There is more than one good story in the film Tchuma Tchato, a documentary that combines traditional African storytelling with a straightforward focus on the troubles of modern times. The stories take place on the south bank of the Zambezi river, where the borders of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia meet. As pointed out by the main figure in the film, it’s a place where everything begins with a Z, the last letter in the alphabet. A remote place, indeed.
The first story is the tale of how the place has been turned into a protected area due to its great wildlife stocks. This is the “traditional” Africa where elephants walk the river banks and hippos play in the muddy waters. The new era was proclaimed with a new set of rules: no more commercial hunting, no more poaching, no more killing of animals. The next story tells how the former poachers have been transformed into game wardens. This transformation may or may not include more than just the change from their former illegal status into respected members of society with a regular income. The third story is about how the spirits in the area, represented by animals – the lion, the monkey and the snake – have given their go-ahead to the changes. All of them, that is, except the leopard spirit, who wants to continue hunting.
These three stories are effectively combined within a film that is a successful blend of dramatic techniques and documentary style. Tchuma Tchato is structured around two groups of game wardens. One group is tracking a wounded buffalo, while the other sets out in a canoe to assist a local village which is having trouble with a hippo who is eating the crops in the fields. Within these two sections, the film’s stories unfold. Tchuma Tchato succeeds in approaching a topic aimed at a Mozambican audience, but made in a way that gives the film international potential.