Even to a keen-eyed observer, nothing about the physical appearance of shekereme appears remarkable enough at first glance. With the aid of native guidance however, the second and subsequent glances reveal a lot that is really remarkable (with a side of extra remarkable) about this hand-worked, outdoor kitchen that is unique to the Kgalagadi Desert.
More than being an architectural creation, shekereme, which is made of Grewia flava (“morezwa” in Shekgalagari) and Silver Cluster-leaf (“mogonono”), carries the weight of the human experience because it reveals the inner architecture of human resilience. After the Bangologa were pushed deep into the belly of the desert, there was a basic evolutionary need to imagine new possibilities. Thus the first order of business was to coax material benefits from an otherwise profoundly inhospitable place to make it hospitable, to respond architecturally to the new environment and thus come into full flower as a society.
At once simple and innovative, shekereme gets a more fully realized portrait in a part where “The Bangologa Heritage: History and Traditions” addresses itself to traditional architecture found among the Bangologa. The construction begins with the digging of a narrow trench into which loosely-stacked logs and poles are placed upright and aligned with what is called “lobalelo.” The latter is a row of support poles linked end to end that go right round the shekereme and is horizontally adjoined to the vertical stack at the approximate mid-point and just below the top end. In order to ensure sturdiness, the posts are trussed up to the lobalelo at strategic points using “bogkotje” or “mbepa” and riveted to the ground by putting and compacting the soil back into the trench.
Mbepa is made from animal skin that has been rotted and later cut into strips and used for binding, especially in the construction of traditional huts. Put to similar use, bogkotje (lelodi in Setswana) is a short piece of cordage made from the thin but tight bark of saplings. Increasingly nowadays and naturally as a sign of the times, some people use plastic-sheathed electric power cables in place of these types of binding.
When all that elaborate work has been successfully completed, shekereme officially becomes a kitchen.
Some would think that shekereme can’t trump the modern kitchen in any way but it actually does. The book says that the “shekereme logs and poles provide all sorts of hooks” on which to hang kitchen utensils – one supposes other household odds and ends as well.
“Sometimes these utensils are slid through openings and spaces between the logs,” it adds, explaining why the posts are loosely stacked.
To those pluses, one can add aeration. For purposes of food safety and hygiene, a kitchen – any kitchen - needs a lot of air and on account of being uncovered, shekereme gets more than adequate aeration. This is convenience that a modern kitchen doesn’t provide. Admittedly, there will days when cooking has to be done indoors because rains are coming out in torrents or gale-force winds are howling through the desert, wreaking untold havoc at the height of each high note. Admittedly, such elements might compromise the structural integrity of the shekereme but the upside is that they also “spring-clean” it with force and thoroughness impossible with human hands. So, when the winds have blown over, the rains have stopped and the sun has come out, the shekereme will be nursed back to good physical health and can once more look its Sunday best.
Published ahead of the investiture of Kgoshi Moapare IV in 2015, “The Bangologa Heritage: History and Traditions” spotlights a culture which, on account of Botswana’s mono-cultural orientation, has been denied such treatment for way too long. The book mentions other traditional-architecture structures found among the Bangologa (and possibly among sibling tribes) being the traditional hut, “loba”, “lonthabi” and “moroku.” Stunning in its thematic breadth and passion, the book was authored by a deep bench of writers who are uniquely geographically and culturally qualified to tell the world about Bangologa culture. [Facebook Page: Culture Botswana 2.0]