Remains of the brick inner layer built by the Portuguese, Angwa Fort 4, Angwa, Zimbabwe. Author and Copyright Chris Dunbar
Remains of the brick inner layer built by the Portuguese, Angwa Fort 4, Angwa, Zimbabwe. Author and Copyright Chris Dunbar

Angwa: a Portuguese Settlement, Market (Feira) and Fort in Zimbabwe

Written by Chris Dunbar. All pictures are copyright by Chris Dunbar.

Of the six Angwa (Ongoe) Forts / Feiras I was only able to visit two, again it was an extremely arduous trip, very very hot and dry and pushed me again to my limits.

The area has been seriously over run by illegal gold panners and they have caused extensive damage to Angwa Fort 4. Angwa Fort 1 took a long time to find and when I did find it I was surprised that it was not damaged in any way just over grown with excessive grass and trees.

I was able to get a copy of E Goodall’s report that she did in 1945 and a copy of her black and white photographs and also copies of her sketches outlining the walls and houses from four of the six sites, all very interesting.

Angwa Fort 2 1729 BB 5

The Plan of the fort from the survey done in 1946, on this plan I have drawn arrows and numbered them as to where I have taken some pictures.

The report that E Goodall did in the 1940’s it was great work and the only work ever done on the Angwa Forts, I have copied it word for word but I have converted the distances to Km’s so that more people can understand it.

The drawings of the forts I have copied to scale where possible and I have added the notes so that one forts tells all what was seen at that site. I have attached the pictures as separate files so that they can be uploaded and I have attached some photos that I took of the artefacts collected from the sites. I have also attached some pics that I took in the ditch that can be compared to the picture from the 1945 expedition.


 “Unpublished report Queen Victoria Museum, Salisbury, Rhodesia 1946 by E. Goodall

Written by E. Goodall

During August, 1945, at the request of the Commission for the Preservation of Historical Monuments, a journey was made to the Sinoia (Chinhoyi) District to carry out an inspection of alleged Portuguese “Forts”, upon which Mr. H. B. Maufe, of the Geological Survey, had made a short report; two having been visited by him in 1941. It was my task to ascertain if any other such forts existed in the Angwa valley, and whether these structures can be claimed to belong to the Portuguese period; and also to advise whether the places should be proclaimed National Monuments.

During my visit to the Angwa valley I visited four such “forts” and mention was made to me of two others.

Description of the Forts.

No. 1 Fort (1729 BB 2) 1703’55.71”S 2956’49.24”E

This fort is situated near the West bank of the Angwa river, close to the Number – Three Mine, on Upson Downs Farm. The locality is reached from Sinoia (Chinhoyi), following the Miami road for about 32 miles (51 km’s); a small road branches off to the right soon after crossing the Ngonyi River. (No signboards). This track leads to the Adelaide Mine, worked by Mr. S. W. Hinze, and his sons. Mr. Hinze is able to provide a guide to two forts, situated on Upson Downs and here called No. 1 and No. 2 Forts.

No. 1 Fort is close to the homestead and mine. At first sight the place was not striking and appeared doubtful whether it was a “fort”. But since the general plan showed features similar to others of this type, the fort was recorded and general measurements taken. The whole extent is not clear. The length is 42 yards (38 metres), the width cannot be quite determined; it is 35 to 40 yards (32 to 36 metres). See Plan A.

The central mound, which appears in all forts, is very irregular, but the general lay-out may be an originally planned rectangle. Only excavation work at the central mound will reveal if this elevation is an anthill or an artificial erection. Unusual features, not observed in the three other forts, were certain stone arrangements on the two shorter sides. See Plan A. It is clearly seen that the stones placed in a geometrical way along the upper side are thus placed by human hands; towards the A – corner are signs that such stones have been removed. Further research work may be directed to this spot to ascertain whether these stone – marked places may indicate graves. At the opposite side of the enclosure are some larger blocks of stone on a slightly lower “platform” in a somewhat geometrical position.

This “fort” is in a very unobserved position and not likely to be disturbed. It should be kept in mind for further investigation, but I doubt whether it is worth declaring a National Monument. This may be decided after some time has been spent there by a field – worker to ascertain whether the place has served as a fort.

No. 2 Fort (1729 BB 5) 1703’38.50”S 2958’04.58”E

This fort is also on Upson Downs Farm, not very far from No.1 Fort, near the Angwa river. There is a free approach to the locality. A tree grows out of the centre mound and is a landmark for some distance. This fort is of considerable interest. A look at the Plan B shows that much unauthorised excavation has taken place, resulting in the destruction of certain important features.

The fort consists of a rectangular enclosure of about 57 by 47 yards (52 – 43 metres). The East and North sides are protected by a low earth vallum, the greatest height and width is 3 feet (90 cm’s), but in most places is much less. The South boundary is much obscured by a large earth accumulation, which is highest in the South – West corner; there are on the same boundary, several modern excavation holes and an “entrance” near the S.E. corner. There is no earth wall on the West side; here the ground slopes evenly down into the surrounding country. On inspection, it appeared clear that the whole rectangular enclosure and its various earthworks are artificial. All earth enclosed in the rectangle has to a greater or lesser extent been carried there. This was clearly observed, as the grass outside had been recently burnt, and fresh grass was growing, while within the rectangle very little grass was to be seen.

Though it is in a lamentable state of preservation, the centre mound is of importance. It is about 9 to 10 feet (2.7 – 3 metres) above the inner level of the fort, very irregular and roughly oblong. It shows many signs of disturbance, due to modern prospectors looking for “treasures”. The large holes are to be seen and according to the description of my guide, they are the remains of two or three rooms which are to be found within the mound. This sounded rather fantastic and I was inclined to disbelieve it. Mention was also made of a passage along which my guide said he walked when a little boy. On inspection I found one place, marked thus on the plan ← , where I could see that the mound indeed contains inner structures, erected of sun baked, oblong bricks, so – called “Kimberley bricks”.

This is apparently a passage corner; it must have quite recently collapsed, as it showed two newly exposed inner surfaces. I observed bricks of 1 foot (30 cm’s), 1½ foot (45 cm’s) and 2 feet (60 cm’s) lengths. There was a layer of about 2 feet (60 cm’s) of earth above the walls. The two large holes which are apparently parts of inner chambers show no signs of how they were constructed. They were from 6 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 metres) in depth. Near the upper end, one of the holes has a row of stones along the two longer sides. See photograph Fig. 1.

The person mainly responsible for the present bad state of preservation of this fort is a Mrs. Quarrie, now residing at Ardbennie, near Salisbury (Harare). I recently went to see her with the intention of obtaining an interview. Although still vigorous at the age of 75, her statements were somewhat confused, but this is what I could glean from her:

Mrs. Quarrie and her husband lived in the Angwa valley about 25 to 30 years ago. They worked the Mum’s Reef, which is about 2 to 3 miles (3.2 to 4.8 km’s) from this fort. Her son reported one day having seen a curious square ‘anthill’, out of which a big tree was growing. Mrs. Quarrie realised that this could not be an anthill and with a gang of boys started excavating at various places, mainly at the centre. Mention was made by her of coming across a wall about 3 feet (90 cm’s) thick, made of ‘Kimberley bricks’. A ‘stoep’ was found running alongside the wall, and, going further, a second wall running parallel with the first. Into this wall also, Mrs. Quarrie dug a large hole and came to one of the chambers. Here was found a lot of blue – and – white china, hand – painted; there was also some iron arrow heads. All these objects were removed by Mrs. Quarrie and subsequently lost. Much excavated earth was carried away by wheel – barrows. How much was actually done or destroyed is hard to know. Mrs. Quarrie had observed that the square N.- W. corner (4 by 4 yards) (3.6 by 3.6 metres), was built entirely of ‘Kimberley bricks’. According to Mrs. Q., the whole rectangular ‘yard’ was paved with such raw bricks. All bricks she removed were so heavy that it was almost impossible to lift them. As far as I could gather, the spot marked ST? on the map, is the place where Mrs. Quarrie started digging on entering the centre mound.

Although probably ruined beyond reconstruction, this fort is certainly worth further consideration. It should be thoroughly searched and carefully excavated by a field-worker, who has adequate time at his disposal. Whether this fort can be preserved for posterity, seems doubtful, as it may be doomed to further decay. But it should be protected for the time being, to prevent any further diggings by unauthorised persons.

As the photograph shows, part of the original structures are intact, but it cannot be foreseen how much may collapse in the course of thorough investigations. In spite of this possible danger, the earth masses covering the structures should be removed, so as to make clear what remains below.

When the place has been fully investigated it can be decided whether further preservation serves any purpose.

The only surface find made at No. 2. Fort was part of the top of a wheel – made water flask, of fine – grained light brown earthenware, such as are known to come from Portuguese factories.

Newly Reported Fort not visited

New mention of a fort, in the vicinity of No. 1, with which it is said to be very similar, was made by my guide, as being situated higher up in the hills. I did not visit it but that may be done by someone at a future date.

Forts on the East bank of the Angwa.

Actually, these forts are close to the mentioned above, but as it is impossible to cross the river by car, return is necessary to the main road and then, going in the direction of Sinoia (Chinhoyi), turn to the North – East at Lion’s Den, (railway crossing), 14 miles (22½ km’s) North of Sinoia (Chinhoyi). The road runs parallel with the railway to Zawi; follow the road passing through Two Tree Hill Farm and Two Tree Hill Extension No. 1 and 11, both unoccupied, continue over unnamed land until the camp of Mr. A. M. Martin is reached. Coming out from Sinoia (Chinhoyi), the best way is to take the Umboe Road, which branches off the main road 5 miles (8 km’s) North of Sinoia (Chinhoyi) and joins with the other one at Urungwe Farm.

Mr. Martin is the sole survivor of olden times in this part of the Angwa Valley and has been most helpful in guiding me to the two forts on this side of the river.

No.3 Fort (1729 BB 1) 1701’52.97”S 2957’47.89”E

This and the next fort to be described are the two on which Mr. Maufe gave a short report. No.3 Fort is the largest and most impressive of those seen during my visit, though it also had been interfered with. See Plan C. The inner measurements of the rectangular enclosure are approximately 100 yards long (91 metres) by 82 yards wide (75 metres). The enclosure is protected on all four sides by an earth vallum, outside of which is a parallel ditch. See Section E – F. The depth of this ditch is up to 4 and 5 feet (1.2 and 1.5 metres). The width varies from 3 to 13 feet (1 to 4 metres)

Along the West side, which runs parallel with the nearby river, is an additional outer wall. From here the ground slopes down to the river.

The average height of the wall is from 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1½ metres), above the inside level. The ground inside the enclosure is a foot (30 cm’s) or so above the outer level and is apparently artificially levelled up.

The whole western boundary and particularly the part towards the N.- W. corner has been badly spoilt by modern interference. There is a roughly square elevation at the N. – W. corner, which must have been an important part of the fortification. Deep modern trenches have spoilt the shape and severed it from the main fort. It is rather difficult here to walk over the various cross – trenches and to get some idea of how it may have looked when intact.

The North – East corner is somewhat higher then the adjoining walls, the height being 7 feet (2 metres).

A peculiar feature is the South – East corner. There is a circular sunken bastion with a diameter of 9 to 10 feet (2.7 to 3 metres). See also Section G-H

There is also one ‘entrance’ at the South – West corner, where the ditch is wide but very shallow. The entrance is quite level. See Fig. 4 and Section I – K.

There is another entrance in the approximate centre of the East wall. The centre mound is very irregular and shows a number of short, modern, excavation trenches. The original ‘platforms’ are hard to ascertain.

The only find, outside the enclosure – one shard of glazed earthenware, part of the round bottom of a large jar. A similar piece was presented by Mr. Martin, found by him many years ago, it is a part of the hexagonal bottom of a large jar.

Fort No.4. (1729. BB. 19) 1701’43.58”S 2958’19.88”E

Near the North – East boundary of the Two Tree Hill Extension No.2. Length 62 yards (57 metres), width 50 yards (46 metres). See Plan D. The fort consists of a rectangular enclosure, bounded by an earth vallum on all four sides. The main entrance seems to have been at the approximate centre of the East side. In the centre of the North wall is a ‘port’, but this may have been dug subsequently. The ramparts have an average width of 10 feet (3 metres) at the base.

Partition walls are 5 to 6 feet (1½ to 1.8 metres) wide at the base. The North – West corner has a square bastion, somewhat irregular 8 by 8 yards (7 by 7 metres). The three outer faces are flagged with stones.

The South – West and North – East corners are a little higher than their two adjoining walls; see Fig. 7.

At the S – E corner there must have been once an important bastion, however all that remains is an irregularly round earth – wall, enclosing a platform which is a little higher than the inner level of the ‘yard’ of the fort. The walls here are 5 feet (1½ metres) in width at the base and less in height. But it is very likely that interference has taken place. I could see a few square spots, where most likely sun baked bricks have been removed. It is therefore likely that the walls were originally higher, after the style of the bastions of the Sofala Fortress. (Antonio Fernandes, Descobridor Do Monomotapa, 1940, shows several pictures of it).

Again, the centre mound is in a bad state of preservation, through modern interference by fortune diggers. There are 2 stone slabs, roughly shaped to a rectangular size, 3 feet by 18 in. wide (90 cm’s by 46 cm’s), of a pinkish slate, which serve as steps from the first low platform to the upper one See Fig. 8.

To right of steps modern excavations. According to my guide a miner dug here and came to a ‘chamber’. There was now no visible sign of such a structure. But it is likely that such may be hidden under the masses of earth. The mound is roughly 14 by 19 yards (13 by 17 metres). The partition walls, of similar size, are a feature not observed in the other forts.


I received a letter from Mr. J. D. Paré, dated the 11th November 45, in answer to various enquires of mine, regarding these forts. Mr. Paré was formally mining the Go – Ho claims, not far from the vicinity of the forts, and now in Selukwe (Shurugwe, I think). I give a short extracts of what he reported.

He did not do any excavation work at the forts but went to see Mrs. Quarrie digging at one of the mounds with a couple of boys and saw a passage and room exposed. This was entirely empty. Mr. Paré remembers having seen this room which was lined with raw or ‘Kimberley bricks’, also an adjoining room which was then intact, except for a large hole through which one could peep. The bricked sides were clearly visible and in excellent condition.

This was 20 years ago.

Re : chain mail. Mr. Paré states that he never found any intact chain mail, nor has he found any skeletons, only numerous copper beads, but these did not originate from the forts, but were found while sluicing at the Angwa. He sent 2 of these beads in his letter.

These beads are identical with those found in native graves and which were, until recently, used as ornaments on native skin aprons; (the ornaments being made into small pieces of ‘mail’ by the use of bark fibre and then sewn on to the leather). A piece of such work is exhibited in the Bulawayo Museum; I think having served as a belt.

It seems therefore that these beads cannot be connected with the Portuguese inhabitation, but only native alluvial workings alongside the river.


Mention of further Forts – not visited. (1729 BB 3) 1700’30.58”S 2959’43.52”E

Mr. A. M. Martin mentioned another fort in the Angwa valley, about 10 to 12 miles (16 to 19 km’s) N.-N.-E. from his camp alongside a small river. He could not give any further details, but it may be undisturbed and should be searched for by a field worker.


Mr. Paré also speaks of similar forts near Mt. Darwin and Makaha.

Mr. McGregor, of the Geological Survey, has seen one fort at Makaha; he says it is exactly similar to Plan ‘D’ of No.4 Fort, in the Angwa valley.


General Remarks.

1. Nos. 2, 3, and 4 Forts are certainly worth investigation on a somewhat larger scale, though it is clear that parts of the original shape and structure have been spoilt. But they should be protected until investigations are completed, and people warned not to excavate. Any work done here by a field – worker will require careful preparation; no labour can be obtained in the vicinity of the Angwa river, all natives having been removed by the Government from this district. Besides a few isolated miners and their native workers, there are no human inhabitants in the area. Labour and provisions, etc., will have to be brought to the various places.

2. In regard to the question whether these forts can be connected with Portuguese settlements in this Colony, it can be said that in all probability they may be ascribed to Portuguese enterprise. In all four cases we can see a rectangular plan, in three of them there are walls which meet at right angles and re – enforcements at the corners. In a primitive way these resemble bastions of the type of forts which we know from illustrations only, e.g., Sofala. The centre mounds have certain features in common, and there is evidence that bricked walls and ‘rooms’ are hidden under the earth masses, showing that these constructions were made by people practising a masonry tradition.

Although ‘finds’ are very scarce so far, further investigation would, no doubt, bring to light additional and necessary evidence. The whole study of these forts is a wide and important subject which needs the fullest enquiry.

E. Goodall.

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