perhaps be.’ (Salman Rushdie: 2 Years 8 Months and 28 Nights)
Once upon a time the Basotho carried their bones across the Drakensburg mountains and sought sanctuary in the sky. Today two schools in Malubalube stand on a spur close to where the first lessons were taught in a fissure at the confluence of two muddy streams overlooking the Senqu River and Polihali Dam construction site: a development project which provokes a natural inclination to question the perceived dangers of demographic change, blurring the fundamental connection between self-identity and collective responsibility, presenting a nervous population with bewildering challenges, change and exciting possibilities. The journey’s precise compass aims to discern how digital access affects customary multigenerational interaction, redirects aspirations, and influences how indigenous people think and feel as they confront the consequences of the Dam on their fragile environment. Punctuated by the quiet dialogue of lamenting mothers kraaling memories of kinship through the old slowness of moon-whispered dreams, by the disturbing thunder of big machines, the animated thrill of Wi-Fi rollercoaster rides, and discordant iron oil-drum accordion - this journey will also amplify invisible voices harmonising with the world through a crescendo of interactive forum channels instead of proverbs.
Imagine the resonating pulse of tales awaiting narration from chattering thumb-phones: the elderly anticipating, accepting that after years of dust falling through the hourglass of weary deliberations, the black heart of the water snake will bring fearsome pestilence, poverty and famine, firestorm-drought and storm-flood. Through exclamations of magic realism inspired by the wind-drift of rock art rituals, young people electronically carving the rhyming couplets of an epic poem on the virtual space of a cave wall, endeavour to describe the metaphysical wall of water rising above the fault-line of their heritage with language voicing a different, divergent narrative. Familiar with solar-charged mobile devices, they competently interpret the submerged contours of a complex geo-historical trail map, splicing onto illusory windows ancestral simulacra bewitchingly disinterred from a deep well of tears.
Tongue-clicking conversations flutter over the veldt like a wing of consonants. Like night butterflies sipping the uncertain grammar of existence around a flame, contemplative people with contrasting values and expectations gather where the journey begins, exchanging opinions on how on-line connectivity can help protect endangered species and wildlife habitats, reconnect fragmentary transhumance routes, resist local climate change, improve conservation agriculture, or embrace innovative, sustainable livelihood opportunities - traditional healers text-messaging ancient remedies to cure modern diseases, or enterprising herd-boys on i-pads tip-tipping viable alternatives to rural depopulation! Young people with brave new apps articulate restless counter-arguments against the anger-anger of the pessimistic parasite burrowing into the social, cultural and environmental infrastructure of their developing story. But will web searches enable them to respect ceremonial rituals and preserve the natural Basotho essence of being human, whilst redefining their own future through bridging restrictive cultural barriers, promoting gender equality, gaining equitable access to essential services, and learning refusal strategies safeguarding vulnerable young peoples’ sexual health?
Although it remains remote, it is no longer an isolated community; stories recording Malubalube’s digital journey of bones out of a figurative rock-shelter are worth listening to and sharing with a wider audience.