The Empire of Mutapa
The Mutapa, or Mwene-Mutapa, or Great Zimbabwe empire was a great empire which covered both Zimbabwe, central Mozambique, and other parts of neighboring countries. The Mutapa empire was led by the Mwene-Mutapa, and the name means “Lord of the Realm” or “Owner of the Mines”. Mwene means “Lord” or “Owner”, and Mutapa means ” Realm” or “Mines”. The Mutapa empire existed from about 900CE to 1902CE (CE = Common Era), and was about 1002 years old. In the 1400s, the capital now known as Great Zimbabwe, was abandoned by the leaders of the empire. The two princes would take many people with them; one would go north and the other west. Although the main leader of the empire moved north, the ruling dynasty was still the same bloodline, and the empire continued to thrive and expand, gaining new trading routes and partners. The people of Mutapa were mainly from the Shona group (previously called the Karanga group). Other groups such as the Lower Zambezi Tonga (of modern-day Mozambique) also served in the Great Council of Mutapa.
The Shona/Karanga people have no idols, but believe in one supreme God named Mwari. According to the Shona, Mabweadziva or Matonjeni, is where the first man was created by Mwari. Mwari, the Supreme Being, made the first man, Musikavanhu, in the heavens. He put the man to sleep and dropped him down to earth. As Musikavanhu was falling he awakened and saw a stone falling near him. Mwari told him to step onto the stone, and they landed softly on the ground. Water gushed from the place the stone landed with Musikavanhu and it became a scared place for the Shona. Musikavanhu had dreams and visions of birds and animals. When he awakened, his dreams and visions had come true. Birds flew through the skies and animals roamed the earth. A woman appeared and when Musikavanhu touched her, she came to life and became his wife. Musikavanhu instructed their children in the ways they were to live and then he and his wife went to the heavens to dwell with Mwari. Musikavanhu exists within the shadow of Mwari, and the earth exists within the shadow of Musikavanhu.
The Shona / Karanga people believe their dead ancestors go to Nyikadzimu (Ancestral Spirit World), and refer to them as Mudzimu. They call upon them in times of need, as others do to saints. The spirits of their kings return as lions called Mhondoro, and the word Mhondoro is also used to refer to the founding father of the Dynasty. The Mhondoro ancestral creed, and the Mwari Creed, were the largest and most extensive creeds in Southern Africa. In the hierarchy of spirits, Mwari is the Supreme Being and Lord of all spirits. Under Mwari is the Gombwe spirit. It is second in the hierarchy of spirits, these being spirits which were thought to have never have been human beings. The worship of Mwari is done through ancestral spirits known as Mhondoro. There is a hierarchy of ancestral spirits. On the top being the mhondoro, and on the bottom being the mudzimu. A mhondoro is an ancestral spirit of a king who started a dynasty. A mudzimu is a family ancestral spirit.
The Pre 1450CE Mutapa Empire
The Mutapa empire was an expansion of another Shona / Karanga civilization which dates back a century or so from the year 1000CE. This civilization is known as Mapungubwe, and its first king was called Tovera (Thovhele) Nemapungubwe. To know who the Shona, and their close relatives are, we must know their sacred ancestors. The earliest recorded “Mhondoro”, or royal ancestor of the Shona, and their close relatives such as the Venda, and Lobedu is Tovera. He is also known as Thobela or Thovhele (Nemapungubwe) by the Venda, and he was the first recorded legendary king. There is a song which recognizes Tovera as the royal ancestor of the Shona, it includes the following lyrics: “Tovera mudzimu dzoka! Vana vanorwara. Mudzimu dzoka! Kwaziwai Tovera!” There is also a road in Zimbabwe named after Tovera. The son of Tovera was Mambire. He was the father of the legendary Murenga Pfumojena Sororenzou, also known as Thohoyandou. Murenga Sororenzou was the founder architect of Zimbabwe, and is also the legendary ‘Murenga’ after whom all the liberation wars of Zimbabwe are named. He is revered as the great ancestral spirit of war. It was recorded that during the Chimurenga war, Shona warriors would shout the war-cry “Murenga wamuka” meaning “The God of War has awakened.” When hunting, Shona hunters would shout “Komborera, Murenga” meaning “Bless, oh God” and the animal would instantly fall or die. Murenga was the father of the original Runji, Chaminuka, Nehanda, and Mushavatu. Today there is a city in South Africa named after him. Murenga was the Manyusa, the emissary of Mwari who who aided the Shona/Karanga people in great wars.
Mapungubwe was one of the first major cities of the Shona ancestors in Mutapa / Madzimbabwe, or Southern Africa. They later moved to Zimbabwe and built their capital at Wedza in Marondera. The original Chaminuka’s son, Kutamadzoka, became Mwene-Mutapa I. After Kutamadzoka his brother, Chingwangu, became Mwene-Mutapa II. He moved the capital to Great Zimbabwe and he became known as Rusvingo, which means “Stone Mason” or “Builder of Stone Walls”.
Great Zimbabwe is actually the largest of many zimbabwes, or stone cities, built without mortar in Southern Africa. Mwene Mutapa Chingwangu Rusvingo instructed through his council, that every visitor to the city of Great Zimbabwe had to bring five stones. This was to build the walls of Great Zimbabwe. On every valuable thing exported from the empire of Mutapa, the leaders of Great Zimbabwe took a 50% cut. If Swahili merchants extracted ivory from an elephant, the emperor would keep one tusk. Elite warriors from all over the Mutapa empire were sent to Great Zimbabwe to defend and fight for the Mwene-Mutapa as a way of paying tribute by vassal kings (Madzishe). Great Zimbabwe is located in the Masvingo province of the modern-day country of Zimbabwe. The city was built almost 1000 years ago by the ancestors of the Shona/Karanga people. After the era when Great Zimbabwe was the capital of the Mutapa empire, the sub kingdoms, or provinces, in the east or in modern day Mozambique included the sub-kingdom of Gambe and zimbabwes which were called Manyikeni and Chibuene.
There were nine Greater Mwene-Mutapas ruling at Great Zimbabwe:
2 Mwenemutapa Chingwangu Rusvingo,
3 Mwenemutapa Chidyamatamba,
4 Mwenemutapa Chimedzamabwe,
5 Mwenemutapa Kangambeu-Kurima-Kwakona (Dyambeu),
6 Mwenemutapa Mombemuriwo,
7 Mwenemutapa Mavhudzi (Chibatamtosi),
8 Mwenemutapa Nyatsimba Mutota (He would later move to Dande)
9 Mwenemutapa Munembire Mudadi
According to oral history, Great Zimbabwe also served as a sanctuary for Murenga Sororenzou, and his spirit was against blood being shed amongst his children. It was said that during the fight for the throne there was bloodshed. Murenga’s spirit was appalled and then it moved away from the site, moving west to Mabweadziva or Matopos. Nyatsimba Mutota, a feuding prince, moved north perhaps to find resources, and new convenient trading routes, and Mukwati/Torwa (a rival feuding prince) moved west; following Murenga’s spirit to Mabweadziva. According to some historians that is when the city of Great Zimbabwe started to decline: however, there were Portuguese manufactured shells which were discovered at the ruins. There were also people living at Great Zimbabwe in the 1890s, who were removed by the British South African Company
Historians say that the northern Mutapa empire was an offshoot of the Great Zimbabwe Empire. The decline of the Great Zimbabwe Empire led to the rise of the Mutapa empire. However, new evidence suggests that the Mutapa empire and the Great Zimbabwe empire were one and the same. The bloodlines of the dynasties were the same, sharing common ancestry. Nyatsimba Mutota’s movement northwards was to lead the expansion of the same empire, and to find easier, more convenient, trading