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The mighty Zimbabwean Kingdom that drove away the Portuguese over Christianity in the 1500s

October 30, 2018 at 12:00 pm | History

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson | Staff Writer

October 30, 2018 at 12:00 pm | History

Prince Nyatsimba Mutota-Art by Sukritact-

The Kingdom of Mutapa existed between the 15th and 17th century in what is now known as Zimbabwe and some parts of Botswana and Zambia.

In the oral history of Zimbabwe, two stories narrate how the kingdom was established. Even though very different, both narratives assert that the kingdom developed as a breakaway of the Great Kingdom of Zimbabwe led by the warrior Prince Nyatsimba Mutota.

In one narrative, Prince Mutota was sent to find new sources of the salt towards the north to increase the wealth and dominance of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe but upon discovering the salt around the Tavara, he decided to settle there and never returned.

The second story narrates that a great famine struck the  Great Kingdom of Zimbabwe, few years before its collapse. With the fear of dying off to hunger, Prince Mutota escaped until he found himself up north, where he established the Kingdom of Mutapa.

Map of The Kingdom of Mutapa

Mwenemutapa Matope succeeded Prince Mutota and expanded the settlement into a kingdom. He did so first by building a strong army, capturing weaker settlements and then by encouraging other settlement to join his flourishing kingdom voluntarily. After expanding his kingdom by virtue of numbers, he set out to expand their trade, and the kingdom soon became very powerful and rich in Southern Africa.

By the end of the 15th century, word about the Mutapa Kingdom had reached the Portuguese who decided to visit this famous kingdom known for its powerful trade with India. By 1515, the Portuguese had visited the Kingdom and seen the success for themselves.

The Portuguese, who were already dominating much of southern Africa at the time, decided to invade Mutapa to take over their wealth and powerful trade route. They finally made it into the kingdom by 1560 through evangelism, which soon shortly led to a catastrophe.

Father Gonçalo da Silveira

In 1560, Father Gonçalo da Silveira, a Portuguese Priest, was sent on an unexpected mission to spread the word of God to Southern Africa.  He landed in South Africa on March 11, 1560, to start his work.

People in Mutapa were traditionalists, whose main medium of worship was a spiritual and ceremonial bond with their ancestors. The spiritual leader, who dabbled as the oral historian, was known as Mhondoro and lived in a shrine.

King Mwenemutapa, who had heard of the priests converting ways in neighbouring Goa, welcomed Father Gonçalo and his entourage.

It did not take long for Father Gonçalo to convince Mwenemutapa to convert to Christianity. In a matter of  25 days, the king and many of the royal family members and escorts were converted into Catholics and Portuguese priest was given the freedom to convert as many people as possible.

Despite giving the freedom of conversion, the king and his people did not take Christianity seriously and resisted the building of churches.

Drawing depicting the killing of Portuguese in the Kingdom of Mutapa

The Arab traders were not happy with the conversion success as they started losing ties with the people since the arrival of the Portuguese. In an attempt to break the bond between their rivals and the Mutapa kingdom, they secretly met with the king and lied to him. They claimed that Father Gonçalo was a spy sent by the Portuguese to get into their trade and break their army. They also added that the baptism was a form of witchcraft to put the people in a trance.

Unfortunately, the king believed this story. Filled with rage, he immediately ordered the total rejection of Christianity and that execution of the priest and as many Portuguese as possible.

Gonçalo da Silveira was strangled to death in his hut along with many other priests who could not escape. Many churches were burnt down, forcing the Portuguese traders to abandon their mission and leave the kingdom.

Since then, there was no sign of Christianity in the kingdom until it collapsed in the 17th century.

The resistance to Christianity made it difficult for the Portuguese to take control of the Kingdom of Mutapa and control trade as they originally planned and were very pleased when the kingdom collapsed.

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