This Blog was written for Wilderness Safaris by Eddie Mudzimu, Assistant Camp Manager at Ruckomechi Camp. (Photographs by Dana Allen)
Eddie was born in Kariba, Zimbabwe. After school, Eddie was recruited by a local hotel to train in various departments before rising up the ranks to the Group Relief Manager – a post he held for 12 years. Life in the bush was a big transition from being at a large hotel but he loves working in the more intimate safari camp environment. His passion for what he does and his desire to create wonderful and memorable journey’s for his guests is what makes him happy and continues to drive him.
PART 1 (17th November 2016)
Finding myself working for Wilderness Safaris (at Ruckomechi Camp) in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools seems less by coincidence than by appointment at the right time as my forefathers lived in the area around Mana Pools long before it was inscribed as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1984.
My father was born somewhere in the Zambezi Valley in 1922 and lived here with his parents until they were moved out and settled in the Hurungwe area as chief and headman in the new area. The chiefs then were Mudzimu, Dandawa and Nyamhunga.
Every time I make it down the escarpment from Makuti I have a sense of homecoming. This is what makes my time at
Ruckomechi Camp so special because I feel the reconnection with my ancestors. Evidence of their existence is all around as I drive here; the huge open areas tell of evidence of a life gone by, with signs of pottery and pole-and-dagga (mud) huts, though the best of all are the hollow baobab trees which tell long stories of their existence and how they were used to hide from invaders and later on as storerooms for grain.
Across the river on the Zambian side are families who speak my language – and we are, in a way, related as most of them moved across the Zambezi River before borders and passports came into being. During the time my forefathers were here they mainly survived on fishing and growing small grain crops like sorghum and rapoko grass.
As I drive around Mana Pools National Park my mind is taken back many years and I try to imagine how life was back then, mentally rewinding the clock to put together a picture of those historic days. Some areas are still steeped in myth and mystery – like the gravesite of one of the earlier chiefs that on days can be seen and other days just vanishes into thin air! The rivers flowing around Mana Pools still bear the names given to them by my ancestors and each name has a story and history related to it; so too the mountains and the hills around here.
Life may have evolved a hundred-fold but the history and evidence of my ancestors’ survival I will always cherish and pass on to my people – and continue to respect our legacy which is this extraordinary place and its amazing animals.
PART 2 (16th March 2017)
Coming back to Mana Pools to work and walk in the very area that my forefathers called home led me to want to find out more about the ancient people who lived here, their lifestyles, cultures and, most of all, where they originated. It has not been easy to find readily available literature on who the first people were to settle in the area we call Mana Pools today.
The first people to live in present-day Mana Pools were the Khoisan, probably originating from North-East Africa. The Khoisan people were well known artists and they left their paintings in well-protected areas everywhere they settled. There are paintings near the headwaters of the Ruckomechi River above the escarpment, with at least another four sites in the Karoi area. They were the first to introduce cattle and sheep in the area and lived in beehive like structures. In the valley a new name was created for the Khoisan – namely Mbara, who were famous for their copper and iron works which they traded with the Mkorekore Shona people and other groups that moved into the valley. They made axes, hoes and spears, etc. As the years went by the Shona expanded in numbers and moved from the Harare area towards the Zambezi Valley Escarpment and into the valley where they either killed or chased the Mbara away.
There was a group of Mbara living at Ruckomechi called the Venemuringa; some were settled at Marongora Ecarpment and others at Chitake while a second group of Mbara was settled at present day E Camp west of Ruckomechi Camp. The latter were under the leadership of Chidzere who was later defeated by the Shona. They practiced a lot of riverine agriculture and hunting, and also traded with the Portuguese before the arrival of the Shona.
The first Shona chief to come into Mana Pools was Nyambira in the 1750s and he had his first battles with the two Mbara chiefs on the escarpment near Makuti. The Mbara chiefs were Chiawa, whose chieftainship is still present today on the Zambian side, and we have very cordial relations with them and Chief Munyove who may also have crossed into Zambia.
Many other groups lived in the Mana Pools area but with constant fighting and raiding, the area changed hands frequently. From the Zambezi Escarpment down to the Zambezi River and stretching further down to the Dande area, many small groups were settled and some did business with Portuguese traders in minerals and possibly ivory. Sadly, the Portuguese came into the area for the slave trade as well, an activity which was only stopped when the British arrived.
After defeating Chiawa and Munyove, Nyambira is said to have moved to Chawawa River, an area ruled by Chief Chidzere, whom Nyambira defeated and killed. As fate begets fate, the man-eating lions of the area started attacking Nyambira’s people and he decided that the spirits were against him. He consequently asked the Mbara people to come back and live in the area. His people, along with another Chief called Dandawa, lived on in the Mana Pools area until 1958 when they were moved to communal areas west of Karoi to allow the creation of the Mana Pools Heritage Site.
(PART 3 to follow)