"It will only be uncomfortable
for a few minutes, as the village is only 5 kilometers away,"
noted Stephen as we pile into the overcrowded vehicle. From
our island camp we cross back over the dry eastern side of the
Save river and on to Mahenye, the relocated village of the Shangaan
people. The people were relocated here in 1967, when this remote
section of southeastern Zimbabwe was designated as Gona-Re-Zhou
National Park. Our lodge shares the name of the village, and
is in partnership with it.
As we approach, we see many small modest huts scattered about
the low-lying trees. A significant building houses the grain
and local milling equipment (although we also observed many
of the village women crushing the grain manually) and another
building is defined as a modest clinic. Its shaded here, and
there are a handful of people witnessing our arrival. The children
run up to our slow-moving vehicle and behold something in their
native tongue. The surprisingly well-educated people here in
Zimbabwe often are very articulate in English -- having learned
the language for many years in their formal schooling -- but
also speak in various native tongues, mostly to each other.
One of the tourists (us) asks "What are the children saying?"
to which Stephen responds "Oh, their saying Look, white
people! " I suppose they don't receive many visitors. We
disembark and are greeted by a gentle looking man in his late
30's. Actually, he looks familiar. Could he be our head waiter
at the lodge? Yes, in fact it is Caiphas Chauke. (I can't remember
his made-up anglo name.) Not only is he our waiter, but as it
turns out he's the son of the now-deceased Chief (one of his
brothers has taken on those responsibilities) and Caiphas is
the head of the watershed Campfire Program here at Mahenye Village.
The Campfire Program (Communal Areas Management for Indigenous
Resources) "has a philosophy of sustainable rural development
to enable rural communities to manage, and benefit directly
from, indigenous wildlife and other resources. Getting a community
interested in the Campfire Program rests on changing the belief
that the State owns the wildlife to the belief that the wildlife
is owned by the community who lives with it." (from The
Rough Guide to Zimbabwe , May, 2000) Beyond this would be the
gradual understanding that the wildlife (often terrorizing and
destructive to communal people and land) can be also viewed
as a beneficial resource; that is, with careful restraints,
sport hunting and wildlife management can be accomplished while
still maintaining a viable wildlife resource for future use
and enjoyment. This is in direct opposition to the tired and
irresponsible "let's move the natives to a reservation
and then turn their sacred lands into national parks for the
enjoyment of affluent visitors."
this would be the gradual understanding that the wildlife
(often terrorizing and destructive to communal people and
land) can be also viewed as a beneficial resource; that
is, with careful restraints, sport hunting and wildlife
management can be accomplished while still maintaining a
viable wildlife resource for future use and enjoyment. This
is in direct opposition to the tired and irresponsible "let's
move the natives to a reservation and then turn their sacred
lands into national parks for the enjoyment of affluent
Caiphas explains that it goes
something like this:
1 -- A budget is developed based on the sport-hunting revenues
of a very limited number of animals; in Mahenye's case 5 bull
elephants per year, (US $10,000 per bull elephant). (Other less
desired species are also included in the budget; assuming, of
course, less hunting revenue for these less-rare species.) It
should be noted that there are thousands of African Elephants
just across the river in Gona-Re-Zhou National Park, the former
home of the Shangaan people.
2 -- "Customers" are located and escorted to the communal
grounds for a hunt. (The fact that the head of the program also
works in the adjacent upscale lodge seems like a well-thought-out
marketing strategy, I would add.)
3 -- Guides, support services and other residuals are provided
by the village, creating employment opportunities.
4 -- After the hunt is successfully completed, the hunter leaves
with his "trophy" and the village reaps additional
benefit from the meat of the animal.
5 -- A precise accounting of the procedure is listed with the
appropriate government agency, and monies associated with the
payment from the hunter eventually filter down to the village
for the purchase of farming and well-digging equipment, clinic
supplies and schools. The accountant was happy to share his
"book" with me; although handwritten and crude by
western standards, it was certainly well-executed and complete.
The "junior accountant" revealed that it was his wish
to attend college and become a corporate accountant. I'm sure
he already "has the goods," but perhaps his job here
at Mahenye Village is more significant.
The Campfire Program has
a very important additional wildlife benefit; whereas
previously the native people had little reason to dissuade
poachers, now with the potential large revenues from legitimate
big-game hunters they are onboard to assist in the elimination
of the species-endangering poaching enterprise.
The Campfire Program has a very
important additional wildlife benefit; whereas previously the
native people had little reason to dissuade poachers, now with
the potential large revenues from legitimate big-game hunters
they are onboard to assist in the elimination of the species-endangering
poaching enterprise. In Zimbabwe poachers are legally shot dead
on site, but still the activity persists, due mainly to the
extremely high value placed on the nigh-extinct White and Black
Rhino and their horns by some mid and far-eastern cultures.
Rhinos, of course, are never included in such Campfire Program
hunts, only much more common animals like the African Elephant
and the African Cape Buffalo.
Sadly, the monies generated are often delayed by the government
for as much as 18 months, making the precise budgeting very
difficult and painful. Yet we visited 2 new school buildings
and a granary whose raw materials were purchased with Campfire
funds. All in all, it is an excellently conceived project with
a hopeful future.
We continue on with our tour of Mahenye Village. We are greeting
by many children and eventually make our way up to an area where
our host lives. Under the shade from the late afternoon winter
sun is a reclining elderly women, who manages a mild smile as
we stop for a moment. "Who's that?" I ask, amid protests
from my wife. (She thinks I talk too much, which I suppose could
be true.) "Why, that's my grandmother, Machenjele Mwachingele
(he wrote it down for me later!), the oldest person in the community."
Although she was not totally visible with the harsh afternoon
light, we could clearly see her feet and legs, and her smile,
which revealed a full mouth of healthy teeth. She reclined gracefully
and acknowledged our visit. By this time the group of 16 tourists
had dispersed, so I believe only Cheryl, myself and Caiphas
were actually near the matriarch. After some thought, I decided
to ask the relevant, but perhaps disrespectful (hopefully not)
old is she?" "Well, she was born in 1896, so I
guess she's 105," Caiphas responded. In absolute disbelief,
I made him repeat it.
"How old is she?" "Well,
she was born in 1896, so I guess she's 105," Caiphas responded.
In absolute disbelief, I made him repeat it. "Oh no, she's
definitely 105," he asserted. "She's outlived her
son (his father and the former Chief) so now my brother (her
grandson) is the Chief and" . . . "you're the head
of the important Campfire Program," I added. "Yes,
that's so," he agreed. I could not speak. I had never been
witness to such an elder. What knowledge must she possess, I
wondered? "She began with our people in South Africa, and
then moved to what is now the national park, across the river.
She also, of course, moved with us to here when we were relocated
from our previous home in Gona-Re-Zhou," he added. "She
speaks of all of the previous times, and is the only person
alive who remembers everything," he continued. Several
of the younger people are apparently writing some of this down,
as unfortunately typically such wisdom is commonly being lost
in villages all over the world. Of course she remembers all
of the European trekkers pushing their village deeper and deeper
into the bush and finally ending up here, at the confluence
of the Save and Runde Rivers, in what has been described to
us by a local as perhaps the wildest place in Africa. And here
we are, witness to the ancient wisdom, to the final human matriarch
of this entire section of the earth. It is an unbelievably profound
. . in what has been described to us by a local as perhaps
the wildest place in Africa. And here we are, witness to
the ancient wisdom, to the final human matriarch of this
entire section of the earth. It is an unbelievably profound
After some time, I decide to
attempt to record this moment. It almost seems flippant, but
we decide to ask Caiphas and his grandmother for a photograph.
He asks and with a weak smile, she approves. It is a wonderful
moment, truly unanticipated and sublime. After some additional
talks with the Headmaster of the Campfire-invested school, we
return to our lodge on the island.
In the northern part of Zimbabwe, at perhaps the same moment of
time, a weird spectacle is taking place. In the 1950's across
the great Zambezi River (4th largest in Africa and the same great
waterway that creates the seminal Victoria Falls upstream) a dam
was built at Kariba to incarcerate a large part of the wild river.
What was created was a vast, shallow floodplain (not unlike America's
Lake Powell) and attendant shoreline. Although this shoreline
and lake has created a virtual heaven for some creatures (hippos,
for example), it also has created one of the weirdest "natural"
spectacles I have witnessed.
Elephants -- lovers of water and consumers of countless liters
of same per day -- dot the shoreline of Lake Kariba. They come
down to wash, drink, play and eat. They have an obvious and constant
presence on the shoreline and especially in the vast and remote
Matusadona National Park, adjacent to the southern edge of the
lake. The elephants seem a total natural here. One day though,
while on a boat safari (described as a slow and deliberate motor-boat-ride
along the shoreline to observe everything from elephants to hippos
to even lions!) something strange occurs. Two elephants -- apparently
young bachelors -- begin at the shoreline to drink and cavort,
but then start a methodical (and seemingly timeless) journey across
the lake, apparently aiming toward one of the islands in the middle.
Really, giant 5-ton African Elephants, without regard, just moving
from the shoreline of Matusadona National Park, and slowly, inexorably
"marching" across the flooded plain. I would not have
believed it if I had not witnessed it personally. Actually, the
elephants walk part way and then begin to swim, aiming their trunk
straight up like a snorkel in order to breathe, and folding their
huge ears back, perhaps to have a "sleeker" profile
elephants -- apparently young bachelors -- begin at the
shoreline to drink and cavort, but then start a methodical
(and seemingly timeless) journey across the lake, apparently
aiming toward one of the islands in the middle.
Why do the great behemoths swim
across this ridiculous lake? Before the lake there was just
low bush country (the lowveldt of southern Africa) punctuated
by the great Zambezi canyon and waterway. Could it be that these
pachyderms actually remember a time when they migrated down
to the river? After all, the African Elephant is a migratory
species -- and this trait is what at one time put the species
in critical danger of extinction. Elephants don't care about
international borders, and often would attempt to cross barbed-wire
boundaries or just wander aimlessly along the fence until they
died -- thankfully, some countries have developed strategies
to either "keep" their wandering elephants or allow
for the international migrations. So, could these specific elephants
have remembered a time when they migrated to the river? No,
as these are young bachelors, perhaps only 20 years old. The
answer must truly be that these Matusadona elephants are somehow
genetically coded to continue along ancient migration paths,
probably thousands of years old. They "remember" --
perhaps they just think that there have been some "floods"
recently, so in order to fulfill their core migratory function
they must still continue along these ancient paths, even if
they are "flooded." Actually, if this is their conclusion,
then essentially they're correct, because the Kariba Dam, a
supposed monument of human ingenuity (but actually an example
of human arrogance against nature) will certainly fail in the
next 100 years (as all dams worldwide will!). And then the ancient
migratory paths will be revealed again to us, as they have always
been to the elephants.
answer must truly be that these Matusadona elephants are
somehow genetically coded to continue along ancient migration
paths, probably thousands of years old. They "remember"
. . .
And so it is with the ancient
wisdom -- whether it be in the form of the memories of a 105
year-old matriarch from remote southern Zimbabwe or in the somehow
encrypted genetic code of the northern Zimbabwe Matusadona African
Elephants -- the wisdom, I'm sure, will live on (even if the
frailty of the human body does not). In another 100 years someone
visiting the Mahenye Shangaan Village will be able to access
the stories of Machenjele Mwachingele, probably written down
by the village's first college graduate, who got his start as
Mahenye's Campfire accountant -- and in the northern area, a
visitor will be able to witness on foot the great migratory
path of African Elephants as they timelessly make their way
down to the replenished shoreline of the great Zambezi River,
now gloriously revealed again after the Kariba Dam failure.