HISTORY DENIED WHEN DISCOVERED IN THE 19TH CENTURY IN THE INTERIOR OF SOUTHERN AFRICA  – “AN EXTENSIVE NETWOR OF MONUMENTS MADE OF GRANITE STONE” – THE CIVILIZATION OF GREAT ZIMBABWE “ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT CIVILIZATIONS IN THE WORLD DURING THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD OF EUROEAN HISTORY !  … ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE THAT SUPPORTED ITS DEVELOPMENT BY AFRICAN PEOPLE – CHECK IT OUT ! 

POLITICAL  BACKGROUND

The civilization of Great Zimbabwe was one of the most significant civilizations in the world during the Medieval period.  European travelers from Germany, Portugal, and Britain were astonished to learn of this powerful African civilization in the interior of southern Africa.  The first European to visit Great Zimbabwe was a German geologist, Carl Mauch, in 1871.  Like others before him, Mauch refused to believe that indigenous Africans could have built such an extensive network of monuments made of granite stone.  Thus, Mauch assumed that the Great Zimbabwe monuments were created by biblical characters from the north: “I do not think that I am far wrong if I suppose that the ruin on the hill is a copy of Solomon’s Temple on Mount Moriah and the building in the plain a copy of the palace where the Queen of Sheba lived during her visit to Solomon.”  Mauch further stated that a “civilized [read: white] nation must once have lived there.”

 

Later Europeans also speculated that Great Zimbabwe was built by Portuguese travelers, Arabs, Chinese, or Persians.  No consideration was given to the possibility of local indigenous Africans having built the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, because European writers generally agreed that Africans did not have the capacity to build anything of significance, particularly not monuments made with skilled stone masonry.

 

In 1890, British imperialist and colonizer Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) conquered a large portion of southern African and had the region named after himself.  Northern Rhodesia (modern Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (modern Zimbabwe) came under British control and Rhodes echoed the theme of Mauch as he argued that the Great Zimbabwe monuments were build by foreigners.  To promote his goal of misrepresenting the origins of Zimbabwe, Rhodes established the Ancient Ruins Company and financed men such as James Theodore Bent, who was sent to Zimbabwe by the British Association of Science, and sponsored by Rhodes.  After his investigation Bent concluded in his book, Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (1892), that items found within the Great Zimbabwe complex “proved” that the civilization was not build by local Africans.

 

In 1902, the British continued with their falsification agenda as British archaeologist Richard Hall was hired to investigate the Great Zimbabwe site.  Hall asserted in his work, The Ancient Ruins of Rhodesia (1902), that the civilization was built by “more civilized races” than the Africans.  He argued that the last phase of Great Zimbabwe was the transitional and “decadent period,” a time when the foreign builders interbred with local Africans.  Hall went out of his way to eliminate archeological evidence which would have proven an indigenous African origin of Great Zimbabwe.  He removed about two meters deep of archeological remains, which effectively destroyed the evidence that would have established an indigenous African origin of the site.  He condescendingly stated that his goal was to “remove the filth and decadence of Kaffir occupation.”

 

In 1905, soon after Hall’s destructive activity, British archeologist David Randall-MacIver studied the mud dwellings within the stone enclosures, and he became the first European researcher of the site to assert that the dwellings were “unquestionably African in every detail.”  After MacIver’s assertion, which was almost equivalent to blasphemy to the British imperialists, archeologists were banned from the Zimbabwe site for almost 25 years! 

 

It was in 1929 that British archeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson led the first all-female excavation.  Caton-Thompson investigated the site and was able to definitively argue in her work, The Zimbabwe Culture: Ruins & Reactions (1931), that the ruins were of African origin.  She assessed the available archeological evidence (artifacts, nearby dwellings), and the oral tradition of the modern Shona-speaking people, and compared them to the ancient sites to determine the African foundation of Great Zimbabwe.  Despite Caton-Thompson’s conclusive evidence, the myth of a foreign origin of Great Zimbabwe continued for another half a century until Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. 

 

Ian Smith was the last major British colonial figure to falsify evidence of Great Zimbabwe’s origin.  In November 1965, Smith had established a white minority government that declared its independence from the British homeland government, and thus this colony broke away from Britain to form an independent regime under Smith. Ian Smith became “prime minister” of Southern Rhodesia.  He continued the colonial falsification of Great Zimbabwe’s origins by developing a fake history and a policy of making sure that the official guide books for tourists would show images of Africans bowing down to foreign innovators, who allegedly built Great Zimbabwe.  It was not until 1980 that the native Zimbabweans overthrew Smith’s minority government and ended the colonial era.  In that year, Robert Mugabe became president and the country was renamed “Zimbabwe,” in honor of the Great Zimbabwe civilization of the past.

 

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About Harold L Carter

Bachelor of Science, Columbia University Masters degree, Ohio State University Undergraduate National Officer, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Eastern Asst Vice President, when a student at Columbia University Profile Photograph: Mom & Me, when I was a graduate student
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