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Tsodilo Hills in Northwestern Botswana.

Kebokwe’s Cave: A Supernatural Site That Was Feared, Now a Sacred Place for Worship

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Caves have always fascinated humans and often been regarded with awe and superstition. Kebokwe’s Cave , in the Southern African nation of Botswana, has many legends told about it and it has traditionally been a place associated with witches, black magic, and evil spirits. Today the cave is an important tourist site and a place of pilgrimage for Christians. It is located in a Botswana Heritage Park and is protected by the local government.

Kebokwe’s Cave and the Bakwena Tribe

The caves are in a rocky and hilly part of Botswana, which is not typical of the country’s geography, one that is mainly flat, semi-desert and known as the Bush. The area where the cave is located has traditionally been inhabited by the Bakwena tribe (also known as the Bakoena) and these are a Sotho-Tswana people. The cavern is very important in the myths and lore of this group. It is believed that the Bakwena originated in what is now Southern Africa and have lived in this locality for approximately 500 years. Before the coming of the Europeans, the tribe who were primarily hunter-gatherers were known for their worship of the crocodile. The traditional culture of the Bakwena tribe is in decline as Botswana transitions to a modern society.

The caves are in a rocky and hilly part of Botswana. (mmakatey)

The caves are in a rocky and hilly part of Botswana. (mmakatey)

Witches and Evil Spirits in Kebokwe’s Cave

The caves are impressive in themselves and they are set in some beautiful and rugged scenery. This cavern is very spacious and has some impressive stalactites and rock formations. However, it is most famous for the part it played in Botswanan life and especially in the history of the Bakwena people. According to local folklore the cave was a place that was long associated with black magic and sorcery. One legend has it that witches and sorcerers were executed near the mouth of the cave. There is a rock which is called ‘execution rock’ where it is believed that they were killed on the orders of the local king or Kogis of the Bakwena.

From execution rock, the witch or wizard was flung to their deaths. One story recounted is that one condemned witch by the name of Kebokwe was thrown from execution rock but was able to use a spell to cushion her fall and survived. The cave is named after this fortunate witch. The local people also believe that dark spirits, who have taken the form of monstrous serpents, live in the depths of the cavern. Traditionally, many Bakwena people have been wary of visiting the caves and the surrounding hills because of these serpents.

According to local folklore the cave was a place that was long associated with black magic and sorcery. (Fotofrank / Adobe)

According to local folklore the cave was a place that was long associated with black magic and sorcery.  (Fotofrank / Adobe)

David Livingston, the great Scottish explorer, doctor, and missionary visited the area in the mid-nineteenth century. He was on a mission to convert the local people and had implored the Kgosi or king of the Bakwene to convert to Christianity and to be baptized. The king at this time was Schele I, a very important monarch in Botswanan history. He refused to convert and ignored all of Livingstone’s blandishments and pleas to convert. The great Scot was at a loss, but he had heard about the local cave which was reputed to be haunted by the monstrous snakes. He approached the Kgosi and stated that he would stay a night in the cave and would prove that the Christian God was more powerful than any evil spirits. Livingstone went into the hills and entered the cave where he spent a restful night without incident. The monarch was amazed that the doctor and explorer had survived, and he agreed to be baptized and this was important in the Christianization of Botswana.

Kebokwe’s cave is now regarded by many believers as a sacred spot and it is the major Christian pilgrimage site in the country. Many refer to the cavern as Livingstone’s cave after the missionary and explorer. There are regular midnight prayer meetings held at the cavern.

David Livingstone,1864, pioneer Christian missionary with the London Missionary Society, an explorer in Africa, and one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th-century Victorian era. (Archaeodontosaurus / Public Domain)

David Livingstone,1864, pioneer Christian missionary with the London Missionary Society, an explorer in Africa, and one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th-century Victorian era. (Archaeodontosaurus / Public Domain )

How to get to Kebokwe’s Cave

It is located near the South African border and not far from the town of Molepolole, where there is a museum dedicated to Bakwena history and culture. The cave is not well-signposted, and it is some fifteen minutes out of the town. It is off a major highway and a visitor needs to climb the rather steep hill, but luckily, the many pilgrims have worn a path to the mouth of Kebokwe’s Cave. The execution rocks can also be visited, and they offer a great view of the surrounding Bush. There is a game reserve not far from the site. Getting to the location can be tough and there are no organized tours.

Molepolole is a village in Botswana, Africa and is the closest town to Kebokwe’s Cave. (Ravenpuff / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Molepolole is a village in Botswana, Africa and is the closest town to Kebokwe’s Cave. (Ravenpuff / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Top image: Tsodilo Hills in Northwestern Botswana. Source: CC BY-SA 2.0

By Ed Whelan

References

Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., and Robinson, J. 2002. An African success story: Botswana . [Online] Available at: http://economics.mit.edu/files/284.
Makgala, C. J., & Monkge, D. C. 2011. Witchcraft Renaissance: The Paradox of Sorcery and Christianity among the Batswana, 1849-2008 . Botswana Notes and Records, 43, 140-150 [Online] Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23237962.
Segadika, 2008. Can we make a difference? , P. 9 The Botswana National Museum and Tsodilo World Heritage Site Museum. [Online] Available at: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0,5&q=Kobokwe+Cave,+Botswana.

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