Third week of July: Discovering the Ancient Bushman Art of the Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe

It’s hard to conceive of a place where so many incongruities collide. The title of this article is infuriatingly over-simplistic and does little justice to the depth of interest of the Matobo Hills in south western Zimbabwe. So to put that right, here’s why you need to put this place on your bucket list.

'mother and child' rock formation

Standing at Sir Cecil Rhode’s grave gazing over the “View of the World”, it’s easy to see why this driven, visionary (if controversial) pioneer wanted this to be his last resting place. The landscape is a stormy sea of granite boulders caste as far as the horizon in oddly familiar shapes of animals or people. The human history of Matobo rolls back over 13,000 years when the oldest example of rock art tells of the stone-age hunter-gatherers that once inhabited this place. Among the tens of thousands of bold and striking pieces of art still brightly evident (no faint scribbles, these) more recent ones chart the arrival of the colonial settlers in ox-wagons and pith helmets. Matobo has been a key strategic area for the Matabele king, Mzilikazi, who, like Rhodes, still lies interred in his rocky tomb, and his son Lobengula.

Overrun by Rhode’s troops, the hills werre subsequently the battle ground for the Matabele wars in the late 1800s. It has been the spiritual centre for the Mwali cult and remains a religiously significant place for the inhabitants of Matabeleland. A living museum, it is not over-dramatic to say that the hills are tangibly steeped in this melting pot of history, sacrifice and spirituality; it is deeply haunting. Named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2003, the Matobo Hills also possesses a great natural history; the highest known density of (elusive) leopard in the world, a valuable population of white and black rhino and the largest numbers of black eagles found in southern Africa. The game has taken a bit of a knock over the last troubled years in Zim but it’s still one of the best places to track rhino on foot and enjoy the varied birdlife. So interesting and scenic is the area that, provided you don’t come here expecting the big five, you won’t be disappointed if you don’t see a thing. Matobo is a perfect addition to safaris that include Hwange National Park (for your animal fix), Mana Pools (for great canoeing, walking and big game), and the Victoria Falls. It’s important to choose a specialist guide to get the most out of the place and to allow sufficient time. See a map and places to stay in Matobo

Posted by: Amanda Mitchell

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