History of the Hungwe Clan
The Hungwe people are a tribe found across Zimbabwe and believed to be the earliest Bantu-speaking inhabitants of modern-day Zimbabwe and whose arrival was only preceded by the San and Khoi Khoi.
It is thought that the original Shona occupants of Zimbabwe are all embodied under the umbrella name “Hungwe”. The conquerors of the Hungwe fall under the blanket name “Mbire”. It is believed that it was the Mbire who were the founders of the Mutapa Empire as well as the Rozvi Empire which was destroyed by the various Nguni tribes that passed through the land of the Rhodesia during the Mfecane wars. These Nguni tribes were the Ndebele who now occupy southwest Zimbabwe, and the Shangane tribe in the southeast of Zimbabwe. The Hungwe it is said settled in Zimbabwe for probably two to three hundred years before the Mbire arrived.
To this day, Hungwe people remain connected by the common bond of the Fish Eagle totem which transcends tribal, linguistic, cultural and geographical boundaries. The Hungwe people cannot be classified into a single tribal grouping as they have inter-married and assimilated into other tribes over centuries. Today, Hungwe people are classified along the main tribal and linguistic groupings of Karanga (Hungwe; Shiri), Kalanga (Nyoni), Ndebele (Nyoni), Ndau (Mutisi), Nambiya and Tonga (Nyoni).
Descendants of the Hungwe tribe are today found geographically concentrated in Somabhula, Filabusi, Mberengwa and Gwanda areas where they speak Ndebele; Masvingo, Shurugwi and Zvishavane areas where they speak chiKaranga, Plumtree, Bulili and Mangwe areas where they speak Chikalanga, the Zambezi Valley areas of Hwange, Binga and Dande where they speak ChiNambiya and ChiTonga; and the Chipinge and Chimanimani areas in the east of Zimbabwe where they speak chiNdau. Beyond the borders of Zimbabwe, Hungwe descendants are believed to be found among the BaVenda in South Africa, BaKalanga in Botswana, BaTonga in Zambia, and VaNdau in Manyika and Shangaan in Mozambique.
George Landow, a Professor of English and Art History at Brown University in the U.S pointed to a refusal by Europeans and their friends to embrace the fact that the Great Zimbabwe was built by the Karanga in general, and the Hungwe in particular.
"Since Europeans first encountered the ruins of Great Zimbabwe," he writes, "it has been the focus of ideological concern and conflict. Unwilling to believe that sub-Saharan Africans could have built such a structure, adventurers and ideologues long claimed the ruins a mystery, theorising that ancient Phoenicians, Arabs, Romans, or Hebrews created the structures. In fact, since archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson's excavations in 1932, it has been widely known that Great Zimbabwe is truly of Africa ad African origin.
"Nonetheless, the White Rhodesians, whose ideology proclaimed the land 'empty' of people and culture before they arrived, tried to rewrite history even asserting that an African genesis for Great Zimbabwe was tantamount to treason," says Landow.
This denialism also extends to the Karanga/Shona tribes who individually have fought hard to prove they built Great Zimbabwe, notably the Rozvi. However, historical facts indicate that it wasn’t until the 16th century that a Rozvi state was established. The Rozvi are part of the Mbire invaders who took over Great Zimbabwe from the original rulers of the Hungwe-Dzivaguru totems. While the Mbire invaders continued to involve the Hungwe in the political, economic and religious activities of Great Zimbabwe, it can be argued that they took over a functioning state with the stone structures already built by the Hungwe-Dziva people. Unlike Great Zimbabwe and Khami which were built by the Hungwe, the Rozvi are credited with building a Khami phase site, Danamombe (Dhlo-Dhlo), which became their new capital.
It’s believed the construction of Great Zimbabwe is also claimed by the Lemba. This ethnic group of Zimbabwe and South Africa has a tradition of ancient Jewish or South Arabian descent through their male line, which is supported by recent DNA studies, and female ancestry derived from the Karanga subgroup of the Shona.” However, the Lemba only reached the northern part of South Africa around the 13th Century way after the collapse of Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe was already in decline.
Aeneas Chigwedere’s book The Great Zimbabwe State and Its Off-Shoots AD 1000-1700 is quick to point out that Zimbabweans, like other Africans, ‘did not fall from the sky’ but came from somewhere. “Every African race appears to have originated in North-East Africa.” says Chigwedere. “We can therefore assume that even our black race originated in North-East Africa.”
The book focuses on the story of three tribes that migrated to form Zimbabwe. According to Chigwedere, these tribes are the Dau Tonga Beja, Dziva Hungwe Kalanga and Nyai Soko.
Chigwedere tackles the social, political and economic aspects that made up the tribes.
Economic activities included mining, hunting, agriculture and manufacturing, among other things.
“Mining was a very important industry of the Mbire Nyai community as much as it was important for the lives of both the Dau Tonga and Dziva Hungwe Masters of Water,” writes Chigwedere.
“Great Zimbabwe was built in stone because its founders (Hungwe and Dzivaguru tribes) were a segment of the Bantu Tribe of westerners who were closely associated with rocks, hills and mountains for the reason that they were ‘the masters of the land’.
Not only is the Hungwe (Fish Eagle) a totem for the people that are believe to be one of the first inhabitants of what we now know as Zimbabwe but it is also used as the country’s national bird.
Credit: The Herald Newspaper, The Patriot, Wikipedia, Facebook (Kingdom Nation of Hungwe) and Aeneas Chigwedere.
Photo Credit: James Theodore Brent (Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (1891),Online sources.