A few days ago when I was looking out the Great Zimbabwe photos to scan, I came across an envelope with this view inside. Anyone know where it is? Or where do you think it might be? Answers on a postcard please. Or if not on a postcard, in the comments box below
I was very pleased that this Thursday’s Special from Paula is another Traces of the Past challenge. I spent yesterday afternoon attempting to scan these photos of Great Zimbabwe. I’ve shown other versions of these images before – scanned from negatives, but either I or the scanner was on the blink, and I wasn’t very happy with the results. Then the scanner broke altogether (it was a whizzo Nikon one too), and that was that.
So yesterday I had a go with some of the original prints on the flat-bed scanner, which then led to a lot of dust-speck removing – very tedious.
This is the best I’ve been able to do. The first shot shows the Great Enclosure, and the top of the mysterious stone tower within. The sci-fi plants on the left are giant aloes.
This next shot is taken from the Hill site, where archaeologists have discovered gold and other metal working enclaves.
It gives a good sense of the surrounding terrain, although in the heyday of Great Zimbabwe, the environs may well have been a good deal more lush. The citizens’ domestic economy revolved around cattle herding, and indeed, one of the theories for the city’s demise in the C15th is over-grazing. But I’m sure there was more to it than that.
Great Zimbabwe was part of an extensive trade network throughout the period equivalent to Europe’s early Middle Ages. Its merchants trekked in caravans to the Mozambique coast, taking gold and ivory to trade with Arab dhow merchants of the Swahili seaboard cities. It is very possible, then, that the gold floating around Europe and the Middle East in Crusader times came from Great Zimbabwe. In other words, it was not the remote settlement it may seem today; it was strongly connected to the Old World’s wheeler-dealer networks. Nor was it the only great African city state in southern Africa. So much of the continent’s human history remains to be discovered and told; historian Basil Davidson made a good start, though most of his works may be out of print now. And it was Peter Garlake who wrote the classic work on Great Zimbabwe (1973).
I only wish I’d taken more photos while I was there. We were being distracted by a travelling companion who was intent on not noticing that we were visiting one of the world’s most fascinating archaeological sites. Ah well. Anyway, looking at these photos now, it all looks very dreamlike, and that’s how it felt at the time.
But I’ll leave you with a few hard facts. Great Zimbabwe was built and lived in by Shona people between 1000 and 1500. The enclosure walls, though often monumental, were seemingly never defensive. The entrances are simply open, undefended spaces. The stone came from the nearby granite hills, and was cut and laid without mortar. The walls vary from 4 to 17 feet in width with some reaching over 30 feet in height. It is, in short, a very amazing place, and I have written other posts with more of the history.
But oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if these walls could speak and tell us their stories!
Here’s another old ‘when we were in Africa’ shot. It was taken in full-on midday sun (not good), but despite increasing fuzziness, I thought it would be interesting to do some successive crops, just to lead the eye along this Rift escarpment road. As might be imagined it was easier to negotiate on foot than by vehicle.
The Great Rift is actually ahead where the road drops from view. If you stare hard enough at the first shot, you can just make out the blue outline of the Rift volcanoes in the valley bottom. The photo was taken in 1997-8 when He-Who-Was-Studying-Smutted-Napier-Grass was doing his fieldwork for his PhD thesis, and I was going along as She-Who-Holds-One-End-Of-The-Tape-Measure.
There were several such smut missions, and on all occasions it was really Njonjo who was in charge. He was our driver (seen here behind the works’ Land Rover) and he was a whizz at spotting plots of smutted Napier grass while at the same time driving on roads a good deal worse than this one.
It was also he who talked us into numerous randomly chosen Kikuyu farmsteads around the Rift Valley. This was probably more of a feat than we realized at the time. Unknown people striding about in field plots with tape measures can rouse unwelcome suspicions from local farmers: the activity taken as signs of imminent invasion by land grabbers. In fact anything to do with land is a touchy issue in Kenya, and has been since colonial times. It is one of the nasty, big, enduring skeletons we Brits left behind there, along with our notions of large-scale land ownership, Crown Lands, and the idea that confining indigenous populations to community reserves (where very many still subsist on degraded ancestral plots) was a good one.
Anyway, that’s another story. In the next on-the-road shot, (and one that has some tarmac), Njonjo (in the tartan shirt) is conducting an impromptu workshop on smut identification. These are all smallholder farmers who just happened to spot our presence, and gathered round to see what we were up to. Everyone was very happy when Graham produced some information booklets on what to do with smutted plants.
In the next shot Njonjo holds a clump of diseased grass. The fungal infection turns the flower spikes black and gradually weakens the plant, decreasing the leaf mass year on year. Most smallholder farmers have such small farm plots, any livestock has to be zero grazed, i.e., confined to pen or paddock, and food delivered to it. Napier grass is an important and usually prolific fodder crop, and grown wherever there is space, including along road verges and on hillside terraces to serve a further function of stabilising the soil and reducing soil erosion.
There is not much than can be done about the disease, other than to pull up the plants and burn them, and plant clean fresh stock. This is easier said than done in communities where farmers get new planting material from each other. It was one of those situations where you quickly learn that other people’s roads are a damned sight harder than ours – and in all senses.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
There is more about these expeditions at Looking for smut: work on Kenya’s Highland Farms
It’s not easy taking a photo of a moving lion, and for all sorts of reasons – not least, the excitement. This is another shot of one of the members of the Maasai Mara’s celebrity Marsh Pride. I think that confident stride definitely says ‘I’m in charge here’. And just look at the size of those front paws! Scarily impressive even in this somewhat aged photo.
We visited the Maasai Mara only three times while we were living in Kenya, but every trip there delivered many breath-taking moments. We were lucky too. Kenyan wildlife guides are among the world’s best – so generous in the sharing of their knowledge – whether of grasses and dung beetles or leopards and rock pythons.
Desert Date and the Oloololo Escarpment ~ indelible memory Mara-style
This week at Lost in Translation, Paula’s March Pick A Word includes five word prompts: commanding, coarse, gibbous, incremental, indelible. Please see her interpretations and be inspired.