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Zimbabwe, Arts

Tsitsi Dangarembga, Queen Victoria Museum, mbira, written literature, marimba

Zimbabwe has important cultural traditions that distinguish it from other African states, notably its history of architecture. The central granite plateau was traditionally home to various Shona peoples who built elaborate and precisely constructed stone structures. There are hundreds of stone ruins throughout the country ranging from large town sites like Great Zimbabwe (after which the country is named), Dhlodhlo, and Khami, to small isolated villages; some of the ruins date as far back as the 11th century ad. The stone building tradition was unique to this area and reached high levels of skill and sophistication. The Shona also have a tradition of carving the green and brown soapstone found in the region, and the carved soapstone birds of Great Zimbabwe have inspired a thriving modern industry of stone carving. Shona sculptors have achieved international fame.

Traditional dance and music, which makes use of the mbira (a hand-held board with mounted metal strips that are plucked with the thumbs) and the marimba (a type of xylophone), were neglected during the colonial period. Since independence, however, there has been a revival of traditional styles, with performers finding new audiences among tourists. Important also in the traditional culture were the stories of the Shona spirit mediums, who provided contact with the ancestors and became guardians of the oral histories of both the Shona and the Ndebele. Illiteracy and censorship by the white-controlled government limited the development of a written literature by black Zimbabweans until the 1980s. Noted postindependence authors include Charles Mungoshi and Tsitsi Dangarembga.

Harare developed originally as a European-style city with European theater and music, museums, an art gallery, and archives. The Queen Victoria Museum played a significant role in developing archaeology in Zimbabwe and a knowledge of the past, while the National Gallery pioneered the appreciation of Shona sculpture. The National Archives remain a major source for the history not only of the colonial period but of the Shona and Ndebele peoples. Bulawayo also has theaters, libraries, and an art gallery.



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