Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Shona Tribe

By Nicholas Mosher

The Shonas are Zimbabwe’s largest indigenous group and the most dominate group that have occupied and are still occupying in that area today.  In the late 19th century, the peoples of the area speaking several similar comprehensible languages were united under the Shona name.  With a current population of around 9 million, they take up more than eighty percent of the total population.  In the southern part of Africa, the main language spoken is Bantu.  Bantu is has many different languages that fall under it such as Swahili and Tswana which are some of the most popular ones.  Shona language is also a part of the overall Bantu language. There are 5 main Shona language dialects throughout the speaking population.  There is the KoreKore dialect, the Zeseru, the Manyika, the Ndau, and the Kanranga which all are spoken throughout the Shona culture (, 2014)
            Traditionally the Shona live in small isolated settlements consisting of at least one or more elder males.  Along with the elders lived their extended families.  This settlement formed a clan which is classified as a group that descends from a single family.  Majority of the decisions made were through the family but organized political states were recognized as a source of centralized power.  There was one seat of power and that was occupied by the principal chief who inherited the position.  Typically the principal chief lived in a central location of the settlement (, 2014).  In the Great Zimbabwe the central location was the Great Enclosure which is what most people think of when they relate to the Great Zimbabwe.  With this central location of power came lots of wealth too.  Gold and other valuable objects brought to them were held with the chief in his establishment. 
            The Shona tribe specifically in Zimbabwe has been known for their artistry. They come from a rich artistic heritage dating back to the time of Great Zimbabwe and the other stone settlements.  Decorative fabric painting is a largely known artwork that the tribe partakes in.  Sadza (pronounced sudza) is a wax like material made from maize that is used to separate their layers of different colors when painting on the fabrics.  After the paint dries the sadza is washed away leaving a unique texture that is identifiable with the Shona. 
            What the Shona are known for more than their fabric paintings is their stone carvings.  Many stone sculptures have been carved throughout the centuries and they show off the amazing abilities of the artists.  This skill not only shows in their sculptures but also in their architecture.  The ancient ruins of the Great Zimbabwe and the several hundred other settlements across Zimbabwe show how the walls and structures were made in such an advanced and highly precise fashion for their time.  This kind of exactitude and quality is why the structures are still standing today (, 2014). 
            Location of the Shona
The Shona tribe has been located in three main countries; the southern part of Mozambique, majority of Botswana and where they are most commonly known for being, Zimbabwe. These locations are part of the Zimbabwe Plateau.  The Zimbabwe Plateau is part of a wider central African region called the Zambezia.  There are no official borders to Zambezia but its limits are defined by all regions dominated by the drainage of the Zambezi River.  The Zimbabwe Plateau is located in the southern part of Zambezia which is located in the southeastern Central Africa and the northern parts of South Africa (Pikirayi, 2001). 
            In the location of where the Great Zimbabwe is, the plateaus were covered in grassland which was very resourceful for grazing with the Shona’s cattle and other livestock.  The soil conditions were not good for agriculture in regards to feeding a city as large as the Great Zimbabwe.  There were only a few options for which crop could be planted and live in those soil conditions.  The plateaus were later discovered that they had a very valuable resource buried in there; gold.  Gold mines were created throughout the whole Zimbabwe Plateau which brought in a lot of trade for the Shona tribe (Mcintosh, 1998). 

Notes: (2014). Shona People Traditions & Culture. African Crafts Market. Retrieved from (2014). The History of Shona Tribe of Zimbabwe. Bulawayo History. Retrieved from
Mcintosh, Roderick J. (July/August 1998). Riddle of Great Zimbabwe. Archeology Archive. Retrieved from

Pikirayi, Innocent. (2001). The Zimbabwe Culture. California: AltaMira Press.

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