c. 1430 – c. 1450
Nyatsimba Mutota (first)
Dehwe Mupunzagutu (last)
Established by Nyatsimba Mutota
Mutapa dynasty schism
Disintegrates under Civil war
700,000 km2 (270,000 sq mi)
Kingdom of Zimbabwe
Today part of
Kingdom of Mutapa
Kingdom of Mutapa – sometimes referred to as the Mutapa Empire,
Mwenemutapa, (Shona: Mwene we Mutapa or more commonly and modern
"Munhumutapa"; Portuguese: Monomotapa) – was a Karanga kingdom which
stretched from the
Zambezi through the Limpopo rivers to the Indian
Ocean in southern Africa, in what are the modern states of Zimbabwe,
South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland,
Mozambique and parts of Namibia and
Botswana; stretching well into modern Zambia. Its founders are
descendants of the builders who constructed Great Zimbabwe.
2.3 Portuguese contact
2.3.1 The accidental crusade
2.4 Decline and collapse
2.4.1 Portuguese control
2.4.2 Loss of prestige
2.4.3 Butwa invasion
2.4.4 Shifting rulers
2.4.5 Independence and move from Zimbabwe
3 Mutapa as Ophir
4 See also
7 Additional reading
A sixteenth-century Portuguese map of Monomotapa lying in the interior
of southern Africa.
The Portuguese term Monomotapa is a direct transliteration of the
African royal title Mwenemutapa meaning prince of the realm. It is
derived from a combination of two words Mwene meaning Prince, and
Mutapa meaning Realm. Over time the monarch's royal title came to be
applied to the kingdom as a whole, and was used to denote the
kingdom's territory on maps from the period.
Towers of Great Zimbabwe.
The origins of the ruling dynasty at Mutapa go back to some time in
the first half of the 15th century. According to oral tradition,
the first "Mwene" was a warrior prince named Nyatsimba Mutota from the
Kingdom of Zimbabwe
Kingdom of Zimbabwe sent to find new sources of salt in the north.
That's the first legend
Prince Mutota found his salt among the Tavara,
a Shona subdivision, who were prominent elephant hunters. The second
says that there was hunger at the Kingdom of Zimbabwe. Mutota then
escaped the hunger then found land. They were conquered, a capital
was established 350 km north of Great
Zimbabwe at Zvongombe by
Mutota's successor, Mwenemutapa Matope, extended this new kingdom into
an empire encompassing most of the lands between Tavara and the Indian
Ocean. This empire had achieved uniting a number of different
Southern Africa by building strong, well-trained armies and
encouraging states to join voluntarily, offering membership in the
Great council of the Empire to any who joined without resistance.
The Mwenemutapa became very wealthy by exploiting copper from
Chidzurgwe and ivory from the middle Zambezi. This expansion weakened
the Torwa kingdom, the southern Shona state from which Mutota and his
dynasty originated. Matope's armies overran the kingdom of the
Manyika as well as the coastal kingdoms of Kiteve and Madanda. By
the time the Portuguese arrived on the coast of Mozambique, the Mutapa
Kingdom was the premier Shona state in the region. He raised a
strong army which conquered the Dande area that is Tonga and Tavara.
The empire had reached its full extent by the year 1480 a mere 50
years following its creation.
The Emperor Mutope had left the empire with a well-organised religion
with a powerful priesthood. The religion of the Mutapa kingdom
revolved around ritual consultation of spirits and of royal ancestors.
Shrines were maintained within the capital by spirit mediums known as
mhondoro. The mhondoro also served as oral historians recording the
names and deeds of past kings.
The Portuguese dominated much of southeast Africa's coast, laying
Sofala and Kilwa, by 1515. Their main goal was to dominate
the trade with India; however, they unwittingly became mere carriers
for luxury goods between Mutapa's sub-kingdoms and India. As the
Portuguese settled along the coast, they made their way into the
hinterland as sertanejos (backwoodsmen). These sertanejos lived
alongside Swahili traders and even took up service among Shona kings
as interpreters and political advisors. One such sertanejo, António
Fernandes, managed to travel through almost all the Shona kingdoms,
including Mutapa's metropolitan district, between 1512 and 1516.
The Portuguese finally entered into direct relations with the
Mwenemutapa in the 1560s. They recorded a wealth of information
about the Mutapa kingdom as well as its predecessor, Great Zimbabwe.
According to Swahili traders whose accounts were recorded by the
Portuguese historian João de Barros, Great
Zimbabwe was an ancient
capital city built of stones of marvellous size without the use of
mortar. And while the site was not within Mutapa's borders, the
Mwenemutapa kept noblemen and some of his wives there.
In 1569, King
Sebastian of Portugal
Sebastian of Portugal made a grant of arms to the
Mwenemutapa. These were blazoned: Gules between two arrows Argent an
African hoe barwise bladed Or handled Argent – The shield surmounted
by a Crown Oriental. This was probably the first grant of arms to a
native of southern Africa; however it is unlikely that these arms were
ever actually used by the Mwenemutapa.
The accidental crusade
In 1561, a Portuguese Jesuit missionary managed to make his way into
the Mwenemutapa's court and convert him to Christianity. This did
not go well with the Muslim merchants in the capital, and they
persuaded the king to kill the Jesuit only a few days after the
former's baptism. This was all the excuse the Portuguese needed to
penetrate the interior and take control of the gold mines and ivory
routes. After a lengthy preparation, an expedition of 1,000 men under
Francisco Barreto was launched in 1568. They managed to get as far as
the upper Zambezi, but local disease decimated the force. The
Portuguese returned to their base in 1572 and took their frustrations
out on the Swahili traders, whom they massacred. They replaced them
with Portuguese and their half-African progeny who became prazeiros
(estate holders) of the lower Zambezi. Mutapa maintained a position of
strength exacting a subsidy from each captain of Portuguese Mozambique
that took the office. The Mwenemutapa also levied a duty of 50 percent
on all trade goods imported.
Decline and collapse
Mutapa proved invulnerable to attack and even economic manipulation
due to the Mwenemutapa's strong control over gold production. What
posed the greatest threat was infighting among different factions
which led to opposing sides calling on the Portuguese for military
aid. However, the Portuguese proved to be happy with the downfall of
the Mutapan state.
In 1629 the Mwenemutapa attempted to throw out the Portuguese. He
failed and was overthrown, leading to the Portuguese installation of
Mavura Mhande Felipe on the throne. Mutapa signed treaties making
it a Portuguese vassal and ceding gold mines, but none of these
concessions were ever put into effect. Mutapa remained nominally
independent, though practically a client state. All the while,
Portugal increased control over much of southeast Africa with the
beginnings of a colonial system.
Loss of prestige
Baptism of king Siti of Mutapa by workshop of Tomasz Muszyński, 1683,
Dominican Monastery in Lublin. The baptism of Siti Kazurukamusapa was
celebrated by João de Mello on 4th August 1652, the feast day of St
Another problem for Mutapa was that its tributaries such as Kiteve,
Manyika ceased paying tribute. At the same time, a new
kingdom under a Rozvi dynasty near Barwe was on the rise. All of this
was hastened by Portugal retaining a presence on the coast and in the
capital. At least one part of the 1629 treaty that was acted on
was the provision allowing Portuguese settlement within Mutapa. It
also allowed the praezeros to establish fortified settlements across
the kingdom. In 1663, the praezeros were able to depose Mwenemutapa
Siti Kazurukamusapa and put their own nominee, Kamharapasu Mukombwe on
By the 17th century, a dynasty of Rozvi pastoralists under the
leadership of a changamire (king/general) began transforming the Butwa
kingdom into new regional power. The Rozvi not only originated from
Zimbabwe area, but still continued to build their towns in
stone. They were also importing goods from the Portuguese without any
regard for the Mwenemutapa.
By the late 17th century, Changamire Dombo was actively challenging
Mutapa. In 1684 his forces encountered and decisively defeated those
of Mwenemutapa Kamharapasu Mukombwe just south of Mutapa's metro
district at the Battle of Mahungwe. When Mukombwe died in 1692, a
succession crisis erupted. The Portuguese backed one successor and
Dombo another. In support of his candidate, Changamire Dombo razed the
Portuguese fair-town of Dembarare next to the Mutapa capital and
slaughtered the Portuguese traders and their entire following. From
1692 until 1694, Mwenemutapa Nyakambira rules Mutapa independently.
Nyakambira was later killed in battle with the Portuguese who then
placed Nyamaende Mhande on the throne as their puppet.
In 1695, Changamire Dombo overran the gold-producing kingdom of
Manyika and took his army east and destroyed the Portuguese fair-town
of Masikwesi. This allowed him complete control of all gold-producing
territory from Butwa to Manyika, supplanting Mutapa as the premier
Shona kingdom in the region.
It appears neither the Rozwi nor the Portuguese could maintain control
of the Mutapa state for very long, and it moved back and forth between
the two throughout the 17th century. Far from a victim of conquest,
the Mutapa rulers actually invited in foreign powers to bolster their
rule. This included vassalage to
Portuguese East Africa
Portuguese East Africa from 1629 to
1663 and vassalage to the
Rozwi Empire from 1663 until the Portuguese
return in 1694. Portuguese control of Mutapa was maintained or at
least represented by an armed garrison at the capital. In 1712, yet
another coveter of the throne invited the Rozwi back to put him on the
throne and kick out the Portuguese. This they did, and Mutapa again
came under the control of the Rozwi Empire. The new Mwenemutapa
Samatambira Nyamhandu I become their vassal, while the outgoing king
was forced to retreat to Chidama in what is now Mozambique.
Independence and move from Zimbabwe
The Rozwi quickly lost interest in Mutapa, as they sought to
consolidate their position in the south. Mutapa regained its
independence around 1720. By this time, the kingdom of Mutapa had lost
nearly all of the
Zimbabwe plateau to the Rozwi Empire. In 1723,
Nyamhandi moved his capital into the valley near the Portuguese
trading settlement of Tete, under Mwmenemutapa Nyatsusu. Upon his
death in 1740, the young Dehwe Mapunzagutu took power. He sought
Portuguese support and invited them back to Mutapa along with their
garrison of armed men, but Mutapa remained independent.
The Mwenemutapa died in 1759, sparking yet another civil war for the
throne. This one was more destructive than its predecessors and Mutapa
never recovered. The "winners" ended up governing an even more reduced
land from Chidima. They used the title Mambo a Chidima and ruled
independently of Portugal until 1917 when Mambo Chioko, the last king
of the dynasty, was killed in battle against the Portuguese.
Mutapa as Ophir
The empire had another indirect side effect on the history of southern
Africa. Gold from the empire inspired in Europeans a belief that
Mwenemutapa held the legendary mines of King Solomon, referred to in
the Bible as Ophir.
The belief that the mines were inside the Mwenemutapa kingdom in
southern Africa was one of the factors that led to the Portuguese
exploration of the hinterland of
Sofala in the 16th century, and this
contributed to early development of Mozambique, as the legend was
widely used among the less educated populace to recruit colonists.
Some documents suggest that most of the early colonists dreamed of
finding the legendary city of gold in southern Africa, a belief
mirroring the early South American colonial search for
El Dorado and
quite possibly inspired by it. Early trade in gold came to an end as
the mines ran out, and the deterioration of the Mutapa state
eliminated the financial and political support for further developing
sources of gold.
List of rulers of Mutapa
History of Zimbabwe
^ Bairoch, page 59
^ Stewart, John (1989). African States and Rulers. Jefferson:
McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 395.
^ a b Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Monomotapa". Catholic
Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
^ a b c Oliver, page 203
^ a b c d e f Oliver, page 204
^ Owomoyela, page 14
^ a b Williams, Chancellor (1987). The Destruction of Black
Civilisation. Chicago: Third World Press. p. 280.
^ Oliver, page 205
^ Oliver, page 206
^ Oliver, page 207
^ Slater, Stephen (1999). "Africa". The Complete Book of Heraldry.
London: Anness Publishing. p. 228.
^ a b c d e Oliver, page 208
^ Stewart, page 190
^ Hall, page 133
^ Oliver, page 209
^ Elkiss, T.H. (1981). The Quest for an African Eldorado: Sofala,
Southern Zambezia, and the Portuguese, 1500–1865. Crossroads Press.
Bairoch, Paul (1991). Cities and economic development: from the dawn
of history to the present. Chicago: university of Chicago Press.
p. 596. ISBN 0-226-03466-6.
Oliver, Roland & Anthony Atmore (1975). Medieval Africa
1250–1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 738.
Owomoyela, Oyekan (2002). Culture and customs of Zimbabwe. Westport:
Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 163.
Stewart, John (1989). African States and Rulers. Jefferson: McFarland
& Company, Inc. p. 395. ISBN 0-89950-390-X.
Elkiss, T.H. The Quest for an African Eldorado: Sofala, Southern
Zambezia, and the Portuguese, 1500–1865. Waltham, MA: Crossroads
History of Mozambique
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