Isdore Guvamombe, Reflections

AT night it is chilly but the high sounds of predators and their prey, snort you to sleep as the theatre of the jungle rolls on. Here, you need to have built your temporary shelter up the tree or on some fortified platform, for, you easily become part of the prey or the supper of the lion or hyena.

At midday, the sun burns out of a massive cloudless sky.

Thin contorted trees are bare of leaves. On the beds of Mwanzamutanda River lie stagnant pools, forever dwindling and being sucked and suckled off the precious water.

From time to time, a whirlwind rushes out of the undergrowth across the path and back into the bush casting up sand and brittle leaves.

The Mwanzamutanda Mountains, superimpose the terrain from the west, dwarfing everything and are only challenged by the Zambezi River to the north — the blue vein of life, quiet, stealthily flowing but assertive on its final journey to vomit into the Indian Ocean.

To the southwest, stout haunches of the mountain rise up blunt and grey behind. The area is wild with pale, sharp grass, dense with thin contorted trees, scattered with tall baobab and Mopane trees.

All this is home to the buck, baboon, monkey, wild pig, elephant, buffalo, lion, hyena and hundreds of bird species- you name them all.

Co-existing with these animals and indeed on the banks of the mighty Zambezi, is a secluded clan of nomadic people caught in the transition between a migratory hunting and gathering lifestyle on one side and modern day permanent settlement.

Here is a community without second names, only first names. Here is a community detached from the rest of Zimbabwe. A community that sees no sense in having a birth certificate, a national identity card or, worse still, a passport.

This is a “primitive” community, for lack of diction, where stories about urban life still remain tell-tales of oral tradition. Where the cellphone, iPad, television sets, radio and other modern gadgetry are more of a scare than a basic necessity.

It is a closed community that treats everyone with suspicion and never looks anyone in the face. On first sight of a well-dressed stranger they run into the mountains or simply disappear.

The disappearing antic is a smooth and polished act that many people suspect it could be it could be propped up by juju. But it is more of an art. Being generally short in stature, the Doma people are sleek and fast and use whistle codes to notify each other of impending danger.

When you get to their “homes”, the only tools you see are home-made axes and spears and they are also iron smiths as such equipment is abundant.

Theirs is a story of a people with no human rights, not because they should not have them, but because they don’t even know their rights and where to articulate them.

Their only right is to live, hunt gather and procreate.

Geography and history have condemned them to a swathe of land largely inhabitable by modern men and has become a hunting ground for professional hunters from Europe, America and elsewhere yet they, the autochthons of the land, are not allowed to hunt themselves.

To them, the irony of life is that they live with, dodge and fight the wild animals, everyday of their lives, they know where the elephant, gnu and kudu frolic and drink. They build their huts on tree-tops or on elevated single-roomed mud-and pole, grass thatched huts, to avert predators.

After a few weeks they move on and build another settlement, where there is no longer anything to hunt and gather.

Although hunting and gathering is no longer idealistic in modern-day Zimbabwe, theirs is the real story of being between a rock and a hard place.

For centuries, the Doma people hunted and gathered in the Mwanzamutanda Mountains, east of Chapoto communal lands in Kanyemba at the border with Zambia, but today they are battling to survive after being restricted to a swathe of land between the communal lands and Dande North Safari Area.

They are literary squashed and is probably time for them to settle down.

The National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has sealed off the Chewore  and Dande North Safari areas and Chewore National Park from hunting, making it difficult for the hunters and gatherers to survive.

Villagers from Chief Chapoto’s area to the east are increasing in numbers and expanding their settlements towards the Doma people pressing them really hard against the national park.

The transition from hunting to permanent settlement has become a tall order for a community without livestock, a community without education and a community whose skills are mainly based on communalism and barter trade.

“Things have suddenly changed for us. We lived on hunting and have been reduced to destitutes. We cannot hunt these days.

“We cannot farm because we have never farmed. We have no cattle and neither do we have farming implements. We feel unwanted and neglected. We have heard about towns but we have never been to any town. What work can we do there? Where is town?” asked Pondaimoto.

The future of these people looks bleak and they can even become extinct as severe hunger is forcing them to survive mainly on fishing on the Zambezi River, where they have access to a very small stretch, because of the restrictions imposed by the Parks authority and the Chapoto villagers.

Of course, they have always been fishing but their area of operation is getting smaller and smaller. Unless and until the Government moves in to rescue the Doma people they are doomed.

Fishing and fruit gathering are their only means of survival.

If they turn to farming, they must have the land, the equipment and the seed.

They need the training too.

Theirs is a life under serious threat. Severe hunger and starvation now stalks them. They don’t know anything about the donor community, yet they need donations for food, clothing and everything else