Saturday, March 26, 2016: Museum of Human Sciences

The Museum of Human Sciences is the former Queen Victoria Museum, which was dedicated when Zimbabwe was the British Colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1962, according to a bronze plate installed at the front of the building. It is a natural history museum with the first exhibit telling the story of Charwe, a Shona woman who played an instrumental in the fight against colonialism during the First Chimurenga, 1896-7. After refusing to convert to Christianity, and leading the fight against the British until her execution, she became a symbol of resistance against colonialism. Charwe was also the inspiration for those who fought against the Second Chimurenga as well, which was the fight for Zimbabwean independence against the Rhodesian government.

Human evolution exhibits connected the journey of brain growth with the associated ability to advance in life skill – albiet without recent discoveries in human archeology and anthropology. For example, after walking upright, the ability evolved to make tools in the Iron Age, starting with crude weapons such as pebbles as the ball of a hammer leading to pointed weapons that were more useful.

The San People and Rock Art exhibit connected us with the Domboshava Petroglyphs and was a sobering reminder that this art is “in danger of disappearing altogether” over the next hundred years due to natural weathering, mineral compositions in the rock breaking down, running water obscuring the painting, and human carelessness/vandalism.

Because music defines Zimbabwe in so many ways, it was interesting to see the exhibits of early musical instruments: the renditions of drums, mbira, marimbas with mallets, guitars and tambourines. All were quite old yet very close to today’s basic musical instrument design. There was also an exhibit of an innovative amplification technique of placing the mbira inside a pot.

A favorite exhibit was the replica of the Shona Village of the past, because it provided insights into the probable history of some of the rural communities observed during the trip. The walls of the huts were made of clay and mud, similar to the structures built by the people of Kufunda Village. Inside the kitchen was a pot shelf and a pile of wood (bakwa), along with a fiber rug for sleeping (gudza). This diorama of a historical Shona household conjured images of a way of life that was eternally disturbed by colonization. The tidy museum exhibits, although significantly out of date in some sections, were informative and left us with long-lasting impressions.

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