Preservation of ancient monuments crucial

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By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

THROUGHOUT the annals of history, the enlightened world has been enraged on numerous occasions by the wanton destruction of some ancient monuments by senseless ignorant hordes of marauders whose lack of appreciation of knowledge about the past is not understandable.
Called by various derogative local names, English social and cultural historians and commentators refer to them as vandals or barbarians.
Such people have caused havoc as far and wide as Peru and Chile in South America, Japan, India and China in Asia, Russia, Italy and Greece in Europe, Syria, Palestine and Iraq on the Levant and, indeed, elsewhere.
Most of them act or acted as organised groups as is the case with the ISIS that is waging a politico-religious war in Iraq and has destroyed irreplaceable ancient buildings including temples.
Others are obviously psychosomatic individuals whose urge to destroy remnants of historic achievements of the human race deserves the most severe punishment.
That was the case when a 15-year-old Russian boy burnt down a 400-year-old wooden church building two weeks ago.
Organised groups can be described as vandals whose wish is to impose their own social, cultural and moral values and beliefs on target communities.
Individuals who destroy symbols of the communities’ past social, cultural values and/or political as well as economic processes and achievements are likely to be iconoclasts or mere infidels.
The world is trying, with the help of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to preserve what is left of monuments that represent and show some social, cultural, economic and political aspects of the lives of various ancient communities in several parts of the globe.
Preservationists regard historic buildings and many other antiquities as means by which we can measure or compare the architectural development or deterioration mankind has made in a given period.
The human race has been progressing since its origins in its discovery, exploitations and utilisation of various natural resources.
For the creation of their accommodation, people have used wood, hides, skins, mud, grass and a variety of metals depending on their availability and the environment.
Eskimos use large ice blocks and/or hides of seals to construct their igloos and the San in the scrubby Kalahari Desert use branches of shrubs that grow sparsely in the arid region.
It is widely agreed by all students of human socio-cultural development that people once used wooden tools before progressing into the Iron Age.
Where there are still remnants of wooden structures such as the recently destroyed Russian church, it should be most important to preserve them.
They can be used for a very wide range of teaching purposes that can include the identification of the kind of trees from which the timber emanated.
Those who are involved in the scientific study of trees, dendrologists, could benefit from such projects, and so could those in the timber technology industry.
Studies on how the timber was preserved from nature’s destructive elements could also be carried out.
The architecture of historic buildings, particularly religious structures, could be studied to establish how the building’s several sections were used.
Some were for important sacrifices and were regarded as the holiest section, what the ancient Roman Catholics called ‘sanctum sanctorum’, the holy of the holies.
Some sections were used for security purposes during war and the period when Christians were ruthlessly persecuted.
The author of this article visited an ancient Armenian Orthodox church a couple of kilometres outside the Armenian capital city, Yerevan, in 1967.
The faultless stone building, located at the foot of a hill, has a basement in which about 2 500 people can be accommodated.
It was built in a period when ethnic wars were very common, when weak communities were seized and enslaved by stronger ones, and when Moslem armies were on aggressive campaigns to extend their area of influence.
It would be a tragedy were that church to be destroyed.
Its architecture is a model to be emulated by any modern builder whose aim is to achieve durability, to save space and to enhance aesthetics.
That building, just like the Taj Mahal, the Great Zimbabwe, the pyramids and several other structures elsewhere, is a magnificent product of human mental creativity, manual skill and concerted, disciplined physical labour.
In those distant times, a combination of art, prevailing social circumstances and dominant cultural influences produced architects whose creations are nothing short of miracles.
The late Professor Ali Mazrui once said that the Bantu tend to spend more time talking about their past (history) than planning their future.
That may be a Bantu, socio-cultural characteristic whose root can be traced to their traditional ancestral spirit religion.
If that is the case, as Bantu we should show much practical respect for those things created by dead people whose spirits we revere.
Respect for a dead person’s spirit should be coupled with respect for the dead person’s tangible creations, especially immovable assets.
The modern world shows a great deal of veneration the dead or otherwise give to the dead, and so does it to historic monuments created by those people.
It is imperative that Zimbabwe should jealously protect its monuments from vandalism and destructive natural factors.
That is especially so about the Great Zimbabwe whose massive stone walls have partly collapsed.
That it must be repaired by properly qualified people is indisputable since the country is named after it.
It would be a serious contradiction if the Government were to neglect the monument while promoting the image of the country whose name is derived from that monument.
Preservationism is an integral part of our social culture as can be seen by the way many Zimbabweans try to keep the graves of their relatives in a respectable condition.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. sgwakuba@gmail.com

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