There’s always a lot of background in Africa: MMBA as the colonial British frequently referred to it – Miles and miles of bloody Africa. The origin of this expression is variously attributed to Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and Robert Ruark. In any event MMBA is always difficult to capture in a photograph.
The shot above was taken from the hilltop ruins above Great Zimbabwe. The original negative has degraded a little, but the photograph was also taken in winter-time when the landscape of southern Africa anyway takes on the aspect of an ‘old master’ oil painting.
As ever when Team Farrell go travelling, Team Leader Graham was striking out in front – ‘Our Man in Africa’, while Nosy Writer was busy being nosy and fumbling with the settings on her Olympus Trip. Inevitably, TL ended up walking into NW’s line of sight. Here, though, I’m glad he did. He may be in shadow, but he provides a handy foil for the backdrop. It could be a stage set, couldn’t it? There’s definitely a sense of unreality.
And here’s another painterly ‘in the background’ view: the Great Enclosure of Great Zimbabwe with giant aloes in the foreground. Of course, when it comes to the history of this World Heritage site, ‘in the background’ could well have another and wholly insidious meaning. When geologist, Carl Mauch, first visited the site in 1871 he was convinced that the massive dry-stone granite walls were the remains of the Queen of Sheba’s lost city of Ophir. (See also my post on The Swahili). For some decades this view persisted. It was not in the interests of pioneer imperialist Cecil Rhodes for it to be known that Africans had a sophisticated historical heritage. He financed the first excavation by James Theodore Bent whose brief was to ‘prove’ that the complex had been built by the Phoenicians or the Ancient Egyptians. In 1928-9 British archaeologist, Gertrude Caton-Thompson refuted this conclusion, pronounced it African-built but “the product of an infantile mind.”
Some people may be surprised to know how often archaeology is used as a political tool, but it was, and still is.
In the 1960s-70s when Zimbabwe, then Southern Rhodesia, was under the white rule of Ian Smith’s regime, history was again re-written. Any historians who dared to state that Great Zimbabwe was built by indigenous Africans put themselves at risk, and their work was censored. This led to the departure from the country of many prominent Rhodesian archaeologists including Peter Garlake, both an expert on the ruins, and Rhodesia’s then Senior Inspector of Monuments. His excavations in the 1960s, and those of Paul Sinclair in 1986 fully demonstrate that from around 1200 AD to c. 1500 AD when it was abandoned, the Shona-speaking Karanga people built and lived in this extensive settlement.
Estimates for the population over this period range from 5-30,000. It was a wealthy centre for cattle rearing and for cereal and cotton growing. Gold from mines further inland was brought into Great Zimbabwe, its rulers acting as middle-men in the trade that extended to the Swahili city of Sofala on the Mozambique coast. In return for gold and ivory, the Karanga imported luxury goods – fine textiles, Persian and Chinese wares, including Ming porcelain.
So much for Cecil Rhodes and his racist agenda. Although even in death this man manages to still make his presence felt. He chose to be buried in the Matobo Hills, territory of Ndebele people, and at a place known as Malindidzimu, Hill of Spirits. From here, also known as World’s View, I imagine that he thought he could continue to ‘rule’ Africa. The locals find the presence of his spirit here in their own sacred place quite offensive.
View from Cecil Rhodes’ grave in the Matobo Hills, and his stated aim: “I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence, look again at the extra employment a new country added to our dominions gives.”
And as an antidote to that dispiriting diatribe here are some more ‘in the background’ views in Zimbabwe:
Gateway in the Great Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe
The mysterious tower inside the Great Enclosure
Me looking small and very young inside the Great Enclosure. The walls are dry-stone granite – not a lick of mortar.
A roadside soapstone artist in Harare. This bust of a Shona elder is a common subject. Zimbabwe has produced some of the world’s outstanding sculptors.
Looking down on the Great Enclosure. For decades many Europeans refused to believe Great Zimbabwe was an African settlement.
Victoria Falls through a misty spray of mighty Zambezi.
Victoria Falls from the Zambian side. Most of the water on this side of the Zambezi is abstracted. My wet kanga wrap nearly took me hang-gliding off the knife edge in a rainstorm, but that’s another story.
Dete school girls, with a train in the background!
And finally, because this is Africa, there has to be shot with some elephants in the background. Taken in Hwange National Park.
© 2013 Tish Farrell