The year was 1531 and Vicente Pelgado was late. A Portuguese explorer and captain of the Portuguese garrison at Sofala; now in modern-day Mozambique, He came upon the ruins of a magnificent stone-walled city among the inland plains that lied between the rivers Zambezi and Limpopo.
According to him “There is a fortress built of stones of marvelous size and there appears to be no mortar joining them. This edifice is almost surrounded by hills, upon which are others resembling it in the fashioning of stone and the absence of mortar, and one of them is a tower more than 12 fathoms (22m) high…”
About four hundred years back before Pelgado even thought of exploring Sub-Saharan Africa, sometime between 1000 – 1450 B.C.E. The kingdom of Zimbabwe whose capital; Luzvingo or better known as the great Zimbabwe blossomed in eastern Africa. The builders and inhabitants of this magnificent city are the ancestors of the Shona tribe, most likely the Gokomere who inhabited the area of the great Zimbabwe around 4th century AD.
At its peak, the great Zimbabwe supported a Shona population of about ten thousand to twenty thousand people, whose main occupation was mostly cattle husbandry, crop cultivation, mining, and the trade of gold on the coast of the Indian Ocean. More than 4000 gold and 500 copper mines were found around the site, which led to the suggestion that 40% of the world’s totally mined gold came from the area. More archaeological evidences suggested that the great Zimbabwe became a center of trading with a vast network that extends as far as china.
The city’s buildings were made of solid granite walls, adorned with turrets, towers and well-designed stairways. European explorers who visited the ruins of this magnificent city in the 1800s believed the site to be the unidentified city of Ophir, which was famous in the times of the Old Testament for its fine gold. Some also believed that the ruins were an African replica of the Queen of Sheba’s palace in Jerusalem.
The chief reason for this ill-informed beliefs was because the foreign explorers who wandered upon the ruins of the great Zimbabwe could not comprehend that the native Africans who resided around its region could have successfully built something of that magnitude. The construction of the great Zimbabwe was wrongly attributed either intentionally or unintentionally to ancient civilizations such as the Greek or Phoenician civilizations for almost a century after it was discovered because of its advanced masonry and design.
Since the “primitive” nature of Africans and their inability to explore and effectively utilize the abundant resources around them, served as one of the pretexts for the scramble of its territories by greedy nations from other parts of the world, the discovery of the true origins of the great Zimbabwe became an uncomfortable topic in the archaeological community and its western cohorts.
The portrayal of Africans and Africa as savages in a land of opportunity by western countries couldn’t be more wrong given the mind blowing feats medieval Africa was able to achieve prior to colonization which the existence of the great Zimbabwe clearly attests to. The archaeological evidence, although pushed into obscurity by white supremacists clearly speak for itself. The ruins of the ancient city according to accurate records are divided into three main architectural zones: the hill complex, the great enclosure and the valley complex.
The hill complex was believed to have been the spiritual and religious center of the city where the king appeased the ancestors, oversaw important rituals and doled out appropriate judgment to erring citizens. South of the hill complex lies the great enclosure which was at its time the largest single ancient structure in Sub-Saharan Africa. Lastly, the valley ruins, mostly well-crafted buildings made up of daga (earth and mud-brick) which at the time housed over 2000 potters, weavers, blacksmiths and stone masons.
The innumerable attempts made by the archaeological community and British government officials in then Rhodesia to silence the true history of the ancient city was eventually brought to light when Paul Sinclair; a renowned archaeologist who was then stationed at the great Zimbabwe revealed instructions given to him by the government not to disclose the true origins of the historical site to the press.
During an old interview, Paul declared that “the then director of the museums and monuments organizations told me to be extremely careful about talking to the press about the origins of the great Zimbabwe. I was told that the museum service was in a difficult situation, that the government was pressurizing them to withhold the correct information. Censorship of guidebooks, museum displays, school textbooks, radio programmes, newspapers and films was a daily occurrence”
In 1905, David Randall Mac-Iver; A British – born archaeologist published the first, solid evidence that revealed the true origins of the great Zimbabwe. He declared after excavation that the site was built by the Shona tribe. His conclusions were met with widespread backlash from the archaeological community and the presiding government officials in Rhodesia who refused to believe his “wild “theory.
An all- female archaeological team was then led by Gertrude Caton-Thompson at the request of the British government in 1928 to perform a thorough excavation on the site. She declared at the end of her expedition that the great Zimbabwe was a product of “Native civilization”. Negative reactions trailed her reports and many in the archaeological community still refused to believe Africans could have truly pulled it off.
The legendary Chinese philosopher and educator; Confucius once said…
“Study the past, if you would define the future…”.
To accurately understand the various complexities happening in the world at the moment, we have to tediously trace its origins so as to effectively proscribe adequate solutions. The aim of this article and the subsequent ones to come is not to continue festering the staggering disparities between the oppressors and the oppressed but to provide a near-accurate report of numerous accounts in the past that have been swept under the rug to provide a lop-sided view of history.
This writer believes in the objectivity of the human mind; either the body is white or black. Humans in general tend to behave based on the information they’ve learnt and unlearnt and the primary aim of this article and the subsequent ones to come is to bring to light certain occurrences in history that could change the way we view people of other races as inferior or superior. The ancestors of the Shona tribe built the great Zimbabwe way before any major European influence. The existence of the historic edifice proves to the objective individual the wonders of the African mind, not as better or less but as equal. As human.