A few weeks ago I went to the IMAX theatre at the Museum of Civilization in Hull to see the movie “Flight of the Butterflies”. In addition to being a visually spectacular film in 3D it told another amazing story.
Monarch butterfies weighing only a few grams migrate from our back yards in Ontario to one particular spot in Mexico where they spend the “winter” months. They then fly back to the southern US where they lay eggs and a new generation is formed which makes the second migratory loop to the northern parts of North America. The generation that goes through the egg/caterpillar/pupa/butterfly phase here in Canada is the one that goes back to Mexico. This journey is incredible enough, given the size of the delicate butterfly and the distance traveled. But even more unbelievable is that the butterfly that migrates back to Mexico has never been there. It was her grandmother that spent the previous winter at the same location.
What could be the explanation for this? There must be something inate that leads the butterfly to Mexico – something in its DNA that acted as a homeing GPS.
I have often found it remarkable that caucasian visitors from the northern hemisphere (including me) who visit East Africa are drawn to return there. I have this unusual inner voice drawing me back repeatedly. I have often wondered what this is all about.
Now I know. Or think I do.
I imagine that there is some little piece of my DNA that knows where I came from – not last year but hundreds of thousands of years ago. I think that some of us have some tiny piece of genetic material that recognizes East Africa as the place of our origin and, although we are not a migrating species, there is some biological inner voice that draws us there. If it can happen to a Monarch Buttefly or Pacific Salmon, why not us.
I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to wander in the Rift Valley where humanity originated. In a little museum in Arusha Tanzania, I have seen part of a 1.5 million-year-old skull of Homo habilis – one of my great, great, great, great, great, …x many greats …….. grandparents, perhaps.
Science supports the idea that all humanity originated in East Africa. It makes me wonder – does my DNA remember this in some primitive way and that is why, like the butterfly that returns to the place of its ancestors without a map, I am drawn to return to the Rift Valley of Kenya?
It is, I am sure, my ancestral home.