a moment shared

A Photo Series

By Gordon Massie

Approximately 400 meters from the Eastern Ruins of Great Zimbabwe, a natural quartz line, known as the Mujejeje, bisects the granite underfoot (image 1 & 2). This natural line, in the Earth’s surface, acts as the spiritual entrance to the sacred site of Great Zimbabwe. I participated in two research trips to Great Zimbabwe, one in 2014 and another in 2015. On both occasions, I engaged the medium of photography to probe the historical memories of the sacred site in the context of contemporary Zimbabwe.

Recognised today as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the magnificent ruins remain at the forefront of much debate regarding the ownership of the land, and the authorship of the structures. The claims to the site are complex and wide-ranging because they ultimately determine who may live on the land, and moreover, who takes control of the site. There are two main protagonists in the story of Great Zimbabwe, the Mugabe clan and the Nemwana clan. The claims raised by each group are predominantly rooted in historical memories and the narratives they inspire. 

In 2015, on my second visit to the site, I was fortunate to engage with Chief Mugabe, Sekuru Samuel Haruzivishe, the chief of the Mugabe clan who, through ancestral occupation, claims the site for his people. Chief Mugabe’s informative and authoritative contribution assisted in my understanding of the complex history of Great Zimbabwe. 

While visiting the Mujejeje Village, I captured the moment when Chief Mugabe held up his walking stick and pointed to where his ancestors were buried on the Hill Top Complex (image 3). This photograph is significant because at that moment, by sharing this memory with me, he was able to reinforce his long-standing belief of his clan’s rightful claim to the sacred land.

Looking east over the Mujejeje, Great Zimbabwe. 2014

Looking west over the mujejeje and scattered cairns to the Hill Top Complex. Great Zimbabwe