Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe is a city that in time past had created certain impart on the long lasted civilization which Africa had experienced in the past. Proving the certainty of an age-long civilization is the debris left along the parts that once bore great walls. From the picture above, it is evident that some parts of the walls still stand to prove its solidity. It is undisputable, from feasibility study of this seeming indestructible structure, that monuments different from pyramids could last as long as their purposes could contain. Of course, without these wreckages there would be no ancient Zimbabwe other than ferry tells of concocted history. The walls stand memorably beyond the claim of storytellers. The significance of these walls do not only speak of the civilization of that African population, they also speak of the uniqueness of the people who built the walls; their predominant occupation and the circumstances that prevailed in their societies which spurred the need for such fortified walls in different parts of Zimbabwe. Above all, they speak of Zimbabwe history.   

The history of Zimbabwe is weaved into the story of the Shona Bantus. For this purpose it proved difficult determining the time of their settlement in the area. Shona, unlike other Bantu settlers do not stress the Central Africa as their emigration base. They fell in the group of Bantu that had travelled from Northern Africa alongside the Zulu in the days when Pharaoh Snefru conquered the ancient Nubia. The period of this conquest was estimated to be around 2575 BC. But the conglomerate backdates to 11. The Shona and the Zulu had travelled together but ended their journeys in different locations. By supposition, according to the Zulu story, Shona should be of the same family line with the Zulu, but for certain misunderstanding bothering on the recognitions of the family members who (in the later part of the Zulu travel to the south) began to assort themselves in familial sections. As we know, Zulu and Shona share similar culture and tradition.

About that time, the present Zulu of South Africa collectively assort under the umbrella of the name, Nguni. Other members in the Zulu groupings who did not fall in that umbrella then assorted differently. Involved in these independent assortment are the Shona which later became the Zimbabwe of the present day and Zambia. The repetition of Z at the initial position perhaps has something to tell about this consanguinity which once confederated under a sole term, Zulu. According to researches, the word Shona became popular as the identity of the Zimbabwe Bantu as late as 19th century. Shona therefore was used as the pejorative for non Nguni. 

Shona is divided into Western Shona whose language is Kalanga and Eastern Shona. Origins of the Western Kalanga come from the Rozvi State (Moyo). Ethnologies note that the language of the Western Shona is mutually intelligible with the main dialects of the Eastern Shona, but counts them separately. The later groupings shown below are major among the groups:
Karanga or Southern Shona
Mhari (Mari)
Zezuru or Central Shona (3.2 million people, 11,000 of them in Botswana)
Shan Gwe
Korekore or Northern Shona (1.7 million people)
Kwazwimba (Zimba)
The nation Zimbabwe derived its name from the name of this last group, the Zimba. Banyai, speaking Nambya in Zimbabwe (90,000) and Botswana about 15,000 people, sometimes subsumed to the Western Shona, Ndau in Mozambique about 1,580,000 people and Zimbabwe about 800,000 people. Their language is only partly intelligible with the main Shona dialects and comprises some click sounds that do not occur in standard ChiShona.

When the term Shona was invented during the Mfecane in late 19th century, possibly by the Ndebele king Mzilikazi, it was a pejorative for non-Nguni people as noted earlier. On one hand, it is claimed that there was no consciousness of a common identity among the tribes and the people who are forming the Shona of today. On the other hand, the Shona people of Zimbabwe highland always had in common a vivid memory of the ancient kingdoms, often identified with the Monomotapa State. The terms “Karanga”, “Kalanga” or “Kalaka”, which now are the names of special groups, seem to have been used for all Shona before the Mfecane.

Dialect groups are important in Shona although there are huge similarities among the dialects. Standard Shona is spoken throughout Zimbabwe; the dialects not only help to identify which town or village a person is from but also the ethnic group which the person belongs to. Each Shona dialect is specific to a certain ethnic group. By this view, if one speaks the Manyika dialect; then he is from the Manyika group/tribe and observes certain customs and norms specific to that group. As such, if one is Zezuru, he speaks the Zezuru dialect and observes the customs and beliefs that are specific to them.

                        Zimbabwe Civilization
The civilization of Zimbabwe started gradually at the mountain side. The Kalanga and/or Karanga had, from the 11th century, created empires and states on the Zimbabwe plateau. These states include the Great Zimbabwe state (12-16th century), the Torwa State, and the Munhumutapa states, which succeeded the Great Zimbabwe state as well as the Rozvi state, which succeeded the Torwa State, and the Mutapa state which existed in the 19th century. The states were based on kingship with certain dynasties being royals.
The major dynasties were the Rozvi of the Moyo (Heart) Totem, the Elephant (of the Mutapa state), and the Hungwe (Fish Eagle) dynasties that ruled from Great Zimbabwe. The Kalanga who speak Tjikalanga are related to the Karanga possibly through common ancestry. Some Shona groups are not very familiar with the existence of the Kalanga, hence they are frequently not recognized as Shona today. These groups had an Adelphic succession system (brother succeeds brother) and this after a long time caused a number of civil wars which, after the 16th century, were taken advantage of by the Portuguese. The kings were a number of chiefs who had sub-chiefs and headmen under them.

It was evident from the Adelphic succession of the Kalanga that the need for the sophisticated walls whose debris are scattered around the area was to keep each kingdom/settlement safe from the invading attempt of others. The picture below shows a proof to this.

The Zimbabwe site, featuring the Great Enclosure wall, is one of the most astounding regions with monuments in Africa, second only to the Nile Valley pyramid region. The ancient plan of Great Zimbabwe is in two parts: the hill complex and the valley complexes. The hill complex is where the king kept many of his treasures. Although he lived in the Imba Huru (or Great Enclosure) in the valley, he spent considerable ritual time on the hill.  Several important enclosures exist within the hill complex.  The principles ones are the ritual enclosure, the smelting enclosure and the iron-keeping enclosure

The valley complexes are dominated by the Imba Huru. The height of the main wall of the Imba Huru is about 32 feet, it is 800 feet long, and utilizes an amazing 15,000 tons of granite blocks. The impressive blocks were constructed without mortar. The building of this complex took skill, determination and industry, and thus the Imba Huru demonstrates a high level of administrative and social achievement by bringing together stone masons and other workers on a grand scale. The extensive trading network made Great Zimbabwe one of the most significant trading regions during the mediaeval period. The main trading items were gold, iron, copper, tin, cattle, and also cowrie shells.  Imported items included glassware from Syria, a minted coin from 
Kilwa, Tanzania, and Persian & Chinese ceramics from the 13-14th centuries.  
Great Zimbabwe was an important commercial and political center.  In addition to being in the heart of an extensive commercial and trading network, the site was the center of a powerful political kingdom, which was under a central ruler for about 350 years (1100–1450 AD).  The site is estimated to have contained perhaps 18,000 inhabitants, making it one of the largest cities of its day.  

Zimbabwe civilization was also strengthened by iron production. This perhaps formed one of the trade materials/commodities that had attracted many parts of the world to the Zimbabwe hills in those days. Hamady Bocoum, recounting the contribution of Zimbabwe to the world iron metallurgy, wrote thus,
In Bantu Central Africa, iron smelting is identified clearly, and more or less simultaneously, with coitus and childbirth. The furnace is decorated with breasts and scarifications symbolizing women; it is occasionally girded with a waistband, 132 Pierre de Maret for example among the Shona of Zimbabwe, and the vocabulary used to designate its various parts refers to the female body. We may note in passing the parallel with pottery, which is also made of clay and whose parts are designated, as in many of the world’s languages, by parts of the body: belly, lip, bottom, shoulder and so forth. Such is the power of the universal categories of human thought (The Origin, 131-132).
Metallographic analyses carried out by my colleague Terry Childs (1991b), at the time he was at MIT in Boston, of iron axes and knives from Zimbabwe, in particular from the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, and of other archaeological artefacts – dating from the eighth to the fourteenth centuries – from the Luba homeland bear witness to the extraordinary technical mastery of Bantu ironsmiths. By soldering and welding, ironsmiths often managed to produce a steel blade with a low carbon content on to which they soldered a layer of steel that gave a sharp edge. The centre of the blade, which was softer, helped to absorb the shock of blows against hard objects. The dilapidated part of the Zimbabwe reserve had evidence of what seemed to be Tuyère that, at a time past, was used for metallurgical works.
Childs was however surprise in his metallographic analysis of Luba archaeological artefacts is the presence of cast iron (inclusion of carbide) inbracelets in increasing proportions as time went on. Production of cast iron is confirmed by the early testimony of a missionary, who spoke of cast iron being poured into a mould to make hoes, and by surviving oral traditions (Childs, 1991b).

The presence of real cast iron is quite extraordinary because it implies a degree of technical skill and systematic achievement of very high temperatures that were said to be impossible with African techniques. This explains the insistence of Jean Devisse and other specialists in France that we should be speaking about iron ore reduction rather than smelting. But now we must recognize that the Luba knew how to cast iron, and had been able to do so for over 1,000 years.

The second major surprise is that, because cast iron is too brittle to be forged, a stage of decarbonization was required to enable its forging, and this is clearly what the Luba ironsmiths were doing, because the bracelets under study are essentially made of steel encasing cast-iron layers. As stressed by Childs (1991b), Luba techniques for working iron and copper evolved in tandem, and the techniques developed for one metal were adapted to the needs of the other. For example, the Luba also developed a technique for separating the ore contained in the sand of riverbeds by means of what in modern metallurgy is called the ‘Hancock jig’, in other words a process of differential sedimentation in running water

In Bantu Central Africa, iron smelting is identified clearly, and more or less simultaneously, with coitus and childbirth. The furnace is decorated with breasts and scarifications symbolizing women; it is occasionally girded with a waistband. The conclusion is inescapable that Great Zimbabwe had a condensed population sufficient for it to be considered a town, or even a city.  However, many Western writers have attempted to reduce the significance of Great Zimbabwe by several methods: by estimating low population numbers (e.g. only 5,000 instead of 18,000 inhabitants); calling the dwellings “huts” instead of homes; calling the areas “villages” instead of towns or cities; and identifying the rulers as “chiefs’ instead of kings

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