Posted by: Dr. Y. | April 8, 2015

Why the name: Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe2One of my very first articles on this blog was on Great Zimbabwe, the capital city of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, a kingdom which flourished from approximately 1220 to about 1420 in Southern Africa. The modern-day country of Zimbabwe is named after this great kingdom, and it is only befitting that we explore together the origin of its name. Why would a country which was named Southern Rhodesia change its name to Zimbabwe? Why bother changing names?

Flag of Zimbabwe

Flag of Zimbabwe

Well, for starters, I find it a bit sad for a country to only be known as ‘Southern something’ without no real name of its own… I know, … things happen (like countries splitting apart). Secondly, Rhodesia was named after Cecil Rhodes, the British man who committed the greatest atrocities in Southern Africa, while establishing British rule over the different African countries in the late 19th century. Therefore, once the people of Southern Rhodesia became independent from British rule, it was only normal to claim a name that was theirs, and not the name of some foreign oppressor who committed the worst atrocities in their country. It’s like seeing yourself through someone else’s lens; you only become free once you can look through your own lens, and appreciate and value yourself.

Great Zimbabwe ruins

Great Zimbabwe ruins

Thus the name Zimbabwe was chosen. The name “Zimbabwe” is a Shona term for Great Zimbabwe, an ancient ruined city in the country’s south-east whose remains are now a protected site, in the modern-day province of Masvingo. There are two theories on the origin of the word. The first theory holds that the word is derived from dzimbadzamabwe, translated from the Karanga dialect of Shona as “large houses of stone” (dzimba = plural of imba, “house“; mabwe = plural of bwe, “stone“).  The second theory claims that “Zimbabwe” is a contracted form of dzimba-hwe which means “venerated houses” in the Zezuru dialect of Shona, and is usually applied to chiefs’ houses or graves. In your opinion, which of these two theories is closer to the truth?

A Conical tower

A Conical tower

Zimbabwe was formerly known as Southern Rhodesia (1898), Rhodesia (1965), and Zimbabwe Rhodesia (1979). The first recorded use of the name “Zimbabwe” as a term of national reference was in 1960, when it was coined by the black nationalist Michael Mawema, whose Zimbabwe National Party became the first to officially use the name in 1961. According to Mawema, black nationalists held a meeting in 1960 to choose an alternative name for the country, and the names Machobana and Monomotapa were proposed before his suggestion, Zimbabwe, prevailed. I am so glad the name Zimbabwe was chosen. Enjoy this video about Zimbabwe, the country which held the great civilization of stones. I will talk about the different great kingdoms and civilizations that flourished in the area in later posts.


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