Khami Ruins National Monument
Khami Ruins National Monument is located to the west of the Khami River, 22km from the City of Bulawayo. Its located on a 1300meter hilltop downstream and covers an area of about 108 hectares and is spread over a distance of about 2 km from the Passage Ruin to the North Ruin.
Khami is the second largest stone-built monument in Zimbabwe after the Great Zimbabwe. It is believed to have been constructed between 1450AD and 1650AD.
Its historical importance lies in its position at the watershed between the history of Great Zimbabwe and the later Zimbabwe period. It is one of the few Zimbabwe sites that were not destroyed by treasure hunters and its undisturbed stratigraphy is scientifically important in providing a much clearer insight into the history of the country.
The site at Khami reveals seven built-up areas thought to have been occupied by the royal family and open areas in the valley occupied by the subjects. The complex comprises circular, sometimes terraced, artificial platforms encased by dry stone walls. The beautifully decorated 6meters by 68metres high long retaining wall of the precipice platform bears a checkerboard design along its entire length. The platforms, rising 2–7meters above the ground, were made using udhaka (clay/mud) and the lower huts and courtyards where those of lower status. The remnants of cattle kraals and huts for ordinary people can be seen below the Hill Complex. There are also ruins on the eastern side of the Khami River. Other platforms are believed to have been spaces where live stock was kept.
Retaining walls found expression for the first time in the architectural history of the sub-region at Khami, and with it were elaborate decorations. Khami still has the longest decorated wall in the entire sub-region.
The architecture of the site and the archaeological artefacts provide evidence for an exceptional understanding of strong, united, early civilizations.
Between 1300 and 1500AD Great Zimbabwe was the largest settlement in sub-Saharan Africa, its wealth founded on the cattle and gold trade down the Sabi River with Swahili merchants based around Sofala on the African east coast.
At Great Zimbabwe the art of dry-stone walling was learned and although there are regional and historical differences, over 300 dry stone sites developed, and were given the name (Madzimbahwe/Dzimba Dzemabwe) “houses of stone.”
It is believed that in the late 1400s land exhaustion and succession disputes weakened the ruling elite at Great Zimbabwe which split into two successor states. One under Mutota Chibatamatosi (Nyatsimba Mutotas father) who went north and founded the Mutapa State in northern Mashonaland and the other went westwards and founded the Torwa/Tolwa Dynasty at Khami.
Khami was the capital of the Torwa/Tolwa Dynasty for about 200 years from around 1450 and it appears to have been founded at the time of the disappearance and collapse of the state of Great Zimbabwe. After that it was ransacked by Changamire Dombo who led an army of Rozvi from the Mwenemutapa State. Excavations seem to show that the site was not occupied after the Rozvi take over. The Rozvi made another Khami phase site at Dana’ombe/Danamombe (formerly Dhlo-Dhlo) and this became their new capital. In the 1830s Nguni speaking Ndebele raiders displaced them from Khami and many of the other sites they had established.
Khami developed after the capital of Great Zimbabwe had been abandoned in the mid-16th century and the discovery of objects from Europe and China show that Khami was a major centre for trade over a long period of time. The archaeological remains are also a testament to long-distance historic trade links with the Portuguese, and the wider world, the diverse range of imported artefacts provide evidence of 15th and 17th century Spanish porcelain, Rhineland stoneware and Ming porcelain, many of which are on display in the Museum of Natural History in Bulawayo. There is the Cross Ruin with its mysterious stone Dominican Cross, believed to have been placed by a contemporary missionary in 1938.
Excavations carried out between (2000–2006) revealed that the walls of the western parts of the Hill Complex were all decorated in chequer, herringbone, cord, as well as variegated stone blocks. Evidence showed that Khami conformed to the build structure of Great Zimbabwe in a number of archaeological and architectural aspects but it possessed certain features particular to itself and its successors such as Danamombe and Zinjanja. While the walls at Great Zimbabwe are mainly freestanding, the ones at Khami are built into the hillside. It has been claimed that the builders of Khami took note of the surrounding environment and adapted the original form accordingly. For instance, the stone found at Khami was different from that at the Great Zimbabwe. The stone at Khami was harder than quarry and produced shapeless building stone. This rendered it unsuitable for building free-standing dry-stone walls, a prominent feature of the Great Zimbabwe. Therefore, the builders of Khami decided to improvise and they built revetments or retaining walls instead. It is said that this was the first instance of such an architectural form in the history of the region. The authenticity of the historic evidence is unquestionable. The ruins generally follow the pattern and style of the Great Zimbabwe ruins but are considered to be a later development of that culture. It remains an undisturbed, non-functional, archaeological site whilst also still being used by contemporary communities for spiritual purposes.
Khami marks an innovation that recognises the environment in which it was built. This site is a unique and exceptional testimony to a civilization which has disappeared. The architecture and archaeological artefacts of the site provide important scientific and historical evidence critical for the understanding of the full chronological development of the Zimbabwean tradition from the Stone Age to the Iron Age era.
This site is an outstanding example of a type of building and architectural ensemble which illustrates a significant stage in history. It has yielded an exceptional long evidence related to human evolution and human environment dynamics, collectively extending from 100 000 years ago to date and demonstrates testimonials to the long-distance trade with the outer world.