Pre-colonial Mutapa State

Gatsi Rusere Munhumutapa 1589-1623

* Picture is part of the National Stamp Collection issued by the Zimbabwe Post Office in conjunction with the  Zimbabwe National Archives in 1985 to honor the 50th Anniversary of the National Archives. The picture is from Portuguese historical collection.

The Mutapa (western adaptation) of the Munhumutapa or Mwenemutapa or Monomutapa depending on the Shona dialect was one of Western Mozambique and present day Zimbabwe’s greatest kingdoms. The Mutapa state is believed to have been an Iron Age state which spanned across three centuries till its decline in the 19th century.

 The economy of this empire was based on agriculture and trade. The area spanned from Kami, Naletale, Zumbo across the Zambezi River into Tete, Sena, Sofala, Mapungumbwe into the Indian Ocean. The capital of the state was in the Dangamombe and Great Zimbabwe area. The Mutapa traded in gold and discovered most of the gold mines that are known in present day Zimbabwe. Some believe that they even knew the diamond deposits in the Manicaland area but never showed them to the white settlers because they saw what had happened to them when gold was discovered so they kept it a secret for generations.

The Mutapa traded gold for ceramics and beads which were a status symbol in that day and time. The Mutapa required his subjects to pay tribute in the form of cattle and prove their allegiance to the Munhumutapa. The Munhumutapa was the leader of the Mutapa Empire and used religion to consolidate their power. One had to be a warrior to be the commander and Munhumutapa.
There is dispute by locals as to who built Great Zimbabwe, some say it was the Mutapa other attribute it to the Rozvi empire, all we know it was the local Africans living in the area who showed their architectural and artistic skills which serve as a monument today as we try to understand their culture and how it impacts us.
A Portuguese depiction of Nyatsimba Mutota
List of all Munhumutapas
·        Nyatsimba Mutota
·        Changamire
·        Gatsi Rusere
·        Mutapa Mukombero
·        Mavura * puppet for Portuguese

The Mutapa Empire was perhaps the first present day Zimbabwean state that fought colonialism and euro-domination and won against the Portuguese invaders in 1570s.


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