Sacred Fire at RTO Leaders' Graduation Ceremony,
Silvermine Nature Reserve, Cape Town

Cover Photo Design by Arnoldt Michaels

Welcome to Return to Origin's August Edition 2022

We hope you will enjoy our content and reach out to us
on our various platforms to connect, share or follow our work.

Newsletter edited and designed by Angelique and Arnoldt Michaels.

Words from our Founder

In this double fire year, 2022, in the Dagara tradition, we have indeed been shown the impact of a fire out of alignment; when it shows up as war, climate change impact, gun violence and consumption.

A fire that contains hate also has the potential for an alchemic transmutation into passion, compassion, and love.

In alignment with Return to Origin's values and vision - to return us to a culture of belonging - I remind myself that fire in alignment is hearth, warmth and home, and that keeping the collective fires burning requires us to find the generative fire of purpose in all our gifts and genius, and to share them with our communities.


- Mbali Marais, Founder, Return to Origin

Moth caught in a candle-flame
Photo by Angelique Michaels

Tending the Personal and Collective Fire

The story of the origin of the human relationship with fire is one which ignites mythological systems across all societies, and is a central concern of paleo-anthropology as key to the making of human culture. The theft of fire from the Gods for the benefit of humans is a recurring mythological theme across cultural contexts globally: from Prometheus in Ancient Greece to Maui in Polynesia. Often, it is allies in the animal world who steal or offer fire as a gift to the people. In Bushman mythology, |Kaggen, the Mantis God, steals fire from beneath the wings of Ostrich where it is concealed; across Turtle Island many animals, including Crow, Hare and Spider, access the secrets of fire, offering them to the human realm.  

Evolutionary anthropology speculates that when people lived in small-scale societies and moved around between hunting camps, fire would be part of rituals of relocation between places, embers transported and kept intact as our nomadic ancestors moved.

On the journeys between, and when arriving at the new camp, they would form the basis of making a new fire; a continuation of the last fire made. When the fire is ignited, we have arrived home. It is the essential factor in our transition to becoming beings of culture and meaning-making. It provides the technology of alchemy, of transforming substances: to make cooked food; clay into pots; metal into objects. In this sense, fire is not an ‘invention’ with a single point of origin, but a series of interactions, an elemental relationship with people, which continues to evolve.  Tracking our personal fire is, thus, always in relationship with the collective fire which is its source, and in ongoing evolution.

We are a link in a long lineage in relationship with fire that stretches behind and before us: a tapestry of elemental, animal and human interactions. May we all learn to serve the outer and inner worlds through tracking, tending and respecting this relationship as an ancient source of transformation and realising of creative potential.  A true gift!

- Dominique Santos, Community Outreach Director, Return to Origin

Hearth fire at RTO Leaders' Graduation Ceremony
Silvermine Nature Reserve, Cape Town, South Africa

Photo by Nicolaas Liebenberg
Enter the Dragonfly
A dragonfly flits back and forth across the lily pads floating on a small pond, while the breeze stirring the leaves carries a subtle scent of trees and earth. While sitting with my feet in the water, I am reminded of the enchanting beauty to be encountered in even the smallest experiences of Nature.

This is in stark contrast with the yearning for deep, wild nature that I have succumbed to over the past few months since moving to Germany from South Africa. Despite the beauty of Bavaria, I could not help shaking the feeling of loss which arose whenever I, inevitably, would compare the forests and mountains here with the perceived wildness that I know from back home.

Enter the dragonfly.

This tiny teacher bears a message upon his wings, which reminds me that the beauty of Nature is omnipresent and doesn’t correspond to the categories of comparison which the human mind automatically seeks to impose onto everything.

One of the simplest, but most integral, lessons that I learnt during my time in Return to Origin’s Indigenous Knowledge Leadership Programme was to slow down and return to an awareness of the senses. The dragonfly, in this moment, serves as a reminder that the smell of every flower, the movement of every leaf, the sound of every birdcall and the gentle touch of every breeze, all represent Nature in its entirety, carry the potential to return us to a deep relationship with the natural world, and remind us of our place in the interconnected web of life.

Dragonfly says:

All you have to do is open your eyes, if you want to see the beauty all around you.

- Arnoldt Michaels, Communications Director, Return to Origin
Dragonfly over a pond
Rottach-Egern, Bavaria, Germany

Photo by Arnoldt Michaels

Blazing a Trail like an Ancestor


The things that fill my house assume an ancestral air. I see them in a different light: cast in warm, fiery hues of burnt orange, saffron and gold. A bouquet of dried, coastal flowers, weathered books and a bowl of stones, shells, and bones. Singed with autumn. Seared with sunsets. Ablaze with endings and beginnings. 

Drawers, remnants, and artefacts speak. They hold histories, tell stories, and keep record of times past and memories forgotten. Of life, death and all the transitions between. Like rings on the girth of a tree, in increments beneath bark, it marks new growth.


I consider my ancestral assignment created during the course of the Indigenous Knowledge Leadership Programme with Return to Origin. Tree slices suspended from a wooden hanger with illustrations burnt into them. Silhouetted vignettes of moments before my time. Etched into wood across the growth lines of a fallen tree, are messages for those whose time extends from mine. 

The programme’s attentivity to community, history and belonging emboldened me to dig beneath the surfaces: to the roots and marrow of my relations with people, places and things. It reminded me of the value in stillness and the healing in listening.

I listened to my grandmother’s stories of the farm in the Karoo where she grew up. Through them I caught glimpses of great-grandparents, of uncles and aunts; taking flesh and form in my imagination. I discovered little quirks and peculiarities: ways of relating to the places they lived in and moved through, to others, and to themselves. It was all familiar. These stories were entangled with mine. I came to understand that the hearts and feet that danced and sang, the spines that carried so much, and the hands that planted and prayed, were my own.

Wafts of a familiar scent flit through memories and dreams: my ouma's drawer filled with antique sentimentals. In an instant, I am transported back to those warm afternoons, crouched down side by side on the wooden floors of my grandmother’s flat. My brother and I, whispering conspiratorially, picking up and dusting off everything we found. What a thrill it was: looking at, touching and smelling little foreign things we didn’t understand, but somehow sensed were special. As though we knew that each little trinket held stories of a time before ours; of people we knew, but never had met.

More than twenty years later, the scent takes me back and whispers as softly as a footstep on a mossy forest floor:

"Never lose your sense of wonder. Always sense and cherish the magic and mystery, not only in ventures far from home, in the distant and unknown, but in every nook and crevice of the mundane. In every fissure of the familiar."

Now, I contemplate what it means to live like an ancestor; how feeling like one informs the way I carry myself, how I relate to those around me, to my body and my home. In some ways, I have recreated that secret drawer that creaks of a time before mine. In the centre of my flat, a large, hand-made chest stands. Some of what it holds will outlive me, and to some child, someday, they may gesture to stories of us, offering glimpses into the lives we lead, what we value and what we leave behind.

To live like an ancestor is to tend to my inner and outer fires, to carry entangled, overlapping histories of pathways preceding and succeeding mine, and to find my footing on them. It is sowing seeds along the way. It is blazing a trail and clearing a path, and attending to what needs healing now, so that those who come after won’t have to. For they will have other battles to fight and other calls to heed. 

To my fires I must attend.

- Angelique Michaels, Project Facilitator, Return to Origin

Pyrography engraving on a tree slice by Angelique Michaels,
Ancestral Assignment
Indigenous Knowledge Leadership Programme (IKLP)

A Message from our Guardian for Nature

Hello everyone, my name is Siphenkosi Zintoyinto and I am speaking from the beautiful False Bay at Muizenberg in Cape Town. I am 13 years old, a surfer and a free diver. A few weeks ago, I went for my second free dive.

Where we were, we saw schools of fish and sea urchins amongst the kelp within the kelp forest.  The water made me feel extraordinary. I was speechless at how beautiful the ocean was; it was like being in another world and it blew my mind.

We spent three hours being one with the ocean. At the end of the dive, I thought: what if we lived in a world with no pollution?

How nice would it be if the water was not polluted, and when you put your head under water you could hear all the animals communicating with each other? This world would be harmonious between animals and humans. We would empower each other to preserve our amazing home, Planet Earth, and the future of generations to come.

I know that if you’re a parent or grandparent, you would not like to tell your children or grandchildren that you did not do anything to help our planet.

As children, you are the people we look up to. Show us the way. Be our GPS when we get lost in our lives. Take us halfway on the bridge, and we will walk the other half alone. Knowing we work together makes better people and a better society.

Together we can accomplish a mission that seems, looks and sounds impossible.

If adults taught us to love the earth rather than save it, our generation may stand a better chance of survival.

Thank you.

- Siphenkosi Zintoyinto, Guardian for Nature, Return to Origin

Congratulations to our youngest member and Guardian for Nature, Siphenkosi Zintoyinto (13 years old), who achieved 83% for his FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) Nature Ambassador course, and also completed his junior PADI (Professional Association
Of Diving Instructors) free diving course.

A Warm Welcome to our New RTO Ambassador
Return to Origin is honoured to welcome Vuyisani Nobi, our new ambassador, to the team. We are excited to have his fresh energy and perspective added to all of our projects.

Vuyisani is an award-winning long-distance athlete and community organiser from Ekuphumleni, Kenton-on-Sea, in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. He is passionate about creating opportunities for young people that celebrate their diversity and strength.

His leadership, especially with the youth, is integral in forming a bridge through which his community can be represented on a broader stage.

"Changing lives as a community ambassador for a better future for the next generation"

– Vuyisani Nobi, Ambassador, Return to Origin

Vuyisani Nobi at the Kariega River during the RTO Sustainable Together workshop
Kenton-on-Sea, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Photo by Ndiphiwe Kwakweni
View our new YouTube video:

 "Healing the Broken Links with Nature: Exhibition as Storyteller" 

This presentation was originally presented by the Return to Origin team at the Amazwi Literature, Heritage and Ecology Conference, hosted by the Amazwi South African Museum of Literature at Makhanda in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

It responds to the conference theme of “Making Peace with Nature” from a perspective rooted in the fertile stories and discussions brought to light during the Sustainable Together workshop and exhibition. 

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