Baobabs tell of an ancient African past

here is a trail, 1 000 years old, linking Vilanculos on the coast of Mozambique with the home of the little golden rhino, Mapungubwe, which calls to be travelled end to end to get a sense of times past, 600 years before the first settlers arrived in the Cape.

These places and the stories of the people who lived here, transacting along the trail in gold, iron, ivory, ceramics, cloth and glass beads – from as far away as Arabia, India and China – lay unearthed for centuries, only in recent decades to be rediscovered and celebrated.

As you make your way along the trail, much of which is unchanged from a millennium ago, you cannot but notice an omnipresent feature of the landscape then and now, which shaped where and how people lived, and was given life by people who helped propagate and populate it.

This is the baobab, which can grow as old as 2 500 years and so dominates some areas where people lived in ancient times that there can be hundreds in a small area. By journey’s end, we would not only have eaten the baobab but drunk it, too.

Besides Mapungubwe, we’d also visit the ancient sites of Thulamela in the northern Kruger National Park, and Manyikeni and Chibuene in Mozambique, the latter being the main port of entry for southern African through the Indian Ocean, from about 1 250 to 1 000 years ago. These sites have been uninhabited for as long as 800 years. The people moved on, but the baobabs, perhaps no more than saplings then, are still there.

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