13 Jun 2007

The Shona People

Posted by K Chikuse


The Shona are a cluster of peoples who have lived for about 2,000 years in a region of the southern Africa Plateau that includes most of Zimbabwe and parts of Mozambique.

There have been many civilisations in Zimbabwe as is shown by the ancient stone structures at Khami, Great Zimbabwe and Dhlo-Dhlo. The archaeological ruins known as Great Zimbabwe have been radio carbon dated to approximately 600 A.D. Historic findings seems to point to the fact that the ancestors of modern day Shona people built Great Zimbabwe and hundreds of other stone walled sites in Zimbabwe. Bantu-speaking farmers, either Khoisan settlers or Iron Age migrants from the north, were the first occupants of the Great Zimbabwe site in the south of the country. Between 500 and 1000AD, the Gokomere (a Bantu group) enslaved and absorbed San groups in the area.

As early as the 11th century, some foundations and stonework were in place at Great Zimbabwe and the settlement, generally regarded as the burgeoning Shona society.

The Shona believe in veneration of spirits. There is a line of thought that suggests that the Shona people are descendants from one group of families, that was ruled by one paramount Chief. This line of thought would justify the fact that such Shona High spirits as Chaminuka, Kaguvi and Nehanda command unquestionable authority over all Shona tribes. It is this that could have enabled the Shona risings of 1896 – 1897. Before the risings there where a number of mhondoro in the then Rhodesia but none had the authority to co-ordinate the various Shona tribes against the European settlers. The Shona people as they are today are a fragmented horde of tribes with very tenuous bonds of unity between them.

Most Shona people identify with a particular clan rather than with the Shona group as a whole, and most Shona communities contain a mixture of clans. The Shona consisted and still consist to this day of two distinct families – the original Bantu occupants of the country and the conquerors – each which has split up into a multiplicity of tribes. 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 Zimbabwe during the Mfecane, namely the Ndebele tribe, who now occupy southwest Zimbabwe, and the Shangane tribe in the southeast of Zimbabwe. The Hungwe settled in Zimbabwe for probably two to three hundred years before the Mbire arrived.

Ruins of Great Zimbabwe

Its important to note that the difference between the present day Mbire (which refers to the Marondera – Wedza district and the people whose mutupo is Soko), and the 1500 A.D. Mbire. In about 1500 A.D. the term referred to all the members of the invading family which took over the land from the Hungwe. The Mbire took over the land of Zimbabwe around somewhere between 1000 and 1050 AD. Their invasion from across the Zambezi river marked the beginning of the dynasty of the Mbire empire which is commonly known as the Mutapa Empire. The Mutapa Empire or Mbire Empire covered most parts of present day Zimbabwe. The empire incorporated most of the whole of Mozambique, south of the Zambezi river and north of the Sabi river down to the sea. Some of the present day South African tribes are known to have been segmented from the Shona (the best known ones are the Venda and Lovendu). The expansion of Mbire Empire included the following Shona tribes: Barwe, Manyika, Ndau, Korekore, Shangwe, and Guruuswa.

The Munhumutapa (Monomatapa) were the first major civilisation to become established in Zimbabwe. The Mwanamutapa empire, headed by a ruler of the same name, was founded about 1420 among the Karanga people and was centered at Great Zimbabwe. By the mid 1440′s, the empire included almost all of the Zimbabwean plateau and extensive parts of what is now Mozambique. The empire was ruled in pyramidal fashion, with the Mwanamutapa appointing regionally based vassals. The wealth of this empire was based on small-scale industries, for example iron smelting, textiles, gold and copper, along with agriculture. At the height of Mwanamutapa state, it was part of a gold trade network that extended as far as China.

In about 1490 the empire split into two parts — the Changamire in the south (including Great Zimbabwe) and the Mwanamutapa in the north. The latter stretched from the Indian Ocean in the east to present-day central Zambia in the west and from central Zimbabwe in the south to the Zambezi River in the north. The regular inhabitants of the empire’s trading towns were the Arab and Swahili merchants with whom trade was conducted. The empire was an important source of gold and ivory, the area attracted Swahili traders from the east coast of Africa (in modern Tanzania). When the Shirazis founded Sofala (in present-day Mozambique), the Karanga empire acquired an export market for its mining production. The Monomotapa (the Karanga leader) imposed a tributary relation on the neighboring Muslim nation as he had done with other minor cultures of the area. Thus, Karanga supremacy was established over a region including parts of present-day Malawi.

The area around Great Zimbabwe became the trading capital of the wealthiest and most powerful society in south-eastern Africa of its era. The hilltop acropolis at Great Zimbabwe came to serve not only as a fortress but as a shrine for the worship of Mwari, the pre-eminent Shona deity. In the early 16th century the Portuguese arrived in the form of traders and soldiers from Mozambique, and established contact with the empire. Between 1509 and 1512 António Fernandes traveled inland and visited the Mwanamutapa kingdom, which controlled the region between the Zambezi and Save rivers and was the source of much of the gold exported at Sofala. Soon after, Swahili traders resident in Mwanamutapa began to redirect the kingdom’s gold trade away from Portuguese-controlled Sofala and toward more northern ports. Thus, Portugal became interested in directly controlling the interior. In 1531, posts were established inland at Sena and Tete on the Zambezi, and in 1544 a station was founded at Quelimane.

The Mutapa empire started its decline around 1500 AD, power struggles among the Mbire resulted in the fall of the Mutapa state and the founding of the Rozvi Empire in the South West of present day Zimbabwe . Further splits resulted in the fragmentation of these empires, which led to the innumerable autonomous Shona tribes found in present day Zimbabwe.
In 1560 and 1561 Gonçalo da Silveira, a Portuguese Jesuit missionary, visited Mwanamutapa, where he quickly made converts, including King Negomo Mupunzagato. However, the Swahili traders who lived there, fearing for their commercial position, persuaded Nogomo to have Silveira murdered. The presence of the Portuguese had a serious impact that affected some of its trade and there had been a series of wars which left the empire so weakened that it entered the 17th century in serious decline. By the mid-17th century the Portuguese controlled Mwanamutapa empire.

By 1690 the Portuguese had been forced off the plateau and much of the land formerly under Mwanamutapa was controlled by the Rozwi. The Shona dynasties fractured into autonomous states, many of which later formed the Rozwi empire. Peace and prosperity reigned over the next two centuries and the centres of Dhlo-Dhlo, Khami, and Great Zimbabwe reached their peaks. The Mwanamutapa citadel and palace were taken over by the Rozwi, whose Changamira extended his control over the mining area. The Rozwi empire did not however succeed in controlling an area as vast as the ancient Karanga had done.

As a result of the mid-19th century turmoil in Transvaal and Natal, the Rozwi Empire came to an end, this was due to the fact that The Matebeles led by Mzilikazi came and devastated the region. The Rozwi emigrated westwards; cities and farmlands, palaces and irrigation canals were abandoned and grass began to grow over the ancient walls of Great Zimbabwe.

Shona dancers

It was not until the late 19th century that the peoples speaking several mutually intelligible languages were united under the Shona name. There are five main language clusters: Zezuru, Korekore, Manyika, Ndau, and Karanga.

The last of these groups was largely absorbed by the Matebeles (Ndebele) when they moved into western side of present day Zimbabwe

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63 Responses to “The Shona People”

  1. I have one issue with most narrations that try to bring in the convergence of the People and the First People generally known and understood as the Bantu and the San. There is the belief that there was enslavement of the San by the Bantu but no one ever provides evidence of such enslavement. I believe there is need to trace people”s totems. I have heard in oral history the totem VaMbwetete refers to the female organ and also linked to the San or Khoisan who call themselves the First People. It would seem that there was basically marriage alliances as male hunters moved southward as scouts for land.



  2. look into the Yoruba word ochun or oshun and the kamitic hetheru



  3. shona word for more insight look into the Yoruba word oshun or ochun



  4. But how does bukala fits in all of the information you produced



  5. The word “Shona” comes from “Svina”, a Shona word which means a person who squeezes intestines and cleans them for his meat. When the well-to-do slaughtered their livestock for meat, they offered poor people the intestines. The word evolved to describe poor people in general… individuals, families and villages… whom they called “MaSvina” in Shona. It was so common that explorers, hunters, missionaries and anyone else who lived long enough among the MaShona picked it up. They in turn used it as a collective term for all the people we call MaShona today.

    The Ndebele origin of this word is very doubtful. They may have used it in the same sense when comparing their cattle wealth to that of the MaShona but it hardly refers to a coward. In fact there had to be people in Matebeleland itself in those days who would also fit this description. If the AmaButho intended to to deride what they perceived as Shona cowardice they had far more creative words they could use.



  6. Shona means a coward who runs and hides in Mountain caves in Ndebele. The shona used to run and hide in the mountain when attacked by Ndebele amaButho and they sayed “amagwala abaleka ayoshona embalwini zentaba” hence the name AmaShona



  7. the word shona comes from the ndebele word entsshonalanga, which means people from the east (remember the ndebele settled in the south west of zimbabwe). before the collective name shona people were known more by their ethnological groupings zezuru, karanga, korekore etc. this is why even in modern day zim people talk of kuita chikaranga/chizezuru etc but never chishona.



  8. The Maker Thanks for the new information on the Shona People. Can you tell me were the Shona and Mashona name came from? I have read all of the post and no real good news!King Shona


    Mashona Marsh

  9. Correction on the second paragraph should read, ‘he land which the Ndebeles occupied was definitely not under the shona people- this is also evidenced by lack of documented history on wars, if there are any, that Mzilikazi fought with them (Shonas) until they succumbed to the Ndebele.’ An on the third from last paragraph to read, ‘The truth being there are no Shona people reminants in Matabeleland,’


    The Maker

  10. In as much as I do no have the proper history of Zimbabwe I do not believe the so called Shona people occupied and ruled the whole land that is now between Zambezi and Limpopo instead evidence point out that they stretched their domain to Mozambique where probably lies their roots. The land which the Ndebeles occupied was definitely under the shona people- this is also evidenced by lack of documented history on wars, if there any, that Mzilikazi fought with until they succumbed to the Ndebele. Surely if the Munhumutapa empire was that big they I do not think they would have been defeated an ‘invading’ Ndebele people under Mzilikazi who was on the run and had fewer ‘soldiers’. Evidence to suggest my line of thinking is to be found in the naming of historical places like Njelele, Khami and Dlodlo which are clearly not Shona names. Before the coming of whites the land between these two above mentioned rivers was known as the Matabele nation and whites will confess to that. What is more blacks did notuse rivers as boundaries, a thing which was introduced by the whites. If Matabeleland region was already occupied how would Mzilikazi have fled to it. By inference the truth could that the whole of the Southern Africa was under the Zulu kingdom and probably Mzilikazi fled across Limpopo cause he probably new of the existence of the unocupied land. If the Shonas were indeed rulers of the land between the two rivers I do not they were so stupid as not to see the goodness of the land and build up their bases there. The truth being there are Shona people reminants in Matabeleland. And they the shona know this that ukuna matongo avo kunoku. The system of governance employed by Shaka has some biblical origin in the sense of Kings. This is no surprise when we look at the distance between Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. The latter according to genesis of the bible was the largest chunk of the garden of Eden that it had to be watered by two first rivers that were created by God:rivers Pishon and Gihon. Do not hide the truth and do not glorify lies about who are the owners of the land between the two rivers. Both the Shona and Ndebeles or indeed Kalanga or other tribes found in Zimbabwe today can equal claim a stake. Otherwise the land belong to all of us according to our areas of dominance, that is Matabeleland or Mashonaland. As to who built the great Zimbabwe it is anybody’s guess we can nit be so sure that it is Shonas as basically besides the monumental structure there are traces of evidence to suggest that such kinds of structures was their way of life. The monument was a one off event per se and does not in any way identify with ordinary Shona way of living even today! So please stop these unfounded glorifications and start looking for your answers from the proper Bible not another Kings James’s Opinion of the Bible.


    The Maker

  11. I read a book from the libary and caome across a African King that had a name with 16 letters in it that had the name Shona in the middle. It was in the year 950?


    Mashona Marsh

  12. Im not aware of the existence of such a king. Where did you get that from?



  13. King MaShona- who was he?


    Mashona Marsh

  14. I stumbled on this website as i was juss searching for some stuff. I would like to clarify to you all shona people abt the origins of the word shona.When the ndebele people were migrating from kwazulu they were always on a war path, they fought battles with every tribe they encountered on their way, eg the sothos, tswanas, kalanga etc.Now when they made peace with the kalangas in the present day matebeleland, their next target for raiding were the karangas, zezuruz, nyikas( basically the current shona tribes). what used to happen was that all the time when they were raiding these tribes, the people would dissapear into mountain caves and they never used to be able to figure out where exactly these people were hiding. Now this act of hiding in Ndebele/zulu was called “ukushona”, so they would ask each other “bashonephi labantu”. never mind the current diluted zulu known to you as ndebele, the original ndebele was zulu and instead of tsh- they used sh.Everytime they would find themselves asking “bashonephi” and eventual they called them ama”shona” because these people used to just dissapear (shona/tshona) into the curves.it was not a deregatory term as one of the fools was suggesting above, it was just a reference term. Now this is how we know it thina besintwini. No hard feelings people pliz, I know we hate each other already.lol.Anywhere you got your revenge thru gukurahundi right, luckily i survived that one. But gukurahundi was different in that it was killing aimed at eliminating our ndebele tribe from the face of the world in the 20th century, where as then thina we were just raiding cattle and ofcourse woman, or and some man to reinforce our armies. and ofcourse the traditional healers, you guys were gifted so we would bring those aboard as well.but i think we are square now, gukurahundi vs our raiding, what do you think vanha vachangamire? lol. Hey can you tell me more about nyatsimba mutota, what was he up there before we came by the way?One more thing i would like to know, its these nehanda and kaguvi thugz. what exactly did they do besides witchcraft?? lol.I need to visit chipinge i heard the manyika guys are gurus in witchcraft, but why cant they take out this zezuru that orchestrated gukurahundi kanti? You makarangas, are you sure you are the ones that built the great zimbabwe? what do you know about the lembe people you guys? If you really built the great zimbabwe then you had power and skill, hats off for you. But i dont trust you, for you have failed to run what is originally yours, zimbabwe.lol. zvogbo was tried and failed.What i have noticed though is that the name shona really unites you people especially against us the ndebeles, you forget we live with your cousins the kalangas, vendas and tongas. Infact they also dont like you,lol.Till we meet again in another gukurahundi, take care. Note: i did not call anyone “svina”, can i hear an “amen” from my mashonaland bretheren. ok ok before i close what does svina mean? and the other thing ndebele is a name we were also given by the tswana people albeit not for hiding curves during fights but for our prowess in using ihawu, the sheild, thats what they called litebele.By the way you were not the only ones that suffered at our, even the zulus themselves. the only bast*rds that annahilated us were yuropiyenz. Mugabe has sorted them for us though,lol.



  15. Gonmazana, your thoughts were right. Nobody really knows the ‘true’ meaning of MASHONA OR SHONA…Mashona Marsh


    Mashona Marsh

  16. kuda-RIGHT ON! Please contact me. ‘mashona marsh’


    mashona marsh

  17. please contact me for more review on your coments? My name is Mashona Marsh in texas-usa, Hel pme with more in for please…


    mashona marsh

  18. please!


    mashona marsh

  19. Please let me know what you know about the ‘shona’. How did this name start? Who was named SHONA FIRST? My name is Mashona Marsh in Texas…usa


    mashona marsh

  20. Please contact me about wahr you have found out anout the ‘shona’ peoples. My name is ‘Mashona Marsh’ yes A male in Texas


    mashona marsh

  21. Indeed nobody knows the origins of the name nor it’s meaning. Many continue to speculate though. Sometimes though when enough people buy into a particular line of speculation it boarders on ‘reality’ even in the absence of absolute truth.



  22. Hey you are right! Were did the real name come from. I have the name and people alway ask. Who wad the first Shona?. Was he a Africian King! I call My self ‘KING SHONA’


    Mashona Marsh

  23. I think you are 100% correct in your various statements that as yet no substantial evidence hasbeen furnished on the origins of the name. All we know is that it pops up somewhere in the mid to late 1800s. Someone else argued with me above that the Shona never assimilated the Khoisan. That person is partly correct however, the ancestors of the modern day Shona/Bantu replaced and assimilated s group of hunter gatherers who may or may not have been Khoisan but most certainly remarkably similar. These people notonly hunted and gathered food but made many rock paintings as well another aspects of their culture bearing similarities to the Khoisan. This is attested to by archeological evidence much of which still exists today at various locations around the country. Granted these hunter gatherers may have been a lot less populous than the ones eventually encountered by the Ngunigroups further south



  24. vamwe tava kunakidzwa nemanyepo.mashingaidze,dont lie to foreigners.shona given to european or americans as a name is hebrew name and translates to God is gracious.it has no link whatsoever to the shona tribe. shona has been linked by some historians to the name sena.it has also been linked to the name svina.both assumptions have not been verified. the tshona theory is popular but likely to be wrong as i have argued above.i want to credit the white settlers with the creation of the shona people not coining the name.my understanding is there was no reference to shona people at all prio to colonisation.there were the fragmented tribes that now claim to be collectively shona.this was made stronger by the rhodesian education system which found a common ground for the tribes and came up with some academic language called standard shona.


    lucas mbambo

  25. Thanks Nhuma yaMambo but don’t you think Karanga too has some few clicks and they maybe very original such as in “kudla”?


    Oswell Dhlembeu

  26. Lucas Mbambo my brother tell me more. You seem to have a new dimension that I never know and its interesting that you say Rozvi is separate from both Kalanga and Shona and you I liked your example of vuma balanda. I think this debate will be enriched with such divergence of views.


    Oswell Dhlembeu

  27. Another legend speaks of the Ngni groups having named the Shona by virtue of their location to the west of their new settlement and obviously nothing could be further from the truth, they were actually located in the opposite direction. Archeological evidence points at a complete abandonment of what are now the Great Zimbabwe ruins hundreds if years before the arrival of the Ndebele following the collapse of the dynasty that used it as their capital. This nicely summarized ‘history’ gives the impression that the settlement was abandoned following the arrival if the Ndebele. In fact the raids by the Ndebele have from time to time Bern exaggerated when in fact they numbered bonnier than five at selected settlements. There are many Karanga/Shona groups who never came into contact with these raiding parties further inland and to the north. It is in the interests if a racist agenda that these have been painted in the most barbaric all encompassing terms western historians gave painted them. Further, this summary suggests that most of the Karanga were absorbed/assimilated by the Matabele, how laughable. Ask Ministers Mudenge, Cde Hungwe, PM Tsvangirai if indeed they are Ndebele if you disagree. The group that experienced some assimilation were the Kalanga who have really not been Karanga for several hundred years, well since the later stone age.



  28. Human beings at times tend to have this insatiable quest to explain things even where the answers are not within grasp. The truth of the matter is even though we know the name ‘Shona’ cropped up sometime after the arrival of the Nguni (soecifically Ndebele group) there is no reliable record of how this name came about nor do we know it’s meaning. There are various versions including the one you give here as well as that the Shona used to disappear in caves while escaping from the raiders leading to them saying ‘batshona’ phansi. How exactly they could untraceably conceal themselves, entire village settlements together with their livestock remains a mystery.



  29. As per history books, after mfecane, Mzilikazi and his Ndebel tribe trudged across the limpopo. These new settlers or invaders then referred to those from the northwest as N’tshonalanga which became colloquially known as shona. This was not necessarily derogatory but just a name derived from geographic. The term masvina used by some ndebele people in reference to karangas/shonas is however derogatory.



  30. Just one point, while I accept that the Ndaus (Shangaans) have since been assimilated into the greater contemporary Shona groups, I’m not so sure that the context within which they are being included here of the 1000s – 1500s is accurate. The Ndaus as far as I understand weren’t really Shonas as per that description but a breakaway group from the Ngunis led by Soshangane. Ndau is a derivative of Ndawo a Nguni word. They are a remnant of the Mfecane wars as far as I know.



  31. anyone have information on shona or Ndebele religious practices? Also what was their custom when a child was born with a disability,? Any information on a specific disease called osteogenesis imperfecta type 3 (supposedly traces back to this people group.) thanks



  32. Many Americans and European children with the name Shona have had grandparents or parents living in present day Zimbabwe. The Shona people are very hospitable, friendly and welcoming. In the old days ( when I grew up) in many places when they met a visitor, they would greet you, ask your name, ask where you are going and whether where you are coming from everything is fine( Manyika ) they will give you cold water assuming you have been traveling long distance.If you arrive at sunset, they would ask invite you to spend the night with them and they would invite to the family dinner table and if there are few bedrooms, they would create space for the visitors and in the morning they would give you food including food for your journey. This is the tradition of many shona tribes ( this example is a Manyika case . When the Europeans colonised Zimbabwe, Europeans and American visitors were mesmerised at the Shona table manners when having a meal. Children eat separately from seniors. Girls and women eat separately as well and in the sixties in the East men took their food from padare a fireplace surrounded by stones and often open where men would be chating while curving, making various things or roasting dry maize(mandire), round nuts, groundnuts, or meat when its available. They would wait for their meals in the dare. During a meal everyone was not allowed to speak. When a child finished eating as a sign of respect, he would ask for permission to leave or he would have to wait until elders have finished eating. After eating the family would thank the women who have cooked and would ask for attention. The men would start like bu-x 4 times followed by heavy 4 or 5 times heavy claps. these would be echoed by women who cross their hands and close of with ululation (mururu). Mhururu is common in Africa from Eritrea to South Africa, its the same. So your name was given to you to remind your family of the character of the SHONA people. The attempt to extract the word shona from a Zulu word is inappropriate. Maybe someone can do some research and I am sure if its done by scholar it can be interesting documentation. Remember shona is collective name of diverse tribes sharing a common culture, history and similar languages.


    Phibian Mashingaidze

  33. the prefix ma- that starts your name in shona denotes many things. shona would refer to a language in mordrn terms and mashona, the people who speak that language, one shona speaking person is called a mushona and many are called mashona









  36. My name is Mashona. I would really like to find what my name really means.??? I live in the US IN HOUSTON TX, I was named after my grandfather-please advise



  37. shona literally means die..fa…maybe the people were deadly or dangerous…



  38. Shona is a new name which was used by u Mzilikazi or the amandebele…this Shona name will get you people confused.. @Sybert,yes there was a common language at Mapungubwe and it was tjikalanga…i dont know why shona historians avoid this Kalanga issue..the shonas and the vendas are historically Bakalanga. they spoke their ancient language tjikalanga..(Venda has a Kalanga(-not shona)like grammar and phonology and a Sotho-like vocabulary)(-not shona) the shonas are bakalanga-aniway its another theory which shona historians do not want to hear of visit http://www.zimnewswire.com/index.php?PageT=PressArchive&act=ReadArticle&ID=83930



  39. the word shona is derived from ndebele, yes. that granted, it is important to understand that the zezurus, karangas, manyikas, ndaus and korekores have carried this tag on them for a very long time. though the word ‘shona’ may have some negative conotations, it has helped to unify these several groups. the word negro is derogatory, but some black americans have positively exploited it in their fight against segregation in the USA. essentially all these referred to above are members of one family. whether one comes from mashonaland east, masvingo, guruve, watsomba; they are one people. remember you can find similar totems across geographical boundaries.


    lisburn webster mandizvidza

  40. Amazing how we quickly get bogged down by small things. The British moved en-masse into Australia, Canada, US and New Zealand less than 4 centuries ago and not only do these new areas speak an entirely different dialect of English, but even within themselves, there are various dialects. You have an American accent, an Australian accent, a Kiwi accent all different from the British accent. Even in the US, you find 3 distinctive accents and yet here we are trying to find why there are 3 dialects in the Shona tribe over a period of 10+ centuries! Amazing! Although we need to know how the word originated, that should not take away from the fact that its one language, one people. If you took Chivhu as the mid-point, you would find that the bulk of Shona live within a radius of 100-150km…less than 2-3 days walk! Yet the description used is “loose groups”. The first Chimurenga was started in Masvingo, but why would everyone have united under the guidance of Kasikana if we were just loose groups? There is a common thing which is that whether you are Zerzuru, Manyika and Karanga our elders refer to our culture as chikaranga chedu. But I guess if we can’t understand the simple things such as impact of Mfecane (Kalanga and Ndau) then we are doomed.



  41. Chikuse, nice summary, however, I think you need to carry out more research on the origins of the word “Shona”. To my understanding, “Shona” refers to the language we speak we speak of the group of people as being the “MaShona”. Also, there is no mention of “Rhovi” in your article and how that links to the people of Zim being referred to as “Shona” – Colonisation by the British also had alot to do with it



  42. The word “shona” is definitely not a Shona Language word, its could be Ndebele and indeed this is the only claim hitherto. The Shona simply called themselves Vanhu and their language and culture is simply ChiVanhu! Thats a universal inside-looking-out viewpoint, which is quite normal among languages and peoples around the world. Shona would be the outside-looking-in viewpoint, i.e., what others say they are! I would disagree with Mawoyo for wanting to separate himself out from this linguistically homogeneous group of people who largely speak one language that happens to have many dialects. The Karanga, Zezuru, Manyika, Ndau, etc are basically one people who occupy a vast area with vast distances accounting for the development of dialects. This group is certainly different from the Ndebele people. Furthermore, the differences among its internal language dialects are tiny as compared to the differences of each dialect to Ndebele language or any other language outside the dialects.As for Shamwari Munhu’s question: (1) The Shona generally speak idiomatically in almost every aspect of their lives including bad or sad news. In fact you could say any news could be relayed idiomatically. Shona is a highly flowery language. (2) Sure there are customary procedures associated with bereavement but these differ slightly from locality to locality and even from family to family while following some degree of common threads. Also note that modernity has taken its toll and modern Shona generally follow very little of Shona customs preferring to be just as their English brothers (i.e., from a human perspective) during bereavement!


    Kuda Rukanda

  43. Does anyone know of a site similar to Great Zimbawe called Mapungubwe. Mapungubwe is said to have been located at the confluence of Shashe and Limpopo rivers, hence it merged modern day Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Could Mapungubwe been the origin of the word “Abetshona”?? Whats is the relationship between Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe? Was there a common language at Mapungubwe?


    Sybert Tendesai Mawoyo

  44. Hello forumites, it seems there are many theories, arguments and whatevers as to what shona is. What are the viewpoints of Bhebhe and Mashingaidze our own Zimbabwean historians?? Who are we really?? According to my earlier posting, I highlighted that I would be more comfortable being referred to as a Manyika.How about referring to ourselves as Bantu?? In modern day Zezuru, some would prefer to translate Bantu to vanhu, and our Zimbabwean culture as to chivanhu. Do you remember the Bantu migration?? What is the relationship between the Bantu migration to modern day “Shona” language/dialects.In as much as Swahili is significantly different from “Shona2, if we are to track our present day Zimbabwean “Shona” language, one would realise that we have a magnitude of words that are used in Swahili i.e. Mbudzi, Musikana, mombe/n’ombe, mangwana, rara, gungano/muungano(coalition)and mafuta, just to mention a few. One needs to be aware of the fact that Swahili is not purely an African language. Swahili is a fusion of Bantu and Arabic that was created as a means of communication between Arabs and Africans for trade purposes and heavily at Zanzibar during the slave trade. Swahili is basically similar to “Chiraparapa” for those of you who are old enough to remember. My question is, if we were to strip off Arabic from Swahili, would be left with pure Bantu? and a language that many Africans might understand? i.e. East (Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania), Central(the Congo) and countries in Southern Africa (Zimbabwe). Is the trail of the Bantu consistent with the routes of Bantu migration across Africa??However, in as much as there are so many words that are consistent in meaning between “Shona” and “Swahili” I haven’t come across conclusive evidence to link the two other than the theory of Bantu migration. Finally where does Shona fit in?? My argument is still based on the fact that we are fragmented regionally hence, it is careless to refer saManyika semushona and maMukaranga, maKorekore, maZezuru with a blanket name “Shona” given the controversy surrounding the word “Shona” Please forumites, lets us get to the bottom of this topic and let us respect each other’s contribution along the way.


    Sybert Tendesai Mawoyo

  45. What people dont understand is that shona people did not really have tribes pre colonial. They were dzinzas- people of the same totem wich could be loosely termed tribes however these were actually extended families (brothers, sister’s uncles and tete) but people of the same totems could hail from different nations (called nyika) i.e soko murehwa could be from hwedza(svosve), harare(chishawasha), chivi(mahugwi), murehwa, different autonomous states from one tribe. Zezuru for example was just a language not a tribe e.g mhofu and soko are not related tribe wise even though they all spoke zezuru, but were related through intermarriages since it was taboo to marry from your lineage. When BSAC settled in mashonaland no body attacked them because nobody had felt invaded. Zezuru states were only responsible for their nations l.e chiefs only protected their villages and did not interfere outside their boundaries. Zezurus only started fighting when they were told tho move from their land and even then it was one village for itself, the only time the zezurus decide to fight as a group was when they were told to pay hut tax and one chief had been whipped for failing to tell authorities that his cattle had rinderpest and even then they fought anonymously not with a joint comand. The first person to unite shonas was a british scholar who created syllables for shona basing it on zezuru since it was impractical to have written language for every dialect, he chose the word shona citing that it was of nguni or ndebele origin



  46. i donot believe any of your answers are correct and this is why.if the shona were named by the ndebele then are we saying the shona name and people have only been in existence in the last less than 200 years.and again if you say the zulus why would the zulus who are in natal call just the shonas the shonas when there are ohter people to their west?my point being if this was so then almost the whole of southern africa would have been called shonas.even the attempt by one to say it was ndebele for abesthona does not make sense whether as of yonder or of west.of west is a non starter because if anything it was the ndebeles who would have been entshonalanga.non of the answers given so far make any sense.how would the zulus have been aware of the shonas?who were they called before they were known as shona?the ndebeles were never on the eastern side of the shona so what west would it be? joseph korinde vuma balanda was not ndebele or kalanga it was the original rozvi spoken today by few people.it does not translet to bvuma varanda at all and that is just bastardisation of a language. chakaka i personal do not find any demeaning in what the whoever were calling them.i just find untruth.this obviously is an explanation in a second or third language but if it were true the context they implied would be vaye vekumhiri and whats wrong with that.no one knows what shona is.there is no record of anyone called shona prior to the colonial british era.there was no shona kingdom even according to portuguese records or maps.saka shona chiyi


    lucas mbambo

  47. I am trying to find out about a few Shona customs:-1. Is it part of the Shona culture not to relate bad news directly but rather idiomatically, for example one would not say of an ill person that they are gravely or seriously ill and they might die but rather, one might they are not as well as could be? 2. Are there customary procedures in dealing with bereavement, i.e. dissemination of news of death and conduct of the funeral itself.Many thanks. Tatenda.


    Shamwari Munhu

  48. The word shona is derived from the Ndebele word ‘entshonalanga’ meaning west ,remember relative to the direction from which the Ndebele were coming i.e south east ,the northen shona ie zezuru and korekore ,lived westward hence the term T(shona) .The term karanga clearly predates the arrival of the Ndebele, rather the term kalanga is a variant of the karanga from which the kalanga are descendant, note kalanga people refer to their king as mambo thosd with the moyo totem will sing praises like vuma ba landa similar to the karanga moyo bvuma va randa .Similarly the lozi,lozwi are mere variants of the rozvi ,if you can find true lozi elderly people and ask them to recite their oral you will hear that they claim to be the builders of the dzimbawe,they were once part of the rozvi but as they moved south/west they became known as the Balozi


    Josef korinde

  49. I think this is a very well-researched paper. I am a Ngoni with a “Shona” mother. I have found this very revealing of my Zimbabwe-heritage. After reading, I realise that the brothers from south Africa were definitely using the term shona in a very demeaning way. Whether stating, “those from there” or “the place where the sun sets” it does not matter what they meant was simply “those” which in my view asserts to Tendesai’s point. However, do not cry over spilt milk – well done this is a great piece of work



  50. Here is an interesting paper about Zimbabwean History between 1897 -1897. Just copy the link into your web browserhttp://archive.lib.msu.edu/DMC/African%20Journals/pdfs/PULA/pula002001/pula002001008.pdf


    Sybert Tendesai Mawoyo

  51. Shona is a derogatory Ndebele word derived from “abetshona”. The name was given to the Zezuru, Manyika, Ndau, Karanga and Korekore people who lived/live in present day Zimbabwe. The word simply means “those from there” in a derogatory context. For a very long time I have refused to be referred to as a Shona, but rather as a Manyika. My understanding is that there are Zezurus, Manyikas, Venda, Ndau, Karanga and Korekore, Venda and Ndebeles in Modern day Zimbabwe. My understanding is that, Zulu speaking South Africans are Zulus, Lozi speaking Zambians are Lozis same as the Mozambician Senas, South African Xosas. The list is endless. I speak chiManyika, hence I am muManyika, you probably speak Karanga so you are muKaranga (not the youndest wife in a polygamous family). Shona is a derogatory collective name that was given to the Zimbabwean groups of people mentioned above.I know many people would construe my views differently, however, I am of the premise that there Karangas, Zerurus, Manyikas, Korekores, Ndau and the Venda in Zimbabwe.The other contributor mentioned the word intshonalanga as the origin of the name Shona. In Zulu language, intshonalanga means West and he was right by mentioning that it means a place/direction where the sun sets. However, the name Shona was not derived from the Zulu meaning intshonalanga.


    Sybert Tendesai Mawoyo

  52. On another note, this is a wonderful effort to dig into Shona history, which i would want to support.Ndizvo izvi mwana wamdara!!!


    Nhuma Yamambo

  53. I disagree with the notion that Shona absorbed Khoisan elements, this could be a confusion with the Nguni and Sotho-Tswana peoples of further south in Africa.All the cultures which got into relevent contact with the Khoisan peoples have evdence of this through the adoption of “click” consonants, which are absent from Shona.In fact, the few Shona words which contain clicks are direct borrowings from Ndebele (a Nguni Language), e.g mancuchi(maize samp), which would be “mashazhara” in more conservative Karanga, and was later adapted to “manhuchi”.


    Nhuma Yamambo

  54. Felicity, I can’t give references to any published material at this stage, but I do know that the information is documented in some history books. I also learnt a lot of Shona folklore from my grandmother.


    Kumusha Wezhira

  55. Shona is a SiNdebele or Zulu word as pointed out. Also Karanga could be a SiNdebele word based on the word “ka-langa” (of the sun). Ancestral spirit veneration and not worship is an attribute of the Shona. Viewpoint and respect for ancentral spirit is not different from the respect accorded to elders who are alive. They are addressed and talk to similarly only difference being ceremonial accompaniments for ancestral spirit but the mode and tone of address is not different – they talk to them as if they are living great great grandparents … and even rebuke themm were necessary in the supplications. Chiefdom among the Shona is subordinate to religion and less subject to politics. Shona religion imposes itself heavily over chiefdom and control it … present practice however is different as people understand Shona culture and customs less and less.


    Kuda Rukanda

  56. Shona traditional religions are oftenly confused with afterlife. Shonas believed in god called mwari who created people however they didnt believe that mwari needed appeasement therefore theywere not religious in the judeo-sense god woship was limited to rainmaking ceremonies. But shonas believed that when you die you become a spirit and leave in a spirit relm where you could be summoned through a spirit medium(a living person you choose) or a spirit doctor aka witch doctor and it was believed that you could protect your own from bad spirits, so shonas were mainly controlled though mediums but did not worship dead people in a religious sense, they just treated dead people as if they were still alive and a bit more powerful



  57. You said that the Shona believe in veneration of the spirits, is this is the absolute core of their religious tradition or would you be inclined to say that it the politics of chiefdom impose heavily on religious practices?


    Sally Webb

  58. Thanks Kumusha Wezhira. Where did you find this information, as I would like to include it as part of a paper I am writing on Zimbabwean Stone sculpture.


    Felicity Tsikiwa

  59. The name Shona is derived from the Zulu word N’tshonalanga – which means ‘the place where the sun sets’ or ‘west’. Some Zulu tribes, who were migrating northwards, travelled along the eastern part of Southern Africa (modern day Mozambique). The Shona people lived in the land to their west, hence the name.


    Kumusha Wezhira

  60. i am not sure about the origins of the word Shona but i am quite sure it has a native origin. i will research some more and update this post..


    K Chikuse

  61. Shona is an Indian word meaning Gold


    Kudzi Katsidzira

  62. in my understanding, ‘shona’ simply means people.



  63. well this is a good summary of the history of zimbabwe.can someone please provide me with the meaning of the name/word shona.


    james kamchacha

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