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Czech - language Works on Rhodesia and Zimbabwe

ZIMBABWE IN CZECH LITERATURE An Overview Numerous experts in many specialized fields have paid their attention to the territory of the former Southern Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe, since at least the time when David Livingstone and the famous Czech explorer of the late 19th century Emil Holub


An Overview

Numerous experts in many specialized fields have paid their attention to the territory of the former Southern Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe, since at least the time when David Livingstone and the famous Czech explorer of the late 19th century Emil Holub (following Livingstone´s footsteps) provided the central European audience with first more thorough information on the region between the Limpopo and the Zambezi Rivers. The interest of Czech and Slovak public in development of Africa has increased significantly after highly medialized overland African trip of Czech travellers Jiří Hanzelka and Miroslav Zikmund in the late 1940s . In spite of large geographical distance, limited business contacts, cultural differences and separation of Rhodesia from the then East European communist bloc countries and vice versa until the proclmation of independence of Zimbabwe, a relatively large collection of books, scientific and popularizing articles on Rhodesia and Zimbabwe appeared in the Czech language.

Before World War II (and shortly after)
The very first Czech who wrote about the territory of today´s Zimbabwe was probably the most acclaimed Czech traveller in Africa Emil Holub (1847-1902), who organized three small and two big African expeditions in the 1870s and 1880s. During his final expedition which he organized as a joint Austro-Hungarian venture including Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians and Austrians, he got as far as to Barotse (Lozi) and Ila kingdoms in Western and Central Zambia.

Although Holub only marginally visited western parts of Matabeleland, it was he, who brought the first artefacts of Ndebele, Shona, Kalanga and Tonga people to the Czech Lands and informed the Czech audience for the first time about this part of the world in his books Sedm let v jižní Africe (Seven Years in Southern Africa. Praha: J. Otto 1880-81) and Druhá cesta po jižní Africe (Second Voyage in Southern Africa. Praha: J. Otto 1890). Both Holub´s travelogues were translated into English as Seven Years in South Africa: Travels, Researches and Hunting Adventures, between the Diamond-Fields and the Zambezi (originally published in London in 1881 and reprinted by Johannesburg-based publisher Africana Book Society in 1976) and Emil Holub´s Travels North of the Zambezi 1885-6 (only part of the second one, travels in today´s Zambia by Manchester University Press). Holub´s tiny booklet The Victoria Falls. A few Pages from the Diary written during His third Trip into the Interior of Southern Africa published in Grahamstown in 1879, is also of interest for Zimbabweans.

Next information about the territory of today´s Zimbabwe came from the travelogues of two Czech travellers who travelled southbound through Africa. Jiří Baum (1900-1944) published Africkou divočinou (Through the African Wilderness. Praha: 1933) and his friend František Vladimír Foit (1900-1971) wrote Autem napříč Afrikou (Throughout Africa by Car. Praha: privately printed 1931). In the 1920s and 1930s, a few articles about life in Africa (including Rhodesia) were published in two monthlies (published for more than thirty years and dedicated to missionary work) - Echo z Afriky (Echo from Africa) and Malý černoch, later on Černoušek (Little Negro) - and in other mainstream weeklies and monthlies.

The first modern geographical study is Karel Kuchař´s (1906-1975) "Jižní Rhodesie" (Southern Rhodesia) published in 1926 in a Czechoslovak Geographical Society magazine Sborník československé společnosti zeměpisné, followed by a dissertation of Faculty of Natural Sciences of Charles´ University at Prague named Řeky Jižní Afriky podle svých plošných rozměrů a vývoje svého toku (Southern African Rivers by Their Areas and Their Flow Development) by M. Škarvanová in 1933. I

Interest in Africa and Southern Africa in particular rose after the World War II as a follow-up of a voyage of Czech travellers Jiří Hanzelka (1920-2003) and Miroslav Zikmund (b. 1919). Their three-volume well-researched book, full of photographs, entitled Afrika snů a skutečností (Africa of Dreams and Reality, 1952, English translation published as Africa. The Dream and the Reality. Prague: Artia 1955) set a high standard for all forthcoming Czech travelogues. Shortly after World War II, more than a dozen of fiction books (mainly for young adult readers) set in Africa was written by Czech authors. One of them is set in today´s Zimbabwe - V zajetí Matabelů (Captured with the Matabeles, 1948) by a world-renowned atomic physicist and a prolific writer of young adult books - František Běhounek (1898-1973). It is set in the late 19th century and its main hero - a Czech teenager Jiří Horyna who lived in Transvaal - is trying to help his Czech friend and his father who were captured by King Lobengula. As it still intrigues young readers even after almost half a century, it has been recently translated into Polish as W niewoli Matabelów (Warszawa: C + S 1991).

Zimbabwe´s Fight for Independence in Czech literature
As former Czechoslovakia became a part of the so-called socialist bloc in the late 1940s, its interest in independence struggle in Asia, Africa and Latin America rose significantly. It is not surprising that this topic was emphasized in practically all texts published on Rhodesia and Zimbabwe since the 1950s. It includes the very first book published in Czechoslovakia at that time, which is basically translation of a critical article written by a Soviet journalist who described tragical fate of Black African labourers during the years under the British colonial yoke. The Czech edition appeared together with similarly oriented articles from all over the world under the title Kde slunce vyjde zítra (Where Sun Will Rise Tomorrow. Praha: Knihovna Rudého práva 1950).

Dozens of books on Africa has been published in Czechoslovakia since the Year of Africa in 1960, but due to the different fate of Rhodesia, possibilities of first-hand accounts were completely impossible especially after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Position of Rhodesia is specifically discussed in a thorough study by a former Czechoslovak diplomat in South Africa Jaroslav Pátek entitled Vývoj "rhodéské otázky" v létech 1965-1968 (Development of "Rhodesian Question" between 1965 and 1968. Praha: Ústav pro mezinárodní politiku a ekonomii 1969). There appeared also a Ph.D. dissertation Zvláštní postavení Jižní Rhodesie mezi britskými koloniemi v Africe. Vývoj v letech 1923-1953 (Southern Rhodesia´s Special Position Among British Colonies in Africa. Development in 1923-1953) written in 1966 by Otakar Hulec (b. 1935) who is also author of the first complete description of the country from the political, historical, geographical and cultural points of view published before the propclamation of independence as Rhodesie (Rhodesia. Praha: Svoboda 1974) in a series "Zeměmi světa" (Countries of the World). Of interest are also other Hulec´s articles, including the English-language ones like "The Position and Role of Africans in Rhodesian Agriculture" published in quarterly Archiv orientální in 1974 and "Some Aspects of the 1930s Depression in Rhodesia" published by The Journal of Modern African Studies in 1969. Following his History of South Africa, Hulec now works on History of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi to be published in 2005.

Very interesting is Josef Poláček´s (b. 1931) work Národně osvobozenecké hnutí v tropické Africe v boji za nezávislost po druhé světové válce (The National Liberation Movement in Tropical Africa in the Struggle for Independence after the World War II. Praha: SPN 1980). Numerous articles has been also published in such magazines as Nový Orient (New Orient), Mezinárodní politika (International Policy), Archív orientální (Oriental Archive) as well as in daily press. Headlines of these articles speak for themselves: The Rhodesian Knot, The Blacks´ Country Dominated by the Whites, The White Man´s Country in the Heart of Black Africa and/or The Rhodesian Problem in the Security Council.

Also ancient history of Zimbabwe is thoroughly covered by Czech historians. Two-volume Dějiny Afriky (History of Africa. Praha: Svoboda 1966) edited by Ivan Hrbek (1923-1993) has extensive coverage of a pre-colonial history of Zimbabwe as well as a thesis Příspěvek k dějinám Zambezi - Limpopo (Contribution to the History of Zambezi - Limpopo) by Jaroslav Černý from 1971. More than a quarter of a century later, I. Hrbek also edited Volume III of UNESCO General History of Africa. Africa from the Seventh to the Eleventh Century (its abridged edition was also published by Harare-based publisher Baobab Books). The medieval history of Southern Africa and Monomotapa culture in particular was also in focus of an exiled Slovak historian and Africanist Cyril Andrew Hromnik (b. 1942) who lives in South Africa since the 1970s His controversial and often criticised theories trying to find the roots of medieval Southern African cultures in India appear a.o. in: Indo-Africa: Toward a New Understanding of History of Sub-Saharan Africa (Cape Town: 1981) and "Dravidian Gold Mining and Trade in Ancient Komatiland" (published in Journal of Asian and African Studies in 1991).

Independent Zimbabwe Through the Czech and Slovak Eyes
Changed situation after the Lancaster House conference opened Zimbabwe for Czech and Slovak journalists for the first time after almost a quarter of a century. Various Czechoslovak medias sent their reporters to the country which enabled the readers to have the first-hand accounts. The best-known are Vladimír Diviš of Rudé právo Daily, whose description of the last pre-independence days and weeks appears in "Včera Rhodesie, dnes Zimbabwe" (Yesterday: Rhodesia. Today: Zimbabwe. In: Na křižovatkách světa. Praha: Knihovna Rudého práva 1980), and a prolific journalist and author of numerous articles and books on Africa Karel Lacina, whose book Na jih od rovníku (South of the Equator. Praha: Horizont 1984) is focused on post-independence realities of four Southern African newly independent countries - Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and last, but not least - Zimbabwe. Lacina´s other books include also two monographies on African national liberation movements and a thick volume influenced heavily by the Marxist ideology Nejnovější dějiny Afriky (The Modern History of Africa. Praha: Svoboda 1987) - all of them covering Zimbabwe extensively. Lacina also cooperated on a collection of essays Revoluční proces v rozvojových zemích 1945-1985 (Revolutionary Process in Development Countries. Praha: Academia 1987).

An economic study of Vlastislav Beneš "Politický a hospodářský vývoj Zimbabwe" (Political and Economic Development of Zimbabwe) published in Zahraniční obchod (Foreign Trade) magazine in 1983 was a basis for the first monography on Zimbabwean economy and recent history called simply Zimbabwe (Praha: Pressfoto 1984) and published in the series "Obchodně-ekonomické sborníky" (Trade and Economic Collections). Zimbabwean foreign policy from 1979 to 1983 has been subject of a Pavel Mikeš´s M.A. thesis at the Charles´ University in Prague, J. Vránová from Palacký´s University in Brno wrote about South African involvement in recent developments of Southern Africa.

Coverage of Zimbabwe in the last Decade
The fall of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia in 1989 enabled its citizens to travel and express themselves freely for the first time after almost half a century, and the publishing boom turned Czech and Slovak medias upside down. Orientation of newly independent medias towards until recently " forbidden" subjects of Czechoslovak history, economy and policy, caused a significant decline in readers´ interest in far-away countries. The number of books by Africans and on Africa dropped at first, but during a few last years, this trend is slowly changing. Although the very first publication on Zimbabwe of the 1990s was a translation of a book by Russian journalist Boris Pilyatskin into the Czech language, published under the title Legendární pták Zimbabwe (Legendary Bird of Zimbabwe. Praha: Panorama 1990), the most important sources of information about Zimbabwe are original Czech travelogues now.

Journalist Vratislav Petr edited and published K močálům Okawanga (To Swamps of Okavango. České Budějovice: Dona 1992). It´s memoirs of a Czech medical doctor turned hunter and environmentalist Zdeněk Cakl (1912-1996), who spent his last years in the town of Antelope Mine close to Matopos National Park. Experiences of a teacher and author of numerous books on history and politics of Lusophone countries Jan Klíma (b. 1943), who worked as Czechoslovak expert in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, are presented in Kam dohlédnu z Vumby (How Far Do I See from Vumba. Praha: Panorama 1990). A more recent travelogue - Záhadné Zimbabwe (Mysterious Zimbabwe. Blansko: Nakladelství Surf 2000) - is the third book by popular Czech amateur historian interested in unresolved mysteries of the world Alois Bradáč (b. 1951). Although it is a lively description of Bradáč´s "adventures" in Zimbabwe, it - unfortunately - cannot be taken seriously and it can´t be recommended as a serious source of information. It is full of inaccuracies, misunderstandings and unbased theories and observations about Zimbabwe´s past and present. Director of a zoological garden in the Czech town of Chomutov Přemysl Rabas (b. 1963) is author of Pil jsem ze Zambezi (Drinking from Zambezi. Most: Jan Syrový + Česká reklamní společnost 2002), based on personal memories of his numerous travels in Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries.

Other interesting recent titles are a collection of essays devoted to old and modern stone sculpture Moderní zimbabwské sochařství (Modern Zimbabwean Sculpture. Praha: Orientální ústav 2003) edited by Otakar Hulec, compiled by Jaroslav Olša, jr. (b. 1964) and Australia´s Celia Winter-Irving. Next is a geographical book Afrika. Na jih od Zambezi (Africa. South of the Zambezi. Jablonec nad Nisou: SH Progress 1997) by J. Cibulka, V. Špillar and Z. Skořepa, and a booklet for periusal of Czech businessmen, simply entitled Zimbabwe. Teritoriální informace pro exportéry a investory (Zimbabwe. Territorial Information for Exporters and Investors. Praha: Centrum vnějších ekonomických vztahů 1996) by Květa Dessieová. An associational book is Bůh má rád veselé lidi (God Loves Happy People. Kostelní Vydří: Karmelitánské nakladatelství 1996), which includes stories of missionaries (some of them from Zimbabwe); it was collected by Adalbert Ludwig Balling and translated and edited for the Czech edition by Anděla Janoušková.

Two interesting travelogues about an Africa overland trip published in the 1990s should also be mentioned: Petr Zeman´s Afrika...? No Problem! (Africa...? No Problem! Liberec: Kalendář Liberecka 1994) and Jan Tomšíček´s Afrikou domů na kole (Through Africa Towards Home on a Bicycle. Plzeň: Vydavatelství Cykloturistika 1999) written by the first Czechs who succeeded to cross the whole African continent Southbound by foot and Northbound by bike respectively. Although devoted to all Africa, it is just Tomšíček´s description of the community of Czech expats in Zimbabwe, which is a valuable source of information. Various other Czech travellers in Africa devoted a few pages and/or chapters to Zimbabwe.

Articles about Zimbabwe can also be found frequently in geographical magazines as Koktejl (Cocktail), Lidé a země (People and Land), Nový Orient (New Orient), Geografické rozhledy (Geographic Views) or in Bulletin Společnosti česko-arabské a Společnosti přátel Afriky (Bulletin of Czech-Arabic Society and Society of Friendship with Africa) and also in specialized press - as there show two recent articles: "Description of the Early Stages of Anomalipus plebejus plebejulus (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae) from Zimbabwe with Notes on the Classification of the Opatrinae" by D. Iwan and S. Bečvář (European Journal of Entomology, 2000) and " Nález vejcožrouta na severu Zimbabwe, který mi zamotal hlavu" (The Finding of an Egg-eater in the North of Zimbabwe which Puzzled Me) by P. Voženílek (Akvárium terárium, 2000). Recent political developments in Zimbabwe also raised interest of political dailies and weeklies such as Respekt (Respect), Reflex (Reflex), Týden (Week) and Mezinárodní politika (International Policy).

Note: More detailed list of literature on Africa and Zimbabwe in particular in the Czech language and by Czech researchers is surveyed in English-language books Africana Bohemica (Bibliographia 1918-1988) (Praha: Orientální ústav 1993) and Africana Bohemica II (Bibliographia 1989-2000) (Praha: Orientální ústav 2001).

c Otakar Hulec
Jaroslav Olša, jr., 2004