Zimbabwe’s Lost Treasure…The Empire of Mutapa

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The empire of Mutapa was a powerful nation in modern day Zimbabwe that rested between the Limpopo and the Zambezi River and extended to the Mozambique coast from 1430-1760. The empire of Mutapa was the successor kingdom of the Great Zimbabwe and it was comprised of mainly a Karanga-speaking population that maintained the stone building tradition of the Great Zimbabwe nation. The empire was ruled by the Munhumutapa -also called the Monomotapa by Europeans- who was considered divine. The empire was divided into capital, provincial, and village hierarchies where the relatives of the Munhumutapa were assigned as the leaders of the provinces and villages. The empire was famous for its local and international trade regime. Locally, iron was mined, and salt was procured from the Middle Save region, and clothes were produced from cotton farming and the bark of the baobab tree. Internationally, gold was a major commodity of trade. The empire held a monopoly on gold and it was forbidden of anyone to reveal the location of the gold mines for fear of death if this rule was transgressed. The trade of gold and ivory, another important trade commodity, stimulated the growth of the Vashambadzi, the African merchant class who acted as the middlemen between the local laborers and the Swahili and Portuguese traders. The empire came to its close when the Portuguese allied with rivals of the Mutapa Empire in order to gain access to the abundance of mineral resources found in the area.

For more information, read How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney (1981) and Mutapa Empire.

Picture from Mutapa Hotel.

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