Evidence that Shonas arrived in Zimbabwe 300 years ago (1700's)

Evidence that Shonas arrived in Zimbabwe 300 years ago (1700's)
Published: 24 June 2019 (283 Views)
Dr. George MacCall Theal, Translator of Portuguese Documents to English

Let us start off this section by telling a little bit of who Dr. Theal (a major source of recorded history in Southern Africa) was so that we can decide on the reliability of his information. Dr George McCall Theal was Professor of History at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada, and Foreign Member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, Utrecht, Holland.

He was also Corresponding Member of the Royal Historical Society in London; Honorary Member of the Literary Association; the Leiden Commission for preparing a History of the Walloon Churches, and the Historical Society of Utrecht. In addition to the preceding, Dr. Theal was formerly Keeper of the Archives of the Cape Colony and Historiographer of the Government there.

His work of translating Portuguese documents resulted in his vast volumes: The Portuguese in South Africa, published in 1896, and The Records of South-Eastern Africa, published in 1898. According to him, he had done what was at that time arguably the most extensive study of Bantu peoples of Southern Africa.

Indeed, Dr Theal's works are highly commended to those who would like to know more about the history of Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. British archaeologist Dr David Randal-McIver (who worked extensively on the Zimbabwe Ruins), in highly recommending Dr Theal's work, wrote in 1906:

My report [on the Zimbabwe Ruins], being wholly independent and original, may be judged upon its own merits, and it will be sufficiently clear why little or no reference has been made to various books which it was impossible to praise and would have been invidious to criticize. A single honorable exception must be made. There is one work of sterling scholarship which ought to be known to all who profess an interest in these subjects, namely, Dr. G. M. Theal's Records of South-Eastern Africa..."(Randall-McIver, 1906).

The Record of Portuguese Documents Translated by Dr. Theal to English: The Situation in Southern Africa by the Early 1500s

Concerning the time of the arrival of the Portuguese on the east coast of Africa and the ethnolinguistic situation in the region in the late 1400s and early 1500s, Dr. Theal wrote in 1896:

About the close of the fifteenth century, white man encountered a number of groups in southern Africa, and there were three major groups of these people. There were the Bushmen, the Hottentots and what became known as the Bantu.

The Bantu occupied a greater part of southern Africa south of the Zambesi for many generations, and not having intercourse with each other, naturally developed differences. The Bantu tribes could be classified into three groups, though it should be remembered that there are many trifling differences between the various branches of each of these.
In the first group can be placed tribes along the eastern coast south of the Sabi River, and those which in recent times have made their way from that part of the country into the highlands of the interior. The best known of these are the Amaxosa, the Abathembu, the Amampondo, the Amabaca, the Abambo, the Amazulu, the Amaswazi, the Amatonga, the Magwamba, the Matshangana, and the Matebele. This group can be termed the coast tribes, although some members of it are now far from the sea.

The second group can include the tribes that a century ago occupied the great interior plane and came down to the ocean between the Zambesi and the Sabi rivers. It will include the Batlapin, the Batlaro, the Barolong, the Bahurutsi, the Bangwaketsi, the Bakwena, the Bamangwato, all the sections of the Makalanga, and the whole of the Basuto, north and south. This group can be termed the interior tribes.

The third group will comprise all the Bantu living between the Kalahari and the Atlantic Ocean, such as the Ovaherero, the Ovampo, and others (Theal 1896, 39-40).

In a later work Dr Theal wrote:

In 1505, when the Portuguese formed their first settlement on the southeastern coast, the Makalanga tribe occupied the territory now termed Rhodesia and the seaboard between the Zambesi and the Sabi rivers. Before the commencement of the eighteenth century [early 1700s] ... a considerable immigration began to set in from the north … These immigrants, who were the ancestors of the people now called by Europeans Mashona, came down from some locality west of Lake Tanganyika in little parties, not in one great horde. The first to arrive was a clan under a chief named Sakavunza, who settled at a place near the town of Salisbury.

The details of this immigration were not placed on record by any of the Portuguese in the country, who merely noticed that there was a constant swirl of barbarians, plundering and destroying, and replacing one another; and when recent investigators, like Mr. R. N. Hall, of Zimbabwe, and Mr. W. S. Taberer, the government commissioner, endeavored to gather the particulars from the descendants of the immigrants, it was found impossible to obtain more accurate information from them concerning the events of distant times than the general fact that their ancestors came down from the north about two centuries ago [1700s] (
Theal 1907, 63. bold italics mine).

The outstanding statement as far as the topic of when the Shona arrived in Zimbabwe is concerned is the one that has been written in bold italics in the paragraph above. It clearly sets the date of the arrival of the people now called Shona in Zimbabwe in the 1700s, the 18th century.

Shona Traditions Concerning Their Own Arrival in Zimbabwe in the 1700s

The record of Sakavunza is also attested to by Mr F. W. Posselt. Posselt served as Native Commissioner in Matabeleland (Plumtree specifically) from 1908 until he was transferred to the then Marandellas [in Mashonaland] in 1922, where he served for ten years before being again transferred to Plumtree in 1933. He also stated that several Shona tribes have traditions of their ancestors arriving in Zimbabwe under one Sakavunza, corroborating the Portuguese record of Dr. Theal.

That the Portuguese record is indeed true cannot be doubted, for it is supported by the oral traditions of the Shona themselves,
though this is the kind of tradition that today one will not find referred to in Zimbabwean school history books. One such tradition was recorded by Professor Stanlake Samkange concerning the Zwimba people who are considered the real MaZezuru, or Central Shona. Of the Zwimba people Professor Samkange wrote:

In the land of Makonde, in the Chinhoyi district, near the Chitombo-rwizi Purchase Area, towards the Karoyi River, are people known as The People of Zvimba who live in their land called Chipata. These people are real MaZezuru. Their cognomen or Mutupo is Ngonya pa Nyora. Their honorificus - Chidawo is Gushungo; or Owner of the fruit forest, Pachiworera, Tsiwo, Terror of the Waters! …

Now where did these people come from? Listen! Hear! These people of Zvimba came from Guruwuskwa. No one can tell you the exact location of this place called Guruwuskwa. All our elders only point to the North saying: "This way, that is where Guruwuskwa is, this way" (Samkange 1986, 1).

Samkange states that when the then District Commissioner inquired as to the history and origins of the Zezuru people in 1955, he was told by one Mr. Chakabva, who was the elder brother of one Headman Dununu, that "Neyiteve, the son of Chihobvu, the Progenitor, left the area where Chihobvu lived in Guruwuskwa and came west in search of new land. At that time, the Rozvi's ruled this country. A Mu Rozvi named Tumbare [Tumbale], gave land to Neyiteve when Neyiteve said: "My feet are swollen." He became the first Zvimba" (Samkange 1986, 5).

The District Commissioner also wrote in 1965 of the Zwimba people that "These people formed part of the general migration from the north. They say they came from a place named Guru Uskwa (probably in Tanganyika). They were led by one Nemaunga and his son or younger brother Neyiteve. The country they occupied was originally occupied by Chief Svinura's people (Chiwundura?) but they were driven out by the VaRozvi" (Samkange 1986, 5).

Shona Traditions Show Arrival in the Early 1700s When the Lozwi Mambos Have Just Taken Power from the Tjibundule Mambos

There are two points of interest here. If the ‘Chief Svinura' is indeed Chiwundura as Samkange thinks, then the proposition raises very interesting questions about the date of the settlement of the Shona in the Zimbabwean Tableland. Chiwundura is the Shona rendering for the Kalanga King Tjibundule, [called Netshiendeulu by the Venda].

Tjibundule is known to have been conquered by Mambo Dombolakona-Tjing'wango Dlembewu Moyo in the late 1600s (Rennie, in Schoffeleers 1978). We of course know that what is now Zimbabwe was at that time under the leadership of the Tjibundule Mambos.

Whilst Tjibundule was a dynastic title dating back to the 1500s or so, here the tradition collected by Professor Samkange clearly states that when the Zezuru (Shona) arrived it was around the time at which the reigning Tjibundule was overthrown by the Lozwi, and the country under Lozwi rule, with Tumbale allocating them land.

That would have been in the late 1600s [1690s specifically), for that is the time that the Lozwi Mambos took over power from the Tjibundules, and the mention of Tumbale confirms this date, for he is was the leading medicine-man and army general at this time.

But Where Exactly Was Guruwuswa?

The other point is that of the place named Guruwuswa. Where was the land of Guruwuskwa? In Lozwi-Kalanga traditions we are told that it is a place where the people, in their migrations, could not find firewood, and had to use grass for wood. They then exclaimed, "guni buhwa!", meaning we can also use grass in the place of firewood as fuel, in TjiKalanga, Guruwuskwa being the Shona rendering.

[1]We know that this is a place in southern Zimbabwe because we are told that it was near the Crocodile River, that is, the Limpopo (Posselt 1935). In Kalanga oral traditions collected by Mr. Kumile Masola, the region is also identified as southern Zimbabwe, for we are told that the Lozwi/Nyayi crossed the Tuli River before they conquered the Togwa Kingdom of the Tjibundules.

But was the land of ‘Guruwuskwa' of the Zezuru also the ‘guni buhwa' of the Kalanga? That seems very unlikely and confusing. For if the Shona Guruwuskwa was in the north as pointed by their elders, how could it be in the south at the same time? That is, south of Makonde where the traditions by Professor Samkange were collected.

Is it not possible that some Shona oral informant had heard about the guni buhwa tradition from the exiled Lozwi-Kalanga, and assumed that it was the place of Shona origin? That seems very likely since "it was found impossible to obtain more accurate information from them concerning the events of distant times than the general fact that their ancestors came down from the north about two centuries ago" when enquiry was made into their particulars.

Zimbabwe's former Education Minister, Mr. Aenias Chigwedere, in his From Mutapa to Rhodes identified Matabeleland as the land of Guruwuswa of Shona oral tradition (Chigwedere 1980). Of course Chigwedere got this piece of information from the highly unreliable works of Mr. Donald P. Abraham who first came up with the idea that Guruwuskwa was a province in the south-west of Zimbabwe, yet according to the traditions collected by Professor Samkange, the Zwimba elders pointed to the north as the location of their Guruwuskwa (Samkange 1986).[2]How could they have come from the north and south at the same time?

This also in a sense proves as false the proposition that one sometimes hears made that the people now called Shona (specifically in northern Zimbabwe) were once all "Karanga" who migrated to the north from the south of Zimbabwe. It is clear their elders pointed to the north as their original homeland, and they certainly could not have migrated from the north and south at the same time. This of course has a huge bearing on the common proposition that ‘Matebeleland' was once Shona land.

In The Karanga Empire, Chigwedere identifies Guruwuswa as a region "to the west of Lake Malawi" with "tall grass and rather few trees". He identifies this region as the place where the Mbire, the ancestors of the Shona, according to him, temporarily settled in after they "started to trek out of Tanganyika towards the Zambezi River" in 900 A.D. (Chigwedere 1982, 32).

Interestingly, Chigwedere comes up with this new position in 1982, two years after he had identified Guruwuswa as Matabeleland in From Mutapa to Rhodes in 1980, but he does not attempt to make any explanation whatsoever for his new position!

Commenting on the term guruwuswa, Professor David Beach pointed out that "Guruwuswa was first noted as a land of [Shona] origin in 1904, and further references appeared in the 1920s, 1940s and 1950s. The publications of Donald Abraham in 1959-63 converted Guruwuswa into the province or empire of Guruwuswa [modern Matabeleland], writ large on the political map of the Zimbabwean plateau, and school books have now made this place of origin very well known indeed" (Beach 1994, 259-269).

It is partly on this basis that the Shona claim that Matebeleland was once their land that was stolen by the Ndebele. But it is interesting to know that the Shona have never at any point in history settled in Matabeleland. The histories of Abraham, later popularized by other writers, have come to thoroughly influence the Zimbabwean school history syllabus, and indeed to impact on the political economy of the country, distorted as they are!

Further Evidence of Shona Arrival in Zimbabwe in the 1700s

We also have more evidence that the Shona indeed arrived in what is now Zimbabwe about 300 years ago in the works of Professor David Beach. After conducting extensive research among the various Shona dynastic chieftaincies in the 1980s and 1990s, Professor Beach wrote: "For all I knew, it might not have been possible to get any sort of coherent pattern any earlier than about 1750 … " (Beach 1994, 8).
Beach's research findings revealed that virtually all Shona dynasties that have no Kalanga or Tonga[3] connections could not provide any coherent oral tradition that dates back to anything before 1700, and this is the case amongst dynasties in Mashonaland and Manicaland today. With reference to the Central and Northern Shona (the Zezuru and Manyika) and the dating of their dynasties, Professor Beach wrote:

According to the traditions, we have a series of migrations, nearly all moving from the north-east to the south-west, which overcomes very nearly all of the aboriginal inhabitants [i.e.,Bakalanga] of the area in the period 1700-1850. This, one could say, is practically the stereotype of Shona traditions.

Yet there are some odd features about the southern plateau history. Although it is most unusual for Shona genealogies to go much further back than 1700, even without the help of Portuguese documents it is possible to see that some dynasties in the center, north and east, have genealogies starting at about 1700 … (Beach 1994, 133).

The obvious question that arises from the above is: if the Shona have been in this land for as long as they claim today, why is it that none of their dynasties has a history going back beyond 1700? Or are we to assume that all their informants forgot their pre-1700 history in the land that is now Zimbabwe?

Is that just not testimony enough that there is actually no such history in the first place? The challenge is for Shona scholars and students to tell us what happened to lead all their informants to forget the pre-1700s history if that is what we are to assume.

Professor Beach has also raised a very interesting point in this regard. He informs us that in his extensive researches amongst the Shona groups, except in a very few instances, he did not find any oral traditions whatsoever that linked their dynasties to the Zimbabwe Ruins. No traditions existed amongst the Shona about the origins of the Zimbabwe Ruins, even though in some places Professor Beach found that the communities were living close to the edifices.

He noted that "Apart from the case of the zimbabwe on Gombe mountain in Buhera, there is no connection between the dynasties of the shava belt and any zimbabwe-type buildings, and their history cannot be projected back to the Great Zimbabwe period" (Beach 1994, 29).[4] The shava belt that Professor Beach is referring to is made up of the following Shona groups that are found mainly in Mashonaland and Manicaland:

In Bocha, in the angle of the Odzi and Save, Marange; in Buhera, on the south bank of the upper Save, the Nyashanu and Mutekedza dynasties, once part of the Mbiru dynasty; south of Buhera, the Munyaradze dynasty; west of the watershed … the Mushava, Nherera and Rwizi dynasties; … on the middle Mupfure, the Chivero dynasty; far to the west of Chivero, in the angle of Munyati and Mupfure, the Neuso dynasty; and west of the Munyati, on the Mafungabusi plateau, the Chireya, Njerere, Nemangwe, Nenyunga and Negonde dynasties, … the NeHarava and Seke dynasties of the upper Mhanyame, the Nyavira dynasty of the Gwizi flats and the Hwata and Chiweshe … dynasties of the upper Mazowe (Beach 1994, 28).

The same trend reported above is similar for most of the Shona dynasties that Professor Beach studied. For all we know, most of the Zimbabwe Ruins were already constructed by 1700, except for a few that were constructed in the 18th century.

This explains a lot about the date the Shona groups should have arrived in the country, for it would be impossible for them to have been in the land before 1000 A.D. and yet have no traditions about such major historical sites as the Zimbabwe Ruins. Interestingly, traditions connecting Bukalanga to the Ruins in the south and south-west of Zimbabwe, where most of the ruins are located, are in abundance [please see Chapter Five later].

Towards the conclusion of his book, Professor Beach wrote:

I began this chapter [Chapter 7] on an optimistic note, and it is on the same optimistic note that I wish to end it, and to bring this book to a close. Leaving aside details to an appendix, I can sum up by claiming that Shona oral traditions give us a reasonable basis for a history of the Zimbabwe plateau, but one going only back to about 1700 and often not as far (Beach 1994, 273).

One thing is very clear from the evidence presented above - from Portuguese documentary records, Shona oral traditions, the research of Professor Beach and archeology - that the ancestors of the people called Shona today arrived in the Zimbabwean Tableland around the 1700s, at least 1500 years later than the Kalanga peoples.

Is it possible then to reasonably identify a people whose migration was separated by such a long period of time as one and the same people, or to classify the earlier immigrants as a subgroup of the latter? Can a son be older than his father? And in any case, assuming that the Shona were descendants of the Kalanga, why then is nothing mentioned in school history books about the Kalanga, and why has none of the Shona scholars made any reference to that Kalanga ancestry?

Why is the record in school books talking of the Shona and not Bukalanga? Shouldn't we actually be saying that Shona is a dialect of Kalanga instead of the other way round, if indeed the Shona are descendants of the Kalanga? Do we say this father looks like his son or this son looks like his father when we are making comparisons in a father-son relationship?

This last statement applies especially to the proposition that TjiKalanga sounds like ChiShona. Is it not Shona that sounds like TjiKalanga? And does not the fact that Shona is intelligible to the Kalanga whereas TjiKalanga is not intelligible to the Shona not speak volumes about the origins and age of and influence on the languages? These are serious questions that beg for answers from Shona writers and scholars.


[1] Many Kalanga words have been recorded in history in Shona due to the fact that many researchers began their researches in Mashonaland where Shona history was already intermixed with that of the Kalanga who had fled the Ndebele from their homeland in the modern Matebeleland. The language had also already been affected, such that we find many Kalanga names given in Shona, for example, Dlembewu is given as Dyembeu, Tjilisamhulu as Chirisamhuru, Mwali as Mwari, Tjibundule as Chiwunduro. A look at works that were researched among Bakalanga, Vhavenda and Banambya keep the Kalanga renderings which are consistent with Portuguese documents and archeology.

- Ndzimu-unami Emmanuel Moyo, PMP


You May Like These Videos


There are no comments.

Latest stories

'Mnangagwa redefines corruption'

by Mandla Ndlovu | 19 July 2019 | 32 Views

ZESN condemns Zanu-PF vote buying

by Staff Reporter | 19 July 2019 | 77 Views

Ramaphosa 'deliberately misled parliament'

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 55 Views

SA Home Affairs has 3000 uncollected Zimbabwe permits

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 68 Views

How CIOs benefited from Jonathan Moyo's ZIMDEF funds

by Mandla Ndlovu | 19 July 2019 | 79 Views

Mnangagwa speaks on ailing Chiwenga

by Staff Reporter | 19 July 2019 | 199 Views

Police statement on Prophet Walter Magaya

by Mandla Ndlovu | 19 July 2019 | 123 Views

Temba Mliswa writes to Nelson chamisa

by Mandla Ndlovu | 19 July 2019 | 152 Views

USD$ 3 Billion disappears in Zimbabwe

by Mandla Ndlovu | 19 July 2019 | 177 Views

Jonathan Moyo speaks on rape allegations

by Mandla Ndlovu | 19 July 2019 | 168 Views

New wave of African stars prepare for debut NBA seasons

by Staff Writer | 19 July 2019 | 90 Views

'War Lords to take over Zimbabwe'

by Mandla Ndlovu | 19 July 2019 | 191 Views

How ZANU PF will be removed

by Blessing Vava | 19 July 2019 | 149 Views

Mnangagwa's wife apologises for burst up

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 207 Views

Kidnappers pounce on ex-MP Zindi's farm

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 120 Views

Road to be named after Mnangagwa

by Mandla Ndlovu | 19 July 2019 | 123 Views

Zimbabwe man in trouble over US$1m bank balance

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 122 Views

Talking about Gukurahundi therapeutic, says Mohadi

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 84 Views

US govt happy with Mthuli Ncube's TSP

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 95 Views

Steve Dyer dedicates song to Tuku

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 69 Views

Mnangagwa to commission more Zupco buses

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 91 Views

ZITF caught up in Rushwaya saga

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 73 Views

Supa seeks case dismissal

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 56 Views

RBZ takes reforms gospel to churches

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 70 Views

Mid-year bonus for pensioners

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 70 Views

Zimbabwe govt eating what it has killed, says Mthuli Ncube

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 68 Views

Health Ministry clarifies Lupane drugs distribution

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 63 Views

Bosso members refute 'social media ban' reports

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 46 Views

New players to get radio, TV licences

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 33 Views

4 armed robbers shot dead

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 52 Views

Lupane lecturers go on strike

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 50 Views

Mnangagwa's govt pampers chiefs

by Staff reporter | 19 July 2019 | 35 Views

Let's stamp out fear of witchcraft

by Fr Oskar Wermter SJ | 19 July 2019 | 75 Views

Mnangagwa needs to walk the talk on corruption

by Editorial - Newsday | 19 July 2019 | 70 Views