‘Rename Rhodesian Ridgeback Zimbabwean Ridgeback’

Group of twelve dogs sitting in front of a white background

MBUYA NEHANDA, the definitive prophetess of the Shona, had predicted that men with ‘white skin and no knees’ would come from the north-east to seize the country.
She also predicted they would come with their dogs; a different breed from the ones we knew and those of our forefathers.
For the early white settlers, Zimbabwe in the 1800s was a hot, untamed landscape, the Savannah riddled with ticks, reptiles and other vermin; in addition, the early white colonial settlers needed a regular supply of meat; dogs helped them to hunt and navigate their way around the uncharted country.
Other problems that the early settlers encountered was to keep baboons from destroying their crops, rats from eating their grain stocks and predators from killing their livestock.
Dogs were, therefore, crucial support for their very survival.
On the realisation that the dogs they brought with them could not cope easily with the local conditions and diseases, the hunters, missionaries and colonial settlers realised the potential of Zimbabwe’s canis africanus; thus from the very beginning of their arrival, they started working to cross breed their dogs with our indigenous strain that laid the foundation to Zimbabwe’s contribution to the Rhodesian Ridgeback.
While many of us may be oblivious to the fact that Zimbabwe owns a much-treasured natural breed of dogs, the genetic modification of imported European dogs with canis africanus, was one of the ways white settlers were able to adapt their imported breeds to suite local conditions.
Consequently today, there are more recorded imported Western dog breeds in Zimbabwe than our own local indigenous breeds.
Initially the dog breed that was developed came to be known as ‘van Rooyen dogs’ later to be named the ‘lion-dog’ and then the ‘Rhodesian lion-dog’.
Its characteristic main feature is a ridge of hair running along its spine in the opposite direction to the rest of its coat, consisting of a fan-like area formed by two whorls of hair (called ‘crowns’); a feature frequently observed in indigenous dogs of Angola, Tanzania, Zaire (now the Democratic Rrepublic of Congo), Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Though the breed already existed in Zimbabwe from the 4th Century BC, as imbwa yemadzitateguru – the country’s first dog, it was named canis afrikanus by the early explorers. However, for most canine historians, Boer hunter Cornelius van Rooyen, (1860-1915), from Uitenhage, in the Cape Province of South Africa, is the founder-breeder of the Ridgeback.
According to Thomas Baines’ records, the van Rooyen family arrived in Mangwe, in the southwest of Zimbabwe.
In May 1880 van Rooyen settled in Bulawayo and became acquainted with Christian missionaries Depelchin and Rev Charles Daniel Helm (1844-1915), the latter was postmaster for Bulawayo, based at Hope Fountain.
As for the Rev Helm, history records that in 1879, he brought two rough-coated canine bitches to Hope Fountain Mission, near Bulawayo, van Rooyen immediately bred them with his pack.
These bitches became the foundation of today’s Rhodesian Ridgeback.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback was known for its ruthlessness in hunting lions.
Among the most striking characteristics of these dogs are their human-like expressions that make them very endearing to man.
The closeness of dogs to man is best articulated in Zimbabwean Shona heritage, archaeology, philosophy, wisdom and orature, with many indigenous Shona sayings alluding to dogs.
The old adage: ‘Hushamwari hwembwa nemunhu hwakabvira pakudii’? (When and how did the friendship between humans and dogs begin?) refers to the time our indigenous dogs were turned against us. Canis africanus and his dependences became the African people’s arch-enemy as articulated in the words of the song:
Ndakarumwa nembwa kumayard.
ndichitsvaga panoshanda sisi
sisi ndarumwa wo
ndiri muWard Four
The Rhodesian army, including the Selous and Grey Scouts, trained the dogs to be anti-African.
They used certain dog breeds, mainly German shepherds, as scouts, sentries and trackers.
Dogs were used to guard prisoners, to quell the Chimurenga demonstrations and pungwes of the 1960s and 1970s to intimidate and track down liberation war combatants and suspected criminal elements.
The dog became our greatest foe.
A settler’s dog was present to witness colonial history, when the Pioneer Column hoisted their flag in Fort Salisbury (now Harare), in celebration of the defeat and annexation of Zimbabwe and the local people.
Dogs have even been used in human warfare by many civilisations since ancient times; they have been used to send messages, transporting loads, locating mines, tracking fugitives and enemy troops, locating booby traps and recovering bodies from under rubble.
Dogs have even been used in medical experimentation and flown in orbit in a Russian Sputnik.
Owing to socio-economic and legal changes, the roles of dogs have changed as well.
Nevertheless, a tracker-dog was used during operation ‘Neptune Spear’, in 2011, in which Osama bin Laden was killed.
This uniquely Zimbabwean, aboriginal dog breed was the result of natural selection and physical and mental adaptation to Africa’s environmental conditions.
Despite requiring low protein, they were always in good health and developed a natural resistance to internal and external parasites as well as a high resistance to tropical illnesses associated with conditions in the African savannah.
However, overtime, they have since become very susceptible to Western introduced diseases such as distemper, parvo virus, tick-borne biliary and rabies that have become very prevalent among the indigenous dog populations of southern Africa, making annual inoculation vital.
In 1970, pioneering Zimbabwean veterinary surgeon Dr Dexter Chavunduka, authored Kuchengeta Imbwa together with several local books on animal husbandry in Shona in a bid to revive indigenous people’s knowledge in the care of their dogs.
Various dog ailments such as rabies (chikangiri), also known in Shona as chimbwa mupengo, distemper (chirwere chefureza) and trypanosomiasis which is chirwere chemhesvi were given a vernacular translation of diagnosis and treatment for ease of reading and understanding by the indigenes.
As indigenous Zimbabweans regain their traditional lands, our other God-given natural possessions are entrusted in our hands, but will indigenisation in Zimbabwe consider the indigenous dog among our treasures?
For nearly 2 000 generations, these dogs inhabited the land of Zimbabwe. Their heritage is steeped in the land, the people, the environment and the supernatural.
They endure even in harsh urban environments as a stronghold of native culture.
Dogs are part of our natural resources, cultural heritage and way of life.
Zimbabweans need to recognise the canis africanus as the dog of our ancestors and our national treasure; our lives and memory are together interwoven.
Dogs represent an important part of our natural heritage and should be seen as a national treasure; the Rhodesian Ridgeback should now be aptly named the Zimbabwean Ridgeback.
Dogs have always been our best friends.
Dr. Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practicing artist and Corporate Image Consultant. He is also a specialist Art Consultant, Post-Colonial Scholar, Zimbabwean Socio-Economic analyst and researcher.
E-mail: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com


  1. Rhodesian Ridgebacks, comment on the article that the name should change:
    The ones with white skin and no knees came and made the country wealthy and with health and food for all. Then the ones with Black Skins and loud mouths forced a take over and now there is poverty and hunger for most. Can we please stop this nonsense and simply try to live and work together as people of africa and simply honour the simple facts of our joint history. My soul cries for a united Africa.

  2. Lets rename Harare to Salisbury, as it was the whites who built it. Lets rename everything the whites did, as the whites did it. I honestly dont give a shit about a dog name. Our country has worse things to focus on. Rhodesia zviri nani Zimbabwe.


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