The Herald (Harare)

5 January 2007

Zimbabwe: Ziwa - the Ancient, Gothic City

Harare — FOUND deep in craggy terrain of Nyanga is Ziwa Ruins -- the ancient and gothic city of stone terraces -- totally detached from the civilised world.

With the Ziwa Mountain standing imposingly above a stone settlement that extends over 8 000 square kilometres and larger than the world-famous Great Zimbabwe, the ruins boast of enclosures and pits that belonged to the hunting and gathering tribe of the Saunyama that lived and thrived in the Eastern Highlands.

Inside the ruins, one can easily imagine the scenes of the ancient life, the bleating of goats and the rhythm of the traditional songs and drums.

The magnificent hard rock architecture -- without mortar -- of the ruins demonstrates intelligent and strong workmanship.

Folklore has it that before the agricultural settlements were established, Nyanga had been occupied by Stone Age communities who lived there between 350 000 to 1 000 years BC.

The people were hunters and gatherers and did not practice farming at all. They left behind a wide range of stone tools and some paintings in caves and rock shelters, which provide insights into their economic practices.

The Stone Age hunter-gatherer communities were either absorbed or superseded by the early farming and herding communities who moved into the area at the beginning of the third century AD.

"These early farmers built permanent village complexes and established skilled pottery and iron smelting industries. Archaeological and narrative evidence showed that these people lived in Nyanga up to 900AD," said Mr William Gadzima-Saunyama, one of the last descendents of the original Saunyama generation.

At the turn of the 15th century, people believed to be Tonga arrived in Nyanga District through lower Zambezi Valley.

The immigrant Sena-speaking Tonga communities terraced hill slopes and valleys in the area to clear the way for cultivation. They erected sunken stone-lined pit structures in which they kept livestock.

"Population increased and the need arose to clear more land for agricultural purposes and thus the terraced area extended north as far as the southern parts of Mutoko District, west to the border with Murehwa and east into Mozambique," explained Mr Saunyama.

Terracing had a dual purpose to create suitable level space for cultivation and as a dump for the cleared stones. Stone walls incidentally served the same purpose although this was not the prime concern of erecting them.

Some of the cairns served the same purpose although they were also used as boundary markers. The stone terraces lined roughly along the contours ridges on slopes and valleys stabilised the ground and prevented soil erosion.

The pits, often in the middle of the terraced fields, are either sunken into or raised from the ground and were designed to keep small livestock. On the platform raised around the pit were sited huts and granaries.

Entrance into the pit was through a lintelled tunnel and every pit had a drain hole to keep from flooding the pits. Most of the pits were located inside circular stone-walled enclosures.

Within some of the enclosures are the remains of hut foundations. Stone-walled village complexes were set apart from one another in the middle of agricultural fields.

The pit structures, terraces, enclosures and passageways were often carefully bonded to one another to show that they belonged to a single architectural tradition.

A lot of energy was expended in clearing the ground and cultivating, and in the construction and maintenance of residential structures and stock pens.

The presence of many livestock pit structures strongly suggest that livestock farming was an important aspect of the economy of Nyanga in the 16th -- 17th centuries.

Sorghum and millet seeds have been found in ash deposits and in hut foundations.

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