Formation of Mupo Foundation – now EarthLore

EarthLore, formerly Mupo Foundation, was formed in 2007 when communities were identified in South Africa who were concerned about the increasing loss of their indigenous knowledge and practices, especially amongst young people. They were also concerned about the violation of their sacred natural sites and the associated ceremonies, rituals and practices, which they believed was leading to the breakdown of the community and the degradation of the environment.

Mupo Foundation was formed with the support of the Gaia Foundation and African Biodiversity Network (ABN).  At the time some ABN members were participating in the Gaia Amazonas and Botswana learning processes and adapting what they learnt in their different countries to Africa. Mupo was established to support communities in Southern Africa who wanted to revive their traditional knowledge and practices, to protect their sacred natural sites (SNS) and to regenerate their farming systems and ancestral lands.

Story of Origin

In 2005 ABN members and others from Peru, Colombia and Sweden participated in a meeting hosted by Gaia Foundation in South Africa. At this meeting the Community Ecological Governance (CEG) Global Alliance was founded to connect those who were working with communities to accompany them in the journey to  revive and enhance their traditions, as the foundation from which to navigate the future.

Also, in 2005, Colin and Niall Campbell visited Venda and met Mphatheleni (Mpathe) Makaulule who had developed a cultural village, Luvhola, where she was teaching children the traditional dances and supporting women to learn their traditional crafts. After their meeting, they suggested the CEG group should visit Venda  to explore the possibility of working together.

The work then began in 2006 as the” Venda Project” which was hosted by one of the founding organisations of the ABN, the SEED Trust. At the same time, the SEED Trust was hosting the work with another emerging community in KwaZulu Natal in the Uthungulu district , near Escourt.  The Nkosi (traditional Zulu chief) was a traditional  healer and a leader in the community. The community was concerned about the degradation of their sacred sites, the lack of ritual ceremony and the resulting breakdown. Supported by Richard Haigh and Haidee Swanby, the community began the work of reviving their Sacred Natural Site (SNS) and the required rituals to bring rain.

In 2007 the organisation was formally registered as the Mupo Foundation. The name was the brainchild of Mpathe, “Mupo” being a Venda word meaning “all of creation,  the natural world”. Key members of ABN and Gaia made up the Board. Gaia and ABN supported the initial work through micro-project funding.

Between 2007 and 2009 the work in Venda focussed on dialogues with elders and interested people in three communities to reflect on the challenges and revive the memory of the traditions. Out of these dialogues the communities identified that their priority was to protect their sacred sites. Many were threatened by tourism, other belief systems and development projects, and the communities were distressed. It also became clear that traditional seed diversity was priority because the rituals and ceremonies for the sacred sites could not be carried out without the sacred millet ‘from the soil that the site recognises’.

Million Belay from the ABN visited Venda to introduce the community and the schools to the  Cultural Biodiversity (CB) work with young people in schools, to learn from elders. These three areas then became Mupo’s areas of work.

In 2008, after long discussions with Martin von Hildebrand, the ethnologist and anthropologist from Gaia Amazonas, Gaia and ABN,  it was decided to introduce in Africa the eco-mapping and calendar process developed in the Amazon. At the end of 2009, the first process took place in Venda, led by Gaia, Gaia Amazonas and indigenous leaders from the Colombian Amazon. The Amazonians said that with this eco-cultural mapping process they ‘opened the path for the communities in Africa to learn the tool developed with the guidance of their ancestors’. They said it was very important to follow the spirit of the process, which requires the communities to work hard to bring back the memory of how they used to live before all the disturbances.  This would enable them to be properly rooted in their ancestry, which would give them the strength to stand firm as they faced the challenges that will come in the future. ABN partners from other countries participated, together with allies from the Altai, in Russia.

See the results of the process here:

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/9831187 w=500&h=280]

From 2010 the work began to focus more intensely on developing registration materials to apply for legal recognition of the network of sacred natural sites (SNS) in Venda  and the clan governance systems. In 2012 the documents were submitted to the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) for recognition of these sites as National or Provincial Heritage Sites. To date they have not been recognised officially, even though SAHRA began a process of registering them as National Heritage Sites.

During this process, the custodians of the sacred natural sites formed their own community organisation called Dzomo la Mupo, “Voice of Mupo”. The organisation has been registered and Mphatheleni Makaulule is the Executive Director.  Under the leadership of Mphathe, Dzomo are continuing the work that Mupo Foundation, now EarthLore,  supported  in Venda.

Change to EarthLore

During 2014, communities in Mphumalanga, Zimbabwe and other areas began to approach what was then Mupo Foundation to enable them to do similar work in reviving their traditions.  After various visits and discussions, work began in 2015 in Zimbabwe, Mphumalanga and KwaZulu Natal, where EarthLore also became actively involved in responding to the rapid expansion of coal mining and fossil fuel extraction and resultant climate change in rural areas, causing devastation to the lives, livelihoods and health of traditional people.

The expansion of the work in of Zimbabwe, Mphumalanga and KwaZulu Natal, and the intention is to extend the work to other areas in Southern Africa in the future, prompted the decision for the name change from Mupo to EarthLore.  While Mupo has great significance for the Venda people, being a Venda word meaning “all of creation,  the natural world”, it is not a term that is familiar to other communities in Southern Africa.

The change of name to EarthLore recognises the primacy of the Earth as the source of all life, lore and law.  Through our work, EarthLore embraces caring for the living Earth and drawing on the Lore of traditional wisdom through our work with rural communities to accompany them on a journey to revive traditional knowledge and practices essential for navigating climate change and defending their land against growing threats from mining and industrial exploitation.  We recognise that traditional ways of understanding the land/ecosystems, cultivating a diversity of seeds and foods, and developing customary lore and governance systems are rooted in complying with the laws that govern life, observed over generations.

In 2015, EarthLore’s Head Office was established in Johannesburg.

EarthLore is partnering with a range of organisations in Zimbabwe, Mphumalanga and KwaZulu Natal, and regionally to share our approach.  See partners page….


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