When you hear the phrase “wildlife reserve,” you imagine thrilling safaris, exhilarating walks through the local landscapes and supporting the protection of the many animals and plants you see throughout. What you probably haven’t considered is that these reserves are also protecting the history and culture. Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve is a perfect example of just this.
Among the 5,000 hectares that make up Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in the Chiredzi District of Zimbabwe, there are over 350 protected rhinos, water conservation projects, a well-executed anti-poaching strategy and what most don’t know, vast collections of ancient rock art and artefacts. As of today, more than 120 individual rock art sites have been discovered, with many more waiting to be found.
While the most common areas for researching rock art in Zimbabwe have typically been in Mashonaland Provinces and Matobo, recent research shows large concentrations in Malilangwe, Chipinge, Zimunya Communal Lands and Beitbridge. (Fun fact: Beitbridge rock art is the only place to report female figures outnumbering male figures.)
The three types of rock art in this area are Iron Age Art, Herder Art and San Rock Art. Due to the large supply of red pigment in the area, the majority of the rock art is a deep red, made by mixing red oxide with blood or egg white. An important note is that some characteristics of the rock art here are unique and not yet found anywhere else. Throughout the reserve, the rock paintings date back some 2,000 years, depicting scenes of hunter-gatherers, animal and herd behaviors, hunting methods, farming methods, tribal disputes or battles and ceremonies. Some areas show more family-based scenes while others rarely show women or children. The animals illustrated vary across the different regions in Africa, helping researchers better understand the type of hunting, diet, migrations and regional differentiation in the ancient world. Likewise, how the human figures are portrayed helps to further knowledge of the culture and beliefs of these ancient people.
Researchers continue to study the area’s rock art as much as they can, while they can. Aside from the typical threat of erosion by natural causes such as wind, sand, rain etc., they are also concerned with human activities disturbing or destroying these important historical records. Cultivation of the land strips away brush and trees that previously protected much of the art, while graffiti and prospecting for treasures (in a non-professional fashion) harms them in a more direct sense. The staff of Malilangwe is taking steps to prevent this and sending out researchers to discover as many of these precious sites as quickly as they can in order to protect them, before it’s too late.
The Kambako Living Museum of Bushcraft in the reserve is a must see for any visitor to the area, to help understand and show the importance of preserving this areas history, as well as their wildlife. Their aim is to “preserve the past to enrich the future” by showcasing bushcraft skills, the transition into the Iron Age and further to the present agropastoral lifestyles. Much of this information, and as well as future findings, is derived from the very rock art the reserve aims to discover and preserve.
Nelson R. Mandela stated, “Africa’s rock art must be preserved and protected for our children and our children’s children to experience, study, and contribute further to the knowledge of our distant past.” Today, this is truer than ever for all of Africa’s history.
Please enjoy this video, produced by our friends at Singita Pamushana.