Shona people

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Total population
17.6 million (2019)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Zimbabwe13 million (2019)[1]
 Mozambique2.3 million[2][3]
 South Africa1-2 million (2019)
 United Kingdom200,000 (2011)[6]
Shona; English
Christianity, Shona traditional religion
Related ethnic groups
Lemba, Kalanga; Venda and other Bantu people
A Shona n'anga (witch doctor).

The Shona people (/ˈʃnə/) are a Bantu ethnic group native to Southern Africa, primarily Zimbabwe (where they form the majority of the population). They have five major clans, and are adjacent to other groups with similar cultures and languages.

Regional classification[edit]

The Shona people are divided into tribes in eastern and northern Zimbabwe. Their estimated population is 16.6 million:[8]

  • Karanga or Southern Shona (about 8.5 million people)
  • Zezuru or Central Shona (5.2 million people)
  • Korekore or Northern Shona (1.7 million people)
  • Manyika tribe or Eastern Shona (1.2 million)[9] in Zimbabwe (861,000) and Mozambique (173,000). Desmond Dale's basic Shona dictionary includes the Manyika dialect.[10]
  • Ndau[11] in Mozambique (1,580,000) and Zimbabwe (800,000). Their dialect, partially mutually intelligible with the main Shona dialects, has click sounds which do not occur in standard Shona. Ndau has a wealth of Nguni words as a result of the Gaza Nguni occupation of their ancestral land in the 19th century.

Language and identity[edit]

In order to understand who the Shona people really are, in history, it is important first to understand the extent of their territory which in history has been taught as the butua, Mutapa Kingdoms and rozvi empire. A 17th century French engraving of Mutapa Mavhura Mhande, who ruled from 1629 to 1652 says, “The Great King Monomotapa is very powerful and rich in gold. “His territory comprises lower Ethiopia. “His Empire has a circuit of 2 400 miles. “His court is at Zimboae (Zimbabwe).” “The gold workings of his Kingdom,” says Basil Davidson in, Old Africa Rediscovered, “spread in their thousands across the Southern hinterland, from the fringes of the Belgian Congo, through Bechuanaland to Natal in South Africa, and are central to the growth and flowering of the Zimbabwe culture across the whole Empire.” Still on appreciating the extent of Mutapa’s Kingdom, Chancellor Williams says, “from its long eastern border bathed by the Indian Ocean into South Africa, Zimbabwean culture was experienced throughout the whole Kingdom on one of the widest scales in history. “From its eastern border into South Africa, the Zimbabwe cities of stone dotted the whole land as a deathless symbol of a people’s greatness.” Now, let us turn to historical records that have never been taught in our schools and universities, and find out what the people in this vast Kingdom were called. According to these records, the growth and development of the Kingdom of Mutapa from lower Ethiopia, through Botswana to Natal in South Africa, was based on mining, especially gold, to the extent that the whole Kingdom became known as the land of gold, and its people, as the people of the land of gold. Trade in gold from the Mutapa Kingdom reached as far as India, Persia, China, Arabia, Portugal and eventually other countries in Europe and Asia. This trade was dominated by Indians. The Gujarati Banyans, according to the following account by H. Ellert in, Rivers of Gold, enjoyed rights to free voyage between Diu and Mozambique and the Rivers. The shareholders were rich Indian merchants and arms dealers. They financed annual voyages to Mozambique supplying beads and textiles from Cambaya and Surat. The Gujarati vessels offered the most reliable and regular passage between India and Mozambique. Many Portuguese officials and merchants took advantage of the service, although they often complained that all their efforts had been for the benefit of India because, according to them, the gold was dug from African soil, only to be transported to India, where the Hindu buried it again. Gold in Hindi is called ‘sona’. In Gujarati it is also called ‘sona’ or ‘sonu’. ‘Sonu’ means ‘handsome’ in Sanskrit. It is derived from the word ‘Sohna’ in Punjab, which means beautiful. The whole land of Mutapa became known as ‘the land of sona’, or ‘Sonaland’. ‘Sona’ or ‘Sohna’ were eventually corrupted to ‘Shona’. ‘Sonaland’ became ‘Shonaland’. The people became simply known as ‘Shona’, collectively. That is how ‘Shona’ as the name for all the people of under Mutapa gained currency throughout the world. Ken Mufuka in his book, Dzimbahwe, cites the example of the Arab traveller, Ibu Said, (1214-1286) who wrote about a certain people called Soyouna (Shona) inhabiting the whole land of Zambezia. Mufuka gives another example of a traveller and geographer called Janson who recorded on his 1639 map of Zambezia the name of the people living there as ‘Sajona’ (Shona).

kalanga/karanga was used we can see this in portuguese transcripts . shona people of the Zimbabwe highlands, however, retained a vivid memory of the ancient kingdom often identified with the Kingdom of Mutapa. The terms Karanga, Kalanga and Kalaka, now the names of discrete groups, seem to have been used for all Shona before the Mfecane.[12] Ethnologue notes that the language of the Bakalanga is mutually intelligible with the main dialects of Karanga and other Bantu languages in central and eastern Africa, but counts them separately. The Kalanga and Karanga are believed to be one clan who built the Mapungubwe, Great Zimbabwe and Khami, and were assimilated by the Zezuru. Although many Karanga and Kalanga words are interchangeable,

Dialect groups have many similarities. Although "standard" Shona is spoken throughout Zimbabwe, the dialects help identify a speaker's town (or village) and ethnic group. Each Shona dialect is specific to a certain ethnic group.

In 1931, during his attempt to reconcile the dialects into a single standard Shona language, Clement Doke[13] identified five groups and subdivisions:

  1. The Korekore (or Northern Shona), including Taυara, Shangwe, Korekore, Goυa, Budya, the Korekore of Urungwe, the Korekore of Sipolilo, Tande, Nyongwe of "Darwin", and Pfungwe of Mrewa
  2. The Zezuru group, including Shawasha, Haraυa, another Goυa, Nohwe, Hera, Njanja, Mbire, Nobvu, Vakwachikwakwa, Vakwazvimba, Tsunga
  3. The Karanga group, including Duma, Jena, Mari, Goυera, Nogoυa, and Nyubi
  4. The Manyika group, including Hungwe, Manyika themselves, Teυe, Unyama, Karombe, Nyamuka, Bunji, Domba, Nyatwe, Guta, Bvumba, Here, Jindwi, and Boca
  5. The Ndau group (mostly in Mozambique), including Ndau, Garwe, Danda, and Shanga

Dialects developed during the dispersion of tribes across Zimbabwe over a long period, and the influx of immigrants into the country from bordering countries has contributed to the variety.


A Shona family, 1911.

During the 11th century, the Kalanga people/karanga people formed kingdoms on the Zimbabwe plateau. Construction began on Great Zimbabwe, capital of the kingdom of Zimbabwe. The Torwa dynasty ruled the kingdom of Butua, and the kingdom of Mutapa preceded the Rozvi Empire (which lasted into the 19th century).

Brother succeeded brother in the dynasties, leading to civil wars which were exploited by the Portuguese during the 16th century. The kings ruled a number of chiefs, sub-chiefs and headmen.[14]

The kingdoms were replaced by new groups who moved onto the plateau. The Ndebele destroyed the weakened Rozvi Empire during the 1830s; the Portuguese gradually encroached on the kingdom of Mutapa, which extended to the Mozambique coast after it provided valued exports (particularly gold) for Swahili, Arab and East Asian traders. The Pioneer Column of the British South Africa Company established the colony of Rhodesia, sparking the First Matabele War which led to the complete annexation of Mashonaland; the Portuguese colonial government in Mozambique fought the remnants of the kingdom of Mutapa until 1902. The Shona people were also a part of the Bantu migration where they are one of the largest Bantu ethnic groups in sub Saharan Africa.[14]


Subsistence agriculture and mining[edit]

Aerial photo
Shona farms near Murewa, Zimbabwe

The Shona have traditionally practiced subsistence agriculture. They grew sorghum (largely replaced by maize), beans (since the middle of the first millennium AD), African groundnuts, and (beginning in the 16th century) pumpkins. Sorghum and maize are used to prepare the main dish, a thickened porridge called sadza, and the traditional beer known as hwahwa.[15] The Shona also keep cattle and goats, since livestock are an important food reserve during droughts.[14] Precolonial Shona states derived substantial revenue from the export of mining products, particularly gold and copper.[14]


Traditional Shona housing, known as musha, are round huts arranged around a cleared yard (ruvanze). Each hut has a specific function, such as a kitchen or a lounging space.[16]



The Shona are known for their stone sculptures, which were discovered during the 1940s. Shona sculpture developed during the eleventh century and peaked in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries before beginning a slow decline until their mid-20th-century rediscovery. Although most of the sculptures are sedimentary-stone (such as soapstone) birds or humans, some are made with harder stone such as serpentinite and the rarer verdict. During the 1950s, Zimbabwean artists began carving stone sculptures for sale to European art lovers. The sculptures quickly became popular and were bought and exhibited by art museums worldwide. Many of the sculptures depict the transformation of spirits into animals (or vice versa), and some are abstract. Many Zimbabwean artists carve wood and stone for sale to tourists, and traditional pottery also exists.


Traditional clothing were usually animal skins that covered the front and the back named mhapa and shashiko. These later evolved when the shona people started trading for cloth with groups like the tsonga and later native cloths were manufactured.


Four late-19th-century wooden musical instruments

Shona traditional music, like other African traditional music, has constant melodies and variable rhythms. Its most important instruments are ngoma drums and the mbira. The drums vary in size and shape, depending on the type of music they are accompanying. How they are played depends on the size of a drum and the type of music. Although large drums are typically played with sticks and smaller drums with an open palm, the small drum used for the amabhiza dance is played with a hand and a stick; the stick rubs, or scratches, the drum to produce a screeching sound.

The mbira has become a national instrument of sorts in Zimbabwe.[17] It has a number of variants, including the nhare, mbira dzavadzimu, the Mbira Nyunga Nyunga, njari mbira and matepe. The mbira is played at religious and secular gatherings, and the different mbiras have different purposes. The 22–24-key mbira dzavadzimu is used to summon spirits, and the 15-key Mbira Nyunga Nyunga is taught from primary school to university. Shona music also uses percussion instruments such as the marimba (similar to a xylophone), hosho (shakers), leg rattles, wooden clappers (makwa), and the chikorodzi, a notched stick played with another stick.


The religion of Shona people is centred on Mwari (God), also known as Musikavanhu (Creator of man/people) or Nyadenga (one who lives high up). God communicates with his people on earth directly or through chosen holy people. At times God uses natural phenomena and the environment to communicate with his people. Some of the chosen people have powers to prophecy, heal and bless. People can also communicate with God directly through prayer. When someone dies, according to Shona religion, they join the spiritual world. In the spiritual world, they can enjoy their afterlife or become bad spirits. No one wants to be a bad spirit, so during life, people are guided by a culture of unhu so that when they die, they enjoy their afterlife. Deaths are not losses but a promotion to the stage where they can represent the living through the clan spirits. Colonial white missionaries as well as anthropologists like Gelfand and political colonialists did not interpret this religion in a good light because they wanted to undermine it in favour of Christianity. Initially, they said the Shona did not have a God, but this was a lie. They denigrated the way the Shona had communicated with their God, the Shona way of worship and chosen people among the Shona. They could not distinguish the living and the dead. The chosen people were regarded as unholy and Shona prayer was regarded as pagan. Of course, the agenda was to colonise. When compared with Christianity, the Shona religion perspective of afterlife, holiness, worship and rules of life (unhu) have similar goals, they are only separated by cultures (African versus European) and values (unhu versus western). Although sixty to eighty percent of the Shona people converted to Christians as a result of colonial missionaries, and at times by force, Shona religious beliefs are still very strong. Most of the Christian churches and beliefs have been blended with Shona religion. This was done to guard against European and western cultures that dominate Christianity. A small number of the population practice the Muslim faith, often brought about by immigrants from predominantly Malawi who practice Islam. There is also a small population of Jews. An example of a colonially constructed meaning of the Shona religion is found in the works of Gelfand, an anthropologist. Gelfand said the afterlife in Shona religion is not another world (like the Christian heaven and hell) but another form of existence in this world. This is not true. When people die, they join another world, and that world is not on earth, although like in Christianity, some of those people can interact with living beings in different ways. He further wrongly concluded that the Shona attitude towards dead ancestors is very similar to their attitude towards living parents and grandparents.[18] The Bira ceremony, which often lasts all night, summons spirits for guidance and help in the same manner daily, weekly or all night Christian ceremonies summon spirits for guidance and help. In this analysis, Gelfand and Hannan, both whites, and part of the colonial establishment, forgot that the Christian doctrine treats dead prophets, biblical figures and living 'holy people' in much the same way. In fact in the Christian community, some of the prophets, figures and 'holy people' are revered more than biological parents. In fact, in colonial Zimbabwe, converts were taught to disrespect their families and tribes, because of a promise of a new family and tribe in Christianity. This is ironic.

In Zimbabwe, (mutupo) (plural mitupo) wrongly called totems by colonial missionaries and anthropologists have been used by the Shona people since their culture developed. Mitupo are an elaborate was of identifying clans and sub-clans. They help to avoid incest, and they also build solidarity and identity. There are more than 25 mitupo in Zimbabwe. In marriage, mitupo help create a strong identity for children but it serves another function of ensuring that people marry someone they know. In shona this is explained by the proverb rooranai vematongo which means 'marry or have a relationship with someone that you know'. However, as a result of colonisation, urban areas and migration resulted in people mixing and others having relationships of convenience with people they do not know. This results in unwanted pregnancies and also unwanted babies some of whom are dumped or abandoned. This may end up with children without mutupo. This phenomena has resulted in numerous challenges for communities but also for the children who lacks part of their identity. Though it is possible for a child to be adopted and receive mutupo.[19][20]

Notable Shona People[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ehnologue: Languages of Zimbabwe Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine, citing Chebanne, Andy and Nthapelelang, Moemedi. 2000. The socio-linguistic survey of the Eastern Khoe in the Boteti and Makgadikgadi Pans areas of Botswana.
  2. ^ "Ethnologue: Languages of Mozambique". Archived from the original on 2015-02-21. Retrieved 2015-06-04.
  3. ^ "Ethnologue: Languages of Botswana". Archived from the original on 2013-09-29. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  4. ^ "Ethnologue: Languages of Zambia". Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  5. ^ "South Africa | Joshua Project".
  6. ^ Zimbabwe — Mapping exercise (PDF). London: International Organization for Migration. December 2006. Archived from the original on 2011-07-16.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  7. ^ Haberland, Eike (May 3, 1974). Perspectives Des Études Africaines Contemporaines: Rapport Final D'un Symposium International. Deutsche UNESCO-Kommission. ISBN 9783794052257 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ "Shona". Ehnologue. (subscription required)
  9. ^ "Manyika". Ethnologue.
  10. ^ D. Dale:
    • Basic English – Shona dictionary, Afro Asiatic Languages Edition, Sept 5, 2000, ISBN 978-0869220146
    • Duramazwi: A Shona - English Dictionary, Afro Asiatic Languages Edition, Sept 5, 2000, ISBN 978-0869220146
  11. ^ "Ndau". Ethnologue.
  12. ^ "Zimbabwes rich totem strong families – a euphemistic view on the totem system". Archived from the original on May 28, 2015.
  13. ^ Doke, Clement M.,A Comparative Study in Shona Phonetics. 1931. University of Witwatersrand Press, Johannesburg.
  14. ^ a b c d David N. Beach: The Shona and Zimbabwe 900–1850. Heinemann, London 1980 und Mambo Press, Gwelo 1980, ISBN 0-435-94505-X.
  15. ^ Correct spelling according to D. Dale, A basic English Shona Dictionary, mambo Press, Gwelo (Gweru) 1981; some sources write "whawha", misled by conventions of English words like "what".
  16. ^ Friedrich Du Toit, Musha: the Shona concept of home, Zimbabwe Pub. House, 1982
  17. ^ "Music in Zimbabwe". Nordiska Afrikainstitutet. 16 March 2006. Archived from the original on 26 December 2007. Retrieved 23 May 2020. ... only in Zimbabwe has [the mbira] risen to become something of a national instrument.
  18. ^ Michael Gelfand, The spiritual beliefs of the Shona, Mambo Press 1982, ISBN 0-86922-077-2, with a preface by Father M. Hannan.
  19. ^ "Baby dumping in Zimbabwe". Archived from the original on 2015-05-28. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  20. ^ "Project Tariro".
  21. ^ Evans, Diana. ""I'm Taking Back What's Mine": The Many Lives Of Thandiwe Newton". British Vogue.

Further reading[edit]

[1] [2] [3]

External links[edit]

  1. ^ Rev. Dr. L. Kadenge. Death and Mourning among the Zezuru.Beyond Today Publishers: Harare,2020
  2. ^ Rev J.S. Mbiti. African religion philosophy. 2nd ed. Heinemann:Switzerland.1989
  3. ^ carpernter, G.W.,The way in Africa, New York: Friendship Press.1964