Rise of the Munhumutapa Empire


By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

THERE are no written records showing when Tjibundule got into power, unlike the Munhumutapa Empire whose origin is dated 1400AD by Portuguese historical documents.
We are also reliably informed by the same documents that the founder of that empire was Mutota, a MuKaranga.
He was succeeded by his son Matope when he died in about 1450AD.
Munhumutapa Matope died in 1480AD and his son, Nyahuma, ascended the 80-year-old Karanga throne.
Portuguese historical records also show that Nyahuma was overthrown and killed by a combined force of Changa and Togwa in 1490AD.
The two ruled two different territories, one under Changa covered a greater part of today’s Masvingo Province adjacent to Mashonaland East and extended westwards towards Mashonaland West and effectively stopped at the Gwelo (Gweru) River across which lay Togwa’s area.
Tjibundule later became lord over that area which extended up to the Mntoutsi (Macloutsi) River in what is now Botswana.
We are also very much aware that by 1500AD, there were two independent kingdoms separated more or less by the Gwelo River.
The BaKalanga say in their oral history that the ruler of the eastern kingdom was Munhumutapa whom they had nicknamed ‘Malambodzibgwa’ (he who refuses to be restrained).
Meanwhile, Changa’s name had assumed an additional suffix, ‘mire’, thus becoming ‘Changamire’ (Changa is standing or Changa who is standing — Changaumire).
Unlike his ally Togwa, Changa (Changamire) seemed to have ruled for a shorter period, and his territory was sooner than later reclaimed by the Munhumutapa and effectively re-incorporated into the empire.
It is obvious that the war by Togwa and Changa against Munhumutapa Nyahuma in 1490AD resulted in an assertion of the power and sovereignty of the two over their respective areas, and not a seizure of the entire Munhumutapa territory, although it was in that way reduced in size.
Togwa was undoubtedly only a patriarch and not founder of the BaKalanga kingship.
He was one of the kings who emerged after the Mapungubgwe Kingdom era, 1075 – 1220AD. Tjubundule must have appeared a long period after Togwa if we consider the fact that he was in power at the time of the arrival of the Rozwi whose first Mambo in the land of the BaKalanga was Madlazwegwendo.
Tjibundule’s praises do not say anything at all about his forebears.
They are all about him and his most senior Government officials:
Inyika yaTjibundule wali,
Tjipwihelaka pwihhahhowu nenhema;
NaZwikono ungapambotana;
Vunamakuni unoloba nhema ngeganu,
Nyati kakumangelupa;
NaNkami, nkami wedzisinamhulu,
Nkami wemapfumba.
Ndezwa kaTjibundule wali,
Tjipwihelaka pwihhahhowu nenhema;
Iye mangula ngonkaka, vula inanyungula;
Mayilahhowu, mhuka yezebehwulu;
Mbaki wemakomo asingangin’wengetjita,
Iye Tjibundule wali!
Tjipwihhelaka pwihhahho wunenhema.
The literal meaning of these praises is:
(It is the country of Tjibundule indeed, a refuge-giver who gave succour to the elephant and the rhino, And Zwikono is as big as a calf, Vunamakuni strikes the rhinoceros with a big axe. The buffalo he touches with the handle; and Nkami, the milker of the calfless, the milker of those deprived of their calves.
They are (property or praises) of Tjibundule indeed; the big refuge-giver who gave succour to the elephant and to the rhino.
He who bathes with milk (because) water has tadpoles.
To whom the elephant is taboo, the animal with large ears.
Builder of mountain fortresses that cannot be entered by enemies.
He, Tjibundule, indeed,
The big refuge-giver who gave succour to the elephant and the rhino).
Three things are clearly reflected in the praises, and they are that Tjibundule owned many cattle and, second, he consumed large quantities of milk, hence the official position of Nkami, which means ‘milker’.
It was thus a title and not a personal name.
Tjibundule built mountain fortresses, an interesting fact when we consider the advanced architectural skills exhibited in rocky structures at Danan’ombe, Khami, Luswingo, Great Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
Tjibundule’s country must have been teaming with wild life, particularly big game, especially elephants and rhino, hence the praise: The refuge-giver who gave succour to the elephant and the rhino.
It is significant that no reference is made to any agricultural crop in Tjibundule’s praises.
That might have been an indication that cropping was not at that time a pre–occupation of the BaKalanga.
But in the Mambo era, as we shall subsequently see, crops feature in the praises of some of the senior government leaders.
In the praises of Tumbale who was one of the senior military commanders of Mambo Tjilisamhulu’s army, we come across the phrase: “IyeTumbale, baBhepe, baNhaba, Batjulu, tjaNhaba; Tjulutja maphunde manji…”
The last sentence means ‘Anthill of a lot of sorghum’.
Although no written records exist to indicate when the Rozvi arrived in Tjibundule’s Kingdom, we are informed once again by the Portuguese that in 1693, a combined contingent of Munhumutapa’s and Mambo’s military forces routed the menacing Portuguese.
We can, therefore, reasonably say that the Rozvi, whom the BaKalanga called BaNyayi, replaced Tjibundule’s BaKalanga administration sometime in the 1600s, resulting in them forging an alliance with the Munhumutapa Empire against the Portuguese as already stated.
Tjibundule did not live in mountain fortresses all the time.
He had ordinary villages, one of which was near the Mwala Swamp in the Wuwana locality in the Bulilima District, some 40km north-west of the Plumtree.
Up to the late 1940s, the old site of Tjibundule’s village used to be referred to by elderly people as KaTjibundule, at Tjibundule’s.
Saul GwakubaNdlovu is a retired, Bulawayo – based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. sgwakuba@gmail.com


  1. “Mayilahhowu, mhuka yezebehwulu”; OR in contemporary Karanga’
    “Muyera Nzou mhuka yenzeve huru…”
    Thus so also we learn that Chiundule’s totem was Hou/ Zhou/Nzou/Elephant. A royal descendent of Chaminuka. From Central Africa; the descendent tribes of Tovela, the progenitor of all Zimbabweans (originally Zumba tribe as in DRC today) including those left in the Great Lakes region, have royal branches: Shoko (ZHou+ Moyo + Mhofu + Hungwe + Dziva… offshoots). We thus know Chiundule relates to Togwa, Changa, Chibatamatosi…


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