Sunday, 14 April 2013

Great Zim II: origins

The great kingdom of the early Shona people in the 12th - 16th century lay here at Great Zimbabwe. It is the second largest man-made stone structure in Africa following the pyramids. Archaeologists confirmed the complex was built by Africans, rather than other debated origins such as Phoenicians. It is no Macchu Picchu, but is impressive for it's solid stonework made WITHOUT any mortar and is largely still standing. 

Brief history lesson: British  Cecil Rhodes colonized this land in the late 1880s forming (Southern) Rhodesia, which combined with northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi) to form a federation. By 1960s, Malawi split off. Ian Smith declared Rhodesia independent in essential rebellion from Britain, since they parents had a rule of no independence before minority rule and Rhodesia was entrenched in white majority government. This is when Mugabe and others led civil war to overthrow the white govt that only apartheid South Africa recognized anyways. In 1980, independence was granted and Mugabe elected president. Country renamed from Shona dzimba
(house) dza (of) mabwe (stone), referencing these Great Zimbabwe ruins. 

The ruins are a 3-part complex. The first is a hilltop residence of the King and his senior sister-wife. It's designed as a fortress and works in the natural boulders into the design, like this passage that forced visitors (or attackers) to go up single file.
The king's meetings were held in this courtyard, where he and his wife made decisions from the wing of the Eagle shaped edifice. The  bird motif is repeated in soapstone totems (now in a museum) with one to represent each king. 

The Great Enclosure is composed of an inner and outer wall that served to train the town's boys & girls in daily activities. The walls of the enclosure are 4 m wide at the base and 3 m wide at the top, with no mortar between the brick. A feat! The conical tower is an icon of Zimbabwe and was previously featured on the Zim dollar. Now they just use the US dollar, everywhere, in a cash market society. 

The Village complex is the home to the junior wives (apparently polygamy was practiced).  Traditional dance and dress with animal skins. Anklets were tied to the calves with shakers made from dried gourd.

Last time I traveled to South America and Ladakh, India, I was impressed with the similarities in dress, practices like women carrying tying children to their backs and loads on their heads, and various styles of anklets or music dance amplification.

The archaeologist in me wondered about the story of Great Zimbabwe, and what evidence supported many of the claims. While the majority of the story is from the oral tradition, there is evidence of diet/kitchen from animal bones, beads, pottery in varying levels that have been carbon dated showing the different timing of occupation, and trade items from China or the Middle East supporting Great Zimbabwe as a town of trade. Although this area is land-locked, it was full of gold and attracted visitors from far away. Even today!


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