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Rozwi Empire

Capital Danamombe
Language(s) Shona-Rozwi
Religion Cult of Mwari
Political structure Kingdom
 - c. 1660 - c. 1695 Changamire Dombo(first)
 - 1831 - 1866 Changamire Tohwechipi (last)
 - Rozwi conquest of Butua 1660
 - Ndebele conquest of Rozwi 1866

The Rozwi Empire or Rozvi Empire was established on the Zimbabwean Plateau by the famous Changamire Dombo.



In 1693 the Portuguese were defeated by the Rozwi. Modern scholars think they were led by Changamire Dombo, whose power was based in Butua in the southwest. The Rozwi were formed from several Shona states that dominated the plateau of present-day Zimbabwe at the time. The Portuguese were driven off the central plateau and only retained a nominal presence at one of the fairs in the eastern highlands. The whole of present-day Zimbabwe was brought under the control of Changamire and became known as the Rozwi Empire. This fierce tribe of warriors was to be known as the Rozvi people and after driving the Portuguese out of the area, went on to establish the Rozvi Empire.[1] They established their capital at Danamombe, also known as Dhlo-Dhlo (the Ndebele name).

Many sources see the Rozvi not as a recovering segment of the Mutapa people, but in fact a people in its own right emerging under the wing of the Mutapa (compare the rise of the Khumalo from under the Zulu nation). Once the administrative power of the Mutapa began to fail to control the whole empire (for unlike European kingdoms and empires, they did not have ways of maintaining complete control, therefore establishing sub-monarchs), a leader of the people of guruuswa who was given the title Changamire, who was known as Dombo, became independent from the Mutapa and when the Portuguese took over, led rebellions against European rule. The area of the Rozwi empire fluctuated. Its influence extended over much of present-day Zimbabwe and westward into Botswana and southward into northeastern South Africa.

Many tales identify Dombo ('Rock') as Chikura Wayembeu, but modern scholars agree that this was due to a confusion with another leader of a different people.

Technology, Economy and Culture

The Rozwi chiefs revived the tradition of building in stone and constructed impressive cities throughout the southwest. Polychrome pottery was also emblematic of its culture. The economic power of the Rozwi Empire was based on cattle wealth and farming with significant gold mining continued. Trade was established with Arab traders where metals such as gold and copper and ivory were exchanged for luxury goods. Records from the Portuguese account have shown that the Rozvi were expert military strategists and that they had used the cow-horn formation years before the great Zulu leader Shaka had. Without the use of guns and cannons, but spears and bows and arrows, the aggressive Rozvi took over the plateau.[1]

Modern historians, particularly in Botswana and South Africa now believe that the Rozvi people were not part of the Mwene Mutapa aristocracy. Further a lot of things separate them from Shona people. To start with the Rozvi have their own languages the main one of which is tjiKalanga. There seems to be growing agreement on this point. It has been said that Kalanga is a variant of Shona and that it comes from either Zezuru or Karanga. This reasoning is not consistent with the fact that the Rozvi were the overlords of Zimbabwe. Important Zimbabwean shrines were found in BuLozvi, which has always been Kalanga speaking. It follows therefore that Kalanga, not Shona, was the official language of Zimbabwe during the time of the Rozvi reign. It therefore falls to be said that the Shona variants actually derive from Kalanga and not the other way. However, whilst respecting this view, it is important to note that most Zimbabwean scholars, and especially those with an understanding of the Rozvi people, would disagree with this view and would rather agree with or sympathise with a view that the Rozvi were indeed Karanga and not Kalanga's. This is consistent with the view that the Rozvi people rose out of the Mwene Mutapa empire, in the same way the Khumalos rose out of the Zulu empire. There is strong evidence that supports this view, but most importantly an understanding of who the Rozvi people are. The present day Rozvi descendents are shona speaking, these are the "Vayera Moyo's" those who share the Moyo totem. Indeed this is the distinguishing feature of all the Rozvi people, they all share the same totem, namely, the Moyo totem. It is indeed true that one can not claim to be Rozvi and not have the Moyo totem and vice versa. That is to say no one can claim to have the Moyo totem and not be Rozvi. All the people with the Moyo totem are one, the Shona saying is "Moyo imwe chete" which literally means that all the people with the Moyo totem are one. This must not be confused with the surname or second name which is Moyo. Totems, are significant in that they can only be passed on through birth, thus all the people with the Moyo totem are related. There are various sub-totems (zvidawo- plural chidawo- singular, which come under the broad Moyo Totem umbrella. Examples of such sub-totems or variants of the Moyo totem are, Moyo Ndizvo, Moyo yavaDuma, Moyo Chirandu, Moyo Murimirwa, and many more. Now, it is true that there are people with the Moyo totem who are Kalangas. How can we explain this? Another even more important question is to ask wether the Kalangas are the main or a sub-group of the people with the Moyo totem? The honest truth is that the Moyo totem that can be linked to the Kalanga only comprises a minor fraction of the totality of the people with the Moyo totem who are not Kalangas, and History can also help us explain this apparent anomally, why there appears to be two different people groups who share the same totem. This appears to be a contradiction, as has been pointed out earlier, all people who share the Moyo totem are one.

When the Ndebele under the leadership of Dingiswayo (a general in Mzilikazi's army who temporarily took over leadership when Mzilikazi died,) came to the area where the Karangas lived and then under the leadership of Lobengula the son and successor of Mzilikazi the great leader of the Ndebeles, managed to subdue most of the shona living in the now Matebeleland area of present day Zimbabwe. The conquered peoples were foced to assume new names and a new culture as part of their assimilation into the ndebele nation. The Karangas, became the Kalangas, which is mainly karanga with ndebele overtures, for example, in the ndebele alphabet "r" is replaced by "l" so Karanga became Kalanga.

The argument that claims that the Rozvis are Kalangas quotes the praise poetry for Rozvi people. The praises of the Rozvi of Bhasvi's line are: "Sai, Gumborevhura, vana meso ari patiko...chulu chamafunde manji! Vumavaranda..Mutengeni wazvozvovenga; muti unokope chirimo; zhizha ukakozhe ndove and chipwanya mateteni!" The Shona equivalent for Gumborevura is Gumboremvura,"tiko" is gotsi, "mateteni": zvinhu zvakaoma, "chulu": churu, "manji": mazhinji. Given that Bhasvi's people are found mainly in Wedza and in parts of Murehwa and Mhondoro all in Mashonaland and the language above is more close to Kalanga than the Zezuru variant of the Shona which is the prominent dialect of Mashonaland the theory that Bhasvi's people are not originally Shona is somewhat established. Further the names Rozani and Bhasvi will be found nowhere else among other Shona groups except the Rozvi. However, again this is a very shallow and narrow minded approach to a more complex and diverse subject. There indeed are many many Rozvi people who are not Kalangas and, in fact, the Rozvi people themselves would not identify themselves as Kalangas. That is not to say the are no Kalangas that are Rozvi. The argument here is what came first, is it the Rozvi or was it the Kalangas. History tells us that The Kalangas emerged as a mixture of mainly Karanga groups being incooparated into the Ndebele culture as recently as the early 1800s, on the other hand history tells us that the Rozvis have been around since the early sixteenth century. A full discussion of this important subject would warrant more in-depth discussion and a much broader approach to this very important subject not least for the fact that it centers on the identity of who the Rozvi people are. What is not in dispute, however is that the Rozvi people are the people with the Moyo totem, and that this indeed is the distinguishing feature of this great warrior people.

A school of thought has emerged that suggests that the Rozvi could actually have been an earlier alien invasion from the south of the Limpompo. Three reasons for that are that in fact it was Tombolaikonachimwango [Changamire Dombo] and not Shaka who first used both the assegai and the "cowhorn formation" known as "mulomo akumba/the mouth has visited" in Rozvi. It was this that defeated the Portuguese several times and therefore the military genius that is accredited to Shaka was started by Changamire Dombo. Another reason is the similarity of tjiKalanga to SePedi and Tsonga which are both South African languages. Historians in Botswana have argued that the Rozvi are in fact a group of BaPedi who took advantage of the confusion in the Mutapa empire and conquered it. We also have to remember that the names Rozvi and Mire are both Portuguese and Changamire's real name was "Changa". As much as this view has its own merits it does have its own short falls, and does not seem to hold water after further scruitny. We know for a fact that the Rozvis demonstrated great military genius and as pointed out were the first to use the cow horn formation. The use of the assegai, which is the short stabbing spear has no documented evidence or been associated with the Rozvi people and neither the Rozvi people themselves, or any Zimbabwean historians have ever made such claims. The second anomaly with the above argument is that it seems to credit the Rozvi military genius to an association to a South African origin. The only problem with this point of view is that the Rozvi's were in present day Zimbabwe as early as the mid-15th century and the military genius associated with Chaka was only seen in the early 19th century. The time line does not support this argument. Secondly, one would then have to explain why these people were moving north, whereas the general trend in those days was to move further south, were there was less pressure and competition for grazing pastures, and land for hunting, farming and virgin lands for new settlements. Thirdly, oral history does not seem to support this view either. There is no record in Zimbabwean oral history that seems to support this argument in part or in its totality. This would probably explain why no single Zimbabwean historian has ever come up with this view and why even to this day it remains a theory alien to the peoples of Zimbabwe. If such an insurgence had occurred with the ferocity and scale that is being suggested here it would be very difficult to explain why it is totally absent in any oral history of the Zimbabwean people to this day. At best then, this theory does not seem to hold water, and seems to raise more questions than answers.

The debate on the origins of the Rozvi has also led South African historians in particular to say the group may be alien to even southern Africa. They have pointed at religion. The Rozvi are the only southern African tribe that has a single Deity. Unlike other groups the Rozvis had shrines and prayed directly to a single God without the intervention of the spirits of dead relatives or "amadlozi". Their main shrine is at Njelele in Matabeleland. The Rozvi have always prayed directly to God without seeking the intercession of any spirit of dead relatives. The Rozvi religion is strikingly similar to modern mainstream religions. The Moyo and Ncube people are the custodians and 12 women who are above fifty-years old, 12 men who are above fifty years, 12 virgin boys and 12 virgin girls help with the chores at Njelele. The number 12 is so strikingly similar to the same number in the Bible. The Rozvi also did not pay homage to spirits of dead relatives.

A further separation is that in the past the Rozvi did not accept any dowry prices for their female children. A Rozvi child gave birth to a Rozvi, and this did not matter whether it was a Rozvi daughter or son. George Fortune pointed at those people with the totems Moyo Muzukuru, and "Soko Moyondizvo" the children of Rozvi daughters who took the totems of their mothers.

Politics and decline

There is the call that warrants further research in Rozvi history. But just to start with a rebuttal, a school of thought that has suggested that Kalanga as a language is a somewhat corrupted version of Karanga by Ndebele simply fails to take heed of the fact that Kalanga or tjiLilima is a stand alone language and has been so even during the times of the Torwa State. It is therefore not correct to conclude to such a corruption.

Further examination points in fact points out that the current Kalanga language is corrupted by Ndebele in particular and Shona to a limited extent as the language lost its influence with the loss of political power when the Rozvi empire finally crumbled in Zimbabwe. We must also not forget that the movement of the Rozvi from present day Matabeleland actually predates the mfecane period. George Fortune in Shona Praise Poetry points out how the Rozvi King Netjasike rebelled against the Tobela or Mwali cult and how a prophecy had warned him "Pasina Tumbale gwana gwaitswa muchoto! If it were not for Tumbale your children would have perished!" It then goes on to point out how a prophecy of Tobela had pointed out that two small armies would come to destroy the Kingdom. The King was said to have been angered by this and he destroyed every medium from which the voice spoke; rocks, trees etc. Then the same voice spoke through the King's eldest son and his advisers told him that he should execute him. It is said that when the decision wsa being made it was in the hut of the senior most Queen and that she had hid all her three sons somewhere in the heart. During the discussion she is said to have kept on saying: "Tjili mudhengu uchizwihwila.....the one who is hiding hear for yourself" which was to warn her sons. It is said that once the discussion was over the sons and some of their comrades had to flee from the impending executions and this was with the blessing of both the King and the Queen. It seems this is why they managed to leave with a lot of people.

Some settled in Mashonaland. There is a line in the praises of some of the Moyo Dewa, Zuruvi which says Mapembwe, vokwa chili mudhengu uchizvihwila! Now this predates the coming of the Khumalo. We should also not forget that the coming of the Khumalo itself scattered the Rozvi who had remained in Matabeleland. Tohwetjipi or Sibumbamu kept fighting against Mzilikazi and it seems he had the help of the then Chirimuhanzu who was a nephew of his. Some of the Rozvi who settled in Mashonaland were actually from these periods.All the ancient capitals of the Rozvi: Manyanga, Danangombe and Khame are all in the Midlands and Matabeleland. Presently the BaLobedu of South Africa seem to be the only remaining Rozvi Kingdom. They call themselves BaLotswi and retain Dewa and Sai as they praises and Thobela as a salutation. They seem to say the Rozvi have four languages which are referred to as the Lobedu group of languages and these are SeLobedu saMotjatji/SiLotswi [which is similar to Venda], Kalanga, Karanga and Shankwe. The Rozvi seem to have had a class system that is similar to Ndebele and the Shankwe seem to have been low in that classification.

Another group that is often forgotten is baNambya led by Chief Hwange. In a 1924 book "Ndebo yengombe Luvizho!" they are referred to as an offshoot of the Rozvi. The Rozvi are a very important people in African history but it seems their full story is yet to be told.


See also



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