Domboshava Caves and Monuments
Domboshava caves lie 35 kilometres north-east of Harare and was proclaimed a national monument in 1936, covering only 1 acre. The physical boundary of the site was extended in 1996 to cover 300 hectares. The proclaimed area now encloses rock paintings, late Stone-Age deposits, a geological tunnel (which has acquired cultural significance through time), sacred forests, spectacular granite geological formations and a buffer zone for management purposes.
This granite hill on the outskirts of Harare is a great place to go and have picnics or sundowners or to take the dog on a self-guided walking trail. The hill is located in the Chinamora Communal lands and commands a magnificent 360⁰ view of the surrounding countryside. The Monument came under the custodianship of National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe in 1936.
Major attractions include an Interpretive Centre, San rock art, geological formations and a natural scenic environment with wooded vegetation, a flowing stream and pools (in the rainy season) and myriad walking trails.
There are several rock formations at the top of the hill which have been formed by natural erosion and the hill and rocks are covered with red, yellow and grey lichens. The Rambakurimwa forest meaning “cannot be tilled” is at the base of the hill and to the left of the entrance is mostly of Mazhanje trees (Uapaca kirkiana) which are considered sacred, so the local community will not cut firewood here, although the fruit is popular.
In times of drought, seekers of rain would make the pilgrimage to Domboshava and would go to the sacred cave bearing offerings to the Rain Spirit. During the periods of drought these ritual ceremonies were of importance and probably still are to the local Shona communities. The offerings were laid in the cave and a fire was lit within; this resulted in black residue of soot which can be seen even today on the granite stone which surrounds the tunnel. There is a natural tunnel which comes out of the side of the hill like a chimney. The pilgrims squatted down the hillside to await an answer from the spirit. Sometimes they had to wait for a very long time before the spirit accepted the offerings and signified that rain would come. The promise of rain was shown by signs of smoke from the top of the hill. Sometimes the Rain Spirit ignored the offerings of the pilgrims due to some misdemeanours from the local community, who then had to make a further pilgrimage bearing more gifts, to appease the spirit and elicit the rain-promise. The physical explanation of the phenomenon is that at the back of the cave at Domboshava there is a crack which goes through the granite stone to the top of the hill. When the rain wind was blowing, its action would carry the smoke from the fire in the cave up the chimney crack and smoke would be seen to drift up from the bald dome of Domboshava. When the wind was unpropitious, no smoke would come from the chimney and further attempts to gain the favour of the rain spirit would seem necessary.
Rock and cave paintings can be found in Domboshava albeit some have been partially vandalized and have become very faint. Several values placed on the Domboshava rock art were used to justify its nomination to the National Monuments list of Zimbabwe. These include the scientific, living traditional, geological, educational, social values and many others. The site has more than 146 identifiable individual rock and cave paintings, executed in red and brown pigments. There are also scatters of Stone Age deposits attributed to Stone Age communities; however, no excavations have been done to place these deposits into Zimbabwean Stone Age chronology.
On the Harare side of Domboshava (i.e. south) there is a low hill covered in a jumble of boulders. This is Chavaroyi Hill whose local meaning is “for witches” and in times past, those thought to be witches were made to run around the hill before washing in a nearby sacred stream to cleanse them of witchcraft.
There is an excellent Interpretive Centre that acts as a source of historical and ecological information, giving insight on the history of the monument, on erosion, farming and conservation. The Archaeology and Monuments Department works with local schools and leaders in preserving the site and other run awareness programmes within the community. As an educational resource, the site can be used across the school curriculum in the fields of art, geography, history and geology, among other subjects.
The living traditions revolve around a rainmaking ceremony which is performed once a year at the site. As a people we should respect the value placed on the site or this could lead to the desecration of the authenticity of Domboshava National Monument.
Credits: Zimfieldguide and Various online sources,
Photo credits: Zimbabwe tourism, zimbabwesights.wordpress.com Zimfieldguide.