Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Adventure: Great Zimbabwe ruins. (March 5)

Current Location: Masvingo, Zimbabwe.
Highlights: A fascinating experience at the Great Zimbabwe ruins, and the artists who make the incredible soapstone sculptures.
Upcoming: Harare and then off into Malawi
Current GPS Coordinates: LAT: S 20 6 55 LONG: E 30 51 1

It took us a day to drive from Bulawayo to Masvingo, site of Great Zimbabwe. After trying 7 petrol stations, we were lucky and managed to get petrol at the Total garage in Masvingo as Zimbabwe is in the middle of a fuel crisis. Not only has the price shot up (Z$21 per liter = US$2.21 per gallon), but its rationed, that's if you can sit and wait in the queues long enough before they run out. The reason for the shortage is because the President, Robert Mugabe, did not pay the fuel bill to the fuel companies so they have rationed the supply of fuel until he pays the bill. Pay up BOB!

We found an incredibly nice campsite called "Sundowners" just outside of Masvingo on the way to the ruins, slept the night and took off early the next morning for the Great Zim. I have been looking forward to seeing these ruins since I learned of them and saw pictures on the Zimbabwean currency. We arrived at the gate just as it opened and were the first in after paying the US$5 entrance fee. I was already excited and couldn't wait to get my first look and touch of the huge stone structures, the largest ancient structures in Africa south of the pyramids in Egypt. We made straight for the great enclosure with its famous conical tower. Already my imagination started to wander back to the time 900 years ago when these structures were built for the Shona Kings who ruled this part of Southern Africa. I conjured up mental images of people carrying the stones from kilometers away, then the builders carefully selecting each stone which fit together almost like a huge jigsaw puzzle, and then building the huge mortarless stone walls which still stand today. It's amazing to think that the whole complex (see the pictures below) was built, then abandoned several hundred years later and left unused by others who occupied the area. We wandered the ruins, the great enclosure, the hill top ruins, and the valley ruins for several hours. As I saw more of the ruins and walked between the mammoth walls, I started to ask questions, question, after question, after question in fact. Why were the ruins built? Who built them? When were they built? What was the purpose of each structure? and so on.............. To get these questions answered we decided to hire a guide to tell us the story of Great Zimbabwe and this is what we found out................

The ruins were built about 900 years ago for the Shone King and his many wives. The King lived alone with his spiritual advisor, guards, and a valet on the hill top structure which commanded a 360 view of the surrounding area. His queen lived in the great enclosure which the King could clearly see from the hill top. Some of his other wives lived in the great enclosure but most of the others, up to 700, lived in the valley structures which the king could also clearly see from the hill top. Most of the Shona people lived in the surrounding country. The King held meetings with traders from as far away as China, his spiritual advisor, and even melted gold in different parts of the hill top structure. After about 400 years, the structures were abandoned and the Shona people dispersed away form the area. It is thought that the population grew so large that they outstripped the area of resources and could no longer exist. I'm not sure that I fully believe this is really why the people abandoned the ruins. What do you think? I am also puzzled by another question I keep asking myself. Why were there not subsequent civilizations in Southern Africa that also built structures, or ones that formed a more complex or advanced civilizations/societies?

I really enjoyed Great Zimbabwe and spent quite some time sitting in the hill top structure looking out over the valley and the great enclosure in peaceful thought about the people who 900 years before, had walked over the very stones on which I was sitting. It also made me think about other ancient civilizations and that one day, "The West" may also be considered an ancient civilization!

Zimbabwe was formally called Rhodesia when it was a British colony and independent self governed state. Following independence, it was renamed Zimbabwe after its most treasured historical site, Great Zimbabwe.

No comments: