When the Bantu settled in Zimbabwe

Ethnology / Africa:-Nyamwezi women pounding sorghum.-Woodcut, 1864, after drawing by Emile Antoine Bayard (1837-1891). Coloured at a later date. // Illustration for: John H.Speke, Les sources du Nil, Journal d'un voyage 1860-63. From: Le Tour du Monde, Vol.9, Paris (Hachette) 1864, pg.296.

By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

THERE are no written historical records indicating exactly when the Bantu, who were later referred to as the Shona, a cluster comprising several dialects, settled in the region most of which is now largely a part of Zimbabwe.
But archaeological evidence shows that it was in about 300AD that the Bantu first appeared in the region lying roughly along the Zambezi River in the north and the Limpopo in the south.
It is more or less quite certain that those were Tonga people and not ancestors of the Shona cluster of communities, the most south-western of whom in that region were the BaKalanga whose seat of power was Mapungubgwe, established in 1075AD and abandoned in 1220AD.
The Tonga people occupied most of what now comprises Matabeleland North, Mashonaland West, western Midlands and parts of Matabeleland provinces, right up to Sanzukwi in the Mangwe District.
Names of some hills and mountains such as Nkugwi, Titema and Mboma are said to be of Tonga origin.
There are also San names for a few rivers including Netru (Tekwane) and Nata (the Manzamnyama).
More research needs to be done on this aspect of the region’s social history, particularly that of the Mangwe and the Bulilima District.
The Tonga people cannot rightly claim, however, to have been the autochthones in that region, as the Sans preceded them.
But of the Bantu groups, the Tonga people hunted and roamed the Savannah grasslands between the two great southern African rivers (the Zambezi and the Limpopo) before the advent of what later were classified as the Shona Bantu group.
The name ‘Sinzukwi’ is believed to be Tonga and means ‘the owner of the honey’.
However, in TjiKalanga, the very same word means the same except that the syllable ‘nzu’ would be ‘nzwi’ but it also means ‘honey’.
The breakdown of that word in TjiKalanga would be: ‘Sa’ meaning ‘owner’, and ‘nzwi’ for honey, and the suffix ‘kwi’ indicating a location as in ‘kwiyo’ (the place for grinding) or as ‘kwila’ (ride or mount), but ‘kwila’ is now used only in connection with the mating of only four – legged animals.
The name ‘BaKalanga’ is generally said to have originated in the practice by the Nkalanga King who used to administer corporal punishment on some of his subjects found guilty at his court.
He used a lash of a tree called ‘nhazwa’ (isikhukhukhu in SiNdebele).
That type of chastising is called ‘kulanga’ in TjiKalanga.
The Nkalanga King and his followers were thus called ‘BaKalanga’, which means ‘of the place of chastising’.
They were alternatively referred to as ‘Bakahamu yenhazwa’ (of the lash of the nhazwa tree).
Some oral historians say the BaKalanga are descendants of the Nguni King, Langa, the father of Zwide.
That is, of course, utterly baseless as Langa lived as recently as the late 1700s and early 1800s.
By that time the Mapungubgwe Kalanga Kingdom had ceased to exist for more than 600 years, having existed from 1075 AD to 1220 AD.
We must add here that the TjiKalanga language’s lexical influence is found in several Nguni dialects, particularly in isiXhosa and isiTshangana.
The Mapungubgwe Kingdom’s neighbours were what the BaKalanga called ‘Barwa’ to the south and the BaNandzwa (Nambya) to the north.
We thus find the BaKalanga referring to the four cardinal points as ‘kuBurwa’ (to the south), ‘kuBuNandzwa’ (to the north) kuBhehuba (to the east) and kunowhahuba (to the west).
We know that the Kalanga kingdoms extended as far west as the Makharikhari Salt Pans and as far east as the Mwenezi region.
It is of much interest to note that there are three Domboshava (read shaba) in the region under discussion.
One Domboshaba is in northern Botswana, right in the centre of that country’s TjiKalanga area, muBuKalanga.
Another Domboshava is in the Mwenezi region in Zimbabwe, and the third Domboshava is in Chinamhora.
The name ‘Domboshava’ or ‘Domboshaba’ is derived from two TjiKalanga words, ‘dombo’ which means ‘mountain’, and ‘shaba’ which means either to work or to hunt and gather for one’s family.
The word ‘shaba’ also meant ‘copper’ in old TjiKalanga.
It is this second meaning that is associated with the Shava Province of the DRC.
It was formerly called ‘Katanga’ (at the starting place).
The word ‘Shona’ seems to have been given to, or associated with, late arrivals in the region who were involved in much trade with Arabs and Portuguese at Sena.
It is most likely a corruption of Sena.
It was not originally applied to the Mapungubgwe people, the BaKalanga, until most probably after the Munhumutapa, Mutota, who in 1400AD mounted a military campaign to untie various tribes in the region, with what is now Mashonaland Central Province as his focal area of attack.
Oral tradition and some scholars say that Mutota was a Karanga, and that he died in 1450AD, having founded the Munhumutapa Empire some 325 years after Mapungubgwe.
He died 230 years after the Mapungubgwe’s demise.
Mutota was succeeded by his son, Nyahuma, who was killed in 1490 by two vassals of his later father, Togwa and Changa.
The later, Changa, is the Changamire who ruled Guruuswa, a region lying in roughly today’s western Mashonaland West and the Midlands.
Togwa, meanwhile, ruled an area that later became the domain of the Kalanga King, Tjibundule (Chibundule) who was overthrown by Mambo Nichasike.
The name ‘Togwa’ is TjiKalanga and means ‘we are fighting’.
It is obvious that Togwa was in line of Kalanga kings going as far back as obviously before Mapungubgwe.
We need to explain here that the original BaKalanga were people of the following totems (mitupo): Tjuma (Chuma), Hungwe (Nyoni), Hhowu (Zhou, Zhowu).


  1. I think this author is trying very much to distort the history of Zimbabwe. Mark his reference to the Shona as late arrivals, and his clear avoidance of mentioning Great Zimbabwe as the centre of power. The builders of Great Zimbabwe built Mpungubwe, Khami and other little Zimbabwes dotted in and around the former Munhumutapa Empire. Guruswa is not in Zimbabwe. The clear distinction can be found in that an empire is made up of people of different tribes/nations etc and therefore the Kalanga people were part and parcel of Munhumutapa. You cant mention isiNdebele in this context because they only arrived in Zimbabwe around 1840, so whoever is giving the author that oral tradition is misplaced. I advise him to read more about Southern Africa from Vasco daGama library in Lisbon and Goa in India.


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