Hidden treasure: Mutare’s Utopia House Museum
NESTLED in a mountainous topography, Mutare is a beautiful city in the Eastern border of Zimbabwe.
And, thanks to the mountainous terrain, Mutare has come to be affectionately known as ‘Kumakomoyo’ by locals, a name that has transcended boundaries in and outside Zimbabwe.
Not only is Mutare one of the most beautiful places in Zimbabwe, but it also has the kindest and warmest of people. Myth has it that the hospitality industry was once dominated by vana Wasu, Samanyika, as the locals of Mutare have been labelled by other dialects in Zimbabwe.
The city has vast stretches of mountainous terrain complimented by beautiful thick green bushes, jacaranda and flamboyant tree highlights within it.
Mutare boasts not only a unique geography but is a melting pot of many different cultures, languages, traditions and a rich history.
Within the beautiful city of Mutare lie stories to be told, questions to be answered and mysteries to be solved.
We owe much of the preservation of such a legacy to the tireless and extensive work of the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe and the Mutare Museum of Antiquities. The city houses two museums — the second one being Utopia House Museum located in the low density suburb of Murambi, under the curatorship of Mutare Museum.
Mutare’s second museum, a house museum is situated 2km away from the main museum, opposite St Dominic’s High School.
One might wonder why a mere house may have been given the special privilege and honour to be such a cherished site.
The house belonged to Rhys and Rosalie Fairbridge, some of the pioneer residents of Old Mutare. Rhys Fairbridge himself was the man behind the survey- ing and structuring of Mutare as it stands today.
The house is a quaint little house, built in the early 1900’s colonial style and has been preserved in its original structure since then.
Rhys Fairbridge arrived in Manicaland in the early 1890’s and worked as a government surveyor, responsible for surveying the present town of Mutare.
In 1897 he had his home “Utopia” built on one of the prime sites that he had surveyed earlier.
Construction of this house met a few challenges, such as when the stone walls of the house were about four feet high Fairbridge realised the rainy season was fast approaching and with little money to complete the building, he planted poles around the uncompleted walls, to support a thatched roof.
Between the supporting poles he hung reed mats.
The house was later completed and constructed mainly of local materials before the corrugated iron roofing, doors and windows were brought in from South Africa.
The interior of the house has been restored to the looks of the 1910-20 period.
Many of the original items of furniture and possessions belonging to the Fairbridge family have been preserved and are on display.
◆ DID YOU KNOW Mutare Club is one of the oldest standing original buildings in Mutare.
Rhys and Rosalie's House Exterior. Inset: Statue of Kingsley Fairbrige, African companion Jack and dog Vic (courtesy of NMMZ)