Matobo, also known as Matopos and commonly referred to as Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe, was a UNESCO World Heritage Site from 2003 onwards. It’s a swath of granite hills southeast of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, sculpted into amazing patterns and deep valleys by river erosion.

Matobo National Park

Matobo hills are steeped in legend and tradition, with some said to be haunted by the souls of long-dead Ndebele chiefs. The hills have massive caverns with Khoekhoe paintings, including Bambata, Nswatugi, and Silozwane. There are also archaeological sites from the Stone and Iron Ages. The name may have come from matombe or madombe, which means “the rocks,” or matobo, which means “bald heads.”

The Matobo hills rise to an average height of 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), occupy an area of around 1,200 square miles (3,100 square kilometers), and stretch 50 miles east to west (80 km). They are well irrigated by tributaries of the Limpopo River, which have been dammed for irrigation, recreation, and water supply. The vegetation varies from desert lichens on hilltops to the lush greenery of valley marshes. Insects and birds, lizards, monkeys, baboons, antelopes, and leopards are among the animals that live there.

Matopos National Park

The Rhodes Matopos National Park began as a private farm in 1902. It had pastoral and agricultural property leased to individual farmers or the government, as well as a big experimental farm and a game park. Matobo National Park is located 5.5 miles (8.8 kilometers) north of Bulawayo. The national park covers 106,750 acres (43,200 hectares) and features the picturesque View of the World Hill, or Malindidzimu, at 4,700 feet (1,400 meters), where Cecil Rhodes and other dignitaries are buried.

Matobo Hills Cave Paintings

There are as many as 3,000 rock art sites in Zimbabwe’s Matobo Hills region. Paintings are frequently discovered in rock shelters and are linked to archaeological relics. Human figures predominate, with males outnumbering females and children being extremely rare.

The rock art of the Matobo Hills depicts a diverse range of animals and human figures. Kudu antelopes, giraffes, zebras, ostriches, monkeys, eland antelopes, rhinoceros, and other animals can be seen in the park. In hunting situations, humans and animals are frequently seen together.

The Matobo Hills region of Mozambique has a wide range of reds, purples, oranges, browns, and yellows in its rock art. The bodies of some animals are infilled with a different hue than the outlines, which are red or white.

Many of the depictions are of hunter-gatherers, and they provide a wealth of information about their daily activities. The rock art depicts everyday objects such as bows, jugs, digging poles, and cloaks, as well as individuals hunting animals, fighting other groups, and dancing in what appear to be ritual events.

Matobo Hills History

Zimbabwean rain paintings are easily linked to trance or rain-making practices comparable to those found in South Africa’s Drakensberg region. Many of the iconographies in Zimbabwean paintings can be traced back to these practices. including “therianthropes”, i.e., part-human or part-animal forms, elongated figures, rain animals, and geometric figures.

Shamanistic experiences have been interpreted in rock art from the Matobo Hills region of South Africa. However, unlike South Africa, rock art from this region is not recent, and academics lack critical ethnographic documents that can aid in its interpretation. The term “shaman” is taken from Siberian shamanism, and its applicability to San or Bushman societies has been called into question.

Matobo National Park Heritage Sites Zimbabwe

Hunter-gatherers are assumed to have created the Matobo Hills Cave Paintings. Iron Age farmers created some paintings that date from a later period. They were most likely evicted or assimilated into the new agricultural community. Later paintings, on the other hand, exhibit some ties to past traditions.

The Matobo National Park in Zimbabwe is an excellent illustration of how nature and human presence can coexist. The significance of the thousands of sites dispersed over the hills attests to the powerful spirituality of the hunter-gatherers. Many of them are still held in high regard by the local population.

Rock Paintings in Matobo

Why Visit?:

  1. If you only have time to see one rock site in Matobo National Park, make it this one.
  2. In Zimbabwe, three classic, shaded polychrome giraffes are among the best.
  3. Matobo National Park’s artwork is among the most vibrantly colored.
  4. At the bottom of the hill, there is a site museum worth visiting.

How to get here: Head towards Maleme Dam from the National Park Reception. Turn left at the 1.7-kilometer crossroads facing the dam and cross the wall. At the 3.7-kilometer mark, turn right to travel north. The sign states 7 kilometers, but it’s best to stop at 1.6 kilometers, where a sign on the left says Nswatugi Cave, and take the route instead of driving the long way around to the Site Museum. With a well-defined trail marked with green arrows on the granite, the ascent is short and easy.

GPS reference for car park: (20⁰32′08.54″S 28⁰28′42.42″E)

Nswatugi means “jumping spot,” since it is said that Mwari/Mwali (God) jumped from his abode on Njelele Mountain to the top of Nswatugi Hill and landed on Khalanyoni Hill. The entrance to Nswatugi Cave is at the bottom of a steep valley. The cave’s entrance is about six meters wide, yet it stretches fourteen meters into the hillside and features colorful friezes of giraffes, elephants, and kudu. The frieze is dominated by two massive, shaded polychrome giraffes, with a camp scene of humans sleeping in their karosses beneath. Six enormous kudus and a swarm of individuals Its characters, including a zebra, crouched humans with weapons, and lines of sprinting hunters, are depicted below.

Another polychrome giraffe and a group of zebras can be found on the right side of the frieze. A series of orange and red ovoids with stippling and white caps are arranged beneath the main frieze. The outlines of a zebra and the head of a kudu cow can be seen on the far right of the panel, while two magnificent antelope can be seen on the far left. Two ovoids, or formlings, and a feline are found further back in a depression. A faded giraffe outline, four antelope, and a sable head can be found at the cave’s entrance. During the First Chimurenga in 1896, the Matabele stored grain in a clay granary on the cave’s floor, which has since crumbled to pieces.

Neville Jones was the first to visit the cave, and Cran Cooke led the first excavation in 1933, followed by another excavation headed by Nick Walker. Upper strata revealed Iron Age ceramics, ironwork, and glass beads, while lower layers revealed Middle and Late Stone Age scrapers and points, as well as a variety of other well-crafted objects, which became the Wilton type site. The oldest human bones discovered in Zimbabwe are most likely a human skeleton from the Middle Stone Age period.

The painters were the hunter-gatherer ancestors of Botswana’s modern-day San people, who were driven to retreat to the more marginal territories of north-western Botswana and the Kalahari by the advent of pastoral farmers, who brought sheep, goats, and later cattle. Negative spheroidal weathering, or “onion skin peeling,” formed these large smooth-walled caves by erosion of the internal joints within the granite mass of the great smooth “whalebacks,” or dwalas. This is the polar opposite of positive spheroidal weathering, or “onion skin peeling,” which occurs when the dwalas themselves are exfoliated. When to go: All year, Monday through Sunday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Charge: Once the national park fee is paid, admission is free.

Matobo Hills
  • Reading time:7 mins read
  • Post category:Africa / Zimbabwe
  • Post last modified:April 7, 2022

Amitava Ray

I'm a Photographer & Blogger. Born & raised in Kolkata, India. Me অমিতাভ রায়, from 1979 started Photography & Blogging since 2006.

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