May 1, 2017
CHINHOYI, ZIMBABWE — A cool breeze and singing birds greet guests entering the Chinhoyi Caves, a serene local attraction.
Families and school children walk past each other on the narrow walking paths. Others are rushing to go inside the caves to have a glance at the famous pool, while some are coming out of the caves looking exhausted from the trek up and down the rocky path.
Jeffery Munemo, a local tourist, says he had never visited the Chinhoyi Caves, despite being Zimbabwean.
“I stay in Bindura and I brought my family here because I heard a lot about this place,” he says.
The Chinhoyi Caves are a monumental tourist site located in Chinhoyi, a city in Mashonaland West province in Zimbabwe. They’re a historical site that has been in existence for decades, attracting both domestic and international tourists who visit for a glimpse of the famous Chirorodziva — commonly referred to as the “Sleeping Pool” or the “Light Pool.” Some even come to scuba dive in the pool. Hollows and tunnels are a dominant feature of the caves system, and the caves are composed primarily of dolomite and limestone.
Chinhoyi Caves are also believed to be sacred, and spirit mediums visit the place for ancestral worshipping or to hold cultural ceremonies.
The caves have also become an educational site for local schools across Zimbabwe, says Petros Mwera, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority extension and interpretation officer.
The area close to the caves was declared a National Monument as well as a National Park in 1957, according to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks). It later became a Recreational Park in 1975.
Munemo says what was most amazing about the place to him was the blue water in the Sleeping Pool.
Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ Zimbabwe
A Pool with Many Names
The pool within the caves is referred to as the Sleeping Pool because of the stagnant water, and the Light Pool because the light from the sun beams directly into the blue water. Today, the names are used interchangeably, but the caves’ traditional name, Chirorodziva, has historical meaning.
The traditional name means the “pool of the fallen,” according to ZimParks. The name dates back to the 1830s when the Angoni Tribe, who were migrating north, ambushed the people who lived near the caves and threw their bodies into the pool. The name was also influenced by the cruel acts of Chief Nyamakwere, who lived in the area before the Angoni tribe.
“Chief Nyamakwere was a notorious and cruel chief; anyone whom he saw as a rival would be tied with a rope and a stone and thrown into the pool and his/her body would not submerge on top of the water because of the stone they would have been tied and thrown with,” Mwera says.
The human remains of the people thrown into the pool are still believed to be there.
A Significant History
The dates of when chiefs and their clans lived in the caves are not known because it was never documented, Mwera says. However, pottery and human remains unearthed from the area showed radiocarbon dating back to 650 A.D., according to ZimParks.
The area was named after headman Chinhoyi, a man who killed the notorious Chief Nyamakwere and then took up the chieftainship, Mwera says.
Within the dark caves, there is a section referred to as “the singing of the bats,” Mwera says, where bats produce a melodious sound that fills the caves. There is also a fig tree that has been there for more than a century.
“It is believed our ancestors used to get the meals at this tree. They would come to the tree whenever they were hungry and clap, and would be provided with a cooked meal in a wooden plate,” says Mwera.
It is also believed that many chiefs were buried in these dark caves, Mwera says, but no one really knows where the graves are or how many were buried there, because the chiefs were buried in secret and their graves were sealed by stones.
The burial of the chiefs, as well as the stories of the generous fig tree, are believed to have happened before Frederick Courteney Selous, a great hunter and the first person to document the beauty of the caves in 1887, mapped the area, Mwera says.
According to when the whites came, an unspecified date, says Mwera, they sealed the tree hollow with cement because they did not believe in the stories of the fig tree.
The cement, Mwera says, was removed in 2013 after a traditional gathering by spirit mediums that took place at the caves.
A Local and International Destination
Tendai Mbera, a local tourist who visited the site with his fiancée, says the caves are a great view and are naturally amazing.
“I never had the chance to visit the place since I was young and I am enjoying everything that I am seeing,” says Mbera.
Josephine Mpofu, who visited the caves with her family from Bulawayo on their way from another tourist site in Zimbabwe, says what she loved most about the caves is that they are natural and not man-made.
“This is a reflection that there are nice places in Zimbabwe that you can visit beyond the bad picture that Zimbabwe is given,” she says.
Zimbabwe is often given a bad picture in the world because of its weak economy and high unemployment rate.
People should come and have an experience of the caves and their historical significance, Mwera says.
How to Visit the Chinhoyi Caves
The caves are located in Chinhoyi about 123 kilometers (about 76 miles) from Harare along the route to Kariba Dam, another tourist site in Zimbabwe. Anyone who intends to visit the caves can do site booking upon arrival or can visit ZimParks website at www.zimparks.org to book in advance. The Harare central booking office for ZimParks can be contacted through the direct line +263 4 706077/8 or +263 4 707624-9. Entry fee to the caves is $3 per person for local tourists, $8 per person for regional tourists and $10 for international tourists.
Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ reporter, translated some interviews from Shona.
Editor’s Note: Some sources in the story are related.