Nyanga’s Ziwa ruins

This week we look at the Ziwa Ruins in Nyanga’s chief Saunyama area in Manicaland province. Ziwa Ruins lie on the Ziwa farm formerly called the Van Niekerk Ruins which was previously owned by Fredrick Bernard and his family. Fortunately Fredrick and his family developed an avid interest in the pre-history of the area and in particular the remains of the ancient settlement on their farm. In May 1946 Fredrick generously donated 3337 hectares of land which included the Nyahokwe Ruins and Ziwa Ruins and many surrounding agricultural terraces to the National Museum and Monuments of Rhodesia.

The inhabitants of the Ziwa Ruin area are believed to have pursued a sound economy which was vibrant, self-sustaining and efficient based on agriculture. Agricultural production was largely based on mixed farming involving both crop production and animal husbandry.  Crop cultivation mainly involved growing of millet, sorghum and rapoko.  Animal husbandry concentrated on the rearing of a rare breed of small cattle, sheep, goats and other small livestock were also reared and must have roamed the pasturelands, valleys and the plains of the Ziwa. Ziwa people were also involved in hand craft manufacturing and remains of such artefacts are abundant from archaeological excavations. Iron smelting; pottery making, weaving, hunting, gathering and fishing among others were other the sectors of economic organization and development at Ziwa.

The Nyanga complex was shaped by the high rainfalls, geology, topography, climate, vegetation and the good soils. These factors prove beyond doubt that the growth and development of the Ziwa ruins complex rested on a favourable climatic environment. Agriculture was thus the backbone of the economy of the Saunyama people and this was supplemented by hunting and gathering, manufacturing, fishing and trading. Ziwa people were prosperous and self-reliant subsistent farmers as well as manufacturers and traders. Thus, the whole complex of the Ziwa ruins represents an agricultural society of industrious farmers and stock raisers whose culture developed about 1500 AD to sometimes in the late 18th century

It is intriguing  to identify WHO built the terraces and WHEN the ruins were constructed and WHY such enormous labour was expended on terracing the stony slopes and escarpments when there was plenty of land on the plateaux and in the lowlands which could be far more easily exploited by the inhabitants during the period of 1500- 1800AD. Terraces were defensive forts and were constructed around the 900 AD -1100AD. Radio carbon dating postulated the AD1200-AD1300.  Thus the paper will adopt radio carbon dating as the correct dates for occupation by the Saunyama dynasty at the Ziwa ruins.  

Oral traditions and archaeological evidence exposed that there are no indications of any major migrations or population replacement, so we must attribute the complex to relatively recent ancestors, even though little direct memory of the archaeological remains seems to be preserved. The core area of the complex north of Nyanga town falls within the territory of the Unyama people under Chief Saunyama. There appears to have been little basic change in the distribution of these political units for several centuries and the genealogies of their ruling dynasties extend at least well back into the 18th century in the case of the Saunyama and considerably further for others”.

Fertile environment and position of the slopes prompted the reasons for terrace construction.  However, some scholars speculated that, the Saunyama people were forced into an unfavourable environment of a defensive reaction to stronger antagonistic neighbours. This line of argument might be understandable for the highlands and the escarpments but it hardly applies to the low hills in the plains, which in no sense could provide a secure refugee. Hence it is quite plausible convincing that the Unyama people knew the technique of conservation the environment so they opted terracing to so as to arrest erosion. 

Terraces were also a means of maintaining water percolation hence promoting agricultural prosperity. This hypothesis supports the reasons why Saunyama people spent their enormous labour and energies on exploiting the stony environment.

The socio-political developments at Ziwa site complex was shaped by the growth, expansion and development of sound and efficient economic activities. Mainly the socio-political structures were governed and determined by the use of pottery by Saunyama people. Important to note is the population distribution at the site complex in a way to deduce the socio-political organisation of the Saunyama people. The Saunyama society constituted about 5000 Saunyama in the late 19th century.[1] The point depicts a picture testifying that the community was relatively small. Thus the small population density was responsible for executing duties oriented towards development and expansion. Oral source exposed it that, social stratification existed at Ziwa ruins. Evidence of burial practise at Ziwa site complex testified that the Ziwa people buried their deceased counterparts. Excavations at the ruins exposed that the dead were buried within the homesteads which was then abandoned. Thus, the people were civilised as they knew the concept of burring the dead. Pottery making played central role in the socio-political life of the Saunyama people. The type and style of pottery excavated at the Ziwa ruins helped to explain who the inhabitants of the Ziwa ruins were. Pottery making ensured practise of rain making ceremony and the installation of Saunyama chiefs. Pottery making ensured rainfall.  Rains were needed annually for the people and their livestock to survive as they largely depended on agricultural produces, willingly or unwillingly proper-rainmaking ceremonies characterised by use of traditional rain making utensils that include pottery have to be carried out each and every year as a survival strategy otherwise failure to do so results in drought. This mean that, rainfall was adequate in the region to sustain the livelihood of the Unyama since their society was agricultural based. Politically, the installation of the Saunyama chiefs was governed by the use of ritualistic vessels. Basically the vessel ‘hari youbaba’ amongst all vessels produced in the society was regarded as the most significant and thus shaping the politics of the Saunyama people. Therefore, the Saunyama culture and politics were governed by the use of pottery by the indigenous people.

In fact, the society of the Saunyama flourished and survived in a modest way over a period of 600 years by successive adaptions to varied environment. Interestingly to note is the drought factor that affected both structures although in different years and context emanating from different angles resulting in the decline of both complexes. The decrease in annual rainfall greatly affected the Nyanga agricultural economy that integrated crop cultivation and animal husbandry and other viable and lucrative economic activities that in the long run determines the smooth flow of the socio-political landscape. The struggle to and factionalism destroyed the Saunyama community resulting in the murder of chief Muozi. Also secessionist tendencies rocked the Unyama people complex which had the negative impact of draining the human resources that were the potential builders of economic growth. External factors also played a role in bringing the Ziwa ruins complex in a wage of turmoil and total collapse by the end of the 18th century.

By Leon Chigwanda- Leon is an Economic Historian and Lecturer.


Chief Mangwende (Nhowe people) history

Mangwende dynasty was started by the patriarchy of the Nhowe people, Sakubvunza in 1606 who established the Shona tradition state of Nhowe. Mukarate is a place in the northern eastern Murewa district of Zimbabwe. It is situated in Mashonaland East province and is almost entirely inhabited by Shona-speaking people of the Zezuru dialect. The traditional leaders/rulers of the area are the Nhowe people whose chieftainship is called Mangwende. Many of the Nhowe people use Mukarakate as a surname because it is the name of the great – great ancestor of the tribe. Their totem is ” Moyo Mukuni” which uses the bull as its symbolic animal, the heart is sacred not the whole body. In 2013 the then chief Jonathan Tafirenyika Chibanda passed on in South Africa. He was the President of the Chiefs Council. He was the son of Chataika Chibanda Mangwende. He became chief Mangwende in 1926 and died in 1936. He only ruled for 10 years.

Their chieftainship employs a system of collateral succession which alternates between houses of the dynasty. Mhotani (Bokoto)and Chitopi (Hundungu) houses ruled between (1833-1878). Hundungu is the first person to assume the ruling title Mangwende with proper infrastructure from the Rozvi. There was no common name in the reference to the chieftainship and previous chiefs used family names in respect to the clan , Nhowe.

Chieftainships and dates

Sakubvunza 1606- 1631

Gatsi  1633-1656

Mushawatu 1657-1681

Dembetembe 1681-1706

Mhonyera 1707-1731

Hwita 1732-1756

Zemura 1757-1781

Rota 1783-1831

Mhotani 1833-1857

Hundungu 1859-1878

Katerere 1878-1879

Mungate 1880-1924

Chibanda 1926-1936

Munhuwepayi 1937-1960

Enock 1960-1968

Chibanda 1969-2013

Mhotani (Bokoto) and Hundungu ( Chitopi) are the highest ranking names in the modern day history of Nhowe politics and they represent both chieftainships. In the case of Mungate 1 (Mushawatu) and Gatsi 1(Bukuto) houses are purely for administrative purposes and lineages lived in close proximity for over 3 centuries at Mahopo Chitopi Nyakambiri river near Marondera.

The Mangwende clan dominated the geographical area between Makoni and Mutoko in Mashonaland east in Zimbabwe and existed in the political format of traditional states. Mangwende had a fighting force that fought rival clans and was often called to defend allies in battle. Within their territory the Mangwende chieftainship had several  chiefs of surrounding clans under their protectorate who would pledge allegiance to chief Mangwende in return for military support if attacked by other rival chiefs.

Mangwende administered over welfare , security and all order of small chieftainships clans and presided in ceremonial duties.

The house of Hundungu who was chief from 1859-1878 and was the first to assume the title of chief Mangwende with proper Rozvi structure. Prior to this period all chiefs (mambo) were called or known by their family names. It was at this time that there was a bit of animosity between the two chieftainship lineages as it was alleged that the other lineage had attacked the other with a flock of bees from a charm (Gona).

Katerere father to Chirodza and Chibanda ruled for one year and died 1878-79 and was replaced by Mungate son of Hundungu who ruled from 1880-1924. He was the chief by that time when the white settlers arrived in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia. Most of the late Mangwende chiefs are buried at the Mangwende shrine in Mahopo Masekwa. The Bukuto house decided to bury their chiefs at Bokoto in Mukaravate. Only 3 chiefs were not buried at Mangwende shrine, Musekwa Mahopo being Katerere, Enoch and Chibanda 11.

White colonialists arrived around the period 1890 and disguised as hunters and missionaries and settled in the territory controlled by chief Mungate Mangwende. In about 1896, chief Mangwende fought white settlers who tried to impose on his territory in the famous battle known as the 1896 Rebellion. It led to his forces to defend chief Makoni who had also been involved in the resisting of white settlement rule.

Chief Mangate’s oldest son Muchemwa was given orders by his father to fight the colonialists white settlers in the 1896 with the uprising in conjunction with Mbuya Nehanda and Kaguvi. Mungate made peace with the white settlers in 1896 his son Muchemwa and other members of Nhowe  continued to wedge a guerilla type of war. This continued upto 1903 and ended in the fierce battle in Bokoto hills which lasted several weeks.

Muchemwa brokered a deal with the white settlers that he could only lay down his arms together with his lieutenants on condition that he did not face prosecution.They agreed on one condition that he resided next to Murewa District Headquarters where he will be monitored. After the rebellion the white settlers took over the fertile land in Mahopo Musekwa and chief Mungate was moved to a place called Rota; Chamachinda. The village around Murehwa district centre is known as the Mangwende village at the time of Muchemwa’s death in 1909 (murdered his father while still on throne) but he left three sons Mbumbira, Munhuwepayi and Maiziveyi.

Munhuwepayi became a chief of Mangwende village and the entire Murehwa area from 1937- 1960.

He was disposed from chieftainship for continually disagreeing and criticising white settlers administration decisions which deemed to be gross insubordination. Another contributing reason ; he participated in politics 1950-50s up to independence 1980. Once dethroned he was sent to detention at Gonakudzingwa restriction camp (where they banish and sleep) in the Southern Rhodesia near Mozambique border. He was not permitted to enter the near Salisbury (25 km radius) or visiting his relatives and children. He died in 1988 and buried at Mangwende shrine. It was his brother’s sons who performed the rights for the chief Munhuwepayi to be buried at the shrine.

Gwai/Chuma totem Eulogy

Maita Gwai, Maita mukuruwambwa, Maita zambu, Vane chuma chisingaverengwi Vakatorerwa umambo naMabvakure, Maita hwai yangu iyi, Ikachema kunofa dangwe, Ukaidya unopera mazino, Maita vana vaMbarure, Maita vana vaChigondo, Vanemumba makazvarwa murungu, Zvaitwa mhuri yaNyamhunga, Zvaitwa mhuri yaGora, Maita zvenyu vari Goromonzi, Vari Mharamasimbe, Kuziva zvenyu vari Manyewe, Vari Baramhanya, Tatenda vari Mburwi, Zvaitwa, Zvaitwa Gono, Zvaitwa Gumbi, Zvaitwa Gwai, Maita vari Mhondoro, Maita Sembe, Chuma-Chitunge, Tinotenda vari kwaMashayamombe, Tinotenda Chinhove changu chichi, Zvaonekwa vari Doworo, Maita mwana waGora, Zvaonekwa Gwai rangu iri, Zvaonekwa Mukuruwambwa. Zvaonekwa Mushambadzi. Zvaonekwa Kota. Zvaonekwa Muzanarwo Zvaonekwa chibaba chavose MHIRIZHONGA

Nzou-Samanyanga Totem

Maita nzou, maita nzou mhukahuru

Mutsika panotinhira

Vakaita hasha vanodzura miti

Maita mhukahuru

Dzese mbwende dzinopatiza masvika

Vasina hanganwa

Vana mutyora sango

Vakakubata iyewe wedzoro huru

Unotochiona chete

Vanorangarira

Maita nzou

Machengeta sango

Ivo zhou

Vanadzo dzisingabhende

Dzinoti dzikabaya dzinosvika kuhongonya
Maita madyemhihwa
Magutsa vana 
Vakuru vomusha
Mhuka isina mushishi

Building Family Tree made easy

Are you interested in knowing your family history, where your great grandparents came from, what their tribe or race was, what their professions were and much more? Family history seems elusive these days as parents and elders no longer relay this important information to their children and grandchildren. This has also been exacerbated by a surge in urbanisation and gradual decay of the extended family concept. Few families document family history and a sizable number of the young generation do not know beyond their grandfathers.

It is therefore important to record this information in a way that will make it easier and convenient for future and current generations to access . This is the main focus of Zimtribes.com, a website that helps Zimbabweans to document and preserve their family history for centuries to come. Registered members can easily construct their family trees and send links to relatives and friends. The platform also provides an opportunity for prolific history writers to showcase their talents and write about history of places, names, great people, country etc.

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  1. Open www.zimtribes.com and click on register or login if you already have an account- try to complete all or the most important details.
  2. After registering, log in and click on “Lineage” tab and click on the node (box) with your name (the border will turn blue).
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  5. Go to homepage and search your surname, totem, chief, town or village.

Example of a Family tree extracted from www.zimtribes.com

Why Do Family History Research?

First of all, finding about more about your family can be a truly eye-opening experience!

Discover personal history

Your family’s personal history can be simply fascinating! Maybe you’ll find out that your great-grandmother was studying to be a pharmacist or that your grandfather had a number of patented inventions. You can not only learn where your ancestors came from, the languages they spoke and the religion they practiced, but also personal stories, like how your great-grandparents met and fell in love.Family involvement in the community. By researching your family history, you may learn things about your home town that you never knew before. It’s even possible that your ancestors helped found the town where much of your family still resides.

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Medical history

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As you do your family history research, be sure to share what you’ve found with other family members. Learning and sharing the stories, customs, and even how ancestors may have overcome tragedy can help preserve your current family circle, keeping the history alive for generations to come.