Saturday, October 9, 2010


In Zimbabwe throwing the bones is for predicting the weather, rooting out a trouble maker in the tribe, or in this case finding out whether our hunting expedition the following day would be successful.

Of all the pictures I have of the past, the accompanying one is my favourite.

It depicts a Mashangaan man named Ngrishi throwing the bones.  The location was the southeasten region of what is now called Zimbawe, in a vast arid wilderness  by name
Ghona-re-Zhou. Loosely translated I would say this means "Observe the Elephant", though I have heard it called more elaborately "The Chalice of the Elephants".

On that steamy day in Africa more than 50 years ago, I sat in the scanty shade of a great Baobab tree. This arboreal giant was about 18 feet in diameter with a massive buttressed trunk.
 Ngrishi and I had come together for the purpose of engaging in Mashangaan devination.  For a long period Ngrishi had not had any luck with hunting.  Not only did Ngrishi and his family need meat, but my company of 12 men back at the camp were adamant that work was difficult without that important protein. I agreed. 

Ngrishi and I settled together on the hard earth.  Ngrishi reached into his pocket and pulled out a small square of cloth and revealed his charms.   He called them Hakata.  There were eight charms in all, two grizzled bones, one from the ankle of a male baboon and another from a female baboon, Sawati n Nenga and Nunawama Wukuli.  Next in importance were small rectangular scales, one each from the underside of a male and female tortoise shell.  The remaining four charms, were the seeds of the  Cordyla africana tree - two with double cavities and two with single cavaties  - all somewhat smaller than a chicken's egg.

"Ngrishi", I asked in the lingua franca, "You have said we should go out together tomorrow and hunt for something so  that everybody can eat well. Ask your Hakata whether we will be fortunate to get what we need."

Ngrishi rattled the charms about in his gnarled black hands and then cast  them deftly together onto the small cloth.  He studied them intently for a minute, then pronounced a finding quite incomprehensible to me.  Six more times he performed the same ritual, muttering all the while.
That done he seemed to ponder for two minutes, drawing together all the parameters concerning what each fall of the charms had revealed.

"Uthini sema Hakata", Ngrishi?" (what do the charms say).
"They say it will be good if we go out together tomorrow."

  And he was right.  The next day his little mongrel bitch Shaka chased up a small buck. I  dropped it with a  single shot.  

Although uneducated in the ways of the white man, this African of the bush,  possessed other attributes that fitted him well for his life in the wilderness. Ngrishi was a man wirh a profound natural knowledge of bush and animals. He was an excellent tracker. And he was  courageous, honest and kind.  He was also a skilled maker of bows and arrows.  Shaka his faithful companion, was  well trained and disciplined.  She was not beautiful by any means but, a delightful little creature and Ngrishi loved her. That was unusual.

My wilderness years in Africa are forever a cherished memory, rich in experiences and excitement so I have much to write about in the book I trust will one day be on the bookshelves..

50 years later

Post by guest blogger, James Gordon, on
Saturday, 9th October, 2010.


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