National Geographic : 1953 Aug
Safari Through Changing Africa "You can't make it," they told us. "The roads are washed out. There's no through train, no air service." We managed, though. Our pilot back at Victoria Falls had simply arranged with a col league for us to hire a plane, one of those numerous flying taxis that are available today throughout much of Africa. Thus 150 miles east of Bulawayo (finishing by car over partially paved road) we came to Zimbabwe, the ruins of a city built by an un known people at an unknown time. Even the name is a puzzle. It may combine two Bantu words meaning "stones" and "houses." The massive structures which make up the "Great Zimbabwe" are built of hand-hewn stone skillfully fitted together without mortar. They were laid out carefully in a geometric pattern. At one end is a vast and roofless Elliptical Temple. Its thick inner and outer walls enclose platforms and two towers. Who Lived in Zimbabwe? Near by are the scattered stones of a Val ley of Ruins where people may once have lived. Beyond rises the Acropolis, a hill crowned by obvious fortifications. Here the granite walls were so constructed as to merge with and make the greatest defensive use of the giant boulders already on the spot. Wandering about, I was reminded of Machu Picchu, in Peru, where another vanished race has left similar ruins of mortarless stone.* But Machu Picchu is linked with the Inca and pre-Inca peoples. Zimbabwe lacks authen tic records or inscriptions and has few relics to hint at a long-lost past. Not even burial grounds identify its people. There are clues to what their occupation was: old crucibles for melting gold have been found in the ruins. Medieval Arab and Portu guese explorers once told of some such fab ulous gold-mining center in the interior. Archeologists have argued about Zimbabwe ever since Adam Renders, American hunter and trader, found the ruins in 1868. Early investigators thought the settlement had been in existence thousands of years. Some suggested that ancient travelers, perhaps the Phoenicians or Sabeans, had built the city. Others theorized that it was in the Biblical land of Ophir; that it was the source of gold for Solomon's Temple and of the gifts brought by the Queen of Sheba. Modern archeologists make no such claims of antiquity, but the detective work goes on. Since we were at Zimbabwe, U. S. physicists have examined a piece of wood from one of the temple walls. Using archeology's newest yardstick, the Geiger counter, they have meas ured the radioactivity of the wood and esti mated its age: about 1,350 years! The gold that once helped support Zim babwe is still important in Southern Rho desia's economy. Last year nearly half a million ounces were taken from big and little mines scattered over the country. Many of them dig into the same veins worked by the early race of unknown miners. "We know the ancients worked our mines," said Mrs. Bill West, who with her husband owns and operates a gold mine near Zimbabwe. "We've found their crude implements in the old mine shafts. One of the theories about the many abandoned diggings found around here is that the miners gave up each time they struck water. Since they didn't know how to pump it out, they had to move on." We too were moving on. We were sched uled to make another gigantic air hop into the depths of Africa, depths until recently pene trated only by men pushing on foot through swamps and jungles. From Zimbabwe back to Bulawayo the air miles flowed by. We flew on to Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia's capital, and from there over the tip of Portuguese Mozambique and the high plateaus and mountains of the Brit ish protectorate, Nyasaland. We crossed Lake Nyasa and the game lands of southern Tanganyika, to stop at the Indian Ocean port, Dar es Salaam. Its Arabic name means "Haven of Peace," belying a stormy German-British history. Finally, 400 miles farther, we landed at inland Nairobi, the lively capital of Britain's Kenya Colony and Protectorate. Europeans in Kenya number only about 30,000, less than one percent of the Negro population. During our stay there, however, we could see little trace of the racial unrest which was to erupt less than a year later into a series of bloody massacres by the Mau Mau, a Communist inspired organization of Kikuyu tribesmen. Hints for Travelers From Kenya we visited Uganda, Belgian Congo, Ethiopia, the Sudan, and Egypt. We found travel in Africa pleasant and easy for the most part, the scenery fabulously beautiful, the hotels and inns good as a rule. The food was uniformly excellent. But for travelers who expect to follow our route, I can offer this advice: Take clothes for all climates. Even in equatorial Africa it's cool on the plateaus, 6,000 or more feet up, and a coat is useful. At Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam, on the other hand, the thinnest, lightest things in the ward robe are the most comfortable. Be careful addressing your mail. When * See "Peru, Homeland of the Warlike Inca," by Kip Ross, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1950.