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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Zambia's Muchinga Province, the land of 100 waterfalls

By Andrew Mulenga
As far as most of us are concerned, Zambia only has one waterfalls the Mosi oa Tunya (Victoria Falls), sometimes mistaken by foreign tourists to be in Zimbabwe, well maybe two waterfalls if we include the Kalambo falls in the Northern Province which too is often mistaken to be in Tanzania.

Kampoko main falls, (acrylic on canvas and pocket
from ruined trip trousers) by Quentin Allen
Anyhow, it turns out the country’s youngest province, Muchinga alone has in excess of 150 unadulterated cascading waterfalls, most of which are named after rivers and streams of all sizes, this is according to Lusaka-based painter and adventurer Quentin Allen who returned with some spectacular paintings of the beautiful landscape late last year after a whole year’s “rambling” in the bush as he puts it. He was accompanied by another painter Mathew Mandandi who is somewhat an apprentice.

“I saw at least 150 waterfalls in total, all in the Muchinga province, but we have lots more than that, that’s just a fraction of them but obviously some are not as spectacular as the others some of them like Kampoko were not full because it was before the rains” says Allen who was born in Bulawayo in 1957 and moved to Kitwe in what was then Northern Rhodesia in 1959, when his father was employed on the railways, and later on the copper mines. It was on the Copperbelt as a schoolboy where he soon developed an eye for art.

When Allen, or Q as he is fondly called tells of the waterfalls of Muchinga province he does so with the infectious enthusiasm and unbridled knowledge that Dennis Liwewe exhibits when talking about the history of Zambian football such as BBC Topgear’s Jeremy Clarkson does when he talks of cars. One almost feels the urge to restrain him.

“I fell down one of them (waterfalls) called Kapanda, see my scars, I landed on rocks because the water was not high. In some areas we had low water like Kalungwishi also, where you find all this green moss but some of them are on higher water like Lufisa,” says Q of the almost alien waterfalls.

He says he loved all the waterfalls and could not choose the most beautiful “I say the most beautiful waterfalls is the one you are standing in front of.”

Luchenene falls, (oil on canvas and pocket
from ruined trip trousers) by Quentin Allen
“There are also lovely hills, I always wanted to go up every hill, we found some rock paintings on Nchima falls, and we found a very interesting hill which is fortified, there was a wall built from stone-carved brick with no mortar which we learned was built by the Bemba’s to fend of the Ngoni raiders. Its very well done because it has lasted quite a long time,” he says.

Q’s trek culminated in an exhibition at the Zebra Crossing CafĂ© in Lusaka last year which was well received if the sales were anything to go by.

But like many rivers, lakes and bodies of water, the waterfalls of the Muchinga escarpment come with their own set of mystical tales.

“At Nama Fongwe falls on the Luangwa River the locals told us that there is an entire village that lives beneath the water under the falls. They told us once they chopped a tree and sent it plunging in the water to test how deep the pool at the bottom of the falls was,” he says “The following day, they found the tree floating at the top of the pool with an annoyed man sitting on top of it and he was a with them because they were trying to destroy his underwater village at the bottom of the pool”.

Nevertheless, Q says to get to see these captivating waterfalls and landscapes it does take a considerable degree of physical fitness because it involves long walks in rough and sometimes rocky terrain.

“It involves back packing with dried foods in the bush, but then we also use a handheld GPS, Mathews used to hold it after I hopefully put in the right coordinates, because he is much better walking with it and he is a faster walker. But when we do get lost there are locals around who would give us directions and sometimes we would be lucky and be accompanied by guides,” he says.

Nama Fongwe falls - Luangwa, (acrylic with tissue on board).
According to locals there is a mystical, underwater village
in the rocky pool at the bottom of this falls
He says they would leave a base camp with 10 days of supplies, and then walk until midday only stopping for a 1 hour lunch break this would be roughly after 30 to 40 kilometres. When they start walking again they have to find somewhere to stop at 16:00hrs before it gets dark, but the idea is to try not to walk for more than 8 hours in a day.

“But then when we get to our target we stay at the camp for three or four days, because we explore the area depending on how much there is in the area to see, like Kapanda Lupili and Kapanda there were two waterfalls in the area, and even like at Kampoko,” he explains “When the season is right we feed off the land its good when its mushroom time, we saw wonderful sights of baboons and a few crocodiles, but there are no animals really they are very , very gone  its sad. In the hot season you can even sleep in the open without a tent but I prefer the sleeping bag because even when the baboons come around they can’t steal your supplies”.

Last year’s expedition in the wild was not Q’s first; but each year he observes a constantly diminishing population of wildlife every time he returns to the escarpment, which is beginning to worry him, but there is still hope for a few species of birds, he describes it as something of a bird-watcher’s paradise.

“At least there are plenty of birds, the Tropical Hornbills, Red-winged Starlings, Black Eagles, then yeah, we saw a few snakes, I was picking a large round mushroom once but then before I could , Mathew pulled me back, there was a huge Puff Adder” , says Q. “Anyway, it is a beautiful place that must be seen. I think Zambia has incredible potential for backpacking safaris, there is so much that is untapped and beautiful, and then there is the people, so friendly, wherever you go they give you groundnuts and other foods, then you are afraid to offend them by saying no.”
Artist and adventurer Quentin Allen explains
one of the hand painted maps that accompany his paintings

Obviously one cannot just leave the city to traverse the escarpment; permissions have to be sought from the Zambia Wild Authority (ZAWA) or traditional rulers, both whom often provide tour guides depending on the circumstances.

Q attended Art College in London and Sheffield, in the UK, gaining a degree in Three Dimensional Design and Silver Smithing. On returning to Zambia in 1979 he started the Silver Smith section of Tengu Copper Productions in Kitwe, making silver jewellery and spoons. He moved to Lusaka, where he has a personal studio at home in 1990 when working with Zuva, an off-shoot of ZCCM subsidiary ZAL Holdings. He then worked for Zambia Gemstones before going self employed as a full-time artist.
His paintings provide a multi-dimensional experience because almost each and every one of them comes complete with either a hand-painted diary or a map pinpointing the exact location of waterfalls or landscape it depicts and is inserted in the pocket of torn safari trousers that were worn on the expedition and in turn are sewn onto the canvases.

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