Migration as Cosmological Technic

Questions on Cyclical Migration

Why do Tswana tribes amongst other tribal groups in Southern Africa cyclically migrate? This is a story of the Barolong Boo Rra Tshidi clan of the Tswana tribe who have now settled in Makgobistad. Makgobistad is a large village situated in the northern part of the North West province, on the periphery of the Botswana border.

The project presented here was an enquiry into the hybridization of rural settlements from communal living – communal awareness of societal effects on the landscape – to individualism. Individualism is a consequence of colonialism and Apartheid, but can also be attributed to various global factors such as education, spatial boundaries and a compartmentalisation of belief systems. The project was conducted as part of my masters degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of Cape Town in 2018.

The Project

Modern permanent settlement as we know it today can be considered “new” to the Barolong. The image below indicates that merely seventy years ago [more than a lifetime these days], the Barolong lived in traditional settlements. These traditional settlements were conceptualized by intentional spatial ideations informed by a plural cosmology (Maqsud et al 1991).

The enquiry in Makgobistad was to uncover and discover cosmology through mapping, literature and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS). These were used with the goal of understanding how the Barolong hybridized themselves into a global context. The study specifically observed cosmology as an extension of technics. In a world where cities are automatically permanent, how do technics with migratory cosmologies adapt or diminish? What is the place of temporal settlements and diminishing plural cosmologies in our speculative futures?

The manifestation of the Barolong cosmology not only concludes with migration but is also manifested in their settlements. The Barolong’s process of selecting ideal areas to settle exhibits their awareness of the human’s place within the environment. The markers of these ideal places were a hill and a river.  The widely adopted western lens compels society to regard this as merely a safety mechanism, but Mosienyane argues otherwise. Mosienyane (2013) argues that Tswana “spaces” were given spiritual connotations as a way of maintaining the Setswana culture’s resilience. The hill and the river were spatial markers, engraved in Setswana societies through language as sacred areas. In Makgobistad, Thaba ya Pitsane (hill) is regarded as the protector of the settlement where diviners go to speak to Modimo (the one above).

Furthermore, the Molopo river is regarded as sacred, where “noga ya metsi” (water snake/ water divinity) resides, providing rain for the settlement. Stories of the water snake are told to instill fear and ensure sensitivity towards large water bodies. The same applies to the hill where sacred animals reside which are not to be hunted. This method is also seen with myths assigned to sensitive and important wild plants (Mosienyane 2013). These mystical annotations to sensitive environmental areas are spatial design through preservation and storytelling.

Arturo Escobar claims that cosmology and technology are ontologically linked. They comprise rituals navigated through modes of being and doing (Escobar 2001). Yuk Hui builds on this narrative with the concept cosmotechnics which means “…the unification of the cosmos and the moral through technical activities, whether craft-making or art-making. There hasn’t been one or two technics, but many cosmotechnics” (Hui 2017, 7). In this regard, cosmotechnics refers to the way of designing surroundings through technical activities. Therefore, technics [including cities] are not anthropologically universal, they are facilitated and inhibited by specific cosmologies resulting in multiple cosmotechnics.

Thinking on Cosmotechnics

How does the cosmology of the Barolong translate into cosmotechnics? It is difficult to restitute the constellation of disturbed ontologies. Our studies are limited to the writings of colonial missionaries, anthropologists, ethnographers [the white gaze] and a dying population that still values IKS. To some degree it is distorting to take IKS then translate and morph them to fit academic purposes. Which is why studying these multiple cosmotechnics needs to be coupled with how we study them. The afterlife of this study gravitates towards critical fabulations by Saidiaya Hartman as a decolonial tool to archive the unarchivable. It aims to go beyond the history books by continuing narratives where they might end, proposing, as with cosmotechnics, other ways of seeing and storytelling. Fabulations account for the fictions allowed in Barolong indigenous storytelling – that a story is evolved in its lifetime, allowing room for shedding that which is no longer necessary, making room for that which will be necessary. It is a story of migration and metamorphosis. The Barolong leave behind their architecture, therefore, their society is what they leave with, and their technology [techics] lies in the process of remembering and forgetting.

The notion cosmotechnics by Yuk Hui teaches us that there has always been more, where we might think there has been one. The notion of spatial justice as understood through the lens of cosmotechnics advocates for the equal distribution of physical space and resources, but also of other technics outside of the colonial canon. Included in spatial justice is philosophy, concepts, and cosmology. In the framework of cosmotechnics, spatial justice becomes spatial justices, which are embedded in various local cosmologies and frameworks of spatiality and justice. Additionally, this spatial justice promotes the various ways and combinations that people relate to space and architecture. In this scenario, not only do people have the right to the city, but they have the right to their own speculations of what a city is, guided by their cosmologies.

If for the Barolong a city requires mobility and seasonal migration, then it is pertinent to think whether spatial justice for them means access to this mobility. There are various ways that various people design their spatialities, and as Ann Willis claims those various designs design our way of being. If the spaces we design design us, then spatial justice is an architecture of own freedom.

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