Inventorying Intangible Cultural Heritage Assets Affected by Cyclone Idai in Chimanimani, Chipinge and Buhera districts in Zimbabwe

Lead Research Organisation: Marondera University of Agri Sci & Tech
Department Name: Development Sciences


This proposed study is in response to the urgency grants highlight notice on impacts on cultural heritage resulting from natural disasters and climate change. In March 2019, devastating floods due to Cyclone Idai left Zimbabwe hard hit and devastated in terms of loss to human life and livestock as well as damage to property (UN Report, 2019). About 270,000 people were affected by Cyclone Idai, approximately 339 died, 15,230 displaced and about 349 are still missing to date. The Government of Zimbabwe and its development partners (international and local NGOs) have been on the forefront assisting the affected communities in Manicaland district with humanitarian aid and with relocating and reconstructing affected communities, especially in Chimanimani, Chipinge and Buhera districts. Hence, the urgent need to conduct this study so that it inputs into the post-Cyclone Idai recovery programme being championed by the Government of Zimbabwe and its development partners.

Climate change induced disasters, such as Cyclone Idai, pose a severe threat to cultural heritage. Cultural heritage plays an important role as a reflection of cultural, historical, and social values, is valuable to national and community identities, and it links to the past, and ongoing social cohesion. However, the adverse effects of climate change induced natural disasters on cultural heritage tend to be considered primarily in connection with tangible or physical cultural properties, such as buildings, monuments, or archeological sites, and less in connection with Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, indigenous rituals, kinship systems. For example, the two most pronounced Post-cyclone Idai recovery initiatives in the nine affected districts in Manicaland province; the Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project (ZIRP) and the Post Cyclone Idai Emergency Recovery and Resilience Project (PCIREP), are mainly focused on livelihoods and infrastructure. ZIRP is focusing on rebuilding community infrastructure and restoring livelihoods through cash transfers, restoring agricultural crops and livestock production. The PCIREP programme is focusing on rebuilding key infrastructure across Zimbabwe, which include transport, electricity, and water and sanitation.

None of these programmes are targeted at recovering or restoring the ICH of the affected communities. Intangible heritage faces considerable risks through the scattering of communities such as what happened in the Cyclone Idai hit districts in Zimbabwe where 10,000 houses were destroyed and the families are being relocated to other districts. This type of damage often has a longer-lasting social impact e.g., affect cultural diversity and socio-cultural interactions as families are forced to change their community set up, ways of life, and to compete for resources.

There is urgent need to include ICH within the framework of disaster risk management being used in recovering and rebuilding Cyclone Idai affected communities in Manicaland province in Zimbabwe as cultural heritage is often damaged or destroyed in the aftermath of a disaster due to insensitive conservation, recovery, and reconstruction. Hence, this study is of urgency to provide evidence-based information on the intangible cultural heritage of these affected communities that is useful for sustainable resilience, reconstruction and relocation of the affected communities.
Description - Cyclone Idai did have a significant impact on intangible cultural heritage in terms of cultural practices and ICH related to food. Notions of dislocation are broader and go beyond space and place - the dislocation was also on ICH, cultural norms, food systems, food security and nutrition. Once people have been dislocated from their space, there is a loss of ICH.
- ICH losses also include skills, livelihoods as well as social and cultural aspects. The cultural practices can be divided into four broad categories: waning practices, practices affected by the cyclone, r(e)merging practices and practices that were affected by the cyclone.
- There are some practices that were already waning or on their way out in these communities as a result of religion. Other practices that had been discarded seem to be re-emerging as people are realising that due to the spiritual dimension of the Shona people, there some rituals/practices that are important for the physical, psychological and spiritual well-being of an individual should continue to be observed.
- The need to safeguard and promote some of the practices, for example, rain-asking ceremonies.
- Religious/spiritual explanation of what happened - belief that the cyclone was caused by not observing traditional practices.
- The gendered dimension of the impact of ICH - there are issues that were peculiar to different age groups and genders, that is, older men, younger men, older women, younger women.
- Kinship and social cohesion were disrupted and this resulted in psycho-social issues which required timeous intervention and support. Even the first responders are in desperate need of psycho-social support because they had to deal with a lot of trauma in the aftermath of the cyclone.
- The dislocation of the person, community and spiritual dimension resulted in post-traumatic stress and conflicts within the affected communities.
- Indigenous early warning systems related to the strange behaviour of nature was also recorded, but people did not take heed that is why there was significant loss of life and assets (both tangible and intangible).

Achievements through this work:
- A draft policy brief that speaks to the inclusion of indigenous knowledge indicators in early warning systems and using indigenous knowledge in risk reduction in the different communities has been crafted. There are a number of indigenous aspects that should be brought into the Sendai Framework, most notably, the behaviour of animals.
- Synergies have been forged with some government departments which may make it feasible to have the policy brief discussed at government/ministry level.
- Increased research capability among the research team: training in how to deal with the traditional leadership and local communities.

New research questions:
Which disaster early warning systems/indigenous indicators can be inventoried from the different regions of Zimbabwe? What can we retrieve from the past that we can use for the benefit of society today?
Exploitation Route Government departments may incorporate the recommendations in the policy brief in disaster risk reduction.
Academia may use the data for further research.
Traditional and community leaders will be consientised to educate their communities on early warning systems in order to avert serious loss of life should disasters occur in future.
Ministry responsible for culture and youth can launch programmes specific to the appreciation of ICH in the communities particularly amongst the younger generation
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The findings of our research were used to influence policy in relation to the inclusion of intangible cultural heritage in disaster risk reduction. Broader issue that emerged from the research findings were communicated to the key stakeholders and policy makers so that they are included in the wider national issues when dealing with the aftermath of disasters Also, this research contributed towards the current national development agenda as it focusses on cross-cutting issues that pertain to youth, women and girls. One issue that was adopted by the Parliament of Zimbabwe which was informed by the finding in Buhera district was the continued construction of round huts as these were said to withstand harsh weather.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Building capacity in intangible cultural heritage through different scales of engagement
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The awareness raising of the importance of intangible cultural heritage and mainstreaming it in disaster risk reduction and disaster risk management has helped in changing attitudes towards cultural values and norms. There is now a realisation within the communities that some rituals and cultural practices should have been carried out to avert disasters of this nature, but because of cultural distortion and religion, this was not done. The awareness raising has brought in a fresh perspective of the importance of preserving certain values, practices and beliefs. Strengthening of national capacity to research on, document and safeguard intangible cultural heritage. The research by the students through their MPhil dissertations will address gaps in knowledge in intangible cultural heritage people. Enhanced skills in qualitative research will also be realized; as well as capacity building in carrying out research in local communities and dealing with the traditional leadership. The capacity building of the data collectors enhanced their knowledge and skills levels in intangible cultural heritage and qualitative research. Strengthened efforts to include intangible cultural heritage in disaster risk reduction and the Sendai Framework.
Description Greater involvement of traditional leaders in civil protection
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a guidance/advisory committee
Description Bridging the Knowledge Gap through Documenting Indigenous Early warning indicators in areas prone to climate-induced natural disasters in Zimbabwe
Amount £98,783 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/X006859/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2022 
End 10/2023
Description Incorporating Indigenous Knowledges into both Early Warning Systems and Post Disaster Management for Extreme Weather Events in Zimbabwe
Amount £12,295 (GBP)
Organisation University of Stirling 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2022 
End 03/2023
Description Partnership with UZ researcher 
Organisation University of Zimbabwe
Country Zimbabwe 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The research team provided the raw field data for analysis.
Collaborator Contribution The partner is a qualitative researcher who assisted in formulating the framework to be used for data analysis. The partner also assisted with teasing out the emerging themes from the data. In addition, the partner will work with the research team in data analysis and the final report writing.
Impact - Data analysis framework - Discipline involved - Sociology
Start Year 2022
Description Partnership with the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation including the Secretary for Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, and the Director Arts and Culture Promotion and Development 
Organisation Government of Zimbabwe
Country Zimbabwe 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The research team, through the Marondera University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology management, communicated the project brief to the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, under whose purview the implementation of the 2003 UNESCO Convention on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage in Zimbabwe on behalf of the State Party falls. My project also falls within the mandate area of this ministry hence their partnership was pivotal in gaining access to key stakeholders, relevant government officers, and the local communities in Manicaland Province. Through our initiative, the Ministry then requested the research team to train their Provincial Cultural Officer and the three District Cultural Officers in research in intangible cultural heritage, awareness raising and community-based inventorying of ICH.
Collaborator Contribution The Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation seconded the Provincial Cultural Officer for Manicaland Province to our research team. Through this, the research team was then able to engage other cultural officers in the three districts of Chimanimani, Chipinge and Buhera, who in turn linked them and led them to the traditional leadership. Some of the communities in Manicaland are closed communities which are not easy to penetrate if one is an outsider, therefore partnering the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation made access manageable. The Ministry as a partner provided the much need human resources to complement the research team in training and the actual research activities.
Impact - Awareness raising at three levels of the administrative structure with respect to the inclusion of ICH in disaster risk reduction - the provincial level, the district level and at the community level. - The operationalisation of the Sendai Framework with reference to culture and heritage. - Inventory of indigenous knowledge indicators in risk reduction.
Start Year 2021
Description Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) 
Organisation Government of Zimbabwe
Department Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC)
Country Zimbabwe 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The project is represented within the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC). The project has contributed through participation in the ZimVAC 2021 Rural Livelihoods Assessment survey. Particularly, the project participated in the development of data collection tool, data collection and also report writing.
Collaborator Contribution ZimVAC has contributed through providing a database of households in our project sites. More so, access to ZimVAC data has enabled the project to be well informed regarding the background characteristics of the targeted (targeted by this project) households and communities. Furthermore, through the District Food and Nutrition Committees, that are coordinated by ZimVAC, the project has easy access to the affected communities.
Impact The project participated in the ZimVAC 2021 Rural and Livelihoods Report ( The collaboration is multi-disciplinary and multisectroral.
Start Year 2021
Description Dissemination of research findings 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Traditional leaders, policymakers, academics, postgraduate students, intergovernment agencies attended the dissemination workshop of the project. The purpose was to share the project findings with key stakeholders and inform policy particularly on incorporating intangible cultural heritage into disaster management.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Four Dissemination workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Four dissemination workshops were held in each of the districts in which the research was carried out, with the fourth meeting involving provincial stakeholders and policymakers. The purpose of these workshops was to disseminate the research findings. A lot of discussion and debate followed, particularly on the psycho-social impact of Cyclone Idai on the survivors and first responders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Stakeholder meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The meeting was with the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation and the Director for Arts, Culture Promotion and Development. The purpose of the meeting was to sensitise the ministry about our project and the intended outcomes and impact of the project. More so, the meeting was also to discuss how the project can partner with the ministry and to seek access to the research sites and assistance from the ministry through their Arts, Culture Promotion and Development. The project also had a meeting with the Provincial Development Coordinator for Manicaland Province and the meeting was also a sensitization meeting. The outcomes of the meetings are very positive.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021