Khami Monument …the hidden treasure


STONES were ingeniously stacked one after the other to build a magnificent fortress with neither mortar nor cement for support.
Despite being overshadowed by the Great Zimbabwe, Khami Monument, situated 22 km west of Bulawayo, has a fascinating history, beautiful views and the marvel of a stone-walled city so artfully built it seems to have grown from the fabric of the land.
Khami Monument is the second largest complex of stone walls in the country, after the Great Zimbabwe.
It is believed to have been constructed between 1450AD and 1650AD as the capital of the Torwa Dynasty, who ruled after the collapse of the Great Zimbabwe.
It has been pointed out that the Torwa Dynasty’s new capital Khami was built based on the architectural form of the Great Zimbabwe.
“It is tough being the successor to a legend,” writes archaeologist Paul Hubbard.
“This fact might help to explain why the ancient city of Khami remains the least known and under-visited World Heritage Site in Zimbabwe.”
“Fewer than 6 000 people wander through the twisting stone passages and scramble up the slopes of the terraced hills every year.
“Victoria Falls probably receives that many people in a week.”
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu, a retired journalist and anthropologist ascertains that Tjibundule was the king of the Torwa Dynasty, whose capital is now Khami Monument.
“There are no written records showing when Tjibundule got into power, unlike the Munhumutapa Empire whose origin is dated 1400AD by Portuguese historical documents,” said Gwakuba Ndlovu.
According to Gwakuba Ndlovu, oral evidence notes that Tjibundule not only lived at Khami but also stayed at Lusvingo in Lupane, Madabe in Mangwe District and Mwala in Bulilima District.
“Khami was only the capital, but his reign (Tjibundula) extended up to the Mntoutsi (Macloutsi) River to what is now Botswana.”
Stone-walled ruins are dotted around the country from Mapungubwe, Great Zimbabwe, Khami, Dhlodhlo, Zinjanja, Ntabazikamambo, Manyangwa, Mount Fura, Naletale, Mapela and Mutoko (Tere).
Some stone walled monuments are also found in Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique.
Natural History Museums of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo’s archaeologist Dr Tawanda Mukwende told The Patriot that there are more than 500 sites of stone-walled monuments in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana.
“Latest evidence has, however, showed that Mapungubwe, the Great Zimbabwe, Khami, Dhlodhlo and many other sites were settled at the same time around 11th Century, contrary to evidence that Mapungubwe was the first followed by the Great Zimbabwe and so on,” said Dr Mukwende.
“These states were developing independently at the same time.
“Stone-walls were the modern technology of that time all over, including in South Africa and Botswana.”
He said new evidence is emerging through the use of latest technology of radio-carbon dating.
However, Historian Phathisa Nyathi conforms to the old evidence that Khami began sometime after the fall of the Great Zimbabwe State.
“Construction at Khami began sometime after 1410AD and it was abandoned at about 1640AD,” said Nyathi.
“The first organised stage is seen at Mapungubwe State in Shashe and Limpopo at around 11th century.
“Thereafter there is a shift to the Great Zimbabwe around 1200AD to 1400AD.
“We do not know what happened at the Great Zimbabwe but we understand there was a misunderstanding and two groups emerged.
“The other one went west and that is the one that set up the Torwa Dynasty
“The second went northwards and this is the group that is believed to have built the Mutapa State.”
He said one of the major evidence to support the timeline was the architecture of the stone walls.
“Decorations improved with time,” said Nyathi.
“Mapungubwe has rough stone cuts and the designs are not as pretty as those at Khami and Dhlodhlo.
“But when you get to Zinjanja, wow the stones are lovely and well decorated than at the Great Zimbabwe and even Khami,” said Nyathi.
Peter Garlake, a Zimbabwean archaeologist and art historian, in his book Rhodesian Ruins, pointed out that the Khami culture was not simply a local variant of the Zimbabwe culture but it was in fact a successor in dating and building tradition to the earlier culture.
His examinations of the development from the Great Zimbabwe to Khami pottery assumed that a gradual change is a normal development in a ceramic tradition, rather than that change must necessarily have resulted from the arrival of a new people.
Evidence shows Khami conforms to the Great Zimbabwe in a number of archaeological and architectural aspects but it possesses certain features particular to itself and its successors such as Danangombe and Zinjanja.
While the walls at Great Zimbabwe are mainly freestanding, the ones at Khami are built into the hillside.
It has been claimed that the builders of Khami took note of the surrounding environment and adapted the original form accordingly.
For instance, the stone found at Khami was different from that at the Great Zimbabwe.
The stone at Khami was harder than quarry and produced shapeless building stone.
This rendered it unsuitable for building free standing dry stone walls, a feature of the Great Zimbabwe.
Therefore, the builders of Khami decided to improvise, and built revetments or retaining walls instead.
It is said that this is the first instance of such an architectural form in the history of the region.
The highly decorated stone walls created stepped terraces on which houses for royalty were built.
The huts (made of clay, wooden poles and thatch) have long since crumbled, but the decorated terraces remain.
The majority of the people lived in the valley below the terraces — up to 7 000 inhabitants, by some accounts.
A walk to the Hill Ruins site, which was l To page 7
believed to be where the chief and his household lived, will show that the walls have recently been restored, but the original stonework patterns are plain to see.
At Khami, there is archaeological evidence of the Torwa’s involvement in the Indian Ocean trade.
For instance, a diverse range of imported objects have been unearthed at Khami.
Among these artifacts are 15th and 17th Century Spanish silverware, Rhineland stoneware, Chinese porcelain from the Ming Dynasty which date back to the reign of Wan-Li (1573-1691) and Portuguese imitations of 17th Century Chinese porcelain.
Many of these foreign objects are now on display in the Natural History Museum of Bulawayo.
In exchange for these imported items, traditional trade goods, including gold and ivory, were exported.
The site reveals seven built-up areas occupied by the royal family with open areas in the valley occupied by the rest of the population.
The complex comprises circular, sometimes terraced, artificial platforms encased by dry stone walls.
The beautifully decorated 6m-high by 68m-long retaining wall of the Precipice ruin bears a checkerboard design along its entire length.
The imposing front façade marked the main entrance.
The Precipice Ruin was a ritual centre with the longest decorated stonewall of its kind in the entire sub-region.
Nearby is the Cross Ruin with its mysterious stone Dominican Cross, believed to have been placed by a contemporary missionary in 1938, and the Northern Platform once used to process gold. 
The nearby Passage Ruin consists of two adjoining semicircular platforms accessed by a narrow passageway.
The platforms, rising two to seven metres above ground, carried clay huts and courtyards where the rest of the populations lived.
The remnants of cattle kraals and huts for ordinary people can be seen from the Hill Complex.
The ruins include a royal enclosure forming the Hill Complex located on higher grounds, stone walls and hut platforms.
There are also ruins on the eastern side of the Khami River.
These structures display a high standard of workmanship, a great number of narrow passageways and perambulatory galleries and impressive chevron and checkered wall decorations.
“There has always been a desire by humans to live on hills, first because they are good lookouts and second because they are usually defensible,” notes Dr Mukwende.
“But there is a third reason, that of prestige, which is even important today, the best suburbs being usually situated on or near the top of the eminences around a town.
“Generally speaking, the ruins are not places of defence but represent prestige building, the highest being looked up at by the menials.”
The necessity for mystery and concealment from the ordinary people would have developed the grass screen, which was in some instances replaced later by the stone lined and roofed passages.
And yet Europeans, for centuries, perpetuated lies that Great Zimbabwe could not have been built by blacks.
“Myths has been spread for almost seven centuries that the Great Zimbabwe and related sites such as Khami Ruins were not built by Africans,” says Dr Mukwende.
“Europeans believed that Africans were incapable of building such metropols.”
From the early 14th Century, geographers were convinced there was a lost Christian kingdom, – ruled by a man called Prester (Priest) John, marooned in the depths of ‘darkest Africa and waiting to be rescued’.
By the early 17th Century Portuguese scholars had a new hypothesis: The Zimbabwe region was where the Phoenicians had gone to mine gold for Israel’s King Solomon.
“When the Portuguese traders arrived at the Great Zimbabwe, they believed it to be the biblical Ophir and the legendary home of Queen Sheba,” writes historian Professor Thomas Huffman.
Three hundred years after the search for the Great Zimbabwe had first begun, the ‘lost city’ was finally ‘discovered’ by the German explorer Carl Mauch.
Even then, Mauch was quite convinced that the two main buildings at the site were copies of King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, and the Israelite palace where Solomon and the Queen of Sheba had, according to the Bible, found bliss together.
Whether it was the lost kingdom of Prester John, or Solomon’s dazzling African colony or the Queen of Sheba’s, the idea that a part of southern Africa had once belonged to non-Africans was massively appealing to British and other imperial forces.
The Great Zimbabwe saga had prepared the ‘moral’ ground for imperialism; the European mission could be seen not so much as a seizure of black territory, but the liberation of lands thought to have once been held by whites.
When Cecil John Rhodes and his British South Africa Company (BSAC) seized what is now Zimbabwe in 1890, the first thing he did was to commission – and fund – a full exploration of the country’s ruins through the Ancient Ruins Company.
The ruins became an obsession.
In 1891, he wrote that the ruined cities of Mashonaland were those of ‘an old Phoenician residence’.
For much of the first half of this century, many archaeologists refused to believe that the Great Zimbabwe was an entirely African creation.
Some of them considered that, even if local black people had designed and built the place, it must have been under foreign influence.
Even when, on the basis of ceramic and architectural evidence, an African role was admitted, the architecture was condemned in the 1930s as being ‘essentially the product of an infantile mind’.
Yet careful evaluation of the evidence, and excavations at the Great Zimbabwe and related sites over the past 60 years have shown that the city was entirely black African in origin.
If contemporary cultures, fragmented and ruptured by centuries of colonialism, are going to be able to piece together and to reconnect with their severed past, archaeology needs to assume a more important place in Zimbabwe’s discourse.
Khami ruins is a National Monument and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.
Khami ruins
Dominican cross
Dr Tawanda Mukwende


  1. as each day passes we will get closer to the truth
    which most know the stone structures were built by one tribe
    who own the black skin ndivo varidzi venzvimbo ve moyo mbavarigwa weshambo
    chena vazari like it or not that is what it is. all the lies have had their day the truth will surely come out
    renemanyanga hariputigwi


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