It is the 18th of April 2020 and Zimbabwe turns 40. There is no better commemoration than telling the story of the Great House of Stone. Great Zimbabwe is where the name Zimbabwe came from. Zi – is used in Shona to depict something very big, imba means a house and bwe is a stone. Combined, this spells Zimbabwe – The Great House of Stone.
The Great Zimbabwe National Monument dates back to the 9th century and is protected and preserved under the UNESCO World Heritage sites. The monument reveals sophistication of the Shona people like no other. It has rich history of military strength through architectural genius and archaeological evidence also shows that it had a thriving economy. The ancient kingdom was thriving in the late Iron Age from about 11AD until 15AD when it was abandoned. Great Zimbabwe exudes history, culture and mystery.
There was much debate on who built the Great Zimbabwe monument. People could not believe that Africans or the locals could have built such a magnificent structure. Many theories were put forward to explain the dry stone structure. Some said they were built by the Phoneicians, Egyptians or King Solomon. However, strong archaeological evidence points to the fact that the stone structure was built by the Gumanye, Shona people.
The Gumanye people became wealthy through trade with the East Coast. As wealth increased, the stone structures called Madzimbahwe became a permanent feature of the Shona life and other similar minor structures are found across the country. Khami ruins in Bulawayo, Dhlo Dhlo and Naletale in Midlands and Matabeleland North, Ziwa Ruins in Nyanga, Tsindi Ruins in Marondera and many other ruins scattered all over the country. All of this points to the dominance of the Gumanye people in this era and reinforces the fact that the Zimbabwean Shona people built the monument without a doubt.
The Zimbabwe Bird
The Zimbabwe birds are housed in the Museum that is at Great Zimbabwe. This museum by the way, has got amazing artefacts found around the ruins. Cameras and photos are not allowed in the Museum so I was not able to take original pictures. In the Bird Gallery in the museum, there are seven soap stone carvings of the bird and one of the birds is a replica making a total of 8 birds.
Bird number 1 is an African Fish Eagle, which is the bird that is found on the national flag. The African Fish Eagle was considered a bird of fortune. The reason why it was adopted as the national icon was because it was the only bird that never left the country. The bird has also got crocodile features which have a symbolic meaning of the ancestors.
The rest of the birds, Bird number 2 to Bird number 8 are all Bateleur Eagles. People at Great Zimbabwe believed that these eagles were divine messengers from the most high God Mwari. Bird number 8, also known as The Unified Zimbabwe Bird was taken to Germany, went to Belgium for a while before being returned to Germany and finally back to Zimbabwe.
The Shona people at Great Zimbabwe were ruled by a King who ruled by the Divine Right of Kings.
It is believed that 8 Kings ruled at Great Zimbabwe and each king was represented by a soapstone carving of a Hungwe (Fish eagle) bird also believed to be the totem of the people. The last bird which is believed to have belonged to the last ruler of Great Zimbabwe, Chibatamatosi, was found in the valley enclosure.
The King lived on the hilltop along with spirit mediums who guided and directed his decisions in ruling.
The King had many wives. The eldest lived in the Great Enclosure. The Queen mother was responsible for initiation lessons and ceremonies for young girls which were held in the Great Enclosure.
Also housed in the Great Enclosure is the conical tower. It is believed that it was used for religious ceremonies and some say it was a storehouse. In addition to that it signified the male dominance and patriarchal society.
The Enclosure has the highest walls going up to about 11m tall. Remember – these walls were all built from dry stone, no cement or gluing agent was used to keep these walls up.
The Kalanga Village
A replica of a Kalanga Shona village can be found at Great Zimbabwe. The village depicts the home of a wealthy, polygamous man. At the village, you can buy souvenirs made by the local craftsmen. Arts and crafts played a big role in the Shona people’s lives. Not only were they very much involved in it, they were also good at it. Archaeological evidence shows that some of the arts and crafts were used for trade.
So in addition to carving birds out of soapstone, the Shona people were using advanced Iron Age tools in their day to day lives. They also made and wore copper bangles. It is said that the people at Great Zimbabwe grew cotton locally and made flax out of it.
The people were very Spiritual people. In the following video, the group leader of the dance group explains that their purpose at the Village is to remind people of their background.
Interesting facts I learnt were that the huts are round and not square to ward off evil spirits. All huts have names and are strategically positioned. For example the boy’s bedroom is called a Gota and it was quite close to the kraal. All the huts have special names and serve different functions.
There is a traditional healer at the Shona village and after a discussion with her, she said that her hut was placed on the western side to ward off evil spirits that were believed to come from the west. So she acted as a barrier protecting the village. Also interesting to note was the tall Aloe Vera plant that is found around the monument. The traditional healer said this also shielded the village from evil spirits. She went to great lengths explaining the difference between a Traditional Healer and a Witch-doctor -story for another day.
Traditional dancers are also found at the village and you can sing and dance along to their performances. If you have the time, you can chat to the men and women who are well versed in Kalanga shona culture. So the Shona village helps to paint a vivid picture of life as it was at Great Zimbabwe. Prepare to spend at least 45 minutes at the village learning about the Shona culture and best of all, getting down to the traditional dancers performances.
Everything you need to know, including the stages to Independence are all found in the Museum. As mentioned earlier, no cameras or filming devices are allowed in the Museum. There are, however, numerous guides who can take you around the monument and walk you through the Museum.
Just outside the museum is a grave where Allan Wilson and 37 others were buried. The grave looks like a bench, which I sat on unknowingly when I was having my lunch!
Allan Wilson and the other unknown men were later moved to Matopos, which is now called The Worlds View Site, next to Cecil John Rhodes. (May I never be classified as an unknown/other in my life!) So I sat on an empty grave which is not such a bad thing….I think…
If you are Zimbabwean, Great Zimbabwe is a must visit. The rich cultural history of the country is so captivating and leaves you with nothing but pride and fulfillment.
If you are an international tourist, sophistication does not get better than this! Visit Great Zimbabwe and be amazed by the magnificence and excellence of this structure.
And so as the sun sets on the first 40 years of Zimbabwe…
We celebrate the beginning of a new era!
May the Lord Bless Zimbabwe!
#Zim@40 #TravelTomorrow #VisitZimbabwe #ProudlyZimbabwean
Happy Travelling Tomorrow!