Ancient Tsholotsho rock art discovered

AWAY from the perennial bug of poverty and impoverishment, the San community in Tsholotsho District, in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland North Province have finally crawled out of the cocoons and remarkably opted to trace their roots and define who they are.

Forget about how the government has flatly ignored them in terms of their needs and basic requirements and how for years their traditional life has been condensed and diluted, the San people otherwise known as amasili have their cultural heritage at heart.

The Weekend Post was last week part of the San community entourage who were on a trip to relive the experiences of their forefathers and a mission to rewrite their history through a collection of relevant historical pieces.

As the entourage mostly made up of elderly people finally made it to a place called Tshefunye about 97km from Bulawayo along Solusi Road, as per tradition, they first consulted the village head for the area, Ndlovu who immediately assembled the villagers and told them about the work at hand.

He then assigned two villagers to assist the team. The two were Nkatha Ncube, 78 and Ephraim Ndlovu, 72.

With permission granted, the first port of call was a place called Intaba yezifanakiso (Mountain of the Rock paintings).
As the line of the winding path towards the mountain formed itself, it was the voice of 87-year old gogo Margaret Sibanda currently living along Manziamnyama River that kept popping up.
While I sensed that something important was being uttered, I could not easily comprehend what she was saying as the words were said in the local Tjwa language.

Upon inquiring from other senior members, one of the elders Nkatha Ncube simply translated that her words meant to urge everybody on the importance of tracing their roots as well as reviving their culture.

After a walk of about two kilometres off the main road, we finally made it to Intaba yezifanakiso where artistically painted rocks believed to have been done some 100 years ago were unveiled.
The excitement upon the face of gogo Sibanda could be easily spelt across the faces of those in her company.

What made the enthusiasm more meaningful was that a day before a similar event at Tshabanda had yielded similar results.
“As you can see the paintings we have found are waning off and slowly disappearing,” said one villager Ephraim.

“When I was a boy this place used to be sacred we never used to come anywhere close as we were told you will get lost in the mountain or just disappear. This place had no trees surrounding it as is the case today perhaps due to its sacred nature,” he said.
He however, admitted that most of the villagers were not aware of the importance of the discovered site.

Ncube also told Weekend Post that the site has over the years lost its sacredness. “This was a very sacred place that was respected by our elders as well as ourselves when we were growing up. Unfortunately, the new generation do not see the value attached to the place.

“The honest truth is I am delighted and grateful that this new initiative is going to bring back respect and cultural pride of the area.”

Later in the day the entourage was taken to Intaba yeNgungu (Mountain of the drums). Here there is a rock that sounds like drums when hit with stones.

Footprints could also be seen confirming that this was also a place that was frequented by people coming to play the sound of the drums.

After that, the team went to mount Tokwana where more rock paintings were found. Some villagers who spoke to this paper also hinted that there were many other places of cultural significance in the area.

“We are quite certain that there are many such sites in our vicinity but our only hope is for the government to take note and develop these places into local heritage sites to boost cultural tourism in the area,” said Nanale Zibi.

Added Zibi: “The other place of interest is at mount Hambagwe where there is this spectacular rock. The rock has cups right around as that used by people playing a traditional children’s play umlabala. The elders said they found the rock as it was and this was a sure sign that showed the greatness of God.”

Tsoro-o-tso San Development Trust director, Davy Ndlovu who facilitated the programme and tour said it was their quest to investigate and locate sacred sites that could shed more light on the life of the San in Tsholotsho.

He said this was part of the quest to document and record the history of the San people. “As part of our ethnographic study, we discovered some rock paintings at different mountains in Tsholotsho South,” Ndlovu said.

“The main objective of this ethnographic study was to enable us to tell the true San story in Zimbabwe. The history of the San in Zimbabwe has remained a mystery and it is our endeavour to unlock that mystery,” he said.

Ndlovu said it was unfortunate that the San in Zimbabwe have been viewed as a faceless people, people without an identity, without a language and worse still a people with a tangible historical background.

Many people still believe that there are no San in Zimbabwe most particularly in Tsholotsho. —Jeffrey Muvundusi

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