Blast from the past: 108-year-old gogo describes childhood dressing with animal skin and baobab bark


ONCE upon a time, well before the invention of woven blankets, people used cow skin and still enjoyed sweet dreams all night.

Back then, well before the advent of designer apparel, people used to peel off baobab bark and out of that material they would knit what females, the young and the old, would put on to cover the upper parts of their bodies.

In that era, when contemporary skirts were not yet there, goat skin was more than just a door mat as it was the rightful garb to cover the lower part of the body for females in African communities.

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While this is part of history that sounds more like folklore for present-day generations, Gogo Viola Mutangadura, who has lived long to see her fourth generation descendant, survived through that era.

Gogo Mutangadura says she is 108 years old, although there is a possibility that she could be older than that since there were no proper records of births during her era.

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Her children now have grandchildren who now also have their own grandchildren!

Perhaps gifted with a bone of a 50 or 60-year-old, Gogo Mutangadura still performs some chores that are hardly expected of her age as she can walk to the fields with a hoe for weeding, albeit with the assistance of a walking stick.

Her eyes can still clearly see properly.

Only her ears are posing a hearing challenge.

“I can still walk to our maize field to do weeding. When I get a bit exhausted, I kneel down and start weeding in that posture. I can still see clearly.

“The only challenge that I am having is that of hearing. My children and grandchildren know that they have to raise their voice for us to communicate well,” said Gogo Mutangadura in an interview with The Manica Post at her Zviyambe Village home at Farm Number 220.

Her husband passed on in 2000 at the age of 96.

She lives at the farm with her eldest child, Ms Mirriam Mutangadura, who was born in 1940 and turned 83 this year.

Gogo Mutangadura gave birth to her eldest child at the age of 25.

According to Gogo Mutangadura, life has evolved so much in almost all aspects over the years, from dressing to food.

“I remember we used cow skin as our blankets when we grew up. We also used goat skin and baobab tree barks to weave our skirts and blouses, respectively.

“This is the dressing we knew back then and I was part of that generation. Things changed with time and we started getting these modern skirts and blouses we are now wearing today,” said Gogo Mutangadura.

The healthy diet that was consumed back then gives Gogo Mutangadura nostalgic sentiments about her past.

“While the food we now have today might taste better than what we used to eat back then, I can tell you we had a healthy diet. I remember we used to survive on chirevereve, mhonja, fifa, tsombori, mujakari and the gweragwera tuber plant that we used to dig from the ground. Most of the food was sourced from the bush.

“Most of the food, in terms of preparation, was only boiled to make it edible and to some extent peanut butter would be used in place of the cooking oil that is being used today,” said Gogo Mutangadura, who grew up in the Ndongwe area under Chief Nyashanu in Buhera District.

She attributes her old age to God’s grace.

“Yes, I might talk about the diet and the discipline as well as the way of life we were exposed to as part of the things that enabled me to grow up to this age, but to be honest, this is all about God’s grace.

“My own mother and many of my family members had a similar upbringing as mine, but never reached this age,” she said.

Gogo Mutangadura is a living dictionary of Indigenous Knowledge Systems.

Put simply, Indigenous Knowledge Systems are a body of knowledge, or bodies of knowledge of the indigenous people of particular geographical areas that they have survived on for a very long time.

She said: “We had our own way of telling whether there would be rain or drought that year. Droughts had names in those years.

“Strong winds from the north would mean that there would be drought and were widely referred to as Petagomwe, meaning carry your sack and move elsewhere to look for food for the family.”

Out of her 10 children – six boys and four girls – three males are still surviving and all the four females are still surviving.

— Manica Post

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