Great Zimbabwe

In class we learned about Great Zimbabwe. Great Zimbabwe is a famous stone monument in southern Africa. While it has been concluded that Great Zimbabwe was not discovered by sub-Saharan Africa, there have been different theories and ideas about who really built Great Zimbabwe. In lecture we learned that it could have either been the Phoenicians due to their sea trading and long distances and they were known for their cedar. Additionally, it could have been the Arabs or the Queen of Sheba. I found these theories to be interesting, so I decided to research more theories about this mystery of Great Zimbabwe to learn about this more in-depth.

In researching this, I found that many of the African tribes, such as the Shona and the Venda tribes, insist that their ancestors were the ones who were responsible for building Great Zimbabwe. However, the Lemba tribe claims that one of their clans, the Tovakare, were the individuals responsible for building Great Zimbabwe. Interestingly, the Tovakare even call themselves Tovakare Muzimbabwe, which translates to “the ones that build Zimbabwe.” There has been evidence to support the Lemba claim. Just like the ancient Zimbabwe people who buried their dead in an extended position, the Lemba practices this as well, unlike the Bantu tribes who buried their dead in a crouched position. However, the stronger factor supporting the Lemba claim is centered on trade. The Lemba were the great traders of southern Africa and it is known that Great Zimbabwe generated a lot of its weath from cattle and trade so it seems very plausible that the ancestors of the Lemba would have been involved in trading between Great Zimbabwe and the Indian Ocean. The Lemba people have dark skin and speak a Bantu language. In my research, I found a quote that says, “Whites did not build Great Zimbabwe, blacks did, and this fact only deepens the sense of mystery enveloping the site.” In 1931, archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson states that through the examination of all existing evidence, there is nothing to support a Bantu origin of Great Zimbabwe.

Another theory indicates that the rulers of Great Zimbabwe were the Karanga, which was a branch of the Shona-speaking people, because the pottery of Karanga has been determined to be very similar to the pottery in Great Zimbabwe. There is another idea that the builders of Great Zimbabwe might be descents of Leopards Kopje, which is about one hundred miles away from Great Zimbabwe where the remains of a wealthy iron age society which depended on cattle have been discovered.

It is very interesting to me that such a great archaeological discovery can have such a mystery associated with it and researching the different theories about the builders of Great Zimbabwe was very fascinating. Hopefully as more archaeologists try to discover the rulers and builders of Great Zimbabwe, the mystery can one day be solved.