Zim did not begin with Dzimbahwe

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THE history of Zimbabwe did not start with the building of Great Zimbabwe in the 13th Century. Archaeologists have found evidence to suggest that permanent farming communities were in existence in the region from as early as 200 AD.
Beads and ivory dating back to the 9th Century have been unearthed, which suggest that beads and ivory helped to form the wealth of these communities who spoke a language now spoken by the Shona people.
By the 1st Millennium AD, they were already working goldmines along the high ridges of the plateau. Iron had been in use in the area by the 3rd Century AD.
Sites have been discovered that indicate links existed between Zimbabwe and the Indian Ocean coast.
Our Shona ancestors followed the hunter-gatherer Bushmen into this country.
During the First Millennium AD, migrants from Guruuswa (Tanzania) began to arrive on the southern part of the plateau.
The first Shona speaking societies developed in the middle Limpopo Valley in the 9th Century before moving on to the Zimbabwean highlands where the central plateau eventually became the centre of impressive Shona kingdoms, ruled by a supreme ruler with spiritual as well as temporal powers, and who established the empire of Munhumutapa.
The empire of Munhumutapa eventually eclipsed the kingdom of Mapungubwe. 
Its rise to prominence, and the advent of the finest walls, occurred in the 14th and 15th centuries, during a growth in trade and agriculture.
Apart from agriculture and animal husbandry, the people made characteristic pottery, worked iron and mined gold, like their predecessors at Mapungubwe.
Iron, which was used for making hoes, was important for the local trade.
Salt, especially from the Middle Save region, was a very important commodity to local trade.
Cotton was also grown at Dzimbahwe, where they produced cotton cloth; the bark of the baobab tree was used to make rope and weave items.
In its heyday, the great conurbation was home to 12 000-20 000 people.
Copper, tin, iron and gold formed an invaluable local and international exchange and trading systems with the Arabs, East Africans, the Portuguese and other traders, via Sofala to the Indian Ocean coast.
By the 10th Century, a four-way trade system existed which economically linked Africa, Arabia, India and China with its origins in the expansion of Islam during the 7th Century.
Shona civilisations, recognised as successive Munhumutapa kingdoms, dominated the region through a series of sophisticated trade states by the time the first European explorers arrived from Portugal to trade, mainly in gold, as they had done in South America.
The goldfields of Munhumutapa were legendry, believed to be the Queen of Sheba’s ancient kingdom of Ophir; prior to the Portuguese’s arrival it was well-known to the world as part of a sophisticated international trading system.
Historic records evidence Canaanites voyages from the Red Sea direct to Munhumutapa’s vast areas of gold reefs, dotted all over the country, as early as circa 610 BC. Portuguese records further elucidate on the mystery that surrounded the kingdom and its gold.
Indigenous Africans purchased cloth, beads and other exotic goods from the Portuguese.
Imported cloths and beads were used as a means to accumulate wealth and to build-up one’s prestige within the community.
The great empire’s sphere of influence covered a wide and expansive area between the Limpopo River and the Zambezi River, extending into areas within Mozambique, Botswana and parts of the Northern Transvaal region of South Africa.
The successor to the Great Munhumutapa Kingdom, the Mutapa Empire (circa 1430 to 1760), extended to the Mozambique coast; it was marked by considerable violence resisting armed interventions by the Portuguese, protecting their kingdom and cattle, which they succeeded to do until the middle of the 17th Century.
Cattle were of great symbolic and economic importance and played a crucial role at the heart of the state’s power; much as they were during the preceding realms.
The kingdom of Mutapa was formed through the mass movement of people northwards.
It covered an area which included modern day Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa and controlled trade going to the ports along the Indian Ocean coast as well as the gold mines.
Simultaneously, in the 15th Century, a mass migration of people south emerged as the kingdom of Torwa or Butua, to the West of the plateau, where they constructed the metropolis of Khami, with dry stone walls similar to those at Dzimbahwe.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Shona-led Mutapa Empire was based at the head of the Mazoe (Mazowe) River, from where it controlled the regional slave trade which existed between the high plateau area, the Zambezi River and the Swahili-speaking towns of Sena and Tete.l From Page 6
The Portuguese arrived during the 16th Century, seeking gold and setting up trading stations.
They tried to gain political control of Mutapa territory by siding with the various dynastic clans and forging alliances with rival kingdoms.
Unlike their occupation of Mozambique, the Portuguese hold on Munhumutapa’s inland territories in the 16th and 17th centuries was weak and tentative.
They failed to penetrate to all parts of the kingdom; instead they travelled along the Mazoe and Umfuli (Mupfure) rivers, where they occupied parts of northern Mashonaland and built loop-holed forts.
The Portuguese were compelled to hold onto what they had conquered by force of arms and were consequently always at war. They sought to monopolise the gold trade and began a series of wars which led to the near collapse of the empire by the early 17th Century.
In 1628, Mavura, a Portuguese figurehead, took over the kingship.
He signed treaties giving away all mineral rights to the Portuguese. In time, the Portuguese were able to undermine and destroy the empires’ structure.
Once in charge, the Portuguese tried to force the inhabitants to mine gold for them. The people fled the villages; seeking protection from more powerful chiefs and communities.
In 1670, the Rozvi, a new powerful society that relied on centuries of military, political and religious development, rose as a direct response to increased Portuguese presence in the interior. They stormed and captured the Kingdom of Torwa, forcing the Portuguese to retreat from the plateau region.
The new Rozvi Empire eventually expelled the Portuguese from the plateau area by force of arms, since they had acquired a quantity of muskets at this stage.
The Shona had been importing a certain number of guns for a very long time.
Once victorious, the Rozvi, (which literally means ‘destroyers’), continued to add more muskets to their arsenal and recruiting a professional army to defend their recent conquests.
Between 1684 and 1696, the Mutapa Kingdom was absorbed into the Rozwi Empire to become the dominant empire in the region; by which time the population was almost entirely Karanga-speaking.
In 1693, the Rozvi Empire built a new capital city – Danangombe (Dhlo-Dhlo) — where they continued the traditions begun earlier at Mapungubwe and Dzimbahwe; that of agriculture, animal husbandry, mining and the sophisticated dry-stone built environments.
The Rozvi Kingdom collapsed in the 1830s.
Mzilikazi Khumalo, running from the Dutch Boers in the Transvaal, fought and plundered his way northwards; leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake, during an era of widespread devastation known as the Mfecane, arrived in 1836 and set the Rozvi Empire asunder
By 1838, the Rozwi Empire, along with the other minor Shona states had been conquered by Mzilikazi and the local people were reduced to vassals in their own land.
In 1840, after losing all his lands in South African, Mzilikazi and his amalgamated tribe settled permanently in Matabeleland, south-west of present-day Zimbabwe.
Mzilikazi died in 1868; and, following a violent power struggle, was succeeded by his son Lobengula.
The expansive Munhumutapa Empire thrived as a religious confederacy that gave independence of worship and freedom of local tribal cohesion.
By the mid-15th Century, however, the balance of trade had shifted to the north. Local resources had apparently dwindled to dangerously low levels from overuse, and salt became scarce.
The people abandoned the area and their once-glorious stone metropolis, leaving the site a ruin. Four hundred years later, explorers found it uninhabited; the local Karanga people nearby had no idea of its magnificence, history or worth.
Today, Zimbabwean descent comes from ancient, rich and intricate cultures that created a wealth of technologies and advances in metallurgy that included copper and iron, tool-making and weapons as well as agriculture, animal husbandry, weaving, pottery and building.
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. For comments e-mail: linamanucci@gmail.com

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