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Along the mystic Vumba Mountain Range in Central Mozambique, a sacred Hill denominated Chinhamapere stands as one of the prominent features of the landscape. The site comprises the best-known hunter-gatherer rock art paintings (comprising several human figures, some holding bows and arrows and others in trance) tucked into a sacred forest and a set of living Shona rituals connected with rock art symbols and the landscape. Surrounding all the three hunter-gatherer rock art sites are fairly dense savannah woodland, which is a natural habitat for rare species of reptiles and flora. The woodland is seen as an integral part of the rock art sites: together they are perceived as the Chinhamapere sacred landscape, a scarce and valued resource used for traditional ceremonies.
Chinhamapere sits within a rich and known archaeological context of hunter-gatherer communities and the rock art contains imagery unique to hunter-gatherer rock art as well as unobserved motifs. While a remnant of the lost local hunter-gatherer ’s heritage, Chinhamaphere is an exceptional testimony to a way of life of the hunter-gatherers communities that lived and moved throughout the Vumba Mountains over the last 2000 years, and in particular of their intangible beliefs and ideas associated with ritual and cosmological traditions. The site offers an unlimited and remarkable opportunity to educate visitors about hunter-gatherer culture, art and spirituality compelling one to envisage past lifestyles and links the past with the present.
The Vumba Mountain reflects remarkable interaction between communities and the landscape (e.g. through ritual and economic practices). Chinhamapere rock art site is still actively used by local communities for a variety of ritual activities such as rainmaking, divining and healing. The continuing living ceremonial practices of the local communities reflect continuity in traditions with those who created the rock paintings. These strong intangible links between the paintings and living practices demonstrate a crucial cultural continuum. Because Chinhamapere is perceived as powerful place for communication with the ancestors the site benefits from a remarkable traditional management system or traditional custodianship - all mechanisms and actions guided by custom and belief systems, carried out by local communities, aiming for the continuous use and preservation of a heritage place and its surrounding environment, including the preservation of its symbolic and cosmological significance.
What is of special importance about Vumba Mountain is that the rock art exists, largely in its original natural environment, and in the context of a rich living heritage. The site is currently protected by the Mozambican Law for the Protection of the Cultural Heritage (Law nr.10/88) and the Forest Reserve is protected by the Mozambican Forestry Act of 1997. A Management Plan has been drawn up and has the commitment and support of local communities and other necessary stakeholders. The Management Plan has been also largely discussed by the Government, as to find support for its implementation.
On the World Heritage List, hunter-gatherer rock art is represented by the uKhahlamba– Drakensberg Park (South Africa), the Mapungubwe Cultural landscape (South Africa), Matobo Hills (Zimbabwe), Kondoa (Tanzania) and Tsodilo Hills (Botswana). Although Chinhamapere may not have as many rock art images as other more prominent sites in southern Africa, its importance lies on its cultural landscape and its function in local traditional practise. Indeed, none of these sites mentioned above is comparable with the Chinhamapere in terms of its remarkable traditional custodianship that ensures a rational and effective use and management of the natural and cultural resources.