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Celebrating the life of a Legend:
David Kiyaga-Mulindwa

By Phillip Segadika [*]

Botswana Teachers day, June 5th was an appropriate day to commemorate the life and mourn the death of Dr. David Kiyaga-Mulindwa who died on the 16th of May in Uganda at age 63. He was known to thousands of University of Botswana students as he taught history and later archaeology at the University of Botswana between 1976 and 1993.

A portion of his obituary says a lot about a man who has been described as an authority on the history and archaeology of west, southern and east Africa and apparently the first native Ugandan graduate of archaeology:

Prof DKM as he was affectionately called by colleagues and former students had a varied academic career. From 1970-1972, he was a curator of History and Archeology at the Uganda National Museum in Kampala, Uganda. From 1974-1976 he was a Research Assistant in the Department of Archeology at the University of Legon in Ghana. Between 1976 and 1993 Prof DKM worked and held a number of positions at the University of Botswana, where he was Lecturer and was promoted to Senior lecturer. He was a Founder and Coordinator of the Archeology Unit of the University of Botswana from 1985-1993. Between 1993 and 1996 he was a Consultant and Research Affiliate at the Centre for Basic Research in Kampala, Uganda. Between 1996 and 1997 he was a Visiting Professor at the University of Fort Hare. Until his untimely death, DKM was an Associate Professor and Chairman of the Programme Committee, History Department, Kyambogo University- Kampala.

Speaking at the memorial service organized by the Department of history and archaeology, speakers hailed Kiyaga-Mulindwa as a legend whose academic sharpness, infectious laughter, continuous humour and tolerance will be missed by many. Professor Parsons almost confused the mourners by saying Dr. Kiyaga Mulindwa must rest "not in peace, but in activity". He explained that the soul of Mulindwa - the archaeologist and searcher of knowledge should continue to ask 'those in heaven' to explain to him the many things he had spent his entire life searching for. He credited Dr. Mulindwa's passion in archaeology for the birth of the archaeology division of the University of Botswana, which grew out of the history department. For her part Dr Alinah Segobye, a senior lecturer at UB, and herself a former student of Mulindwa quoted several messages that she received from several world renowned archaeologists including Professor Thomas Tlou, Professor Posnansky and Dr. Jeanette Deacon who described David as "an intellectual giant', 'humane' and a "fine man". Dr Kiyaga-Mulindwas's daugher in law, Balladiah Chingapane who relayed the family appreciation to UB for hosting the memorial explained that David died, of a rare heart condition, after three weeks of hospitalization, during which time diagnosis did not reveal the cause of illness.

Personal memories

After the memorial service I still felt a bit unhealed of the loss of my teacher and mentor. If I had an opportunity to share of my experience with Dr Kiyaga-Mulindwa I would mention four things that stand out: first, being the fact that he influenced (in fact, instructed!) me to take up the archaeology career. And I am ever so grateful he did.

In 1992, as a second year history student I was fortunate enough to be introduced to his 8 weeks fieldwork at Lose and Mookotso sites (in Eastern Botswana)) and Mmakodu site (at the foot of the Tswapong hills near Majwaneng village in East Central Botswana). Walking around Mookotso hillock was my first experience of archaeological site location by foot survey. After several kilometers of walking in lines at regular intervals of about 40 metres, one of the six students shouted that he had discovered something that looked like a burnt brick on a little mound. We all came together and did more search around the 50 cm high mound of about a meter wide. Dr. Mulindwa explained that we would be doing excavations there the following week, explaining that the little sun burnt brick on a mound was possibly the "tip" of a fallen house. That was a great lesson with lasting impression for me because after several days of meticulous excavation, screening, brushing and water floating techniques we then came to an exciting layer: At 45 centimeters we discovered clay cattle figurines, the remains of a hearth with charcoal and some pottery. All these were buried under some rubble that consisted of pole impressions on clay soil suggesting that the house was built in what I later knew to be 'wattle and daub' technique. We further discovered some potsherds, bones and more charcoal which he was quick to point out would be used to date the site. I was so excited that before switching off my torch in the tent that evening I had written down the first verse of a poem:

Now with a trowel I dig
hoping to exhume something big
anything those of old did use or own
from pottery to beads and bone

My other experience of excavation under the tutelage of Mulindwa was at 'Makodu site' which was declared a National monument in September 2006. At Mmakodu site Mulindwa introduced us to a site, which demonstrated active mining for iron ore and subsequent smelting of the same by the inhabitants about 1000 years ago. Up the Majwaneng hill are several massive borrow pits (some of them 3 metres deep and up to twelve meters wide) where, apparently, the Mmakodu inhabitants mined the ore before ferrying it down to smelt it near the mighty Majwaneng baobabs. Together with a team from Sweden led by Mats Widgren, a human geographer, we helped map the site using an Electronic Distance Measurer to produce 3D image of the Mmakodu mines. This site and that of Lose were later to inform Kiyaga-Mulindwa and Segobye's arguments on 'urban origins' in southern Africa and particularly Botswana.

There was the funny side too. In the field excursions at Mookotso site Mulindwa argued that he could speak fluent Setswana. So we started conversing with him in Setswana, until one-day, when he probably thought he should demonstrate his grasp of the vernacular. One of the students, then Amayo Khudu, asked him in Setswana where the sharp ended trowel was - to rescue a badly corroded spearhead. To this Mulindwa responded slowly and with confidence "ga ke na le nayo" instead of "ga ke na yone/nayo" We could not hold the giggles as we noted his very "fluent" Setswana.

As I was struggling with the loss of Dr. Mulindwa I peeped through the internet pages and noted that he took away Botswana with him wherever he went, continuing to publish about aspects of what he garnered while in Botswana and other parts of Africa. In one of his latest articles he repeated something that he was passionate about: that Kalahari Desert environs were wrongfully thought to be devoid of archaeological relics, especially by the Apartheid white racist regime and academics that were biased on showcasing the brevity of black occupation of Southern Africa.

I do hope that, in the after-life, Dr. Mulindwa is in the company of the Transcendent Archaeologist who will do the ultimate excavation when the 'dead shall be resurrected' to account, not on oral traditions or archaeological evidence, but a candid story on the gamut of how we responded while contained in the physical. May his soul rest in peace.

* Phillip Segadika is a Landscape Archaeologist and Principal Curator of Archaeology and Monuments Division at the Department of National Museum, Monuments and Art Gallery. [Return]

Copyright © 2007 Phillip Segadika. This article appears by permission of Mr Segadika. Last updated 16 June 2007. [PAGE ENDS]