By Norma Tsopo
NYANGA – Mt Nyangani’s infamous – untraceable and scientifically unexplained human disappearances have the world in a spell.
Neither myth nor legend – they are as serious as they come.
Back in 1981 two daughters of former government official Tichaendepi Masaya disappeared on the mountain.
Hardly five years later, an eight-year-old tourist, Robert Ackhurst, vanished in same mountain.
Recently, 31-year-old Zimbabwean of Asian descent Zayd Dada also disappeared without trace.
Massive searches – employing helicopters, police, military, parks and wildlife officials, tour guides, churches and even spirit mediums, failed to yield even a trace of any of them.
While the disappearances have mortified the nation they have been great news for traditionalists whose faith in indigenous belief systems is strengthened by this supposed show of power by the ‘sacred mountain’.
At 2 592 metres (8 504 feet), the mountain is also the highest in Zimbabwe.
Fascinated locals and petrified visitors continue to bow in reverence to local traditional rites and beliefs which are inadvertently being strengthened by the phenomenon.
The risk of disappearing hovers over the head of every hiker of the country’s highest mountain – most locals say.
They opine, from experience and folklore, that even after following every proscribed rite that is meant to offer visitors safe passage into and out of the mountain it reserves the right to retain who it pleases.
Some for release at its own volition and others only when the right people begs its forgiveness.
“Many people deride our traditions as useless but this shows that they are still alive,” Sabhuku Nyatondo said in Nyanga recently, with a glow of satisfaction.
He said the sacred mountain would capture individuals who would have made an infraction on their traditional norms, Sabhuku Nyatondo said.
“Those who disappear in spite of following the rites would be released sooner or later because the spirits would only do so to show them something,” Sabhuku Nyatondo said.
Chief Hata also concurs. He however adds that walking through the mountain will give each individual a different experience.
“Different people will see different things,” Chief Hata said.
He however added that warning signs for abnormal spiritual activity may be seeing strange things like seeing huge trees which he said the mountain did not have.
Although Mt Nyangani is a major tourist attraction, the mountain’s visitors’ safety is hard to guarantee if Chief Hata’s opinion is anything to go by.
Conflicting traditional rites being performed in the mountain are making people vulnerable to being detained by the mountain Chief Hata opines.
“If the sacred mountain’s jurisdiction is resolved then any future disappearances will be easily resolved by performing the appropriate rituals by the appropriate chieftainship,” Chief Hata said.
Chief Hata, Chief Tangwena, Headman Mhembere and Chief Saunyama among others all claim it as theirs.
He however said the disappearances are currently only acting as an opportunity to prove which traditional leader it belongs to – and he believes he is.
“Our mediums maintain that there are four people who are alive in the mountain who can be released if we do a cleansing ritual with a beast, a goat and a chicken.
“This will cost us about $500 which we however do not have at the moment. We will however perform the ritual as soon as we have the money,” Chief Hata said.
“This will put to rest any contestation to his claim,” the middle-aged chief said.
No one has yet availed the resources to put Chief Hata’s claims to the test.
However, for now, and into the unforeseeable future, climbing the mountain remains a pulsating adventure.
With no one, it seems, fully explaining the dreadful phenomenon it remains cause for concern for both local would be visitors and tourism industry stakeholders.
Disappearances have always thrown the tourism sector into a diplomatic quandary in which they could not blame the victim for traditional religious rites or custom infractions which would torch a storm with their families but would somehow assure would be tourists of their safety in the sacred mountain’s hike as they would have hope of a successful climb – up and down.
But vanishings, it appears, will remain a part of its heritage.
By Norma Tsopo