Journey to Great Zimbabwe: The narrow passage and beyond

by Sunday News Online | Sunday, Sep 9, 2018 | 235 views
Stone slab platforms and drains.

Stone slab platforms and drains.

Phathisa Nyathi

THE story behind the narrow passage calls for close attention and has to be explained and interpreted within the context of the emerging theme within the Great Enclosure.

To seek an explanation which runs against the grain of the Great Enclosure, would be a serious contradiction. A structural edifice such as Great Zimbabwe has to have some commonality in terms of a theme and the reason why it was built in the first place.

All its structures, we would expect, must have their specific functions which, in the final analysis, dictated form, but ultimately there was complementarity which pointed in the direction of a common overall theme.

In the last article, we observed that the narrow passage has the unique funnelling  effect, it being a conduit leading from the entrance.

It is some kind of a valve which allows movement in one direction. The enormity of the stone walls ensured that even a human being cannot escape. Functionally, that goal is effected but overplayed in terms of size, thus suggesting yet another function beyond being a conduit for human beings.

What is probably being expressed and celebrated is the biological stage which has been reached, a stage that powers the unending cycle of life as expressed in African Cosmology. We thus do not see the enormity of the walls as expressions of political power and socio-economic status, contrary to what has been suggested by archaeologists.

If we pursue the story of a human conduit, the next question would be to ask where human beings are being led to. Even before we try to proffer a possible explanation, we may bring to the fore some indication. Movement along the passage has to be leading to a painful experience where it ends.

Otherwise why would it be driven along such a non-return path? This demands that we look closely at what is there where the narrow passage ends. What takes place there is probably a process that inflicts excruciating pain and would demand that the passage act like a valve to ensure there is no return.

Whatever it is that takes place beyond the passage, must be a transformative process or ritual after which there is no more fear and hence no need for a conduit to lead to the exit. Beyond the end of the passage there is no more pain. But what pain is that which must be harmony with the overall theme resident within Great Enclosure?

We see low level stone platforms beyond the narrow passage. There seem to be two separate areas provided with  stone slab platforms; the first being within the context of a circular enclosing wall, not of the same height as the two walls that form the narrow passage.

The second beyond this one is closer to the Conical Tower. We are persuaded to identify the first as a female area. The second, by virtue of being close to the Conical Tower, a phallic structure, we surmise this to be a male domain. We note too that the location of the two make those in the first not to see what takes place within the second and vice versa.

Privacy is provided in both domains thus complementing perceptions of these being male and female domains. Sexuality in its duality is expressed. The question still remains.

Just what is taking place therein? Whatever it is has to be in line with our identified theme — so far the emerging theme is continuity (you may read fertility, eternity, endlessness, perpetuity and immortality). Individuals perish, humanity if forever. Apart in life, apart in death. Females are on their own, so are men.

The stone slab platform has, in its middle, a channel which leads to a drain. The drain ultimately leads outside the thick stone wall to what may be explained and interpreted as soakaways. These channels, in architectural terms, surely are passages that carry liquids.

They are liquids generated on the low level stone slab platforms and have to be led outside the Great Enclosure.

This is what happens to effluent generated within a house. We pose another question. What liquid could that be? For that, we turn to some artefacts that were retrieved during excavation. One is a razor while another is a pair of forceps. The razor is small which suggests it was not used to cut necks of humans or something on similar scale Razors, by and large, are used for cutting.

So what was being cut, which had to be something small and again it being an activity in harmony with the emerging theme?

Another object is a pair of forceps that is used to hold or lift various items. Here we cannot help associating the two- another case of complementarity within the context of an emerging common theme. Whatever the razor cut, had to be lifted with a small pair of forceps.

Once again, we just cannot help seeing this process of cutting being the source of liquid being channelled through channels and drains, and ultimately being guided outside the stone walls. We cannot help but surmise that the ritual taking place here was circumcision at it is perfectly in harmony with the theme resident with the Great Enclosure.

Let us pose and review symbolism which has been expressed so far. The narrow passage between the gigantic stone walls has a dual function, expressions of celebration following attainment of a biological stage which powers the unending cycle of life, as posited by Africans.

It is a stage where both boys and girls have reached puberty and is the stage where they too can contribute to the process that guarantees continuity, eternity, endlessness, perpetuity and immortality. Beyond this stage, sexuality plays a role when families, through marriage, are established as biological and social institutions within whose context continuity, through sexuality, is concretised.

The blood symbolises a link with the departed ancestors. It is the blood of ancestors that is being extended by those who have attained biological maturity.

My son is my blood, my bones and my flesh. Only through sexuality are future generations created and sustained. The stage that has been attained has to be celebrated and those who do so get congratulated. I am sure people are familiar with gifts that are showered on newlyweds.

In the case of successful completion of the circumcision rite, we see this today among the Xhosa young men who, when they have successfully undergone a circumcision ritual (rite of passage) in the winter months are showered with gifts.

Back then at Great Zimbabwe, at a time when glass beads were readily available, courtesy of the East Coast trade, gifts took various forms including glass and golden beads, both being referred to as chuma, wealth.

Within the context of successful circumcision, some finds at Great Zimbabwe, should not necessarily be viewed as items of trade and commerce. Gold was being mined during the heyday of Great Zimbabwe and traded glass beads were melted and refashioned. Advanced technology was not restricted to stone masonry, the dressing of stones.

As pointed out in earlier installations, we should not be baffled by the enormity of the stone walls. The message they carry is the more important in addition to the celebration of an important stage that has been reached when individuals, both male and female, attain biological maturity. It is a celebration of a stage worth expressing through the enormity of the lithic walls.

We have to derive similar lessons from equally massive lithic structures, the Egyptian pyramids which were no more that celebrations of a transition from earthly life to eternal spiritual life.

The funerary objects in the Pharaohs’ burial chambers were expressions of beliefs regarding both earthly life and perceptions of eternal life in the spirit world, without relating to commerce; but more a celebration of an important stage in the transition from one ephemeral form of life to an eternal one.

Here is another comparable construction of enormous lithic structure equally celebrating and powering transformation from one stage to another. It is a stage that has to be attained through biological maturity to ensure, through sexuality, concretisation of continuity and endlessness.

Attainment of biological maturity and its concomitant establishment of marriage as the socially acceptable institution for effecting sexuality, leads to education that accompanies the physical/ material cutting of young men’s foreskin and mature girls’ clitoris in what is referred to as clitoridectomy which is still practised in some countries in the Horn of Africa, South Sudan being one of them.

As part of the sexual pedagogy, material aids were used and Stayt records these among the Bavhenda in South Africa. It is to the educational aids and the broader curriculum that we turn to in the next instalment.

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