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History of the Zanj/Zanze People
In about the 1st century AD, the Zanj also known as the Zanze people immigrated to the East African coast from an area believed to be south of Lake Chad. After sojourning for an unknown number of years in what is today The Central African Republic, southern Sudan and southwestern Ethiopia they arrived in the Tana River valley around the fourth decade of the 1st Century AD. They were led by a very strong, tall, dark and able leader called Chirongo of the baboon/monkey totem (Soko). The Zanj were very dark in complexion. It is believed that by the 3rd century AD, the domain of the Zanze extended from an area above Tana River in Kenya to as far as Limpopo River in southern Mozambique. They had explored the interior regions around Lake Nyasa and explored the sources of Rivers Rufiji, Rovuma, Zambezi, Shire, Save and Limpopo. In lands that they dominated or pegged for future settlement, they found most of it empty, but sporadic bands of Twa people who they easily subdued. The Zanze were very much versed in the art of magic which they often used to intimidate their enemies, a culture whose vestiges are still predominant in some parts of Africa.
Tendzi Mkuru Mambo Zanze (the great lord king Zanze) possessed divine powers. He was the political and cultic religious leader of the Zanze people who developed the Dedza or Mwari Culture. He was imbued with healing and divination powers. In general, some of the Zanze kings, after coronation were known to have possessed powers of healing the sick, rain making, harnessing the powers of cyclones for travel and able to redirect wild bees and stampeding animals towards their enemies in battle. The King wore a burgundy brown garment with sky blue trims. The crown was made of pangolin shells which was adorned with a large diamond at the front and is still being kept by a holy village elder awaiting the rightful heir to the throne. Although the cultures that believe in magic still exist today in Pemba, Tanga, northern and central Mozambique, especially in areas around the Zambezi valley, nobody as yet has attempted research these cultures.
However, the Zanze people practiced mixed farming and they were talented farmers. But they relied more on livestock raising than crop cultivation, and only a section of the population engaged in craft, fishing and trade. Their main livestock consisted of sheep, Nubian goats, cattle and doves. In the 9th century, the Zanj people had established trade links with Oman, Persia, India and China. The townships of Zanzibar (Unguja), Pemba, Lamu, Mombasa, Kilifi, Malindi, Kilwa-Kivinji, Kilwa-Kisiwani, Kilwa-Masoko, Mafia, Kilimani and Sofala flourished from this trade. Such prosperity became a magnet to those who desired to be wealthy.
However, by the middle of the 9th century the Zanze royalists felt threatened and challenged by the Shirazi and the Omani whose numbers were becoming increasingly strong during their exile in East African Coast.
The new settlers came in as single men in search of adventure and lucrative trade. In many cases, these strangers sought Zanze's protection from jihad and sectarian wars taking place in the Persian Gulf and in the Arabian Peninsula. The Zanj were fierce inland fighters. Those who chose to settle amongst the Zanzes were readily accepted and allowed to marry local princesses. Eventually, these foreign son-in-law’s and their mulatto (mixed) children were able to wield immense political power and exploit the generosity of the Zanze for self-promotion. As the mulatto (Mixed) Muslim population grew in numbers, and supported by Julanda refugees, they demanded Sharia law and the conversion of the Zanze to Islam. The Zanze couldn't agree with these demands because the worshiping of God through ancestors was their core belief and Islam forbade ancestor worship. This issue attacked the core foundation of the religious system of the entire Zanze people.
Therefore, this threat, forced the Zanze royalists to move their governing centres from one township to another, far away from Muslim settlers and their mulatto offspring. Consequently, Zanzibar, Pemba, Mombasa and all others but Sofala and Kilimani became city-states controlled by Muslim mulatto converts who became to be known as the Afro-Shirazi and the Mazrui.
The Royalist Zanzes led by Soko first moved to Kivinji and Kilwa-Masoko, then to Kilimani and Sofala. From here they established interior trading centres in the highlands of Zimbabwe and plains of Mozambique. It was during this time that the royalists founded the stone centres in Zimbabwe, Botswana and in Mozambique. They called this new empire Zimbabwe, a name that derives from stone buildings they constructed on key administrative centres across the kingdom in the early 11th century. "Zimba dze Mabwe", meaning the houses of stone in chiKaranga, especially in the dialect of the Tavara clan which today populates the Zambezi valley of Chidima, Dande and Dambarare, among whom the Zanzeship cult and legends are still alive. The Mwene Mutapa (Monomotapa) empire was founded in 1423 AD, by Mutota, a chief-commander of the Southern Province and a paramount chief of the maKaranga tribe vassal of Mambo Zanze of the Zimbabwe Empire. Mutota with the help of his in-laws, the Makombes, was able to dethrone and kill the Zanze King Chirongo and assume power in 1421 AD. However, two Zanze sons, Chirimanyemba, Mukomawasha and a grandson, Gomo, escaped to the province of Chidima where they established Utavara kingdom composed of provinces of Chidima, Dande and Dambarare. Here the Dynasty of Zanze continued under Chirimanyemba. In the limelight of all these events, in the shadows were the strong women who were the queens and princesses whose names must be noted in this passage. These women are Dziva, Tova, Chuma, Kadhidza, Dzowa, Sadzi, Kupenya, Machanjuka, Kachiri, Kureka.
The nobility and kindness attested centuries ago by Al-Tabari the famous early Arab writer are still evident in Utavara land today. According to AL -Tabari "Everybody agrees that there are no people on earth in whom generosity is as universally well developed as the Zanj. These people have a natural talent for dancing to the rhythm of the tambourine, without needing to learn it. There are no better singers anywhere in the world, no people more polished and eloquent, and no people less given to insulting language. No other nation can surpass them in bodily strength and physical toughness. One of them will lift huge blocks and heavy loads that would be beyond the strength of most Bedouins or members of other races. They are courageous, energetic, and generous, which are the virtues of nobility, and also good-tempered and with little propensity to evil. They are always cheerful, smiling, and devoid of malice, which is a sign of noble character". The Zanze Mambo Chirongo himself epitomized these very characters which were elucidated by Al-Tabari.
In the years that followed, Mutota tried hard to reunite all the Provinces, but before he could accomplish his dreams, Changamire Dombo, the founder of the Rozvi dynasty killed Mutota together with his 21 heirs except Nyanhehwe Matope who had escaped to the Fura mountains in 1446 AD. Although, Matope became the greatest ruler, he was not able to regain parts of the empire that were lost to the Rozvi and the Zanzes. Thence, provinces of Chidanda, Barwe, Manyika and Makoni established their autonomy by 1560s, the time the Portuguese showed up on the scene. These chiefdoms had attained absolute autonomy when the Portuguese began meddling in East African affairs. King Mutapa Nyanhehwe Matope only controlled Mbire and was still fighting for control of Dande which was under Zanze Chirimanyemba when the Portuguese came into the scene.
The Zanze acquired chicken in the 13th century, the time they had established themselves in the Zambezi valley. Mambo Karuwa having emigrated from Congo, introduced the chicken to the Tavara people. Tavaras are a subgroup of the Shona nation and akin to Vateve of Manyikaland. They are the last of the Zanj people.
Therefore, Mambo Karuwa who is a python ancestral spirit and famous in the magic of rain making became de facto chief guardian of the holiest religious shrine at Nhenene in Dande near Mavhuradonha Mountain range, in northern Zimbabwe. The Mbire also known as Mapirira clan are the present caretakers of this Tavara/Mbire shrine under the supervision of Mambo Mukweva who is a medium of ancestral lion spirit. It is believed that Karuwa spirit comes to dwell among its people after every hundred years. However, Karuwa may occasionally speak to his people through the spirit media of Mbuya Nehanda, Mambo Dzivaguru and Mambo Chaminuka, and Nyamenyame who are renowned spirits of Zimbabwe and Central Mozambique.
In the 12th century the Zanze subdued the San and Twa, and their inter-marriage resulted into the Tonga clans. The Tavaras and Tonga’s are cousins and both their names mean "the rulers". In the late 15th century the Sengas were incorporated into the kingdom. The Zimbas across the Zambezi river were defeated and forced to flee further north. A marauding band of Zimbas is known to have reached Mombasa where it caused havoc. During this epoch, trading centres of Tete, Zumbo, Faira and Kachomba were opened.
In the Zanze traditions women were held in high esteem. The Zimbabwe ruins attest to this fact. Boys at the age of twelve became the responsibility of maternal uncles but girls at age of nine were placed under the guidance of their paternal aunts. Therefore, boys were given more freedom to leave their villages and go out to other villages and experience life. However, girls were restricted. The reason was that girls were to be protected at all times because they could either be stolen or deflowered by strangers. Virginity was a great asset in the Tawara-Zanze traditions. A girl that had been deflowered was seen as spoilt goods, thus unworthy of any bride price and she became a disgrace to her entire family. Random quarterly virginity inspections were often conducted.
On the day of the wedding, the bride's grandmothers and aunts prepared the bed with white linen and aromatic herbs for matrimonial consummation. The proof of virginity would be displayed on the white linen. The following day, both maternal and paternal grandmothers would inspect the linen. If bloody stains were not found, then this would be cause for concern because it meant that the bride was not a virgin or the groom had performed his duty. The bride was inspected and if she was still a virgin, the vigil went on for six days, then on the seventh day if deflowering hadn’t occurred the groom was assumed to be impotent and in such an event, he was usually taken to a local herbalist for evaluation and treatment if merited. The state of the groom was to be declared within three weeks. If the situation was hopeless, then the bride's and groom's families in consultation with the bride were left alone to decide on the future of this new family. In the majority of the cases, the solution was a procurement of a sperm donor, usually a brother or a close blood relative of the groom, who was solicited to secretly sleep with the bride as to offer this couple a chance of having an heir because in Shona society neither a man or a woman could enjoy peace of mind if he or she couldn’t have a child. A childless couple had no status in Shona culture. This was one of the most secretive customs of the Zanze people and only a donor's favour would have restored honour to both the groom and the bride. Such an arrangement was strictly private and secret. Only the couple, the donor and a groom's paternal aunt were part of the deal which was indeed, done under oath.
Therefore, this short informative history should clear the mystery as to who were the builders of Zimbabwe ruins, and open more research. The builders of Zimbabwe ruins were not Phoenicians but the Zanze people of the Tavara clan who today live in the districts of Magoe in Mozambique and Dande in Mt. Darwin-Zimbabwe.
Special thanks also goes to one of ZimNatives contributors Tevaughn Biyala.