Revisiting the MaBareBare archive as web platform

This web interface plays with three motifs that I have been obsessed with for some time, namely: significant star constellations and celestial bodies of Southern African indigenous knowledge systems; mythical serpents that I find to be a parallel of these heavenly bodies; and finally, Ditaola, a divining method that mobilises intuition and holding in play multiple variables as one diagnoses a problem.



The aim of this project is to share and critically reflect on an aspect of the project Kherofo, a server-based digital interface (2020-2021) that sought to publish the digital archive associated with my PhD project Mabarebare, an expression of khelobeduin the Present (2019). In its original form, it functions as an unsuccessful digital prompt and platform that incorporates its digital infrastructure into its physical spatial infrastructure. It is at once a concern with the importance of imagining and investing in asking what kind of "text" (in our case practices) can contain and encourage our subjectivity; and the work we need to, and are doing, to come to terms with ourselves as a form of repair. For me, this practice has something to do with dreams and their quality as a complex image made up of many slightly different images. As such, the project hopes to imagine how an experience like dreaming, which is also a deeply political act, could command the digital and physical space. For me, such a space could be what I have come to understand as Kherofo, some form of pyramid or a circular converging structure. It is also the name for the infrastructure that houses the remains and implements of a ngaka (that elusive Southern African specialist). I appreciate it is a grave, and at once a portal for those that succeed in such a ngaka, there to access what is left behind.

In this iteration, my concern with the idea of Kherofo takes the process of accessing the Mabarebare archive consisting of about a thousand images drawn from my PhD research process. These images span colonial archival fragments; failed attempts at mediating my understanding; installation views of exploratory practices; snaps from my travels; and some founding images from the 2010 Gae Lebowa exhibition that set me off on this journey. As a website, it thinks about my practice of dreaming, the confusion, and the excitement of repeatedly trying to reoccupy dream fragments. This practice of dreaming is a process I developed during my PhD, as I came to understand the dreamscape as a particular khelobedu archive, that questioned my relationship with the photograph and drew me to the sonic (yet to fully comprehend). My experience of dreaming is one of a series of motifs ranging from getting lost on trains, water bodies and people who lived in different times. What is interesting about my practice of dreaming is realising just how many images one must navigate to discern some meaningful instruction, compelling you to enact on something that heals you or facilitates a connection with others. The idea of an instruction recognises the understanding that dreams don’t necessarily inform, or contextualise, but rather they instruct. The first instruction being to dream again, until the image resonates, but also to wander and wade through the many images that are sometimes significant, but often arbitrary. Kherofo, is about my history, a place of conservation and magic. One day a work, or mohlolo, will manifest in this name.

As I plunge you into a multiplicity of images accumulated over five years, as I travelled the German missionaries’ archives, the contemporary art scene, and Bolobedu, I only ask that you keep looking until something resonates.

Launch Project



Di bonala ka thoko ya bosobela, ke tše nne di bopegile ka sebopego sa sefapano. Gare ga tšona go na tša banna le basadi.



E bonala ka hloko ya Bohlabela mesong, ge basadi ba e bona ba a tshoga ba thoma go šila le go sehla mabele.

Noga ya thaba


E re bontšha gore sekga sa marega se a tsena.

Moruka wa khosi


E bonala ka hloko ya bohlaba tšatši ka di 25 may, e bonala ka go taga kudu le goba le mosela. Yona e hliša go tonya kudu le go wa ga šobane le Lehlwa mafelong a mangwe.




This web interface plays with three motifs that I have been obsessed with for some time, namely:

  1. significant star constellations and celestial bodies of southern African indigenous knowledge systems;
  2. mythical serpents that I find to be a parallel of these heavenly bodies;
  3. and finally, Ditaola, a divining method that mobilises intuition and holding in play multiple variables as one diagnoses a problem.

In essence, the project uses a series of technologies for figuring out something complex. What the three categories have in common is their ability to divine some form of future as the name of the dice suggest, or as commonly referred to lately in the drive for linking IKS and STEM research, around the use of stars to predict the weather and other meteorological phenomena like drought. It is also noted by publications such as Venus Rising (2014), to divine the birth and death of important mediums including mahosi (rulers) and their fortunes. The mythical serpents, on the other hand, are also a mitigating factor in the lives or ascension of such a ruler. Often you would hear stories of councillors asking an old serpent that occupied important hills near the seats of such rulers, who should lead them after a ruler, family head or such had passed. There is no agreement about what these serpents look like, sometimes appearing as people, meruka (shiny beads) with some often described as spectacular or so vast that one cannot fathom them - hence my choice to feature them as as constellations.

In a roundabout way, the story of Malekhalo, the ascension hut interacting with the idea of Kherofo within the ‘Lebitla la Ngaka’ installation, is a process of asking an unseen figure “who the next ruler is”. It is also important to note that among these serpents is the figure of the planet Venus, often associated with the figure of Modjadji and Nehanda, who in some cases are imagined as arbitrators of power among mahosi, often consulted in dark caves where only the voice is heard with instructions or pronouncements.

What do these have to do with dreams? Aside from the obvious understanding that all three are significant dream motifs, or diagnostics within a dreamscape, they are here because I appreciate dreams as instructions from an unseen space - ever present.


I give thanks to Kherofo, those who carry the name in my family and the small stories they have shared so far.

This work is based on the research supported in part by the National Research Foundation of South Africa (Grant Number: 129472)


This work is based on the research supported by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Science.

It was made possible by the University of Cape Town’s Digitial Projects In The Humanities grant.

Gallery images: George Mahashe
Landing page divination bone acknowledgement: UCT Archaeology collection, curtesy of the CCA.
Archive material:
Evangelisches Landeskirchliches Archiv Berlin (ELAB), Transvaal Archive of the Berlin Mission Society. (digitised by George Mahashe in Berlin, 2013)
Header text acknowledgements: information compiled by Maropeng James Mabitsela; text translated from Sepedi to Khelobedu by Kgotatso Seshayi.

Space images:

2a Sejapelo ­­– The Orion Nebula
Credit: ESO/M.McCaughrean et al. (AIP)

4a Noga ya Thaba ­­– Hubble’s sharpest view of the Orion Nebula
Credit: NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

6a Muruka wa Khosi – Venus as seen by ALMA
Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Greaves et al

8a Nahas/Dumuzi – Messier 78: a reflection nebula in Orion
Credit: ESO/Igor Chekalin


  • Alcock, P.(2014). "Venus Rising, South African Astronomical Belief, Custom and Observations."
  • Gae Lebowa, Johannesburg Art Gallery. 21 February to 2 May 2010. Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • ‘Lebitla la Ngaka’, Interfacing New Heavens, Javett Art Centre, University of Pretoria. 24 June 2021 to 09 January 2022. Pretoria, South Africa. Online component available:
  • Mahashe, T.G. 2019. ‘An archive of practice’ in MaBareBare, a rumour of a dream. Ph.D. thesis. Cape Town: University of Cape Town. Available: