Zimbabwe map
Zimbabwe map

Maramuca: an exercise in the combined use of Portuguese records and oral tradition: the History of the Mwanamutapa Empire

Written by D. P. Abraham


At the start of the fifteenth century A.D. a group of patrilineal Bantu clans, collectively known as the Vakaranga, occupied in strength the south and south-west of what is now Southern Rhodesia. The population was mainly composed of small-scale peasant cultivators and cattle-breeders, who lived in modes, stockade villages of thatched mud-huts and granaries, and who practised an ancestor-cult introduced by their forebears from the region of the Great Lakes – perhaps during the course of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.(1)

For purposes of land-tenure and administration they were organized into a number of territorial fiefs under the central control of a dominant clan and aggressive military aristocracy – the Varozvi. Behind the latter were the sanctions wielded by the priesthood of Mwari, the Karanga high deity, who revealed himself, according to their beliefs, in oracle, thunder and lightning, and who bore striking conceptual resemblances in certain respects to the primitive Israelitic Yahweh. Symbolic of the power and prestige of the theocentric Rozvi State was the massive elliptical stone structure known popularly today as Great Zimbabwe.

To their west and north-west, on the fringes of the Kalahari Desert, the Vakaranga were in contact – and uncomfortable contact – with the forerunners of the Sotho-Tswana clans, patrilineal like themselves and owners of vast herds of cattle. To the north and north-east of the Vakaranga, on the central plateau, sporadic hunting-bands of Matadyatadya – Bushman – still survived, doomed however to eventual near extinction in the face of pressures exerted by superior social organization and technology.

Farther north still, in the southern part of the Zambezi valley, groups of matrilineal Vatonga, predecessors of the Vakaranga, with a distinctive culture of their own, and a highly decentralized political structure, straddled a wide arc from the Gwai to the Mhanyame Rivers. Finally, east of the Vatonga segments of matrilineal clans from the nascent Maravi Empire north of the Zambezi were establishing a foothold eastwards to the River Ruenya, beyond which the patrilineal Vatonga held in considerable depth territory extending south-east to within fifty miles of the Zambezi estuary.

With some or all of these communities the Vakaranga were certainly in contact – political, social or economic. But no influences that may be attributed to such contact are in quality comparable with those exerted on the Karanga nation by the network of trading stations established in their country by the Arabs at least two centuries before. These had penetrated the interior from their commercial centres on the east coast such as Kilwa, Kilimani and – closest to hand – Sofala. In return for gold and ivory they supplied the nobility among the Vakaranga with imported textiles and beads, and, to a more limited extent, with oriental porcelain and glassware. Commercial intercourse and social influence are in-dissociable, and, granted the absence of contemporary documentary evidence, it would be rash to underestimate the degree of subtle and pervasive influence exerted by these local mediators of south-west Asiatic culture on the social tastes, the concepts, the ideology and motivations of the Bantu elite with whom they transacted trade and in whose midst they lived.

About 1440 the Rozvi Mutota, king of the Vakaranga, launched a major military campaign designed to secure the whole vast area bounded (clock-wise) by the Kalahari Desert, the Zambezi, the Indian Ocean and the Limpopo. The immediate stimuli were overpopulation of the Karanga homeland and scarcity of salt supplies, but we must probe a little deeper to uncover the fundamental cause that prompted Mutota and his counsellors to a choice of action so energetic and ambitious. The whole tenor of Arab strategy in the following century – in the face of determined attempts by the recently arrived Portuguese to oust them from their trade monopoly in the Karanga kingdoms – suggests that it was precisely the Arabs who, towards the middle of the fifteenth century, conceived and implanted in the mind of the Rozvi king a desire for empire – a desire which, if translated into reality, was calculated to furnish them with an effective umbrella under which to expand the whole scope and security of their operations in the hinterland. And, in fact, we learn that by the start of the sixteenth century there were already 10,000 Arabs established in the Karanga provinces.

Mutota marched north at the head of a formidable army, and by 1450, all of what is now Southern Rhodesia, except the eastern fringes, had fallen under his control. He required cloth to pay his soldiers and retain their services. The Arabs followed in his train, exploiting his dependence, and extended their commercial network to the middle reaches of the Zambezi.

Zimbabwe map

Zimbabwe map

Mutota died before he could realize his full ambitions, and it fell to his son and successor Matope to fulfil the complete specifications of the blueprint drawn up by his father. Over a period of thirty years Matope moved single-mindedly from area to area with his armies, until finally he succeeded in conquering unopposed right to the shores of the Indian Ocean, south of the Zambezi Estuary – leaving undisturbed, however, the Arab entrepots at Sena, Kilimani and Sofala. The southern provinces of Mbire and Guniuswa he entrusted to two Rozvi vassals, Torwa and Changa. The newly won eastern and south-eastern provinces – Chidima, Utonga, Barwe, Shiringoma, Manyika, Uteve and Madanda – he placed in the hands of sons and trusted relatives. The northern provinces, adjoining the Zambezi valley, he retained under the immediate control of his brothers and himself, and thus replaced the Karanga homeland in the south as the centre of political authority.

Thus came into being the golden – but short-lived phase – of the vast feudal domain created by Matope and his father Mutota Mwanamutapa, after whom the Arabs called this Bantu empire Wilāyatu ‘LMu’ ānamutāpah, and the Portuguese, following the Arabs, Imperio do Manamutapa. Over extended lines of communication, political intrigue within the ruling circles, and a lack of ethnic and cultural homogeneity in the conquered provinces sufficient to give rise to a sense of community of interest with the central power, were destined rapidly to disintegrate the new empire into its component parts. Already prior to Matope’s death c. 1480, Changa had taken advantage of the virtual isolation of the southern provinces to transform his position imperceptibly, with the co-operation of his colleague Togwa, into that of independent ruler. On the death of Matope, Changa began openly to flout the authority of his son and successor Nyahuma, and inspired by the title ‘Amīr’ flatteringly accorded him by his Arab advisers, adopted the dynastic title Changamire to emphasize his separatist policy vis-à-vis, the Mwanamutapa paramountcy. This policy led to a head-on collision, resulting in the death of Nyahuma in battle c. 1490 and the usurpation by Changamire of the seat of empire for a period of four years.

Kakuyo Komunyaka, son of Nyahuma, succeeded in staging a military come-back and killed the usurper, thus regaining formal control of the Empire; however Changamire’s son and successor was able to retain control of the southern provinces Mbire and Guniuswa, which became de facto independent of the Empire. Furthermore, by a strenuous diplomatic campaign the new Changamire was partially able to detach the eastern and south-eastern provinces from loyalty to the Mwanamutapa, who was left with effective domain over what would now be the northern half of Southern Rhodesia and a strip of territory varying from 100 to 200 miles in depth, running east and then south-east down to the Indian Ocean for a distance of about 600 miles. This was the political situation which the Portuguese verified after their initial establishment at Sofala in 1505, a situation in which they became progressively involved in pursuit of their policy to supplant the Arab trade monopoly of the interior. The economic motivations of the Portuguese led them by gradual stages to involvements of a military, political, social and evangelical order, with the result that contemporary documents relating to contacts of Portuguese administrators, soldiers, explorers, missionaries and merchants with the Vakaranga are available for study from the early sixteenth century onwards.

These documents enable the historian to trace in some detail the progressive contraction of the Mwanamutapa Empire and the separatist movements executed by most of its component provinces. By the middle of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese were in effective commercial and political relation with the Karanga kingdoms and had established entrepôts both at Sena and Tete up the Zambezi. There was continuing tension between the Portuguese and Arabs, as the latter were not prepared easily to relinquish their hard-won position of political and economic privilege. The flashpoint was symbolized by the murder, early in 1561, of Father Silveira at the Court of Mwanamutapa Nogomo, whom he had succeeded in baptizing. This direct challenge to the Portuguese, engineered by the Muhammadans of Moçambique, inspired the former to military intervention, and in 1575 the first formal treaty was concluded between the Portuguese and Mwanamutapa Nogomo Sebastião, under the terms of which the Arabs were to be expelled and substantial mining concessions were to be granted the Portuguese, who mighty freely conduct trade in the interior and establish missions. Subsequent treaties were concluded in 1609 and 1629 with the Emperors Gatsi Rusere and Mavura Philippe, the latter acknowledging himself a vassal of the Portuguese Crown. Uneasy but superficially cordial relations obtained between Mavura and the Portuguese until his death in 1652, but his son and successor Siti Domingos tried to oppose their local land-grabbing activities, and in 1663 was brutally killed by them in collusion with this rival and younger brother Mukombwe.

During the period 1575-1666 the Portuguese had been able to effect steady penetration of the country under Mwanamutapa, and to acquire vast tracts of territory by formal cession, purchase and conquest. Furthermore, in the 1640’s, when Mavura was still alive, they had been able to penetrate the southern kingdom of Changamire, restoring to his throne the current Changamire driven out by local Arab intrigue. They followed up with a mission to evangelize him – a mission that proved, however, fruitless. During the period in question none the less, they succeeded in establishing a network of trading-stations throughout the interior. Masapa, their principal administrative and commercial centre in the interior during the early seventeenth century, was already in existence by 1575, as also probably was their centre at Manyika. By the time of Mavura’s accession in 1629 they had stations flourishing at Ruhanje, Bokoto, Tafuna, Chitomborwizi, Hwangwa and Dambarare in areas under the formal jurisdiction of the Mwanamutapa. It was at these centres, rather than at the Dzimbahwe, the royal court, that the Portuguese came into significantly close contact with the indigenous tribes, and all these stations boasted a mission church at one time or another. It is with one of these trading areas, called by the Portuguese Maramuca, that I deal in the second section of this paper.

Mukombwe Affonso succeeded Siti Domingos, his brother, in 1663, ruling until c. 1692. Most uneasy relations prevailed between him and the Portuguese throughout the period, and from the 1680s onward, Dombo, the current Changamire, began to manifest aggressive intentions both towards the Portuguese and their puppet Emperor. On the death of Mukombwe c. 1692, a usurper Nyakambiro seized power as Mwanamutapa, and, inspired by hatred of the Portuguese, prevailed on Changamire Dombo to drive them from the interior. Dombo succeeded in doing this in a campaign lasting from 1693 to 1695, and thereby incorporated in his kingdom the whole northern part of what is now Southern Rhodesia, leaving the subsequent Mwanamutapas with a sorry remnant of their empire stretching eastwards from the River Mukumbura to the River Rwenya. The Portuguese now frankly recognized the political ascendancy of the Changamire dynasty. A line of puppet Mwanamutapas still continued to control a restricted domain within the sphere of influence of the Portuguese at Tete and Sena, but the authority of this line was drastically impaired by uninterrupted internecine feuds throughout the eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries. The scope of Portuguese trade with the interior depended exclusively on the policy of the ruling Changamires, who were strong enough in some cases to liquidate Mwanamutapas nominated by the Portuguese and replace them by their own candidates. An attempt by the Portuguese to re-establish their ‘fair’ at Dambarare in the 1760’s proved abortive, and their contact with the Changamire Kingdom was largely limited to the trading caravans manned by Bantu and half-caste personnel they dispatched from Zumbo to the interior when conditions permitted. On some occasions these caravans were robbed and the personnel massacred by vassal chiefs of Changamire through whose area they passed.

During the 1830’s, when Portuguese influence was at its lowest ebb on the Zambezi, Swazi, Shangana and Ndebele incursions across the Limpopo from the south smashed the Changamire Kingdom, and, reaching as far north as the middle and lower reaches of the Zambezi, reduced the local populations to terror and threatened the very basis of Portuguese existence in the area. Increasing decadence and disintegration affected the remnant of the Mwanamutapa Kingdom between Zumbo and Tete until, by the 1850s, the Portuguese had largely abandoned their prasos and all pretence at control of the local African populations with whom they had had such long and historic relations. In the 1880s Portugal re-established political control of the central and lower Zambezi under the stimulus of political competition threatening from the British and Dutch in the South African Republics. In the 1890’s the area of the old Mwanamutapa Empire was parcelled out between the British and the Portuguese. The 1895 Rebellion put paid to the Matebele who had conquered the Changamire Kingdom; the so-called Barwe Rebellion of 1902 equally put paid to the last remnants of the Mwanamutapa Empire. Chioko Dambamupute, whose people took an active part in that rebellion by the side of Makombe, king of the old Barwe Province, was the last titular Mwanamutapa.


Two main sources are available to the ethno-historian for the task of reconstructing the political and social history of the Mwanamutapa Empire and its component provinces. These are (a) the contemporary Portuguese documents to which allusion has been made in Part 1, and (b) the oral tradition preserved today by lineal descendents of the Bantu tribes of the Mwanamutapa Empire. Neither of these two classes of source-material is adequate in itself. The specific value of the Portuguese documents is that they are contemporary, furnish in many cases precise chronological foci, and preserve the details of names, personalities and historical incidents and developments, the memory of which has become either blurred or obliterated in the tradition of the Bantu tribes concerned during the passage of the centuries. The disadvantage of these documents is that they vary greatly in bulk and quality with respect to the coverage they afford on specific segments of the time span 1490 to 1902. They are often vitiated by Portuguese political and cultural bias, and in many cases reveal defective insight into the fundamental political structure of the Mwanamutapa Empire and the essential facts relevant thereto.

The value of oral tradition is that it furnishes us with intimate access to the authentic, Bantu-centred version of the history of the empire, and with some caution, since its bearers preserve no written documents relating to their history, their memory is fallible, and the version of past events they give is liable to be coloured by self-interest and reticence.

It is evident that neither Portuguese documentary material nor oral tradition, taken in isolation one from the other, is an adequate basis for reconstruction of the Mwanamutapa Empire’s history. However, it is possible to furnish a coherent and systematic account of this history by critical study of these two classes of sources and their employment in complementary function. The chronological precisions of the documents provide a control framework against which to gauge the accuracy of genealogies retailed by informants and in the light of which to investigate genealogies. These chronological precisions also enable us to date within close limits historical events referred to in both classes of source, or only in oral tradition, and to diagnose and rectify the foreshortening of historical development so common in the tradition of illiterate societies. Further-more, it is possible in almost all cases to identify references to persons, chiefs, tribes and places in the Portuguese documents and thus to identify specific areas in which there were concrete Luso- Bantu political and cultural contacts. These identifications functions as a catalyst for historical research, inasmuch as they give depth in time and substance to our study of the Vakaranga, and suggest hitherto unsuspected and often fruitful lines of investigation. Critical study and proper comprehension of the Portuguese documents is not feasible without recourse to oral tradition, nor is a critical control of oral tradition feasible without reciprocal recourse to the Portuguese documents. It is possible to correct for bias by using the two classes of source in conjunction and to apply oral tradition as a filler for the temporally well-constructed, but substantively scarce matrix furnished by the Portuguese records. A third source of material, hitherto unmentioned, is provided by archaeological research, which is serving a vital role by filling in the gaps in our knowledge of the material aspects of Karanga culture, and by applying techniques such as those of radiocarbon dating, is furnishing a chronological control both for the earlier, pre-Portuguese period and for our reconstructions of major subsequent political and cultural events in the Karanga field.

I propose now to demonstrate the fruitfulness of the complementary source-method I have outlined by discussing my application of it to Maramuca and the Bantu community associated therewith. I have selected the problem of Maramuca for two reasons. Firstly Schebesta, (2) in a paper largely devoted to the Mwanamutapa Empire as portrayed in the Portuguese records, stated in 1926, that the Bantu of Maramuca were ein heute nicht festzustellender Stamm der Botonga. Secondly, von Sicard (3) made unsuccessful attempts to identify Maramuca and its people in 1952-unsuccessful because these attempts did not take into account local Bantu political and social survivals, and local Bantu historical tradition.

To begin with the extant documents referring to Maramuca. They are three in number, and are respectively dated 1667, 1683 and 1698. The author of the first was a Jesuit father who had recently served in Sena on the Zambezi. The second document evidences a Portuguese settler intimately acquainted with the facts he reports. The third was written by Philippe de Assumpção, Dominican ex-chaplain of Mwanamutapa Mhande Pedro (ruled 1694-c. 1697), who is specifically attested as having a personal knowledge of the stations in the interior. I now cite the relevant sections of the documents concerned:

І. Barreto-1667 (4) …..Maramuca is the name of a great district or kingdom of upper Mocaranga-towards the north-the inhabitants of which are Botonga. So brave are they that they think it disgraceful to kill a lion or leopard with arrows or hunting-spears; an honourable kill must be done with blows from a mupina, as they call a small knobkerrie which they employ like the Ethiopians, holding it in their hands or throwing it. This kingdom is the richest in gold known, and many thousand pastas could be obtained for it every year if the kingdom were ours. But the Kaffirs who control these lands will not allow more gold to be mined than is necessary –so that the Portuguese do not covet and take possession of their lands.

Whilst I was on the Rivers, Gonçalo João, a respectable Portuguese, obtained these lands from the king of Mocaranga according to the proper formalities, and took possession of them with the help of the king and his Portuguese friends. Antonio Roiz de Lima, who is now here in Goa, and Simão Gomez, a half-caste priest as rich as Antonio Roiz and no less disreputable, held a monopoly of the trade of Maramuca, and, in concert with others who envied the great power and incalculable wealth which Gonçalo João would gain by the possession of this district, stirring up the dispossessed encozes to attack Gonçalo João and his people; and, for this purpose, they aided the encozes with men of their own and firearms. They attacked Gonçalo João, and, finding him unprepared and without a chuambo, defeated him. Many of his followers were killed, including Portuguese, muçoques and Kaffirs, and he was robbed of all his property, part of which fell into the hands of the men already mentioned.

The comedy of it was that, having done him this good turn, they accused Gonçalo João of having embroiled Maramuca in hostilities and caused them the loss of many pastas. The matter was tried before the court of Dambarare, which was no better than the accusers, and Gonçalo João was condemned to lose all he possessed. This injustice was a source of grief and wonder to all decent persons at the Rivers. He appealed against the sentence in Goa …

It is fitting that Maramuca should belong to the Portuguese so that as much gold as possible may be obtained from it, which would be an incredible amount. However, it would be well for it to be ruled by someone of greater prestige and merit than Gonçalo João, for this land is larger than the Duchy of Bragança. Gonçalo João would be content to possess it peaceably for five or six years, which would be long enough for him to make millions, and then he would surrender it to whomsoever your Excellency may choose…. It is necessary first to restore Gonçalo João to his lands….

II. Anon. – 1683.(5) … In the heart of Mocaranga is a country about fifteen leagues long and six or seven leagues wide. Its name is Maramuca, and a large book could be written about the country and its affairs. It is a spit of the kingdom of Botonga placed by God in the centre of Mocaranga. This is reminiscent of the saying of the Aragonese in Spain that their country is a spit of Portugal jumped over Castile. The Maramuca people say the same kind of thing about their own country and can justify what they say.

The reason is that Maramuca has nothing in common with Mocaranga in regard to weather or climate or water or trees or language or customs or anything at all. In fact, it is entirely reminiscent of the country of the Botonga, being there-from distant more than thirty leagues in all directions, as the kingdom of Mocaranga is spherical in shape. One’s wonder is stirred as the contrast of the two areas, because these two kingdoms are in all things opposed. Maramuca possesses gold in such abundance and of such high quality that the local negroes are quite blasés about these riches. The prince of Maramuca bears the heredity title of Budera or Angez and recognises Monomotapa in no respect apart from occasional appeals for help. He is in a position to transact greater trade than the other provinces, but his policy is oppositely inclined, to the extent that not an ounce of gold has left his territory for many years and not an ounce of Portuguese blood will enter it for many centuries to come unless there be a change of [Portuguese] government at the Rivers.

III. Assumpçao (6) -1698:…The fair of Dambarare (7) was always the best there was on the Rivers. It was where all the merchants used to go who were dispersed through other area such as Quitamboroizi,(8) Maramuca, Luanze (9) and Mathafuna,(10) in which there were Portuguese men, and in which the parish-priest were Dominicans. As, however, all the Portuguese settlers had died, these trading centres became reduced in status and subject to the fair of Dambarare – that is to say, before the latter was destroyed by the enemy Changamira.

I deal first with Document II as it bears the authentic stamp of first – hand knowledge by the author. It portrays Maramuca as a Tonga principality in the heart and centre of Karanga territory, about fifty miles long and twenty miles wide, and about a hundred miles distant from the Tonga territory proper. Its ruler, we are informed, bore the dynastic title Budera or Angez, and had closed his country, which was very rich in gold, to the Portuguese traders on account of their apparently oppressive conduct. Document I also reports Maramuca as rich in gold, and inhabited by Tonga, and adds valuable details on prowess of its hunters. Information is contained on Portuguese personalities involved in the local gold – trade up to 1667, and emphasis is laid on the conservative policy of the ruler with respect to the trade – from fear of the Portuguese attempting to take over his territory. The scandalous events referred to in the document probably account for the subsequent closure of the country to the Portuguese reported in the Document II. An important item of information disclosed in Document I is that the Portuguese at Maramuca fell under the jurisdiction of the tribunal of Dambarare. Maramuca itself is stated to be larger than the Duchy of Bragança. Document III, dating from after the destruction of the Portuguese stations in the interior as a result of the 19693-1695 campaign of harassment by Changamire, adds little to our knowledge beyond explaining the circumstances under which Maramuca, originally an independent trading – centre, came to fall under the control of the Captain of Dambarare. The six basic assertions to be culled from the documents are as follows:

(1) There was a country Maramuca (2) within Karanga territory (3) inhabited by Tonga (4) very rich in gold (5) ruled by dynasts with the title Budera or Angez (6) frequented at various times by Portuguese traders. There is a related inference that Maramuca, being judicially subject to Dambarare, was only a few days’ distance from it, and we are given information as its approximate size. Identification of Maramuca on the basis of information furnished by present – day Bantu informants would have to satisfy all the above criteria to be acceptable.

Having collated the documentary evidence, I proceeded to study recent ethnological literature on the Bantu tribes of Southern Rhodesia, but was unable to locate any reference that tied in with the Portuguese documents and indicated the existence, previous or present, of an isolated Tonga community in the heart of Shona/Karanga territory. The next stage was to follow the approximate indications as to location furnished by Document II and to pinpoint Maramuca experimentally on a map – halfway between the rivers Zambezi and Limpopo; for it was precisely these two rivers, by the consensus of documents and oral tradition, which formally defined the maximal north to south extension of Karanga territory. I then described a circle of radius 100 miles around the point selected – a point that fell in the vicinity of the present town of Que Que – to allow for the divergent indication of Document I that Maramuca lay towards the northern part of Karanga territory. As Maramuca was stated to be very rich in gold it would certainly be in the vicinity of a known gold-belt, and I verified from the geological and mineral maps that, from fifty to eighty miles to the north and north-north-east of my circle centre, was the Gatooma – Hartley gold-belt. It therefore looked as though the area of the Maramuca might be north of Que Que, and I accordingly consulted the oldest map of the country available, dating from the early 1890’s, to find in it a place or district name resembling ‘Maramuca’ in the vicinity of the gold-belt. On the map I came across a district named ‘Limuga’ straddling the belt between the rivers Umfuli and Umsweswe. As there was a superficial resemblance between ‘Limuga’ and ‘Maramuca’ I decided to follow up this possible ‘lead’ by proceeding to ‘Limuga’ and questioning the local African inhabitants.

My initial choice of area for field research proved singularly fortunate, and I was able to establish from aged informants in the Sanyati and Mhondoro South Reserves, both lying between the Umfuli and Umsweswe rivers, one to the north-west and the other to the east, that the traditional Bantu name of the main section of the country between these two rivers was ‘Rimuka’, or, with locative prefix, ‘muRimuka’ meaning ‘in Rimuka’ or ‘the Rimuka interior’. I thus appeared prima facie to have identified the province of the Portuguese district- name ‘Maramuca’, and could adduce, in support, the fact that the Portuguese had cited other place-names complete with the same locative prefix. From informants in Rimuka I proceeded to informants in six other districts, whose ancestors had lived in Rimuka, and here, in such abbreviated form, is the historical tradition of these informants, including two who were ninety years or more of age:

We are the people of Rimuka – a country lying between the river Mupfure and Zvezve. The traditional boundaries of Rimuka to the west were the Shakare Stream, a confluent of the Mupfure, and the Muzoe Stream, a confluent of the Zvezve, although our ancestors also controlled the area known as Kwaya stretching north-west to the Mupfure-Sanyati confluence and inhabited by chiefs Neusu and Devera. Our boundary to the east was the Chirundazi, a confluent of the Mupfure, to the east of which lived Chief Chivero. To the north of the Mupfure we bordered on the lands of Chiefs Chirau, Zvimba and Chivero. Across the Mupfure to the west we had the Vashangwe as our neighbours, whilst to the south and the south-east we bordered on the Varazvi and the Vahera.

All these tribes we have mentioned were Vakaranga in origin, or Varazvi. We were surrounded by them all, we for our part being Vatonga. Our nearest relatives lived four or five days’ walk distant – close to the Zambezi – in what is now Sebungwe District. That is were our ancestors Ngezi Dumbura came from. He belonged to the Reya (Leya) (11) clan of the Tonga tribe, and ran away from the Zambezi because of a fight with the neighbouring chief called Siyansai. He fled along the Kana River with his wife, some say concealed in the belly of a cow, and after wandering past the scared pool Chikapakapa in what is now Charter District, ended up in the Rimuka country. Here he found a group of Varazvi, the owners of the soil, the installers of chiefs, living under Gumunyu at Chigondo Hill. He frightened them so by various displays of Tonga magic, such as disembowelling a slaughtered cow with a single thumbnail, that they retired and left the country to him.

Chiefs Chirau, Zvimba and Chivero entered the country about the same time as Ngezi, our ancestor. Ngezi gave his eldest daughter as first wife to Chivero, and his this wife of Chivero gave her eldest daughter Vanemhasvi as wife to Svingarehoko, gradson of the first Zvimba. The old custom of the Vatonga is for them to follow the clan of the mother and take her chiwongo or mutupo, that is to say, her exogamous clan symbol. It was also the Tonga custom for a chief to be succeeded by his eldest sister’s son. The custom of the vakaranga was just the opposite. They took, and still take the mutupo of the father, and a chief is followed by his brother or his son, not his sister’s son.

But Ngezi had no sister, and, when he died and was buried at Chivare Hill, he was succeeded by his younger son Zinyongo, whose sisiter Vachinyama was possessed by the spirit of her father. (his elder son Mbara did not succeed, as he had been disinherited by his father.) When Zinyongo died, his eldest son Chideya feared competition from his aunt’s son, who was entitled to succeed according to custom, and had him killed. It is thus that the Karanga custom of son following father in the chieftaincy became established among us, and, until the British arrived in 1890 and became appointers of chiefs, it was the custom for the aunt’s son to be ritually killed on the installation of a new chief. The latter had to dive in a deep sacred pool at the Sakosi River and bring up a fully grown male crocodile to signify his acceptance by the spirits. The tail would then be cut off, and ‘medicine’ prepared from the body of the ritually killed aunt’s son stitched inside; the tail would then be hafted with a wooden handle and become the magical switch of the new chief, with which to ensure his virility and the fertility of Rimuka.

Our clan has been a long time in Rimuka, as you can judge from one of the main lines descended from Ngezi, which runs as follow:

NGEZI begat ZINYONGO begat DANDARATSI younger brother of CHIDEYA, begat MUKOKA begat NYAROMO begat RUMANO begat MUPAWOSE begat MUPAZVIRIBWO begat CHAKANYUKA, who would be nine score years if he were still alive.

As for our country, the word ‘Rimuka’ means a district full of wild animals, and the people of Ngezi were famed for their bravery in hunting the lion. Ask the people of Zvimba and Chivero if you do not believe our boast. Also our country was famed for its wild honey, and water was abundant. We have still to tell you that our land was very rich in gold. It was not necessary to dig the rocks for it. There were certain areas of gravel we used to sift and pan, filling our wooden platters with the tails of fine gold-dust. We have learnt from our forefathers that the Vazungu – the white people you call Maputukezi – used to come to our country, but simply lived like us in a village of thatched huts close to Chivare Hill. Afterwards they went off- we don’t remember why, and did not return. Long, long afterwards, when Ngwa-ungwaru (Lobengula) ruled the Matabele and used to send his impis to raid Rimuka, scattering the people of Ngezi in all directions, a coloured Portuguese arrived, called Mutata Guveya, and gave us a few guns.

Our mutupo is’Mutonga’, and our laudatory response’Mupomombe’. When we swear we say ‘Ngezi kwazvo’, and we praise the chief, saying Ngezi Dumbura wakatumbura mombe nechara, that is to say: ‘Ngezi Dumbura who disembowelled a cow with his thumbnail.’ You ask who appointed our chiefs in the olden days? It was Changamire, Mambo Murozvi, who lived at Dzimbahwe to the south. It was he who allowed us Rimuka in the first place. You also ask what our language is. Well, in olden times we spoke chiReya, the tongue of our ancestors, but, being surrounded by other tribes with whom we intermarried, we became bilingual, until finally we lost our own tongue. Only one or two very old men of the clan can still speak chiTonga – the others now speak only chiZezura – a few a little English too.

It is manifest from the above that the Portuguese ‘Maramuca’ matches ‘muRimuka’; that Rimuka, like maramuca, was in the heart of karanga territory; that both were inhabited by Vatonga; that they were both rich in gold; that ‘Angez Budera’ of maramuca was Ngezi Dumbura of Rimuka; and that both maramuca and Rimuka were frequented by the Portuguese traders. Furthermore, reference to the map illustrating this article will show Rimuka, like Maramuca, was separated by at least a hundred miles from Butonga, the Tonga homeland on the Zambezi (vide Document II) – and that, like maramuca, it had a length of about fifty miles (between the Shakare and Chirundazi Streams), and a width, between the Rivers Umfuli and Umsweswe, of between fifteen and twenty-five miles. Finally Rimuka, as can be seen approximately from the sketch-map, was well within a hundred miles of Dambarare, and thus in easy access of it, as was Maramuca.

The skeleton genealogy of the traditional account above permits us to infer a date of about 1625 for entry of Ngezi to Rimuka. By the time Document II was written either Zinyongo his son, or Ngezi his grandson was ruling. Had Ngezi I still been ruling in 1683, the title could hardly yet have become hereditary, as it was already stated to be in Document II. The genealogy of the Zvimba dynasty indicates a date of entry by the first Zvimba about 1615, and Zvimba is referred to by Bocarro c.1635 as already in the country, together with his neighbour Chief Charau.(12) Since Zvimba’s grandson Svingarehoko married the daughter of the first Ngezi’s daughter, we have confirmation, from combined use of Portuguese documents and the traditions of the Zvimba and Ngezi clans, that Ngezi cannot have entered Rimuka later than 1625, and may have arrived a decade earlier.

My research into Maramuca is but one of a large number of parallel lines of investigation that can be pursued with equal profit, and I trust that readers of this paper are provisionally satisfied with what I have termed, for lack of a more felicitous phrase, the complementary source-method approach. A by-product of this particular ‘exercise’ has been to show that Portuguese penetration far deeper into the interior of what is now Southern Rhodesia than ahs been hitherto suspected – during the seventeenth century. Furthermore Documents I and II throw valuable light on the development of antagonistic local Bantu reactions to contact with the Portuguese on the economic and political levels. Whilst I am personally concerned with Portuguese penetration of the interior only in so far as it enriches and deepens my insight into local Bantu history, one may licitly inquire whether scholars primarily concerned with the Portuguese facet of affairs in the Mwanamutapa Empire and adjoining early Bantu kingdoms may not profitably enrich their comprehension of the Portuguese documentary material by recourse to Bantu historical tradition. Only thus may they hope to correct the bias and the philosophy of self – interest underlying the preconceptions so apparent in many of these documents.(13)


(1) For background to Section I of this paper, treated from the Bantu standpoint, vide: (1) D.P. Abraham – “The Monomotapa Dynasty”, NADA 1959, 59-84; (2) same author – “The Early Political History of the Kingdom of Mwanamutapa” (to be published in the Proceedings of the 1960 Leverhulme African History Conference). A full-scale history, covering the period 1050 to 1902, is now in preparation by me.

For relations with the Empire of Mwanamutapa from the Portuguese angle, vide: (1) J.J. Teixeira Botelho – História Militar a Politica dos Portuguese em Moçambique, Lisbon, 2 vols. 1934 and 1936; (2) A. Lobato – A Expansão Portuguesa em Moçambique de 1498 a 1530, Lisbon, 3 vols. 1954, 1954, 1960; (3) same author – A Evolução Administrativa e Economica da Moçambique 1752-63, Lisbon, vol. 1, 1957; (4) E. Axelson – Portuguese in S.E. Africa 1600-1700; Johannesburg, 1960; (5) F.G. de Almeida de Eça – História das Guerras no Zambeze, Lisbon, 2 vols. 1953 and 1954.

(2) Schebesta. P., ‘Die Zimbabwe – Kultur in Afrika’, Anthropos, 1926, 500.

(3) Sicard, H. von, Ngoma Lungundu, Uppsala, 1952, 153 – 6.

(4) Barreto, M., Informação do estado e conquista dos Rios de Cuama, Goa, 11.12.1667 (Bibliothèque Nationale, ms. port.33,fls. 41-50 – reproduced in: Theal – Records of South-east Africa, III, 436ff.

Father Manuel Barreto was born at Coimbra in 1626, and entered the Society of Jesus in 1638. In 1653 he was parish priest in Goa – Salsete. From 1656 to 1662 he taught theology at New St. Paul’s College, Goa. Posted to the Rivers the following year he was already Superior of the Zambezi Mission in Jan. 1664. In Sept. 1664 he was Inspector of Moçambique and Superior of the Residence of Sena. He probably returned to India in the middle of 1667, and became Prefect of Studies at New St. Paul’s College and chaplain to the Viceroy later that year. (I am indebted for this information to the father Georg Schurhammer of the Istituto Stórico della Compagnia di Gesù, Rome)

His ‘Informação’, including his ‘Supplimento’ of the same date, is an extremely acute piece of socio-political analysis of the Portuguese position at the Rivers, but he does not show quite the same insight into the realities of the political situation from the standpoint of the local Bantu. With regard to his account of Maramuca, it is to be noted that he states possession of Maramuca had been conveyed with due formality to Gonçalo João (by Mwanamutapa), in the face of his previous statement that the gold-trade was in control of the rulers of the country, or rather the amount of gold mined and traded; and in the face of his following statement that, to gain possession of it, Gonçalo João required the assistance of Mwanamutapa and his friends.

The true political position appears to have been this: Maramuca actually fell under the jurisdiction of Changamire in the seventeenth century, and it was he who controlled the local chieftaincy. The ruler of Maramuca would have received effective military assistance from Changamire had invasion threatened or initially succeeded. Mwanamutapa had only titular suzerainty over the Maramuca area, as Changamire had gained de facto control of the whole area at the end of the fifteenth century. However, the current Mwanamutapa may have humoured Gonçalo João, for services rendered, ostensibly conveying to him rights greater than he himself actually possessed de jure or de facto. It is most unlikely; however, that Mwanamutapa would have risked a showdown with Changamire by sending armed forces into his kingdom for the purpose of installing an alien in one of the latter’s vassal districts. It is also unlikely that the Bantu of Maramuca would have agreed to mine gold and trade it to an alien who had forced his way into the country with armed assistance. What probably occurred is the Gonçalo João managed to acquire the monopoly of gold-purchase in Maramuca at the expense of the two other Portuguese previously established in the area – undesirable as they were – by gaining the favour of the local chief and impressing him with his straightforward conduct, enhanced by a possibly true claim that he was a friend of the Mwanamutapa who approved of his trading activities (and who had perhaps commended him by courier to the chief of Maramuca. This would have been an infringement of protocol vis-à-vis Changamire, nor have involved the Mwanamutapa in any particular political or economic commitment).

Encozes, often spelt encosses, and meaning ‘vassal chiefs’ is a term indiscriminately applied by the old Portuguese writers to Karanga vassals, although a non-Karanga word. Chuambo is a Bantu word applied by the Portuguese of Moçambique to any fortification. It is originally the local Bantu name for Kilimani / Quilimane, was next applied by the Portuguese to their camp at Quilimane, and was finally widened in scope by them to apply to all defences – Port. or indigenous. Muçoques, a word possibly of Goanese provenance, is the old Portuguese colonial term of half – castes.

(5) Anonymous Report on Rios de Cuama, 16.3.1683 (Ajuda 51- vii- 44, fls. 474-474 v.) Budera = Budura = Dumbura, by methathetic corruption.

(6) Breve informação dos Rios de Cuama que dã o P.ͤ Fr. Phelipe [sic] de Assumpção por ander nas ditas terras quatorze annos e estar em todas as ferias e ter larga noticia doz uzos e costumes eellas, Tete?, undated (Ajuda 51-ix-3, fls. 36-9; this ms. Contains no dated document of later than Dec. 1698).

Father Assumpção appears to have been chaplain to Mwanamutapa Nyakambiro (Nhacunumbiri of the Port. texts) before his rebellion, in concert with Changamire, late in 1693, as well as to his Portuguese-installed successor Mhande Pedro (1694-c.1697). In 1696-7 he was sent from Sena to the Court of Mhande Pedro with gifts to procure cession of the silver-mines recently located at Nyakatsi Hill a few miles east of Chicova, and returned to Sena complete with instrument of cession. However, Pedro died soon after, and the Portuguese were unable to secure its subsequent ratification. Father Assumpção’s career, after submission of his report, is not known. The Dominican Order does not appear to have kept methodical records relating to its personnel in the field as the Jesuits did.

(7) The fort of Dambarare was built on a projecting southern terrace of Dambararwa Hill close to the Muroodzi River- in the vicinity of the present Jumbo Mine, about 20.5 miles N.N.W. of Salisbury. It was constructed early in 1684 by the then Captain, Francisco de Valle, aided by the local settlers and acting on the instructions of Gen. Caetano de Mello de Castro (vide latter’s letter to Viceroy of 20.6.1684 – Livros das Monçoes 49, fls.59-60). The settlement itself, however, is first mentioned in a document of 1629, and was founded towards the end of the preceding century, as evidenced by the discovery, 3 miles to the south of Dambararwa Hill, of fragments of Wan-Li porcelain, production of which started in China c. 1573; I am indebted for the latter information to Mrs H. Goodall, Curator of Ethnology at the Salisbury Museum. My recent identification of the fort site was reported at popular level in the Sunday Mail, Salisbury, issue of 25 December 1960.

(8) Quitamboroize, referred to in other documents as Quitamboruize and Quitamborvize, is Chitomborwizi, the area of Chief Chirau west of the Hunyani River and south of Sinoia town. The traditions of the people of Chirau confirm the early presence in the area of Portuguese merchants and their gold-mining activities at Zviringohwe Hill. The latter is mentioned in the corrupt form Chirungo, by Antonio Bocarro, Decade 13, cap.75, as a place frequented by the merchants of Massapa and raided in 1597 by Kapampho, a Nsenga chief from the north of the Zambezi. Massapa, or rather Masapa, sited at the head-waters of the River Mukaradzi close to Pfura Hill in the present Mount Darwin area, was an established Portuguese centre as early as 1575. Chitomborwizi was probably founded not long afterwards, and perhaps owed its inception to the Luso – Karanga treaty of commerce, mining and evangelization concluded in 1575.

(9) For details of Luanze, or rather Ruhanje , located by me in April 1960, vide my paper of 1960 referred to in Note (1). It lies in the north-eastern portion of the present Mtoko District.

(10) ‘Mathafuna’ =’muTafuna’, i.e.’at Tafuna Hill’. It lies a few miles west of the present town of Shamva, and evidences a number of early gold workings. cf. ‘Maramuca’= ‘muRimuka’.

(11) There are Bareya close to the south bank of the Zambezi in the present Wankie District of Southern Rhodesia. They claim to have migrated earlier from the country of the Reya or Leya Chief Mukuni – north of the Zambezi close to the present Livingstone. For the N.R. Leya vide: M. A. Jaspen – The Ila-Tonga Peoples, London 1953. No Historical research appears yet to have been done among the Leya of Northern Rhodesia who are apparently the parent group to the clan of Ngezi of Rimuka.

(12) Bocarro. Antonio, Dec.13, cap.73.

(13) Rimuka (Maramuca) falls partly in the Hartley and partly in the Gatooma District, as defined by Southern Rhodesian Government Notice 27 of 1957. Hartley District derives its name from Henry Hartley, the hunter, who is the first recorded non-Portuguese European to have visited Rimuka. In 1865 he discovered outcrops of gold-bearing quartz whilst on a hunting-trip there, and in 1866 he accompanied Karl Mauch, the German prospector and geologist, to Rimuka and adjoining gold-bearing areas, which became known as the Northern Goldfields. In april 1870, Lobengula, the Ndebele king, granted a concession over these goldfields to a South African mining company in which the artist Thomas Baines had interests, the concession being formally ratified in August 1871. However, the concession was not taken up (see Baines’s The Northern Goldfields Diary, 1869-1872, 3 vols, Oppenheimer Series, 1946). Prospecting and development of the ‘ancient’ gold-workings of Rimuka got under way seriously in 1891, after the establishment of Fort Salisbury in September 1890. Today the major gold-producer in Southern Rhodesia is the Cam and Motor Mine, situated in Rimuka. (See Southern Rhodesia Geological Survey Bulletin, No.44, Part II, Salisbury, 1957, for information on the impressive gold deposits of the area.)

A beautiful ivory figurine of Madonna and Child, of sixteenth or seventeenth century Goanese workmanship, which was found in an old Rimuka mining-shaft, is to be seen in the National Museum, Bulawayo. It was perhaps part of the property stolen from Gonçalo João!

About Marco Ramerini

I am passionate about history, especially the history of geographical explorations and colonialism.