History Monday: Khami Ruins

This special series History Monday will look at the National Monuments of Zimbabwe and their history. This week will be Part 1 of the Khami Ruins History

The Khami Ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site. They are the last of the of the five World Heritage sites in Zimbabwe and the least known.

Summary:

  • Khame Ruins are perhaps the least known of Zimbabwe’s five World Heritage sites. Situated just 22 kilometres outside of Bulawayo, Khame was the capital of the Torwa state between 1450 and around 1683, after the capital at Great Zimbabwe in Masvingo was abandoned. It was a trading centre, as attested by the artefacts discovered here and the ruins are not places of defence, but were prestige buildings designed to demonstrate Torwa wealth.
  • Human evidence at the site can be traced back to the Early Stone Age, approximately 0.4 to 1.4 million years ago.  For the best information available get the booklet:  Khami, Capital of the Torwa State by Rob Burrett and Paul Hubbard.

Background

Great Zimbabwe between 1300 to 1500AD was the largest settlement in sub-Saharan Africa, its wealth founded on the cattle and gold trade down the Sabi River with Swahili merchants based around Sofala on the African east coast. At Zimbabwe the art of dry-stone walling was learned and although there are regional and historical differences, over 300 dry stone sites developed, and are given the name madzimbahwe “houses of stone.”

In the late 1400’s land exhaustion and succession disputes weakened the ruling elite at Great Zimbabwe which split into two successor states. One under Mutota Chibatamatosi went north and founded the Mutapa State in northern Mashonaland; the other went westwards and founded the Torwa State at Khame.

Torwa Dynasty

The principal features of this architectural style are in the walling, which is no longer free-standing as at Great Zimbabwe, but a series of stone walls which are in-filled to create levelled platforms, or terraces.  In addition the walls have simple geometric designs built into them, the most important at Danan’ombe (formerly Dhlo-Dhlo) Nalatale, Zinjanja (formerly Regina) and of course Khame. The Torwa Dynasty was centred at Khame and flourished between 1450 and 1683. The Portuguese established a fortress at Sofala in 1505 and partially destroyed the Arab-Swahili trade system that had dominated the coast. Its elite, dominated by the Chibundule Dynasty whose leader was known as Mambo, controlled the rich grazing lands and gold, copper and salt mines of Matabeleland and adjacent Botswana. The gold trade, although diminished, still existed and it is likely that the wealth of the Torwa attracted the envy of others. On Old Portuguese maps the Torwa Empire is always referred to as Butua.

Rozwi Dynasty

About 1644 a family feud saw competing claimants for the throne and a crippling civil war erupted. The legitimate Mambo was overthrown and the deposed leader fought back with help from a Portuguese landowner / mercenary from Mozambique. Khame was attacked and some parts seem to have been burnt. Political power now slipped to the northeast where the Rozwi State would ultimately be founded, as Khame sunk into a provincial backwater. The Rozwi most likely came from the Mutoko area in north-eastern Zimbabwe and were led by Changamire who raided the south-east sacking Khame in 1683 and destroyed the Torwa dynasty. The Rozwi Kingdom took over those areas previously held by the Torwa, including southeast Zimbabwe, eastern Botswana and northern South Africa. It continued the stone-building culture that it had inherited and resumed trade through the Portuguese, who knew it as Butua, but over time the Kingdom was weakened by a succession of disputes and droughts, until in 1838 it was overthrown by the Ndebele under Mzilikazi.

 

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