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The Shona People In Zimbabwe History Essay

The Shona people of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and southern Zambia belonged to the Bantu. They formed almost three quarters of the population of Zimbabwe and were under British colonialism for almost a century. The Shona are one of the three major cultural groupings of mixed farmers that predominated in southern Africa. The two others are the Sotho-Tswana and Nguni. Before 1500, a Shona clan, the Rozwi established a great kingdom known to Europeans as Monomotapa which stretched from the Kalahari to the Indian Ocean and from the Limpopo to the Zambezi. By the end of the 15th century, Monomotapa broke up into several Rozwi dominated successor states that survived into the early 19th century.

Shona society was founded in the Zimbabwe plateau region of South-central Africa. The original inhabitants of Zimbabwe were the Shona group called Hungwe who were conquered by another group, the Mbire. The Mbire founded the Mutapa and Rozwi Empires that were destroyed by the fleeing Nguni tribes, especially the Ndebele of Southwest Zimbabwe and the Shangane of southeast Zimbabwe during the Mfecane uprisings. The Mutapa Empire covered a substantial part of modern Zimbabwe and incorporated the whole of Mozambique, South of the Zambezi river and north of the Sabi river to the sea. Some of the tribes of modern South Africa, mostly the Venda and Lovendu originated from the Shona. Other Shona tribes include Barwe, Manyika, Ndau, Korekore, Shangwe and Guruuswa. Shona society organized many of its descent principles through men rather than women. The emergence of Shona language was probably a development of the later Iron Age. Like the Sotho-Tswana and the Nguni, the Shona belonged to the southern Bantu language group. Shona language (chiShona) is widely spoken in, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia and Botswana. Shona is one of the principal languages of Zimbabwe. Shona language has several dialects including Hwesa, Karanga or Chikaranga spoken in Southern Zimbabwe with subdialects of Duma, Jena, Mhari, Ngova, Venda, Nyubi and Govera; Zezuru dialect include Chizezuru, Bazezuru, Mazizuru, Vazezuru and Wazezuru that are spoken in Mashonaland and central Harare; Korekore dialect is widely spoken in northern Zimbabwe. The balanced and varied resources of the Zimbabwe plateau provided a wide range of environmental and economic factors to underpin the spectacular growth of Shona states. The Shona occupied much of the modern Zimbabwe and the area between the Sabi and Pungwe rivers and extended to the Indian Ocean in modern-day Mozambique. The Shona people migrated into the modern day Zimbabwe during the great Bantu expansion. Between 16th and 19th centuries, Shona groups, especially the Tsonga and Nguni lived in dense settlements. By 1800, the greater proportion of Zimbabwe and Mozambique was populated by the Shona people. The Ndebele pushed the Shona northwards before the invasion of the European settlers in the 19th century.

It’s probable that the Shona originated from the Congo Basin area and migrated southwards into Rhodesia at the end of the first millennium. The first stone building at Zimbabwe were the works of the Shona people. Most of the stone works on the Acropolis were constructed by them. The Shona also began to build in the valley during the 13th or 14th century. They established the Great Zimbabwe civilization with stone wall enclosures. The Great Zimbabwe was indeed a thriving center for professional masons. The word “Zimbabwe” is Shona term for “houses of stone.” This civilization developed in an area with excellent pasture for grazing, farming, hunting, mining and long-distance trading which made the Great Zimbabwe a prosperous state in the region. Possession of cattle was a symbol of power and wealth that was concentrated in the hands of those in the position of authority. The Shona set up many other states including Changamire, Mutapa and Torwa. In the 17th century, recruitment into the army was rewarded by cattle. Enlistment into the army made the ruling elite to organise raids for capturing livestock and other booties. In this process, Changamire state developed a professional standing army.

Shona society enjoyed reasonable political organization in the decades that preceded European partition. It was divided into lineages and a male member belonged to the father’s lineage; a married woman joined her husband’s lineage. Each lineage was symbolized by annual totem. Shona people identify themselves with clans rather than the group. Communities in turn have mixture of clans.

The political economy of the Shona society was not based on an equal sharing of resources or wealth inspite of a political ideology that often claimed equality. The fundamental political issue was land. Control of land use for cultivation, game, grazing and mineral resources was the basis of power relations between the ruler and the subjects. The rulers claimed authority over land.

Economically, the Shona practiced agriculture, mining and pastoralism. The most specialized sector the economy was gold-mining. Gold was important source of Shona wealth at Great Zimbabwe, but cattle continued to be the backbone of the economy. The Shona formed part of the gold trade network that reached China. The Portuguese had contacts with the Shona and established themselves in what became known as Mashonaland before they were driven out at the end of the 17th century by the Rozwi Changamire dynasty. In Central Africa, the Shona groups were the first to accept European settlement. But under the Mwene Mutapas, the Portuguese were never able to control the Shona absolutely. In the 1690s, the Changamire rulers who were successors of the Mutapa dominated a large territory and remained free from the Portuguese invasion. They controlled gold production and gold trade than other rulers in the Zambezi-Limpopo region. They constructed stone buildings and accumulated vast gold ornaments at their capitals, Dhlodhlo and Khami. They collected tribute from their subjects and vassal states. They had over 3000 warriors and waged wars over their surroundings. Changamire state continued to expand before it was overthrown by conquerors from KwaZulu in the 1830s. In response to capitalism in southern Africa after 1870, agriculture and migrant labour further developed. Shona peasant farmers supplied white farmers in Rhodesia with variety of crops such as poko corn, millet, groundnuts, tobacco and so on.

The Mwanamutapa was the first major civilization in Zimbabwe. It was founded in about 1420 among the Karanga people at the Great Zimbabwe. This empire expanded by 1440s to include all of the Zimbabwe plateau and Mozambique. By 1490, the empire split into two sectors: Changamire in the south (including the Great Zimbabwe) and Mwanamutapa in the north. The gold and ivory trade attracted Arab and Swahili traders who settled in the major towns. During this period, the Great Zimbabwe region became the wealthiest and most powerful society in southeast Africa. In the early 16th century, Portuguese traders and soldiers established contact with the empire. Following the visit of Antonio Fernandes to Mwanamutapa empire, the Portuguese became interested in controlling the hinterland gold trade. The Portuguese were interested in commercial activities. They opened up the trade routes to the gold-producing areas from the coastal areas of Sofala and Mozambique. The Portuguese used the Zambezi River as their major route to the hinterland. They founded fortified and garrison towns at Sena and Tete on the Zambezi. They took over the Swahili trading posts and established new ones in the gold bearing region at Masapa, Luanze, Dambarare, Ongoe and Maramuca. Through these efforts, they controlled substantial part of the Shona gold trade. But the Swahili traders diverted some of the gold resources to the coastal settlements north of Mozambique where they evaded the Portuguese patrol and transported gold to Arabia and/or India.

Power struggle among the Mbire led to the fall of the Mutapa state and the establishment of the Rozwi Empire in the southwest of modern Zimbabwe. Between 1560 and 1561, a Portuguese Jesuit missionary, Goncalo da Silveira visited Mwanamutapa and converted many Shona including King Nogomo Mupunzagato to Christianity. In 1569, King Sebastiao of Portugal sent a thousand men under Francisco Barreto to gain control of the gold mines and explore the possibility of expelling the Swahili traders as well as securing protection for the Portuguese missionaries. The Portuguese expedition reached Zambezi and Sena but most of them were attacked by malaria. Despite their impressive military power, they were not able to exert enduring control over the Shona. When Kapararidze assumed power as the new Mwene Mutapa in 1628, he attempted to unite his kingdom and expel the Portuguese. In turn, the Portuguese supported his rival to power, Mavura and ousted Kapararidze. Mavura declared himself as a vassal of king of Portugal but anti-European protests followed among the Shona. A Portuguese military expedition suppressed the protests and strengthened Mavura’s reign. He continued to enjoy the military protection of the Portuguese but suffered from the shrinking territory and subjects. He granted Portuguese officials who commanded the forts at Sena and Tete jurisdiction over lands and the inhabitants of the areas. Private Portuguese individuals enjoyed similar privilege from Mwene Mutapa. By 1677, the Portuguese had conceived the idea of planting a colony of settlers in Shona to enhance Portuguese power. The European settlement in the Zambezi valley was affected by heavy mortality. However, some of the Portuguese and Indian settlers established families that promoted Portuguese power in east Africa before the 20th century. The Portuguese elements integrated into the local African culture but they were turbulent chiefs due to their firearms. By the mid-17th century, the beleaguered Mwanamutapa empire was controlled by the Portuguese. In 1690, the Portuguese was deposed by the Rozwi that was formed by the re-united Shona dynasties. King Changamira of Rozwi extended his control over the mining region of Zimbabwe. Rozwi Empire came to an end due to the attacks of led by Mzilikazi and Ndebele during the Mfecane wars.

In 1890, the British South Africa Company invaded the Shona territory. At this point, the Shona had weak central kingdom. The Shona, like the Ndebele lost their economic resources including land and cattle. They were subjected to forced labor. The British conquest also led to the collapse of the old political structures. The Shona were mobilized through the religious authority of a spirit called Mlimo. The Shona and Ndebele rose in rebellion against the British forces between 1896 and 1897 using guerilla tactics.

After two to three years of the British South African Company rule, both the Ndebele and the Shona had grievances including confiscation of cattle, expropriation of land, compulsory labour, harsh taxation, insubordination of Africans by white officials. These were the proximate factor was the Jameson’s raid which led to the African revolt. Jameson was the administrator of Mashonaland who conquered the Ndebele in 1893. The combined forces of Ndebele and Shona attacked the company. The European settlers lost about 10 per cent of their population. Unlike the Ndebele, the Shona were fragmented people. They were only united by religious institutions, especially Mwari whose shrines were located in the caves with elaborate priests and messengers. Mkwati and his followers mobilized the people that the Mwari was prepared to kill all the white settlers. The revolts started with localized resistance to Europeans and Company rule from 1891-96. The resistance of Nyandoro in the East of the Salisbury district in April 1896 marked the beginning of the Shona uprising. Shona revolt was influenced by the Ndebele uprising of March 1896 led by Mkwati who forged alliance between Ndebele and Shona against Europeans. Religious organizations were a reinforcing factor in the rebellion. People were mobilized through the Mwari religious cult. Shona resistance to colonial rule in the 1890s took the form of desertion from underpaid labour, abandonment of settlements due to tax and labour demand, theft, cattle maiming between 1894 and 1896.

Globally, the Shona people are known for their art works: stone sculpture and mbira music. Despite the tremendous influence of western scientific worldview and Christianity, the Shona remained attached to their traditional metaphysics. The Shona are not passive assimilators of European modernity, they have fused western science with tradition to shape their African modernity. After the uprisings against European settlers were defeated, independence wars occurred in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Mozambique in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the 19th century, the Shona have migrated to work in the South African mines. They also migrated to large industrial cities. Some were dispossessed of their land in order to allow European settlers farm. Most of the Shona were educated in Chritianity missionary schools. They also benefitted from the training in improved agriculture.

Rasheed Olaniyi

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