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The Rise and Fall of Zimbabwe

  • T. N. Huffman (a1)

Two hypotheses are available for the origin of the Zimbabwe culture. A religious hypothesis attributes its development to an African society in isolation, placing it in the class of a primary state. In contrast, the trade hypothesis maintains that it was a secondary state resulting from the gold trade.

If the religious hypothesis is correct, then Zimbabwe would be an exception to all other known cases of primary state formation. The archaeological evidence points to a horticultural subsistence throughout the Iron Age sequence in the area and a small population until Period III/IV. On the other hand, all known primary states were based on large populations and intensive agriculture. It is more likely that Zimbabwe is a typical case of secondary state formation.

The stratigraphy on the Acropolis indicates that a social transition from Period II to III probably occurred at Zimbabwe and was not the result of an immigrant group, and the short chronology places this transition around A.D. 1250. The evidence available from Arab documents, trade imports and ancient mining demonstrates that trade existed well before then. Consequently, the evolution of the Zimbabwe culture was almost certainly due to the Arab gold trade.

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1 Randall-MacIver D., Mediaeval Rhodesia (London: MacMillan and Co., 1906), 85.

2 Abraham D. P., ‘The early political history of the Kingdom of Mwena Mutapa (850–1589)’, in Historians in Tropical Africa, Proceedings of the Leverhulme Inter-Collegiate History Conference (Salisbury, 1962), 6192.Fagan B. M., Southern Africa during the Iron Age (London: Thames and Hudson, 1965), 120–1.

3 Caton-Thompson G., The Zimbabwe Culture, Ruins and Reactions (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931), 196–9.Jaffey A. J. E., ‘A reappraisal of the history of the Rhodesian Iron Age up to the fifteenth century’, J. Afr. Hist. VII, 2 (1966), 193–4.Summers R., ‘Ancient Mining in Rhodesia’, Natn. Mus. Rhod. Mem. 3 (1969), 218.

4 Caton-Thompson, Zimbabwe Culture, 6985.

5 K. R. Robinson, ‘Excavations on the Acropolis Hill’, in Summers R., Robinson K. R. and Whitty A., ‘Zimbabwe excavations; 195,’ Occ. Papers Natn. Mus. Sth Rhod. III, 3A (1961), 159–92.

6 Randall-MacIver, Mediaeval Rhodesia; Caton-Thompson, Zimbabwe Culture; Summers, et. al., ‘Zimbabwe excavations’ op cit.

7 Summers, ibid, 326–30.

8 Garlake P. S., ‘The value of imported ceramics in the dating and interpretation of the Rhodesian Iron Age,’ J. Afr. Hist. IX, I (1968), 1333.

9 E.g. Summers, Ancient Mining, 126. Although a sixteenth century date is accepted for the end of the sequence, separate classes and periods are kept. In ‘Forty years progress in Iron Age studies in Rhodesia, 1929–69,’ S. Afr. archaeol. Bull. xxv (1970), 95103, Garlake's work is entirely omitted.

10 Garlake P. S., ‘Rhodesian ruins–a preliminary assessment of their styles and chronology,’ J. Afr. Hist. XI, 4 (1970), 508.

11 Abraham D. P., ‘The early political history of the kingdom of Mwene Mutapa,’ 67.

12 Mary Aquina Sr., O.P. (Weinrich Dr. A. K. H.), ‘The Tribes in Victoria Reserve,’ NADA,IX, 2 (1965), 8.

13 The Journals of Carl Mauch, 1869–1872, Burke E. E. (ed.) (Salisbury, 1969), 215–18.

14 Aquina, ‘Tribes in Victoria Reserve,’ 89.

15 Read M., The Ngoni of Nyasaland (London), 89.

16 von Sicard H., ‘The Durnbuseya,’ NADA, IX, 5 (1968), 22–3, describes this, but wrongly assumes Zwangendaba to be the ‘Swazi’ leader. A much more accurate account by W. M.Thomas in 1906 (National Archives of Rhodesia, A 3/18/28, N. C. Insize to C.N.C. Bulawayo, 16 May 1906) identified ‘Masesenyana’, who was in turn identified as Ngwana Maseko by Liesegang G. J., ‘Nguni migration between Delagoa Bay and the Zambezi, 1821–1839,’ African Historical Studies, III, 2 (1970), 319.

17 Mauch, 186. This information regarding oral tradition has been supplied by D. N. Beach.

18 Summers, Ancient Mining, 126.

19 Huffman T. N., ‘Excavations at Leopard's Kopje Main Kraal: A preliminary report,’ S. Afr. Archaeol. Bull. XXVI (1971), 495513.

20 Y-135−17, A.D. 1050±65 (Bambandyanalo) and SR-134, A.D. 1090±95 (Mawala Hill).

21 Garlake, ‘Rhodesian ruins,’ 504.

22 M-914, AM. 1085±150, Robinson, op. cit. 191.

23 Garlake P. S., ‘New Rhodesian Iron Age radiocarbon dates,’ Rhodesian Prehistory, III (1969), 8.

24 Summers, op. cit. 126.

25 Garlake P. S., ‘Test excavations at Mapela Hill, near the Shashi River, Rhodesia,’ Arnoldia, Rhod. III, 34 (1968), 129.

26 Summers, Ancient Mining, 524–8;Phillipson D. W. and Fagan B. M.The date of the Ingombe Ilede burials,’ J. Afr. Hist. X, 2 (1969), 199204.

27 Abraham, ‘History of Mwene Mutapa,’ 61–2.

28 Garlake, ‘Rhodesian ruins,’ 507. All of the Later Iron Age ceramic traditions share many attributes, and it is possible that they had a common ancestor. But it is a complete misunderstanding of ceramic typology to consider Zimbabwe Class 2 as part of the Leopard's Kopje tradition or to have derived from it.

29 Webb M. C., ‘Carneiro's hypothesis of limited land resources and the origins of the state; a Latin Amerianist's approach to an old problem,’ S East. Latin Amst. XII, 3 (1968), 18.

30 Carneiro R. L., ‘Slash-and-burn cultivation among the Kuikuru and its implications for cultural developments in the Amazon basin,’ in Cohen Y. A. (ed.), Man in Adaptation: The Cultural Present (Chicago: Aldine, 1968), 131–45.Webb, ‘Carneiro's hypothesis’.

31 ‘Description of the situations, customs and produce of some places of Africa (c. 1518),’ in Documents on the Portuguese in Mozambique and Central Africa (Lisbon: National Archives of Rhodesia and Centro de Estudos Historicos Ultramarinos, 1966), v, 373–81. ‘Notes made by Gasper Veloso, clerk of the factory of Mozambique and to the King (c. 1512)’, in Documents, III (1964), 181–9.

32 Freeman-Grenville G. S. P., The East African Coast–select documents from the first to the early 19th century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), 1417.

33 Burke E. E., ‘Some aspects of Arab contact with Southern Africa,’ in Historians in Tropical Africa (1962), 93166.

34 Freeman-Grenville, ‘Select documents,’ 23–4.Burke, ‘Arab contact,’ 101.

35 Kindly identified by N. Chittick.

36 Freeman-Grenville, op. cit. 31.

37 Chittick N., ‘A new look at the history of Pate,’ J. Aft. Hist. x, 3 (1969), 375–91.Discoveries in the Lamu Archipelago,’ Azania. III (1969). 3767.

38 Summers, Ancient Mining, 197–8.

39 Huffman T. N., ‘Cloth from the Iron Age in Rhodesia,’ Arnoldia, Rhod. v, 14 (1971), 15.

40 Robinson, ‘Excavations on the Acropolis’.

41 Schofield J. F., ‘Southern African beads and their relation to the beads of Inyanga’, in Summers R., Inyanga; Prehistoric Settlement in Southern Rhodesia (Cambridge: University Press, 1959), Appendix 10, 180229.

42 Huffman T. N., unpublished field notes.

43 Robinson K. R., ‘Archaeology of the Rozvi,’ in Stokes E. and Brown R. (eds), The Zambesian Past: Studies in Central African History (Manchester: University Press, 1966), 327.

44 Fouché L., Mapungubwe, ancient Bantu civilization on the Limpopo (Cambridge: University Press, 1937);Gardner G. A., Mapungubwe, Vol. 2 (Pretoria: Van Schaik, 1963).

45 Fagan B. M., Iron Age cultures in Zambia, Vol. I (London: Chatto & Windus, 1967).

46 Summers, Ancient Mining, 184–94.

47 Ibid. 119.

48 Phillipson D. W. and Fagan B. M., ‘The date of the Ingombe Ilede burials,’ 199204.

49 Summers, op. cit. 134.

50 Gluckman M., ‘Economy of the Central Barotze plain’, Rhodes Livingstone Papers No.7;Smith A., ‘The trade of Delagoa Bay as a factor in Nguni politics, 1750–1835,’ in Thompson L. (ed.) African Societies in Southern Africa (New York: Praeger, 1969), 171–89.

51 Webb, ‘Carneiro's hypothesis’.

52 E.g. Leopard's Kopje. Robinson K. R., ‘The Leopard's Kopje culture its position in the Iron Age of Southern Rhodesia,’ S. Aft. Arthaeol. Bull. XXI, 81 (1966), 26.

53 Garlake, ‘Rhodesian ruins,’ 507–8.

54 Ibid. 507.

55 Abraham, ‘History of the Mwene Mutapa,’ 62.

56 Ibid. 62.

57 Abraham D. P., ‘The Monomotapa dynasty,’ NADA, XXXVI (1959), 5984.

58 Previous drafts of this paper have benefited by comments from Dr D. N. Beach, Mr G. Bell-Cross, Mr C. K. Cooke, Miss P. Hobley, Mr M. A. Raath, and Mrs R. White.

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