Arriving at the Khami Ruins (also spelled as Kame or Kami) is certainly more than just touring another travel destination.
To be a Zimbabwean, it’s a proud engagement with my past.
An amazing past, I must say.
Looking at the massive stone structures (there’s certainly a lot of stones around here) I’m starting to think our ancestors had far better technology than we have today.
My mind can’t even begin to fathom how these people broke down huge boulders of granite rock and then shape them into proportioned square blocks.
“They probably heated the huge granite boulders with fire and then poured water on them. The cold-heat effect would have acted like some sort of weathering which resulted in chunks of rocks peeling off. These would then be cut down using some iron tools into the blocks used for construction,” explained Khami Ruins site manager Lonke Nyoni.
Located to the west of the Khami River (from which they draw their name), 22 kilometres from Bulawayo, the Khami Ruins (capital of the Torwa dynasty in the 15th Century) are to be found on a 1 300 metre hilltop downstream from a dam that was built between 1928 and 1929.
They cover an area of about 108 hectares spread over a distance of about two kilometres from the Passage Ruin to the North Ruin.
Although the Khami Ruins have been subject to the effects of natural erosion, veld fires, animals, and encroaching vegetation, Nyoni says the ruins have retained their authenticity largely in part due to the minimal interventions that have been carried out.
“The ruins are as intact as they were in the 15th Century as any restorations have used traditional methods and no new materials have been added.”
There is something uplifting about walking through the ruins in their exactness of some 500 or so years ago.
Standing on the peak point of the Khami Ruins (the Hill Ruins), from west, north, east or south, give the visitor an amazing perspective of the surroundings, surrounded by wonderful greenery, which provides the site with its unique flair and appeal.
I’m sure the Torwa had the best scouting team in the land.
Set on an area with the best of the area’s flora, the visitor can also glimpse birds fluttering amongst the ruins.
Along with Great Zimbabwe, I think the Khami Ruins are some of the finest ancient monuments south of the Sahara.
No wonder then, why it’s a World Heritage Site. Of course the big pull in terms of Zimbabwe’s history-based tourist attractions will probably remain the Great Zimbabwe ruins, but the Khami Ruins have their own exceptional charm.
The stone walling and terraces wind around among the trees and hills, offering a glimpse of a vanished settlement.
Experts say the remains of successive clay huts and courtyards have been found on the ruin’s platforms.
Link with great Zimbabwe
Historians and archeologists are generally agreed that the Khami Ruins are the site of the capital of the Torwa State that emerged as a strong power in the South-western Zimbabwe in the 15th Century (at about the time when the Great Zimbabwe was in decline).
According to the site manager, there is evidence of cultural continuity between Great Zimbabwe Ruins and the Khami Ruins in terms of the similar style of stone walling. There is also the distinctive polychrome band and panel Khami pottery which was also found during excavations in the upper levels of a Valley Enclosure at Great Zimbabwe.
As we strolled through the ruins Nyoni offered a note:
“It is taboo for one to go back using the same route they came up the ruins.”
This is believed to be a very spiritual place, so who would not take word of caution?
So as we made our way down the terraces, we felt secure in our obedience.
Three-quarters on our way down, I stole a glance at the wall to the left of me . . .
Oh, so that explains the taboo.
The site’s best and most impressive ruin is a large wall on your way down from the Hill Ruins, which has beautifully patterned (checkered) stonework (the check pattern is the most frequent form of decoration at Khami).
This ‘great wall’ (so to speak) is another distinctive element of the Khami Ruins to other ruins — even the Great Zimbabwe Ruins — and is believed to be the longest decorated wall in the entire sub-region.