The Story of Rhodesia/Kingdom of Mapungubwe


The Kingdom of Mapungubwe (or Maphungubgwe) (c.1075–1220) was a medieval state in Southern Africa located at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers, south of Great Zimbabwe. The name is derived from either TjiKalanga and Tshivenda. The name might mean "Hill of Jackals".[1] It is nicknamed “Southern Africa’s first state”.[2]

Mapungubwe PlateauEdit

There is little evidence of any state beyond the wealth of the capital. This would suggest a centralised authority which monopolised trade and wealth. It could also command labour to build large stone structures.[2]


The kingdom of Mapungubwe was formed by Bantu-speaking peoples. The heart of the area controlled by the Mapungubwe has at its heart a large sandstone plateau. It was easily defended due to its inaccessibility. Just like other kingdoms in Southern Africa, agriculture brought plenty of food that could be traded for goods.[2]

Government & SocietyEdit

The chief or king was probably the wealthiest individual. He owned more cattle and precious material than anyone else. There was also a religious association between the king and rainmaking. The king and his court dwelt in a stone building on the highest level of the tribe’s territory. Royal wives likely dwelt separately from the king. The common people lived in mud and thatch houses. The king was buried at the top of the hill, while the commoners were buried at the surrounding valley. The population of Mapungubwe was at peaks at peak in the mid 13th century A.D. At that time, the population was around 5,000 people.[2]


Archeologists have found a high number of carnivore remains and ivory in the area of the Mapungubwe plateau. This suggests that animal hides and elephant tusks were probably sold to coastal areas. The presence of glass beads from India and fragments of Chinese celadon vessels indicates that there was trade with other states on the coast who traded with merchants traveling from China and Arabia by sea.[2]


Golden Rhinoceros of Mapungubwe

Pottery was produced on a large scale in the Kingdom of Mapungubwe. This suggests the presence of professional potters. It’s another indicator of a prosperous society. Forms of pottery include spherical vessels with short necks, beakers, and hemispherical bowls while many are decorated with incisions and comb stamps. There are also ceramic figures, whistles, and one giraffe figurine. In addition, cattle, sheep, and goat figurines, and small figures of people with elongated bodies and short limbs have been often found in a domestic setting. These figures were probably used as offerings for ancestors or gods. However, their precise function is unknown. Other finds include small jewellery items made from copper or ivory.[2]

A particular type of decoration was only found in the Kingdom of Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe. It was to beat gold into small rectangular sheets which were then decorated with geometrical patterns. The patterns were made by incision and used to cover wooden objects using small tacks, also made of gold. Evidence for local gold-working is a rhinoceros figurine made from small hammered sheets, fragments of gold bangles, and thousands of small gold beads. These objects were found at the royal burial site. These are the first known indicators that gold had a value of its own (as opposed to just a currency) in Southern Africa.


The kingdom of Mapungubwe was already in decline by the late 13th century A.D.. This was probably due to overpopulation putting too much stress on local resources. This situation has been brought to a crisis point by a series of droughts. Trade routes may also have shifted northwards and local resources run out. The kingdoms that now prospered were to the North, such as Great Zimbabwe and then the Kingdom of Mutapa.[2]