Activities November 9, 2020

Telling our own stories – Great Zimbabwe

The Hill Complex is camouflaged by boulders
The Hill Complex is camouflaged by boulders

I have previously posted about Great Zimbabwe here, but I am re-visiting the topic from the point of view of Africans telling our own stories. Listen to my podcast episode on the African Clichés podcast (Part 1 and Part 2). The African Clichés podcast provides concise (9 minutes long) episodes on topics related to African history.

Great Zimbabwe is the site that gave the country of Zimbabwe its name. It is thought to mean “House of Stone” in the Shona language, and while this site is an amazing historical site, it is not mentioned enough in travel guides. The ingenuity that went into the development of the site needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. 

What is Great Zimbabwe?

Great Zimbabwe is a massive stone city near the city of Masvingo in southern Zimbabwe built by the ancestors of the Shona people. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe and a thriving city that traded with the outside world in gold and ivory with places as far away as the Swahili coast and China.

The earliest settlement around Great Zimbabwe was in the 5th Century A.D., with continuous occupation between the 11th and 15th Century A.D. At its peak, about 18,000 people are thought to have lived there. It should be noted that are a few hundred stone sites around Zimbabwe and southern Africa. One notable example is Manyikeni in Mozambique.

Great Zimbabwe is unusual because the walls were built with no mortar. The city was built to use naturally existing boulders as camouflage to protect it from enemies. Passageways in the Hill Complex where the King lived were so narrow that only one person at a time could walk through them. This was a deliberate defense against enemies. You can read more about Great Zimbabwe in my travel book From Antarctica to Zimbabwe: How I hit the reset button on my life on Amazon.

A lot of feelings went through my mind when I got to the site. I was amazed, obviously. But I felt a lot of pride for our ancestors who built this thriving megacity that has lasted centuries. 

Similar Sites

Great Zimbabwe is similar to the Incan site of Machu Picchu in Peru. The biggest similarity between the two sites is that no mortar was used to connect the stones, which means the stones were constructed in a way that allowed them to fit together and maintain structural integrity.

Another obvious similarity is that both sites are built with stone. This is similar to many other sites around the world including Chichen Itza in Mexico. Yet while we all know about at least some of these sites, we don’t often hear about Great Zimbabwe. 

Telling Our Stories

I think it’s important for us to value our own history. We need to learn about these sites and visit them if possible. If we don’t take control of our own stories, we are opening the way for other people to tell us who we are.

With that in mind, my partners and I have created a writing competition for African writers anywhere in the world. It is called the Griot African Storytellers Competition. We are open for submissions with the deadline on January 29, 2021. We have cash prizes ranging from $500 to $100 for the top 3 entries. The top 10 entries will be compiled into a collection and published. For more information, go to contest.squintibooks.com.

To hear what else was discussed on the podcast, listen for yourself here.

You can buy our book of African fables in print or ebook on Amazon.

Until next time, live young and travel (when it becomes safe to do so again).

About the author

Dr Q: I am a traveler not a tourist. I have visited all 7 continents and over 60 countries.