Monday, October 18, 2010

Great Zimbabwe

With our fill of city under our belts and dear Brettski behind the wheel again, we were off to track down history in Zimbabwe. Well fed, showered and up to date with letters and curio-shopping, we stepped back in time. Our destination was Masvingo, where we planned to visit Great Zimbabwe, a ruined city that was once the capitol of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe.
Having toured through Europe the previous year, my sense of history had vastly enlarged in scale. Back home in Canada, old houses were 80-150 years old, but massive trees easily beat out on any man-made historical sites around. In Europe, I had been awed by buildings that had been in existence for hundreds to over a thousand years, many having seen many uses through the ages. A quiet respect filled me to walk through solid rock structures that had seen members of the Roman Empire walk through these same rooms. History became tangible and reachable in ways I had never experienced. We had not seen many old structures thus far in our African journey, so I relished this taste of their history.
The history of Africa is written in the people’s songs and stories. We know that some of the oldest human remains have been found on the continent, but they have typically been societies of hunters and gatherers. That equates to temporary mud and grass huts that are abandoned to follow herds of migrating animals or to escape times of drought. The rondavels I had seen might have been decrepit looking and old, but it was relative and of a people’s ancient history, they gave little story.
Great Zimbabwe was different though. Here was a landmark built entirely of stone and without mortar, that had begun construction in the 11th century. It existed and thrived as a city from 1100 to 1450 AD, during the country’s Late Iron Age, at which point it was abandoned and fell into ruin. As we wandered through the stone structures, we were given a view of an organized people where upwards of 18 000 people may have lived in its heyday. Now sections of walls were gone and towers were only envisioned through pictures provided by the site. An amazing amount of the walls and towers were still intact though, highlighted by the Conical Tower, which is 18 feet in diameter and 30 feet high.
This was a kingdom ruled by the Shona people long before white faces invaded the lands. With the grounds covering a radius of approximately 100-200 miles and encompassing 1800 acres, I could not help but be impressed by this ancient black civilization. The relatively recent end to apartheid in South Africa had not dispelled the feeling of a racially motivated social tier in the communities we had wandered through. This monument must have felt like a slap in the face of apartheid’s belief that blacks were simple and inferior. Of course we were not in South Africa anymore and quite a bit of the racial tensions had eased just in crossing the border, but they were still in evidence. Spending the day wandering along walled passages and ducking under ancient stone lintels was an interesting experience that gave another picture of time in this land that made me feel more at home with its history in trees and rocks.
After being treated to another home-cooked meal at Clovelly Lodge life was looking pretty sweet. Feeling closer to the people and their land, Miki and I decided to explore further on horseback. We galloped along behind our guide with grins plastered to our wind-swept faces. A big home-cooked breakfast stuffed us again with the delightful taste of leisure. This must be how the other half lived, I surmised with happiness as the sun set on another glorious day in Africa.

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