The culmination of the
Annual General Meeting was an illustrated talk by the Director of the
Cambria Archaeological Trust, Gwilym Hughes. One of the opening slides of
his excellent and revealing presentation was of mist over Victoria Falls
seen through a rainbow; aptly known as the ‘Smoke that Thunders’. The
landlocked country of Zimbabwe is bordered to the north from Zambia by the
Zambezi River which throws itself over the mile wide Victoria Falls and
into Lake Kariba which is 186 miles long. To the south the river Limpopo
divides the country from South Africa and its neighbours to the east and
west are Mozambique and Botswana respectively.
Gwilym told us he had lived and worked in Zimbabwe between 1984 and 1989
and been involved in conservation work associated with the massive stone
structures forming the mysterious ruins of Great Zimbabwe, near Masvingo
in the south of the country. The huge stone walls of the settlement, up to
11metres high and 6 metres thick, is believed to date from a Shona
civilisation that dominated the region from the 12th to the 15th
centuries. At the centre of the site is a hill complex thought to be the
residence of the King. The word Zimbabwe in the Shona language means
‘house of stone’. The settlement was probably home to about 20,000 people
making it one of the largest settlements of the period and there were
clear indications that trade with the Middle East and even the Far East
was taking place at that time.
Centuries later traces of this great black civilisation were discovered by
the early colonial settlers who chose to believe they had discovered King
Solomon’s Mines rather than accept that Great Zimbabwe had been built by
the indigenous population all those years ago; so the myth was promoted.
Sadly, these early settlers vandalised many of the ancient sites almost as
if they were afraid of the past. Oddly today in modern Zimbabwe on its
national flag displays the bird of Zimbabwe which was an icon in the times
of the old Shona civilisation.
Postscript: In the book entitled Founders of Rhodesia by G.H.Taser
published in 1950 a foreword written by Rt.Hon.Sir Geoffrey Huggins, C.H.,
K.C.M.G., F.R.C.S., M.P. says ‘To understand the future it is necessary to
know something of the past...In this book, the author has made the early
history of the Colony a much more entertaining subject by giving the
reader a series of lively biographies of some of the important
personalities who contributed so much to the development of our country.’
Isn’t it odd how pre-history of Great Zimbabwe prior to the coming of the
‘white man’ is so easily dismissed by our colonial forebears? The Friends
should be grateful to Gwilym Hughes for ensuring that the history of a
truly great country which existed before Cecil John Rhodes was a twinkle
in his father’s eye is being told. Wasn’t it Archbishop Desmond Tutu who
said ‘When the white man came to the land of Africa he brought the Bible.
The people knelt, closed their eyes and prayed. When they opened them
again they had the Bible and the white man had the land’.
TREVOR D. LLOYD
First published in The Friend June 2005