Urn of Knowledge

Today we went to Robben Island to better grasp the story of this island with a long history as a place of banishment. Having read Long Walk to Freedom I had an idea of the horrid conditions and the willpower of the political prisoners imprisoned there, but the gravity of the situation didn’t fully sink in until visiting the island. Somehow the memory in that space forces you to appreciate the incredible strength of the people held there. However, for me, the most impactful part came before the visit to the high security prison. Vanessa (one of the amazing professional/personal connections our instructors have) took our group to the limestone quarry where Madiba and the prisoners kept with him worked for most of their stay on the island. It was there that she introduced us to a new word: isivivane.

Limestone Quarry

Isivivane is a Zulu word that translates literally as, “throw your stone upon the pile,” and that is precisely what we did. Each of us collected a native rock, something Vanessa insisted upon after I immediately picked up asbestos, and gathered in a spot overlooking the quarry. Vanessa explained that an isivivane is a “memorialization of knowledge” and has been used on the island since the first one was made there in 1995 by former political prisoners who reenacted their work in the quarry. She had us think about not only Robben Island, but our entire experience here in South Africa, and consider what we want to leave behind and take away; then we wrote those words, ideas, expressions on our rocks and created an isivivane.

Standing in that space and considering what I have experienced thus far, everything that I have to look forward to, and everything the people of South Africa have triumphed over, I realized I want to gain perspective from this trip. It’s so easy to become wrapped up in petty details and forget what I should be grateful for. I let perspective be the focus for my addition to the pile and included positivity, patience, and purpose alongside it. Now our isivivane stands both as a memorialization of what each of us individually want to take away from this trip and our collective experience and growth. And hopefully one day I can return to Robben Island and still find our isivivane memorializing this visit.

Perspective Isivivane


2 thoughts on “Urn of Knowledge

  1. Thanks for this piece of insight into Zulu culture as well as the Robben Island experience. There are always a million more things to learn. I am learning so much by reading your team blogs!!

  2. Pingback: A Farewell | South Africa: Summer 2013

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