Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
THEY had never seen a proper football pitch before and, on the lush field of the Yadah Stadium on Saturday, they fought for supremacy in battles that had more significance than the results of the matches.
They had never played a proper soccer ball before and, as they did their best to try and display their football skills on Saturday afternoon, the sheer excitement of the occasion appeared to overwhelm them.
There might have been a lot of some gross flaws in their techniques but, given their background, it was probably expected and one thing no one could do was to fault their commitment to put together a reasonable show.
In the stands, the boisterous voices of their singing and dancing fans provided a fitting soundtrack to the show that was unfolding on the pitch which went on until late into the evening.
On the day Harare was celebrating its annual carnival, with massive crowds in the capital, these people were also having a pretty good time at their own sporting carnival.
It had been a defining week for them — a day earlier they had seen the inside of a church for the first time in their lives and later that Saturday, all of them had a proper haircut, from professional barbers, for the first time ever.
For the little ones among them, even the sight of a moving car was something to excite them and, for virtually all of them, this was their first contact with television, running water from a tap and sleeping in a hotel room.
The Doma people, a reclusive tribe that has always lived far away from modernisation, preferring to stick to their traditions of gathering and hunting in the shadows of the Zambezi River in the country’s north-eastern part, are in town.
Four hundred of them made the trip to Harare on Thursday for a week-long stay in the capital with the man who adopted them, Prophet Walter Magaya, and promised to change their lives. On Friday evening, they went for a service at the giant PHD Ministries Church in Waterfalls, Harare, and it was the first time they were seeing the inside of a church.
The following day, Magaya hosted a sports festival for them at his Yadah Hotel complex in the capital and watching these tribesmen enjoy the luxury of playing football on a proper grass field, was something to behold.
Their boundless joy, just to be on that field in challenge matches where they pitted their skills against each other, having been split into a number of rivals teams, was quite a beautiful sight.
Their fitness levels, which probably comes from lives spent chasing wild animals for food, were good, helping to produce some tight contests which, even though short on real quality, were long on endeavour.
The tackles were hard, the play didn’t seem to have a particular pattern where the defenders spend most of their time protecting their goal or the strikers spend a considerable amount of time in the opponents half.
The pattern of play was rather free-for-all, so many individuals chasing the ball all the time, but for their fans — fellow tribesmen, women and children in the stands — this all added value to the entertainment.
And the singing and dancing from the stands never stopped, providing the fuel for the troops on the ground to fight even harder, and when a goal was scored, the whole place went into bedlam.
Interestingly, even the fans who had been rooting for the other team appeared to explode into celebrations when the opposition had scored against their troops.
Maybe, for a community that has always been closely-knit, the chain of unity that has bound them together back home for many years was too tough to be broken by a battle on the football pitch where they were playing against each other.
It soon became clear, to the other observers, that the family bonds run deep among this unique community and, to them, this was an occasion to celebrate playing and supporting football, for the first time away from their makeshift grounds back home, than worrying about winning or losing.
“I adopted 460 Doma people and the whole idea is to try and improve their lives and 400 of them are here, the first time they have left their area and come to such a big city, and l felt through the joy of football, a sport that is played everywhere in this country, they could get time to enjoy themselves and l’m glad they had a great time,” said Magaya.
“They are here as my guests until we take them back to their home area on Thursday. “Hopefully, this week-long experience will help improve their lives and we have been teaching them a lot of things to try and help them and so far so good.”
Some will probably say the villagers brought with them a touch of luck for the prophet whose Premiership club Yadah Stars produced a mighty shock in Bulawayo on Saturday where they upset Chicken Inn 2-1 at Hartsfield.
It was Yadah’s first victory, outside the capital, since the start of the season. After their haircuts on Saturday evening, and having changed into good clothes and shoes sourced by their host, the visiting Doma people looked very different and very smart yesterday as they prepared for their second church service in the capital