Shona is a collective name of the largest ethnic group in Zimbabwe which consists of the Manyika, Zezuru, KoreKore, Karanga and the Ndau among other ethnic groups and represents over 70% of the Zimbabwean population. The Shona people are mainly concentrated in Mashonaland, collective term for the eastern two-thirds of the country.
Historically, the Shona are believed to be part of a wider group of the Bantu people of Southern Africa. According to Shona oral traditions, the Shona migrated from their homeland called Mbire in the vicinity of Lake Tanganyika. They then crossed the Zambezi River, first settling in north-central Zimbabwe and gradually moved southwards, establishing themselves at what became Great Zimbabwe. It is believed that the original Shona occupants embodied under the name "Hungwe". But however, these people began to disperse from the established epicentre to various surrounding areas as well as far flanged ones resulting in the Shona people being scattered throughout the country with the exception of most of them being centred in Mashonaland. By implication, the history of the Shona, like any other ethnic group is associated with the movement of people from one region to another. Several reasons have been put forward to account for these dispersions which led to the formation of innumerable Shona kingdoms such as the Mutapa State, the Rozvi and the Torwa, also known as the Togwa.
Some of these Shona groups however went into oblivion as they were largely affected by the different Nguni groups dispersed during the Mfecane, which engulfed Southern Nguniland during the 1820s. By and large, the Shona are said to have occupied the Zimbabwean plateau 1000 years earlier ahead of the Ndebele who arrived in the 1830s. The advent of colonialism also had an impact as it worsened the already bad situation but this does not imply that remnants of these once powerful groups ceased to exist per say but their influence and power was weakened.
Culture, Religion and Beliefs
The Shona traditional cosmology is largely dominated by many customs and beliefs which largely affiliate the people to their ancestors. This was something which missionaries who infested the country sought to get rid off under the aegis of spreading civilisation to the 'heathens'and 'barbarians'. Chiefs are regarded as embodiments of tradition and culture. They thus occupy a central position. This has been a tide which has been prevalent since time immemorial. The Shona believed in the existence of a most high God whom they referred to as Mwari, Nyadenga or Musikavanhu.
They also believe in the aspect of venerating the ancestors (vadzimu) who are considered as the kingpin of the Shona society. This is done through spirit mediums (masvikiro)who have the prerogative of interceding with the unseen deity on behalf of the living. Misfortunes and disasters which befall the Shona were and are largely associated with the aspect of their failure to appease the ancestors which invokes their anger. It thus becomes the duty of the spirit mediums to venerate the ancestors in the hope of letting the ancestors to reveal the causes of such incidents as well as the solution to remedy such predicaments. The ancestors are thus believed to have that supernatural power to pervade the world above, below and underground.
The Shona perform rituals such as kurova guva (a process of ensuring that the spirit of the dead does not wander in the spiritual world, which might cause it to be a malevolent spirit associated with bad luck, disaster), rain making ceremonies which were prevalent even during the pre-colonial era. Sacred places are also observed amongst the Shona and it is within these places where many rituals are performed under the supervision of the chief and the spirit mediums. This also shows that religion and power is intertwined amongst the Shona, something which is also prevalent amongst the other minority ethnic groups in Zimbabwe.
The Shona also uphold patriarchy, a practise whereby authority is vested upon men. This has however been under scrutiny as a result of the implementation of gender equality laws between males and females, something that is yet to yield results. This shows that nothing has been really altered from the Shona customs and beliefs as a result of colonialism, the spread of Christianity as well as the introduction of gender sensitive laws.
There is centralisation of power amongst the Shona. Usually the Shona were and are still headed by a paramount chief (mambo), someone born in the ruling dynasty. By implication power is inherited. During the pre-colonial era, a chief had a court to assist him and this was dismantled with the advent of colonialism. Chiefs became employees of the colonial administration, a process which has been termed as indirect rule whereby the colonial administration used the existing traditional rulers to govern the people whom they had subjugated.
In the post-independence era, chiefs were recognised and they were accorded their authority. Village heads (sabhukus) also form the Shona political structure. These operate at a limited scale as contrasted to chiefs and they are the first port of call to arbitrate disputes between people.
The Shona are primarily agriculturalist and their main staple crop is maize though drought resistant crops such as millet have and are still grown by the Shona inhabiting drought prone areas. Such crops as millet are also used for brewing beer which constitutes a very pivotal role in rituals. The Shona people also rear animals such as cattle, goats and sheep. Mining also constituted and still constitutes one of the economic activities of the Shona. During the colonial era, the Shona also gathered wild fruits, something which is now not much being practised.
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