Zimbabwe Bird

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The Zimbabwe Bird.
Copy of Zimbabwe Bird soapstone sculpture.

The stone-carved Zimbabwe Bird is the national emblem of Zimbabwe, appearing on the national flags and coats of arms of both Zimbabwe and Rhodesia, as well as on banknotes and coins (first on Rhodesian pound and then Rhodesian dollar). It probably represents the Bateleur eagle or the African fish eagle.[1][2]


The original carved birds are from the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe, which was built by ancestors of the Shona, starting in the 11th century and continuing for over 300 years.[3] The ruins, after which modern Zimbabwe was named, cover some 1,800 acres (7.3 km2) and are the largest ancient stone construction in Zimbabwe. Among its notable elements are the soapstone bird sculptures, about 16 inches tall and standing on columns more than a yard tall, were installed on walls and monoliths of the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe.[3] They are believed to have been a sign of the royal presence.

After the ruins of Great Zimbabwe were discovered by European colonists in the late nineteenth century, they took five of the carved birds to the Cape Colony and sold them to its leader Cecil Rhodes. A German missionary came to own the pedestal of one bird, which he sold to the Ethnological Museum in Berlin in 1907.[4] In 1981, a year after the attainment of independence in Zimbabwe, the South African government returned four of the statues to the country; the fifth is held at Groote Schuur, Rhodes' former home in Cape Town. In 2003, the German museum returned the portion of bird's pedestal to Zimbabwe.[4]

On flags, currency and stamps[edit]

The bird has appeared on national flags, currency and stamps.

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ Thomas N. Huffman (1985). "The Soapstone Birds from Great Zimbabwe". African Arts 18 (3): 68–73, 99–100. JSTOR 3336358. 
  2. ^ Paul Sinclair (2001). "Review: The Soapstone Birds of Great Zimbabwe Symbols of a Nation by Edward Matenga". The South African Archaeological Bulletin 56 (173/174): 105–106. JSTOR 3889033. 
  3. ^ a b Great Zimbabwe (11th–15th century) | Thematic Essay | Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  4. ^ a b "Zimbabwe bird 'flies' home", BBC, 4 May 2003, accessed 6 May 2013