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23 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Forgotten Bantu Civilisation - Part 2

By Mohammad Mahmudur Rahman Niaz
Forgotten Bantu Civilisation - Part 2

Great Zimbabwe declined and was abandoned around 1450 AD. There has been much speculation about Zimbabwe’s decline. The causes are still a mystery, but may include a decline in trade compared to sites further north, the population depleting land resources, exhaustion of the gold mines, political instability, famine and water shortages induced by climatic change. The migrants left Zimbabwe and founded the northern kingdom of Monomotapa and other successor states. Great Zimbabwe was largely abandoned during the 15th Century. With the city’s decline, its stone-working and pottery-making techniques seem to have transferred southward to Khami, which is also in ruins now. Portuguese explorers probably encountered the ruins in the 16th Century, but it was not until the late 19th Century that the existence of the ruins was confirmed.

After spending around half an hour inside the museum, we came out and started walking around. The complex extends over almost 800 hectares and is divided into three groups _ the Great Enclosure, the Hill Ruins and the Valley Ruins. The first two are characterised by mortarless stone construction, but also include ruined earthen and mud-brick structures. The Hill Complex is the oldest, and was occupied from the 9th to 13th centuries. The Great Enclosure was occupied from the 13th to 15th centuries, and the Valley Complex from the 14th to 16th centuries.

Great Zimbabwe’s most enduring and impressive relics are its stone walls. We identified that the walls were constructed from granite blocks, gathered from the exposed rock of the surrounding hills. Since this rock naturally splits into even slabs and can be broken into portable sizes, it provided a convenient and readily available building resource. All of Great Zimbabwe’s walls were built without the use of mortar by piling stones on top of another, each layer slightly more recessed than the last to produce a stabilising inward slope. The walls are thought to have been symbolic and designed to preserve the privacy of the royal families. All surrounding and connecting walls were made of mud and thatch.

The Great Enclosure is located to the south of the hills. It is the largest single prehistoric structure south of the Sahara desert. With elliptical outer walls, it looks like a giant grey bracelet from the air. It encircles a series of smaller stone walls and a conical tower shaped royal residence.  It was built of cut granite blocks, laid in regular courses, and contains a series of living quarters, a community area, and a narrow passage leading to a high conical tower. Its outer wall is some 820 feet (250 metres) in circumference, with a maximum height of 36 feet (11m). The bricks were made from a mixture of granitic sand and clay. Some myths say that the king had several wives. Only his first wife lived in the great enclosure, while the others resided in the valley complex.

The Valley Ruins, located between the Hill Complex and the Great Enclosure, include a large number of mounds that are remnants of mud and stone buildings. The ruins are a series of living areas scattered throughout the valley which date to the 19th Century. Each enclosure has similar characteristics. We noticed that all huts, indoor flooring, benches, holders for receptacles and basins were made of brick. Resembling later developments of the Stone Age, the building work was done with high standard of craftsmanship. General people used to live in ruins of the valley enclosures.

The Hill Complex, which was formerly called the Acropolis, is believed to have been the spiritual and religious centre of the city. It sits on a steep sided hill that rises 262 feet (80m) above the ground, and its ruins extend some 328 feet (100m) by 148 feet (45m). The hill complex is where the king kept many treasures.  It is the oldest part of the site. Standing on this platform, the kings could survey their kingdom. Stratigraphic evidence shows that the first stones were laid there around 900 AD. Following a trail along the north side of the hill, we climbed to the top of the hill complex. It was a very tiring job. We found a tourist group there. The whole valley complex was visible from up there.

We were amazed to know that in the late 19th Century numerous soapstone figurines in the form of a bird were found in the ruins. These sculptures combine both human and bird elements. Scholars have conjectured they could have been emblematic of the power of Shona kings as benefactors of their people, and intercessors with their ancestors. This Zimbabwean bird later became a national symbol. It was incorporated into the Zimbabwe flag and depicted in other places of high honour.

 The name ‘Zimbabwe’ in the Shona language means ‘sacred house’ or ‘house of stone’. Lots of mysteries still remain undiscovered as only two percent of Great Zimbabwe has been excavated. Now Great Zimbabwe is considered as a national monument. It is inescapable that the ancient settlement had a condensed population sufficient for it to be considered as a city.  It had a rich heritage and culture. Its people were very much influential in trade and commerce. Today, around 20,000 tourists visit the site each year. We left the place after learning so many interesting things. It seemed as if we could hear the whimper of the ruins.n

The writer is a civil engineer and

a serving military officer.

Photos: Writer, Internet.


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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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