The Block

The Zimbabwe block features an exquisite example of sadza batik, contributed by Sarah Trevor. Batik is a popular method of resist fabric painting. Usually the resist consists of melted wax painted on the fabric to form designs that resist colour dyes.  This example of batik uses a mixture of cornmeal and water, called the sadza, as a substitute for the wax resist. One of the only forms of decoration in rural areas of the country, batiks are used for bed coverings, curtains, tablecloths, wall coverings, and clothing. Popular with tourists, the sale of batiks enables the women who produce this cloth to contribute monetarily to their families.

The colourful pot in the centre is designed by grade eight student, Joanne Majoko, who had recently emigrated from Zimbabwe. It reflects the decorative pottery that is part of the Shona and Karanga tribes’ rich artistic heritage. Each piece of stoneware is individually hand thrown and hand decorated.

Sally Rood embroidered the vibrant claw-like flowers of the Flame Lily, Zimbabwe’s national flower. These plants can grow up to 1.8 metres tall.  A batik representation of The Great Enclosure or Elliptical Building, one of the three main structures of the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, frames the central images. This famous wall, which stands 11 metres high in some places, has a circumference of 244 metres long. It is estimated that one million blocks set in layers without mortar were used in its construction. A border of ‘lucky beans,’ the inedible fruit of the Cafra Lysistemon tree, completes the design.

Behind the decorative baskets
Basket weavers with their work
COSV - Zimbabwe 2008 - Arte Shona (7)
Soapstone sculpture
Shona farms Zimbabwe
Traditional Shona farms
Tonga wall baskets producer from Zimbabwe
A woman making a basket
Cases Venda
Venda houses

Cultural Profile

Zimbabwe, formerly called Southern Rhodesia and later Rhodesia, is a landlocked country in southern Africa. It is named after the centre of its ancient culture: the 14th century Great Zimbabwe, which in the Shona language means ‘stone building.’ Archaeological evidence at the site, which was built by the Shona people over the course of 400 years, indicates that Zimbabwe was historically a powerful trading empire. The country’s most important river, the Zambezi, drops 128 metres into a narrow chasm that forms one of Zimbabwe’s most spectacular natural assets: the 1.7 kilometre-wide Victoria Falls. The falls, known locally as Mosi-oa-tunya, meaning ‘the smoke that thunders’, produces a mist so thick and a noise so loud, they can be seen and heard up to 40 kilometres away. Zimbabwe is also known for its bountiful wildlife, which includes the rare nyala, the king cheetah, the samango monkey, and both black and white rhinoceroses. Zimbabwe’s population is comprised of two major linguistic and ethnic groups: the Shona and the Ndebel. English is the official language with Shona and Ndebele, or Sindebele, the prominent African tongues.

Zimbabwean society places great value on artists. Traditional arts, most of which are still practiced, include pottery, basketry, textiles and decorative carvings. The country is perhaps best known for its sculptures. These are created from stone such as serpentine, which was formed over two billion years ago and has more than 200 colour variations, and Rapoko, a type of soapstone. Artists, many of whom are self-taught, draw inspiration for sculptures from their family, daily activities and ancestral spirits.

Traditional music and dance are also integral parts of cultural life, as are the stories of the Shona spirit mediums, who are the guardians of oral histories. Unique songs, often accompanied by such instruments as the marimba, a type of wooden xylophone and the mujejeje, bells made of stone, are prevalent at social events like weddings, funerals, births and harvest celebrations. Another instrument is the mbira, a thumb piano which can have up to 28 keys. The deze is a thumb piano mounted inside a large dried calabash to amplify its sound.

People have been coming to Canada from Zimbabwe since 1985, often for political and economic reasons. The 2011 census reports over 6,400 Zimbabweans living here. They have contributed to a variety of areas in society, including the world of art.

Sponsor: Gary and Eliane Broda | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons