In the Makgadikgadi Pans of Botswana’s Kalahari Desert, Kubu Island tells the history of our planet. Embark on adventure travel with us to discover the incredible geology of Kubu Island in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana and its mysterious baobab tree – a baobab testament to Botswana’s fascinating geological history.
Kubu Island is a national monument. There are some archaeological artefacts that are found here at Kubu Island, like the ruins that were built some time in the 17th century by the post Great Zimbabweans. The stone wall is circular in shape and one hundred metres in diameter. Also there are some stone cairns which are said to be markers of the initiation schools. Boys were brought here for initiation. This part behind me is where the local people have maintained their shrine. To go back further, to 900 AD, there we saw some traditions from people who were here before the post Great Zimbabweans came in. We can identify this by stone circles, generally on the outcrop. These people stayed here when the pans were full of water all the way along.
Kubu Island, known as Kubu, lies on the western shoreline of the Sua Pan. Coming from Nata, you drive 115 kilometres. Coming from the south, from Orapa, Letlhakane, it’s 78 or 80 kilometres.
Thousands of years ago this pan was an inland lake with water up to 45 metres deep, which means that the whole outcrop was submerged in the water. Because of tectonic movement, the Earth’s surface tilted and the flow of water from the tributaries shifted eastwards towards the Indian Ocean via the Zambezi and Limpopo. The lake then gradually filled up with wind-blown sand until it became as flat and open as we see it today.
The Sua Pan is also a breeding area for lesser and greater flamingos. The nests are just 16 kilometres from Kubu Island.
During the wet months, we see lots of water birds – pelicans, storks, as well as flamingos as I mentioned earlier. These days we see a lot of tourists from the region and tourists from overseas visiting Kubu. Now it is a tourist destination.
There are some baobab trees, like the one over there. There are about 70 baobab trees that can be seen in this small area. We used to have some small ones like the one you can see coming up, but some of them have been dug out by porcupines. Ostrich eggshell beads and pottery fragments or sheds, and there is a small cave where the local people, or the San people who used to stay here or around in this area, used to come and pray for their ancestors and offer things like snuff, pounded tamboti tree log, as well as putting some small animal skins as offerings to their ancestors.
You can see that this baobab has a reddish-pink colour, because of where it is located. You can see that it is not easy for the roots to reach the soil, because the baobab is on top of the rocks. But the good thing about the baobab is that it can live for a long time. You can see how big this is. When the sun rises in the morning, or when the sun sets, the colour of the baobab looks a bit the same, as well as the rocks. That’s why the sunset here at Kubu Island is very special.
Now we have entered the shrine where the local people, especially the San, or the Khoikhoi people, maintained this shrine here. They have been coming here with their traditional healers with offerings for their ancestors as I said earlier. They would offer things like snuff, beads, and animal skins to their ancestors. The weathering of this rock has broken and closed the entrance of the cave. The leader or the traditional healer would take all of the offerings and go into the cave, and leave them there. By doing so, they believed that their ancestors would give them power, in terms of healing when someone is sick, and it would also allow them to collect some fruit here from the baobab trees, and other fruits from this area. It would also allow them to kill some of the animals that were roaming in this area in those early days.
Now we are going into the middle where you will see the pottery sheds, or disposal places where they would dispose of rubbish. It’s on top here. The pottery sheds are just down here, where we call the middle, or the disposal area for broken pots, or those ostrich eggshell beads, or bones of animals that they ate in those days.
As you can see, this is an area where there are a lot of pottery sheds and pottery fragments. See this one – from long ago. You see? This is an ostrich eggshell bead. This is where the people who lived here were disposing of all their rubbish of those broken materials. This area, the whole part of this outcrop from the shrine to down here is a respected area, where people are expected to walk very carefully and silently so that the ancestors, or the gods, do not become annoyed or angry with them. So that’s why we ask people to treat Lake Kubu as a sacred place and to respect it. That is the special thing about this place.
Now we are going to see the stone caves which are the markers of the school initiation. We’ll be going there. They’re just over there over this hill. We have come to the cairn fields. You can see some piles of stones which are markers of initiation schools for boys. There are about 450-500 stone cairns on this outcrop. All of these piles indicates the numbers of groups that were coming here for initiation schools. When a group graduates makes its own pile, and then the other ones also. You can see some circular ones, and some are oval.
Now we will talk about this baobab. This is one of the oldest baobabs on this island. The oldest baobabs are seen on top of the outcrop, as we saw when we were at the hilltop there, or the highest point of the outcrop. You can see that this baobab grew during that time, when the water level was up to here, on top of the rocks. So this is one of the oldest baobabs, wich dates up to 1,000 years old.
Now we have come to the stone wall, which was built by the post Great Zimbabweans in the 17th century. This wall was 1.2 metres high and it is circular in shape – horseshoe-like. It used to have 24 small windows like the one I’m standing next to now. Because of weather elements and animals which were roaming in this area, you can see that much of it is now collapsed. This is Kubu Island. I invite all the people from around the world to visit this place. It is a special place with some gigantic baobabs, African style chestnut trees that look similar to the baobab. And we look at the formation of the rocks with some coarse veins on them, a result of the tectonics and the dramatic climate changes that occured some thousands and thousands of years ago. And this pan – a vast open land where you can look as far as the eye can see, and enjoy that mesmerising sunrise and sundown. This is the only place where you can enjoy your peace, the silence, and the stunning view that this area provides. So, let’s visit Kubu Island!