Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls

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Masters of their craft

Masters of their craft

Masters of their craft
GAIL VAN JAARSVELDT

The vehicle bumps over the rutted track, squeezing along a path shared with herds of cattle, lowing on their way to their pens, as the sun sets in the rural area of Chisuma, about 30km from Victoria Falls.

Our destination is the homestead of Nelson Mpofu, one of the last traditional Shona ironsmiths still working. Nelson’s family moved to this primarily Tonga and Ndebele area when he was a small boy, some years after he was born in 1944. The family kept alive the traditional skills of Shona smithing, passing down the techniques from father to son to grandson over time, creating hoes, ploughs, axes and spears.

Godwill Ruona is our guide on this trip back in time – a modern day explorer, he is fascinated by the talents of such hidden craftsmen, who have elevated their everyday craft to an art. He is able to recognise this in others as he himself is master of the almost esoteric art of taxidermy. Based in Victoria Falls,  he ranges far out into the country in search of his next rare craft discovery, which he brings back to share with great delight and a desire to keep these fast vanishing skills alive.

As we arrive at Nelson’s homestead, the sun is setting amidst a cloud of swirling dust as the cattle arrive home and chickens fly up to roost. We disembark with our gifts of food and drink and Nelson welcomes us, his only words of English now used up. Godwill translates as we work through the ritual of meeting and greeting, and Nelson offers to show us his forge.

A short distance from the kraal, in the dry veld, a rickety wooden frame covers a hole in the ground from which emanates a warm glow. Nelson pumps his bellows – an old maize sack planted into the dirt - air rushes through the narrow hole in the ground to heat up the sheet of scrap metal that holds scavenged steel pieces. Over time, these will melt and be beaten out on his anvil, an old section of railway track, with a massive hammer that hardly anyone can lift with one hand, let alone use to beat out a perfect spearhead.

Seeing these two master craftsmen converse together about how much is created from so little inspires a great idea. What better way to honour their work than to have their skills shown in splendour in the refurbishment of everyone’s favourite lady, the Grand Dame herself, The Victoria Falls Hotel?

Hotel management agrees to showcase the heritage skills of both Godwill and Nelson. An intricate feature display of spears to adorn the dining room is commissioned from Nelson and Godwill, bringing new life to the eccentric collection of mounted trophies that make our special lady so unique.

Their talents will be showcased when The Victoria Falls Hotel’s spectacular make-over is revealed, all thanks to an intrepid explorer, a master of his craft, and the vision and dedication to supporting local art shown by the team at the Victoria Falls Hotel. A proud moment to be Zimbabwean!

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 13, June 2013)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Victoria Falls

Zambezi Traveller Directory:
Elephant's Walk Shopping Village
The Victoria Falls Hotel