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History, The Rozwi Empire and the Ndebele

Nguni people, mfecane, luxury imports, Mzilikazi, spirit mediums

In 1693 the Portuguese were defeated by the Rozwi chieftaincy of Changamire, whose power was based in Butua in the southwest. The Portuguese were driven off the central plateau and only retained a nominal presence at one of the fairs in the eastern highlands. The whole of present-day Zimbabwe was brought under the control of Changamire and became known as the Rozwi Empire. The Rozwi chiefs revived the tradition of building in stone and constructed impressive cities throughout the southwest. The economic power of the Rozwi Empire was based on cattle wealth, but gold mining continued, and gold was traded for luxury imports.

In the 1790s the whole southern African region began to experience a prolonged series of droughts. They weakened the Rozwi Empire, which allowed local chiefs and spirit mediums to begin seizing power. The gold fairs functioned only intermittently. Then in the early 19th century, the period of regional warfare and forced migrations known as the mfecane began. Following victories by the Zulu king Shaka in what is now eastern South Africa, the Ndwandwe, a Nguni-speaking people, were forcibly dispersed, and armed bands led by Ndwandwe chiefs migrated northward, invading the Rozwi Empire. The empire was devastated by the Ndwandwe armies of Nxaba and Zwangendaba. In the early 1830s the last Rozwi ruler was killed in his capital of Khami.

A decade later, another Nguni people, the Ndebele, entered what is now Zimbabwe from the southwest under their king, Mzilikazi. Mzilikazi had fled the Transvaal (present-day northern South Africa) after his armies were defeated by Afrikaners (South African descendents of Dutch and French Huguenot settlers). The king built a new Ndebele capital, called Bulawayo, in the southwest. The Ndebele kingdom replicated the military and economic organization of the Zulu and introduced the Ndebele dialect (a Nguni language similar to Zulu). In addition to his powerful military force, the Ndebele monarch derived his wealth and power from large herds of cattle. During the mid-19th century most of the Karanga chieftaincies (whose people were now known as Shona) of central and northern Zimbabwe retained their independence, though from time to time they were forced to pay tribute to the Ndebele.

Article key phrases:

Nguni people, mfecane, luxury imports, Mzilikazi, spirit mediums, Afrikaners, Nguni, Bulawayo, eastern highlands, central plateau, Transvaal, economic power, Zulu, Shona, armies, independence, tribute, migrations, fairs, victories, Portuguese, stone, century, decade, power, wealth, people, addition, time


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