History Monday: Rozvi Dynasty

This History Monday will continue the dynasty series with a look at the Rozvi Dynasty

The Torwa Kingdom was established by the Torwa royal dynasty in the 1490s as a result of a civil war between different royal dynasties in the area around Great Zimbabwe. It was one of the two successor states to the Kingdom of Zimbabwe (the other being the Mutapa Kingdom). As a result of the internal strife and succession struggles the Torwa fled southwards and settled in Guruhuswa region.  They settled in around the capital city of Khami. Khami, much like Great Zimbabwe, would emerge as a centre of trade where gold and ivory was traded for glass beads, china and other goods from Asia and Europe. The leadership structure of the Torwa was that any decendant of the King could succeed to the throne. This created a an unstable ruling system, and in 1644 the Torwa split in two during a civil war. The split caused the capital of Khami to be abandoned, and a new capital was established in Danangombe.

At the end of the between 1670 and 1690 a cattle owner in the Mutapa Kingdom, Changamire Dombo, put together an army and rebelled against the Mwami Mutapa (King of Mutapa). Dombo would attack Portuguese merchants and raid the Mutapa Kingdom as well. He then set up a Kingdom in the area previously controlled by the Torwa dynasty (who were severly weakened by internal conflict), and made the recently established Danangombe the capital of the new Rozvi Kingdom. With the establishment of his Kingdom Changamire Dombo moved his army north and counqured the central parts of the Mutapa Kingdom, reducing the latter to a small chieftancy west of Tete. In 1684 and in 1693 he won a victory against the Portuguese in the battle of Mahungwe and the battle of Dambarare, when the colonial power attempted to take control of gold mines in the interior of Zimbabwe. By 1695, Changamire Dombo’s new Kingdom had replaced the Mutapa as the supreme kingdom in the region.  After the death of Changamire Dombo that same year his successors would take up the title Mambo.

The Rozvi Kingdom at its greatest extent. Source: S. I. Mudenge, “The Role of Foreign Trade in the Rozvi Empire: A Reappraisal”,The Journal of African History, Vol. 15, No. 3 (1974), pp. 373-391. Page 376.

The succession of the Rozvi Kingdom was organised in a manner so that the eldest brother to the King would become the next Mambo. Although there were exceptions to the rule, Changamire Dombo was for example succeeded by his son. It is thought that the strict guidelines for succession laws were one of the reasons why the Rozvi Kingdom had a greater internal stability than Torwa dynasty and Mutapa Kingdom (which were both riddled with succession struggles. The Mambo had a lot of authority, but he would also have to rule with the guidance and approval of his council, the Dare. In addition to this there existed a hereditary duty of the dynasty of Tambare (a noble family) of settling electing a ruler when there was no clear heir, and to collect tribute. The Tambare  would be a check on both the excesses and power abuses of the Kings.

A prominent factor in the success of the Rozvi Kingdom was the establishment of a large and well organised standing army. The army could muster up thousands of men, and could sustain heavy losses while still continuing to be operational. The army would be organised into different regiments, each with their own commander. The Rozvi could field an array of different weapons such as spears, axes, clubs, bows, and sometimes guns. The army fought in formations which resembled those of Shaka Zulu, and they are said to have favoured close combat. The army made sure all vassal chiefs paid tribute and stayed loyal. Through collusion with religious authorities called Mwari cults the Kings of Rozvi kept control of their population and gained legitimacy through being seen as blessed by the gods.

By the early 1800s the Rozvi Kingdom had been severely weakened. The conflicts, migrations and political upheaval known as the Mfecane was destabilising the whole region at the time and the Rozvi Kingdom was not ready to withstand the external pressures. By this time the Mwari cult and the royal dynasty were in conflict, which threatened the legitimacy of the King, and civil wars within the dynasty itself had depleted the once powerful Rozwi military. There were several different peoples who migrated through Rozwi lands. Some, such as the Sotho of Mpanga, the Ngwana Maseko Ngoni, Zwangendaba’s Ngoni, and the Nguni of Nyamazana, attacked the Rozwi Kingdom further weakening the power of the ruling dynasty. Last of the migrating peoples to the area was the Ndebele people who arrived in 1838-39 under the leadership of Gundwane [l. Ty settled in the south-western parts of present-day Zimbabwe. The Rozwi and the Ndebele were intermittently in conflict, but both Kingdoms existed for another 20 years. Many Shona people from the Rozwi Kingdom would settle in Ndebele villages over these years.

The struggle between the Ndebele and Rozwi was both militaristic and economic. The Ndebele had raided much cattle since they had settled in the area and the Rozwi had lost most of their cattle due the many raids in the early 1800s. The Rozwi needed cattle and the Ndebele needed people. As a result of this many young people from the Rozwi Kingdom moved to Ndebele lands and came to work for them in exchange for cattle. This exchange of cattle and people helped spread the Ndebele influence in the area. By this point the Rozwi ruling dynasty had retreated to the hills in the east, and they could not hold on to power long. The only choice was to fight back. The Rozwi dynasty attacked the Ndebele and a struggle ensued from 1854 to 1854. The war was a disaster for the Rozwi and in 1857 they surrendered to the Ndebele.





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