By Freedom Mupanedemo
MBIRE District in northern Zimbabwe is a pervasively superstitious countryside.
There, an owl does not just fly during the day for nothing! If you see one flying in broad day-light, the village oracle has it that things will not be so fine with this nocturnal bird. Something would surely be after its life.
In African mythology, one does not just knock his foot against a stump or rock undergrowth along a foot path and simply seethe in pain. They have to consult the gods and find out why?
It is in Mbire district where the traditional way of life still shapes people’s destiny. It is in Mbire where one is bound to come across spirit mediums clad in those spooky black costumes, exuding an aura of sacred traditional sanctity.
To many Mbire folks, it is these spirit mediums who carry their day.
Spirit mediums are “gods” and from time to time villagers flock to consult about their personal lives, what the future holds for them or what is expected of the community as a whole.
According to Mbire folklore, every happening has its spiritual significance, which can be traced to its ancestral roots.
And it is in Mbire’s Dande area where a vast swathe of a petrified forest lies, which to them is not just a peaceful land where logs and tree trunks that time has turned into stone scatter about the ground, but a demonstration of the area’s traditional mystique.
Those concerned with the science of palaeontology would quickly associate this strange Dande stone forest with weather effects, the result of metamorphosis and fossilisation. Dande folks believe this is their sacred jewel fashioned by the hand of God through their ancestors.
It is more of a highly regarded sacred place than just a domicile of attraction where tourists can just visit, traipsing among the spread of logs and stumps that have turned into stone.
“Our Petrified Dande Forest has been turned into a place of attraction by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority but to us, it’s more than just that. It’s a place where people come to admire the wonders of nature. There is a lot of historical and spiritual significance attached to this forest. We value it, we respect it and from time to time local spirit mediums visit it to conduct some rituals,” says the area’s local traditional leader, Chief Chisunga.
Chief Chisunga adds that Dande’s Petrified Forest has been kept untamed with no settlements near it. He says local villagers also make sure that their livestock do not stray into it.
The locals believe it is in Petrified Dande Forest that their ancestors live.
“Its home to our ancestors so we try by all means to prevent livestock from getting into it to graze.
It’s no grazing zone, its home to our ancestors. If livestock stray there we don’t follow for our ancestors quickly ward them off back to the villages,” says a local villager, Fanuel Chara.
Chara says there are myths and mysteries surrounding the Dande Petrified Forest and no one is allowed to get into the forest without the village elders’ permission and company.
He recalls that there were many people who entered the Petrified Forest without first consulting the local elders or spirit mediums and went missing.
“Some who have entered the Petrified Forest without the knowledge of village elders have gone missing and until now we don’t know their whereabouts. We also have a local villager who went into the Petrified Forest in search of his missing goats and until now he is insane,” adds Chara.
Spirit medium Chimhawu from Angwa area concurs saying Dande Petrified Forest is one of the few remaining sacred areas of Mbire district.
He says at times he visits the area under the guidance of the ancestors, adding that it is in Dande Petrified Forest where he meets with their ancestors.
“Normally as a spirit medium, you are just guided by the spirit and wouldn’t be in full control of what happens around you. Other people can tell you more but what I know is that the Petrified Forest is one of our sacred places here in Mbire.
We hear that National Parks have turned it into a place of attraction but they have not interfered with the locals’ views of the forest so there is no problem,” he narrates.
Regardless of generational gaps, Dande’s Petrified Forest to the locals is not just a name given to a special type of fossilized remains of terrestrial vegetation, but a revelation of ancestral presence.
It is not just a forest of trees that have completely transitioned to stone through permineralisation.
It’s the work of their ancestors and a show of power over dominion and other principalities.
While the National Parks would provide a guide to take the tourist around the spectacular woodland that nature has turned into stone, this writer chose the traditional way of being led by a local elder to explore how the ancestors “brewed” a shocker, allegedly turning wood into stones in their show of power.
And while there’s nothing scary about a Petrified Forest, there is surely some warped feeling and a degree of hesitation when one is being led into such a mysterious and wondrous place by someone who is very traditional.
It becomes more scary when there are set rules relating to your movements around a sea of logs that have turned into stone, some approximately up to three metres.
You are not allowed to take any petrified piece out of the forest, you are not allowed to express your perplexity through shouting. When leaving, no one is allowed to look back except at their own peril.
Out of curiosity, this writer will try to rope in guides from the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and explore this fascinating and maybe only Petrified Forest in Zimbabwe.
The United States of America might boast its own in the form of the Petrified National Park in Arizona, which attracts thousands of tourists from across the globe on a yearly basis but Zimbabwe could also use its stone forest and the spiritual aura associated with it to lure tourists from across the globe. – Zimpapers Syndication