By Amanda B
As South Africa is known as The Cradle of Humankind, on Tuesday January 19th, our class visited Maropeng, which is a museum that allowed us to discover our human heritage and ancestry. The word Maropeng translates to mean “returning to the place of origin” in Setswana, an indigenous language of South Africa. I know that through this experience I personally felt truly connected to the world’s history. Our tour of Maropeng began with the information about the area, specifically about the archeological discoveries of South Africa. The main discoveries of this area are known as “Mrs. Ples”, who was discovered by Dr. Robert Broom, and “Little Foot,” who was discovered by Ronald J Clarke. Both of these fossils were discovered in the Sterkfontein Caves. Mrs. Ples, a nickname for the species name Australopithecus africanus, was the first discovery that indicated that South Africa is in fact “The Cradle of Humankind”.
Following our short briefing outside, we went into the museum to discover a lot of information about the theory of evolution and natural selection as explained by Charles Darwin. I found this museum to be very intriguing, especially because of my personal education. When I was younger, I used to want to be a primatologist, a person who studies primates and apes, and I have since found evolution and the relationship between primates and the human race to be very interesting. Because of this interest, my first year at Elon University, I took a biological anthropology course, “Human Evolution and Adaptation.” Most of the preliminary information that was presented to us at the beginning of the museum was information that I have previously learned, specifically in this anthropology class. However, there was still a lot to learn about the subject, so I got a lot out of the experience.
What I found to be the most powerful and meaningful about the museum is the fact that there was an emphasis on the science and history of the human race, and how much we have developed throughout our past. At the same time, the exhibits emphasized how much work the human race needs to do in order to better the world, specifically through the education of all people. As discussed in previous classes and through my groups understanding of the current education system of South Africa as depicted in the news, I have learned of the many hardships that are endured by the people of South Africa.
An exhibit in the museum focused on the education of citizens throughout the world and it was extremely powerful to see such information. One section of the education exhibit was a bar graph of the percent of people over the age of fifteen years old that can read and write. Some of the data that stood out to me is that Australia and Norway both have 100%, Japan and the United Kingdom at 99%, Kazakhstan at 98%, and the United States of America at 97%. In contrast to these high literacy rates, Somalia had 38%, and Sierra Leone had a 30% literacy rate. In the middle of this information, South Africa has a literacy rate of 86%. This number actually surprised me by how large it was, but I realized that though South Africa might have a higher literacy rate than expected, there is still a lot of countries that less than half of their population are literate, thus emphasizing the importance of education for all people over the world. There was a quote, “Education is unequal across the globe. As in all issues of sustainability, it is a contested area, with the richest consuming the most resources and the poorest the fewest” that really spoke to the universality of the education disparities, indicating that though South Africa has educational disparities, education is also an universal problem.
Image from Maropeng: Bar graph of the literacy of various countries
In addition to the bar graph portion of the education exhibit, there was a collage of various quotes about education. I found “How can I have a voice when there is no school” to be extremely powerful as it indicates that there are children who want to learn, but they are not given the opportunity to do so, and therefore are hindered in their future. Another quote shown in this exhibit is from Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Price laureate, who stated that “the privilege of a higher education, especially outside Africa, broadened my original horizon and encouraged me to focus on the environment, women and development in order to improve the quality of life of people in my country in particular and in the African region in general” was insightful to me as well. I was intrigued by the fact that he put such a high standard for the education that he received, and he was able to take the education back to the country of his origin. On the other hand, I found it eye-opening that he felt that his education outside of his African origins is what allowed him to prosper in his field even though there is so much to learn from the African environment. When I consider my own history with education, I know how satisfied I am with the education that I have received that is so close to my home. It was difficult for me to realize that many Africans do not have many opportunities for their education, and therefore it is common to leave their culturally-rich environment in order to obtain a higher education.
After we finished the various exhibits, we then walked outside and we were able to view the landscape of the Cradle of Humankind. I personally was very inspired by looking over the lush land of my ancestors, seeing the place that I, and everyone I know, came to be. Though I do not know a lot of my family roots, I do know now from this experience exactly where I come from. Standing and looking out over the scenery, I also realized the power of all of my actions on the world around me. It is important to keep in mind, where do you come from?