ORGANIZATION OF AFRICAN SOCIETIES.
Despite the high amount of decentralization of African communities in the 19th century, there existed a few who were centralized. For example, Buganda, Ethiopia, Buganda, Asante, Mandinka, Ndebele and shona among others
The Shona were a Bantu-speaking people who comprised the Rozwi, Kore kore, Zezuru and Manyika sub-groups. The first stone buildings in Zimbabwe are believed to have been the work of the Shona. Their capital was at Mapungubwe, south of the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashi rivers.
About 1450 AD, the Rozwi Groups gained dominance and established a centralized political system. They established the Mwene Mutapa Empire which ruled until the time of the Ngoni invasion in the 1830s.
Political organization of the Mwene Mutapa Empire
The emperor was the head of the state and government. Succession of authority was hereditary. Important emperors included Chikura, Nyatsimba, Mutota and Matope. Religion played a role in government and united people. The emperor was a semi-divine religious leader, a military leader and the chief priest. He was the only one who could communicate with the spirits of the ancestors. It was believed that when Mwene Mutapa died, he became a Mudzimu and automatically qualified to be worshipped as a national ancestral spirit.
The ancestral spirits (Vadzimu) communicated people’s problems to god. Religion also influenced laws.
The priests were used as spies and link between the emperor and the people.
Another unifying factor in the kingdom was the royal fire. It was from the continuous fire that each vassal chief carried a flame to his chiefdom that he kept burning as a symbol of national unity.
The empire was divided into provinces namely Guruhaswa, Mbire, Utere, Banua, and Manyika each headed by a lesser chief. The most important chiefs in the empire sent their sons, with tribute in form of cattle, gold, slaves and ivory, each year to pay homage to the Mwene Mutapa as goodwill ambassadors.
There was a standing army of warriors which was used for defence and expansion of the kingdom. Revenue from trade was used to run the army and sustain the empire.
The position of importance held by Mwene Mutapa led to the creation of a complex Style of administration around him.
The government officials included the court steward, treasurer, commander-in-chief of the army and Mbokurumme (king’s sister-in-law). Others were the queen mother, the emperor’s sister and nine principal wives, the doorkeeper and the chief cook and head drummer. At the lower level were the lesser chiefs who paid tribute to the king by providing cattle, labour and agricultural produce.
Economic organization of the Shona
The Shona country enjoyed ample rainfall with fertile soils thus enabling them to engage in the following economic activities;
Social organization of the Shona
Among the shona, Mwene Mutapa was regarded as a divine king and was therefore venerated. When he was well, the nation was also well.
The shona religion was based on the Mwari cult. They believed in the all powerful God, Mwari/Murungu. His worship was done through several priests who were mainly produced by the Rozwi clan.
The priests presided over religious functions in sacred places of worship, shrines where sacrifices were offered.
The shona believed in ancestral spirits. They had two kinds of spirits, Vadzimu or family spirits and Mhondoro or clan spirits. The spirits communicated though an intermediary, Svikiro, a departed family or clan spirit
The shona had a national spirit Chamiruka who settled clan disputes and also protected the people against injustice in the government.
The shona had a kinship system which was patrilineal (inheritance through the father) The shona were divided into clans whose names were coined from animals like leopard, monkey, elephant etc. it was a taboo to consume meat from such animals.
They were a polygamous community which was viewed as a means to enable the family to have enough members to provide labour.
The shona lived in stone buildings. Their skill in masonry is associated with the ruins of Mapungubwe found in Zimbabwe.
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