Project Origins (Legendary Foods)
8 June 2019
Eben van Tonder
My journey started by researching the use of salt in Africa, pre-colonial. We host the work on salt under The Salt Bridge, and the work on Southern Africa yielded the following articles:
iii. The Salt Bush
The reason I started with salt is that without salt, meat curing is not possible. Salt is the most basic ingredient. There are early accounts of shipwrecks along the Natal coast where the Zulu people gave the survivors meat that was salted, smoked and dried. Those are three of the most basic ingredients in meat processing. One of the techniques I use to discover the exact methods of processing is to continually interview the oldest members of communities I come across to discover the food processing techniques that were handed down to them by their forefathers and the results are promising. I have already discovered that they used ground nuts to extend meat dishes and the exact makeup of one such a product (dish).
Looking at the size of the cities that existed in Southern Africa gives support to this line of research. Such sophisticated communities would have had equally well developed culinary traditions and, like the ruins we see today, to discover exactly what this was, take effort and focus to unearth and reconstruct. I had the privilege to discuss the line of thinking with a former minister of Defence of Nigeria. He excitedly confirmed to me that this is not only true in Southern Africa, but in West Africa also, and I would guess, the entire continent. He himself comes from a very small village in the north of Nigeria and he gave me excellent examples of what his mother told him about old food processing techniques. I believe he is correct when he told me that the soul of the land is tied to the food they prepared and this is lost as a result of Westernisation.
I offer my experience at the Suikerbosrand as one shining example of such a city.
A massive Tswana City on Suikerbosrand
Last weekend I did a 12km hike at the Suikerbosrand Nature reserve 60km outside Johannesburg, past Heidelberg on the way to Durban. I was browsing the web for interesting information on the area and learned of a massive Tswana city which was located here. I made contact with Talfrein Harris whos friend, Stephen Banhegyi, worked on the site for his master’s thesis. They could not take me out to the site this weekend, but I was back early this morning to see what I can find.
As I hiked up a path this morning, I suddenly realized that I was on the edge of many of the stone structures.
From my reading on the web, I learned that the city was massive! 10km long and 2km wide. By comparison, Mesopotamia was only 2km in diameter. Friday evenings I am watching on Discovery how new technology, called Lidar is used to see through the vegetation using laser lights which helps researchers to recreate the world of the Maya civilization. The exact same technology is being used at the site on the Suikerbosrand.
There were many large Tswane cities scattered along the northern parts of South Africa until the 1820’s when they collapsed in the Difeqane Civil wars. Archeologists use the building style to estimate its creation around the late 1400’s AD the city is believed to have been abandoned around the second half of the 1800s with between 750 and 850 homesteads in the city.