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Origins of the Rozvi State


Changamire Dombo I, the leader of the Rozvi was a man of considerable military talent and an administrative genius.

With this military ability Dombo was able to defeat  the Portuguese at the battle of Maungwe.

Changamire’s first capital was at Tsindi ruins near Marondera and Macheke.

He moved over to Butwa( sometimes spelled Butua) and established his capital at Manyanga.

The Rozvi eventually became too powerful for  everyone hence their name which means

“the  robbers”/”raiders”/”marauders.”

Reasons for the rise of the Rozvi State Changamire Dombo was a descendant of the Mutapa and he initially established his kingdom in the interior with his capital at Tsindi near Marondera.

He defeated the Portuguese who tried to grab  more land and power further inland to Mbire and

Guruuswa near Butwa between 1684 and 1695

The rise of Dombo was a result of civil war in the Torwa state of which he was a citizen. It is possible that he came from a family with  special religious or military duties.

He may have grown rich and powerful through  keeping cattle.

He is said to have had special powers like, he  could make rain or make soldiers brave or  change the color of cattle showing that he was a  charismatic leader.

The Portuguese thought he was a magician or  wizard because of the many tricks he showed in  battle. His soldiers formed a half circle around their  enemies.

They used many kinds of weapons including bows, arrows, assegais, spears, wooden clubs and shields.

The Rozvi received guns as tribute from the  Portuguese thus most high officials had guns  and knew hot to use them.


The Rozvi Economy


The King received tribute from the chiefs in the  region. These included cloth, beads, hoes, axes,  gold, ivory, cattle, skins, grain, tobacco and salt.



They practiced internal trade with the locals and  external trade with the Portuguese. The

Portuguese were not allowed to advance too far into the interior of the country. African traders called Vashambadzi moved across the country and acted as middlemen between the Rozvi and Portuguese. The traders paid taxes as they moved from village to village with their goods. There were no special market days or market places except on the borders where the Portuguese arrived.



The Rozvi depended much on the subsistence  farming and other agricultural activities. Each family was expected to grow enough food  to feed himself. The Portuguese wrote about a flat and beautiful  plain bearing rice, pumpkins, watermelons,  beans and other vegetables. Their main tools were the axe and the hoe. Axes were used to clear the trees while hoes  were used to till the land, plant seeds and for  weeding. People shifted to new pieces of land after a few  years and started the process all over again i.e.  they practiced shifting cultivation. The royal family benefited from the labour of its  subjects under a system called Zunde ramambo. These subjects would prepare the chief’s land,  plant, weed and harvest the crops which were  stored at the chief’s compound. The land was communally owned with the chief  as its custodian. Every adult was entitled to a  piece of land. The Rozvi community was also pastoral rearing  goats, sheep and cattle. These were a source of  both wealth and conflict between tribes who  raided each other. Important people and chiefs owned cattle.



The Rozvi were also a hunting society. The spear, bow and arrow, wooden staff and  axe were important hunting tools. Pits and nets made of twisted bark were also  used to trap animals. People hunted in teams which sometimes went  out for weeks and dried the meat as a form of  preservation in the jungle and later bring it back  to their homes. The King was also a custodian of the animals  therefore half the tusks of elephants killed were  surrendered to him. The hooves of these elephants were given to the  chief and they were used as stools. Pangolins were royal game and were surrendered to the chiefs. The ivory was exchanged for guns.



The Rozvi were a mining community. All gold and precious minerals were surrendered  to the chief. The chief would reward the miner  surrendering the minerals to him. The King distributed most of what he received to  the members in his lineage and other chiefs. All chiefs paid annual tribute as a sign of loyalty. In rituals districts made their contributions and  the remaining items after the ritual would be  distributed among the members of the king’s  family.


Political Organisation of the Rozvi State

It began with the hut, then the family head, the  neighborhood head (headman), village, region,  sub-chief and chiefdom.

At the top is the chief and then the king and his  court.

The King ruled with the help of a council called  Dare.

Members of the council included priests, military leaders and provincial governors. Some of the King’s wives played a role at the court and some of the son in laws had special duties.

The King was a figure of great respect and  loyalty.

He was the distributor of land and the holder of  other properties in trust of the state: prisoners of  war, cattle taken from people accused of various  crimes are examples of said property.

The king was the head of the legal system.

He had the power to call up the army and declare  war.

He could also summon communal labour.

The king had claims to game, elephant taxes and  other taxes from the state.


Religious organisation

The mambo’s rituals surrounded relations with  ancestors.

The king was the religious leader as well in  addition to being the political and legal leader. He communicated with God through the  ancestors.

The priests of Mwari served at a shrine  (Mabweaziva) and they were very powerful.

They carried messages telling the people to obey  the king as instructed by the ancestors.

The priests had agents called Vanyai who spread  the word of Mwari throughout the provinces. They acted as an intelligence network, bringing  information from the provinces. The power of the priests of Mwari strengthened  the role of the mambo and also limited his  powers.


The fall of the Rozvi state

The Rozvi had great mineral wealth and  controlled external trade.

The Rozvi leaders understood the weaknesses  and divisions of the Portuguese and expoilited  them by making policies that made them  dependent on the Rozvi for example forcing  them to use middlemen (vashambadzi).

The Portuguese tried to gain the land and mineral wealth of the Rozvi for a long time without any success.

The Rozvi were finally defeated by Zwangendaba with little resistance around 1690. The royal house scattered to other parts of the  country.

The royal house scattered to other parts of the  country.

As the remaining Rozvi were just starting to  recover when Mzilikazi and the Ndebele arrived and attacked Butwa.

The Shangaani also raided the Rozvi in the Chipinge area as the Rozvi started to collapse. The Rozvi empire now remained only in  Mashonaland but there finally defeated by the  British South African Company settlers.

Thus external forces contributed largely to the  fall of the Rozvi state.

The fall of the Rozvi state can also be attributed to  their political system which only served to enrich  the royal family at the expense of ordinary  people.

As a result the state lost the support of its people. The hatred was worsened by the habitual  pillaging done by the Rozvi army.

The Rozvi were also loosely administered without any central power source which made disintegration easier.

It can thus also be argued that the state alienated  its own people leading to its decline and fall.

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EcoleBooks | ZIMSEC O LEVEL HISTORY FORM 4 - The Rozvi State


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