The gigantic Shona civilization (Zimbabwe)

1600 years ago, the Shona people laid the foundations of an empire that would become the most prestigious in the history of Southern Africa…

Vestiges of the Shona civilization
Vestiges of the Shona civilization

19th century, European settlers penetrate violently Southern Africa. While invading the land, they discovered monumental titanic buildings in Zimbabwe which were extending over several miles. Completely bewildered, they immediately declared that those wonders couldn’t have been made by the lower Negro race.

Thus begins the falsification of the Shona’s civilization history whose paternity has been attributed to all the imaginary Whites of the world. The German Karl Mauch said in 1871 “The city was not built by Africans because the construction design is too elaborate: this is the work of Phoenician or Jewish settlers” [1].

Africans are forbidden to visit sites for their religious practices. The British racist government imprisoned all the researchers who support the African origin of these constructions. It was until the end of apartheid in Southern Rhodesia that the glorious past was officially given back to the Shonas and Africa. After the independence gained from the struggle, the country abandoned its name in homage to the English colonist Cecil Rhodes and took the prestigious name of Zimbabwe.


The different cultures of Southern Africa undoubtedly played a role in the emergence of this civilization. In the neighboring South Africa, there are the Mpumalanga ruins which are said to represent the oldest human constructions in history according to the dating attempts. Mpumalanga would be 75,000 to 160,000 years old. It is in South Africa that the most numerous traces of the initial human civilization are concentrated. But it is truly the Shona people who will later magnify the local culture.

Exemple de ruines anciennes et effondrées par l'usure du temps, qu'on retrouve sur le site de Mpumalanga
Ancient ruins worn out over time, which are found on the Mpumalanga site

The rise of Shona people

Where do the Shonas come from? It is claimed that they came and found the Khoisans. Because they introduced stone architecture in the region, Louise Marie Diop-Maes was wondering whether they were of Sudanese origin, since at the fall of the powerful pharaonic empire of Barwa (Meroe), it was reported that builders migrated to the south with their techniques. The agriculture, the intense vitalist religious practices dedicated to Mwari (God) and the Mudzimu (ancestors), and the rich mineral resources exploitation in Southern Africa have favored the Shonas’ pre-eminence in the region.

Thus, 1600 years ago, they built the Mhanwa fort (Acropolis Hill). Those African fortifications are 600 years older than the oldest fortified castle in Europe. The first fortress in the world was built 4200 years ago in Buhen, Sudan. Africans were probably the ones who introduced the construction of fortified castles in Europe during the Moorish civilization of the black Berbers of Maghreb in Spain. The Mhanwa wall is 11 meters high and runs over 100 meters!!!

Le fort sur Mhanwa
The fort on Mhanwa

3-great-zimbabwe-ruins-masvingo-monomotapaThe emergence of Great Zimbabwe

Around 5400 of the African era (1100 AD) and for 300 years, the Shonas will raise new constructions at the bottom of Mhanwa, notably the famous large enclosure. All those constructions were called Dzimba Dzemabwe, that is to say stone houses. Dzimba Dzemabwe is at the origin of the word Zimbabwe. Great Zimbabwe amazes by its gigantism. 10 meters high walls, 5.5 meters thick at the bottom and 3.5 meters at the top. The stone blocks weigh up to a ton. The large enclosure, with its elliptical shape, has a 244 meters diameter!!!!

In 2002, astronomer Richard Wade concluded that Great Zimbabwe was built on astronomical foundations, reflecting the Orion constellation and the indication of solstices. Once again, we come to Orion, the sacred constellation of ancient Egyptians, of which three stars are represented by the three great pyramids. The latter also mark the occurrence of solstices. Africans were probably the ones who built Stonehenge in England which recalls those astronomic foundations as well.

Grand Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe
Grand Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe
Grand Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe
Grand Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe. The large enclosure is a religious temple built on astronomical basis in accordance with the African tradition.
Great Zimbabwe. The large enclosure is a religious temple built on astronomical basis in accordance with the African tradition.

The Shonas have a history of migration, fortifications, stone architecture and the Orion constellation. The emergence of this civilization a few decades after the end of the Barwa civilization accredits the theory of the Shona’s Sudanese origin.

The era of Great Zimbabwe was a prosperous period thanks to strong industrial activity. Almost 4,000 iron, gold, copper and tin mining sites have been found in the region. The prolific ceramic and bronze work is also documented. International trade with Asia and the Arab-Muslim world was particularly developed. Mining resources and ivory were transported to the Solafa port in Mozambique and were exported by sea by Arab and African navigators.

Trade was serving as an economic lever for the entire East African coast, notably for the Swahili civilization in Tanzania-Kenya. In Great Zimbabwe, many gold and copper artefacts, Chinese porcelain and Syrian pearls were found. All that was stolen by the British settlers. Even the Khoisan site of Mapungubwe in South Africa, connected to Great Zimbabwe and contending for its political hegemony, was rich in all these objects. That intense commercial activity has favored the massive implantation of Arabs in the region.

Sculptures de Mapungubwe, couvertes de feuillets d'or
Sculptures of Mapungubwe, covered with gold foil

The Mwene Mutapa: the climax

In the 15th century, Arab traders took the Mozambican ports over, even grabbing territories to the borders of Zambezi River. Their growing influence was a danger to the locals. Facing threat, Nyatsimba Mutota, a king from the Vakaranga clan, will succeed in uniting the local tribes to drive the Arabs away by force. The great Mutota inherits the title of Mwene Mutapa, that is to say the sovereign of the conquered lands. The name Mwene Mutapa was deformed in Monomotapa by the Portuguese. His son Matope will extend his father’s power over Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa. Thus was born the Mwene Mutapa Empire of which the capital city later became Khami, as Great Zimbabwe was abandoned because of the drought.

The extent of the Mwene Mutapa Empire

This 1688 mapping enables us to evaluate Mwene Mutapa’s area to almost 2 million km². The French encyclopedist Diderot tells us “the king who rules it is very wealthy, and extends his domain almost to the Cape of Good Hope” [2]. Mwene Mutapa reigned over Zimbabwe, and partly South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and probably Botswana.

Source : Wikipedia
Source : Wikipedia

Mwene Mutapa’s organization

As in the whole African continent, power was partly based on matriarchy. The Emperor was married to his sister, and the ceremony was celebrated by the queen-mother. The king had 9 wives, which recalls the 9 primordial elements of the African Religion. The queen-mother and every royal wife had her court. Around 3,000 people were assigned to their services. As in Egypt, Kongo, Uganda, in former Ghana, among the Ashantis, the king’s mother and his sister/wife had an important influence. In the pure African tradition, the king was sentenced to death if he betrayed his people’s expectations.

Nyatsimba Mutota, fondateur du Mwene Mutapa Auteur de l'illustration inconnu
Nyatsimba Mutota,
founder of the Mwene Mutapa empire
Illustration of an unknown author

A bird was serving as a totemic animal for the sovereign just like in Egypt, Mali, Somalia, and Madagascar. Fire was lit in the palace and was symbolizing the king’s life. It was extinguished only at his death. The king’s health, as in all Africa, was indispensable to the people’s prosperity.

The Namwari, the queen-mother was the highest figure in the state like in the Kuba civilization of DR Congo. The Mwene Mutapa, the emperor exerts the power. The Chengere Mwari, the priests, coordinates the powerful vitalist cult. Then came the Mashona (officials), the Limpo (the farmers), finally the servants and the lower caste of dependents.

As far as the economy is concerned, the ancient Dutch Olivier Dapper tells us “The countryside (of Monomotapa is) fertile in pastures and fruits necessary for life … The inhabitants are rich in livestock of which they make more cases than gold … the common meat for the people is salted beef; Their milky drink which begins to grow sour, and sesame oil, their loaves of rice cakes, millet, yams.” [3]. Citizens were not paying taxes.

Diderot for his part tells us again that “this state is abundant in gold and elephant” [2].

Luxury in the Mwene Mutapa

Historical testimonies of European explorers speak for themselves. Nicolas Samson d’Abbeville says “the palace is large, magnificent, flanked by outside towers with four main gates; the inside enriched with cotton tapestry, enhanced with gold and rich and superb furniture “[4].

Dapper goes on : “One enters through four great porches, where the Emperor’s guards alternate the sentry. The exteriors are fortified with towers and the inside is divided into several spacious rooms furnished with cotton tapestry where the vivacity of the colors disputes the price to the brilliance of the gold (…) Gilded chairs, painted and enameled with ivory candlesticks suspended from chains of silver are one of the beauties of these sumptuous apartments. Its dishes are of porcelain surrounded by golden branches “[5].

“In Monomotapa the kings do not change their fashion, they wear a long silk dress in the country; they carry to the side a billhook embedded in ivory. The common people dress themselves with cotton cloths and the great Indian ones embroidered with gold “[6].

Arrived at the Solafa port in present Mozambique, the Europeans testified “two Senhores of the country came to see us. Very haughty, they did not appreciate what we gave them. One of them was wearing a cloak with embroidered silk fringe, and the one in the other was entirely of green silk. We understood by their signs that a young man who was with them had come from a distant country and had already seen large boats similar to ours.” [7].

Ruines de Khami
Khami ruins
Dhlo Dhlo Les ruines se comptent par centaines sur des kilomètres
Dhlo Dhlo
The ruins are hundreds over several miles

The Shona civilization’s decline

That brilliant civilization perished under the violent blows of the attacks from the Portuguese during the European slave trade. The resistance was absolutely heroic. This has been told in detail here.


By: Lisapo ya Kama © (All rights reserved. Any copying or translation of the text of this article is strictly forbbiden without the written approval of Lisapo ya Kama)


  • Histoire de l’Afrique noire, Joseph Ki-Zerbo
  • The destruction of Black Civilization, Chancellor Williams
  • Histoire générale de l’Afrique (General African history), Unesco, volume 4
  • L’Afrique impériale, Nioussérê Kalala Omotunde
  • New Scientist
  • Antériorité des civilisations nègres, Cheikh Anta Diop
  • [1] L’Afrique impériale, Nioussérê Kalala Omotunde, page 75
  • [2] Académie de Montpellier
  • [3] Afrique noire, sol, démographie et histoire ; Louise Marie Diop-Maes, page 156
  • [4] La traite négrière européenne : vérité et mensonges, Jean Philippe (Nioussérê Kalala) Omotunde, page 75
  • [5] Idem, page 76
  • [6] Idem, page 74
  • [7] L’Afrique doit s’unir (Africa must unite), Kwame Nkrumah, pages 20 and 21.
Spread the love