How the Shona Empire of Africa Buried Secrets of Kings in Stones

Stephen Nartey September 19, 2022

The greatness of the Shona Kingdom located in present day South Africa is buried beneath the throne of its King to the corridors where visitors are routinely expected to perform some formalities before they are ushered into the palace.

Visitors of the king of Shona were expected to book an appointment through the principal councilor of the palace, who is the second most important man in the kingdom. Given his status, he lives in the terrace enclosure next to the museum.

He was in charge of the court or dare, where the statesmen of the Shona Kingdom gathered to adjudicate legal cases and discuss matters germain to the empire.

The architectural outlay of the court situates the dare in the centre of a settlement beneath the museum, along with a public assembly area. According to historical records, the dare was some sort of a court of appeal in the Shona kingdom.

In his book, symbols in stone, Thomas Huffman, an archeologist with the Witwatersrand University in South Africa, said the status of chieftainship in the Shona tradition was akin to the majesty and loneliness of the hills.

According to him, the political elite lived on high grounds, ritually secluded as a symbol of authority. Leaders in the Shona tradition were referred to as mountains because that was where their thrones were situated.

Huffman says the Shona people believe that their Kings and royal households must live at the top of the Zimbabwe Hills. The central hill is the only part of the mountain that is traditionally known as Dzimbahwe literally translated to mean “home of the chief”.

Historical documents from the Portuguese’s writer, Edward Barbosa in 1918 described the residence of the King of Shona as a very large high house where their subjects frequently walked to.

Thomas noted that besides giving protection, the King was expected to be provided fertile soil and abundant crops to his people. Oral history has it that the stone towers next to the monoliths are symbolic grain bins, representing the responsibility of the chief to his subjects.

He argued that because the supreme importance and sacred character of the king, that is why he lived separately from the people.

In the Shona tradition, only a few official stayed in the Kings courtyard. These officials, according to historical records included the messenger who kept the king informed about visitors and court proceedings, and a diviner who protected the king against spiritual attacks.

The Shona kingdom was one of the powerful empires in the 14th century AD controlling a land area of more than 100,000 square kilometers between Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. Its capital, the Great Zimbabwe, was home to over 18,000 people.

One distinction about the Shona kingdom was how it physically partitioned the social classes between ordinary citizens and the ruling class.

The right to rule in the Shona Kingdom was tiered along a cast system called sacred kingship. Portuguese documents and Shona oral history indicate that the Zimbabwe culture continued in some areas until the early 19th century.

Last Edited by:Sedem Ofori Updated: September 19, 2022


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