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"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" - David Livingstone and the Missionary Movement

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Water, water everywhere!
Victoria Falls, the largest curtain of falling water in the world and a designated "World Heritage Site," had gone through many different name changes prior to our visit on Saturday. The Ndebele people called it Amanza Thunquayo, or "Water Rising as Smoke". The later Makalolo people called it Mosi-oa-Tunya, "Smoke that Thunders". Finally, though, while traveling in a dugout canoe with the Makalolo, David Livingstone, a missionary and geographer from Scotland, renamed the falls after the Queen of England, Victoria, on November 16, 1855.
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First-timers both, Sheillah and I visit Victoria Falls
I met up with Sheillah, 15, at the statue of David Livingstone, which overlooks Devil's Cataract. Sheillah and 67 other Girl Guides were visiting Vic Falls from near Bulawayo. (You can write them at: Minda Secondary School, Matopo, Box 10, Zimbabwe.) Dressed alike in white T-shirts (the wrong thing to be wearing when you get soaking wet!), green track pants and jackets, they were all ready for their annual weekend trip. The night before, they had slept at another school near town and today rode a bus to visit the falls. It was Sheillah's first time. "Mine too," I smiled.

Missionaries - The Good, the Bad and The Ugly

The role of missionaries in the colonial history of Zimbabwe can be viewed in both positive and negative ways. Here are just a few of those in a nutshell.

NEGATIVE: The Loss of Tradition and Cultural History

Early missionaries in Africa were operating under the assumption that it was "white man's burden to civilize," and "raise them [the Africans] from the state of barbarism and heathenism," even if it meant lying to them. They believed that "spreading the gospel" was part of their mission and they condemned traditional practices, values, and religions of the native people in favor of Christianity. Further, the educational curriculum focused on European history and ignored African native history. For instance, the new settlers taught natives that structures like the Great Zimbabwe and certain mountains, rivers, and physical features like Victoria Falls were "discovered" by white explorers. When whites first discovered these ruins, they were even so vain as to believe that Great Zimbabwe must have been built by whites because it was so impressive, just like the first explorers who discovered Palenque of the Maya in Mexico!

POSITIVE: Missionary-Sponsored Service Organizations

The missionaries formed several organizations aimed at educating African children, giving them a chance to get ahead. In 1859, the first mission station was established by the London Missionary Society in Matabeleland. Other stations soon followed: Hope Fountain (1870), a Jesuit school in Bulawayo (1874), and a Dutch Reformed Church station in Masvingo (1891). Also, during the turn of the century, other groups--the American and English Methodists, the Anglicans, Catholics, and Salvation Army--founded many hospitals, schools, clinics and churches, which benefited the African people.

NEGATIVE: Missionary Support for Colonization in General

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Kavitha poses with a statue of Livingstone
In the Rudd Concession, where the Ndebele King gave up mining rights to the white colonists, Reverend Helm helped the British and deliberately mistranslated the agreement for the Ndebele. This led to the eventual disempowerment of the native African people. John Moffat, a missionary and father of David Livingstone's wife, openly rejoiced at Cecil Rhodes' destruction of the Ndebele state.

POSITIVE: Support for All People as Equals

Further, Missionary religious education encouraged the equality of all individuals "before God," and this, in turn, encouraged students to start thinking about the inequalities they saw around them. Political leaders, like the late Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe, were educated at mission schools. Prior to Independence, many missionaries helped cultivate the political consciousness that would eventually lead to Independence in 1980. For example, in 1974, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace kept a watchful eye on the increase in human rights abuses. They published a document called "An Appeal to Conscience by Christian Leaders" and had it signed by all the leaders of the principal denominations in the country. Then, they sent it to five hundred prominent and influential Rhodesian citizens. The document called for an end to police violence, asking citizens "... to use your influence to secure an immediate termination of the inhuman methods that are being used to elicit information from the civilian population."

Quizzically, she asked me in a shy voice, "Why are the white people always swimming in the river?" Later, we found out that plenty of tour guides and operators offer a variety of activities at Vic Falls. A number of foreign tourists pass through Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe for a taste of adventure. Gaby, a woman from Scotland who visited Rhodes' grave with me, is planning to go sky-diving ($140US), bungee-jumping ($90US, second jump same-day $45US) and white-water rafting ($80US) during her stay at the falls. The money generated by tourists creates income and jobs. Our taxi driver explained that he moved here because "there is more work here than in Bulawayo." Kavi and I aren't as adventurous (or moneyed) as Gaby, though, and are content with a walk alongside the falling water. A lot of it does sound fun, though, and I tried to explain this to Sheillah, though I'm not sure she was convinced.

The falls, running 1708m wide, drop a stunning display of water into the Zambezi Gorge. Here, the Zambezi river continues to meander, marking the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Zambia used to be what was called Northern Rhodesia, and used to be part of a Federation with Southern Rhodesia (today known as Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (now known as Malawi.) From March to May--the "flood stage"--an average of 5 million cubic meters of water tumbles over the edge every minute! Normally, the water flow is 550,000 cubic meters per minute--still an awe-inspiring sight. The waterflow is so predictable that during the end of the first week of every July, there's a body-boarding competition down the Zambezi River. Here, the water curls up into tubes that surfers can ride through.

You can see different views of the falls from different vantage points. For example, at Horseshoe Falls-108m, we stopped to let the Minda schoolgirls pass. At Danger Point, we climbed out onto moss-covered rocks, the mist coming up from the gorge falling on us like rain. I couldn't get a picture of the double rainbow shining in the mist. I did, however, get into the official Minda Girl Guides group shot: Sheillah, her friend Rudzidzo, also 15, and the teacher chaperones were all pleased to see the instant development on our digital camera.

As we headed towards the lookout point for Eastern Cataract, we strolled through lush vegetation and occasional misty clouds. The water droplets hung in the air, feeding hundreds of different plants and trees in a kind of tropical jungle throughout Victoria Falls National Park. In addition to all the plants, a number of big game species and other animals live in protected Zambezi National Park; just north of the falls. The day before, when Kavitha had visited Jay's Spar grocery store in town, some people had told her that two elephants from the park had been galomphing around the neighborhood. Can you imagine seeing elephants on your way to the grocery store!!!???

We were reading various plaques and information along the trail, when I thought I saw a life-size replica of an antelope hiding in the bushes. But then it blinked and turned to face us, and I realized that this real little creature was feeding very close to the edge of the gorge!

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This bridge
made history, and is also fun to bungee jump off! (Can you see the jumper?)
At the end of the trail we bottomed out to a view of the Zambezi Bridge, site of a historic moment for Zimbabweans dealing with the battle by blacks for more rights and power in their country (but we'll learn more about that in the coming weeks!) Now, people gather at this viewpoint and excitedly strain to see a glimpse of the bungee-jumpers.

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1647 down, 5165 to go!
After our walk, Kavitha and I visited the Victoria Falls Hotel. Established in 1905 and rebuilt in 1914 as lodging for visitors travelling the rails up from South Africa, it is near the view of Zambia and the mist off the falls. On a flagpole the Zimbabwean flag flies proudly and, at its base, a plaque points the direction toward Cape Town and Cairo - the two points that the founder of Zimbabwe, Cecil Rhodes, wanted to connect with a railroad all under British rule. We will be in Cairo in about four months. We still have a long way to go!


Abeja - It's Good to be King! Or is it?
Kavitha - Bug Off! AIDS in Africa
Kavitha - Misconceptions about AIDS in Zimbabwe
Kevin - 202 Smiles at the End of a School Day
Shawn - The King and I
Making A Difference - Paint a Perfect Picture

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