The Story of Rhodesia/Kingdom of Mutapa


The Kingdom of Mutapa was a kingdom located between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers in areas which are today part of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.[1] It flourished between the mid-15th and mid-17th. It is sometimes described as an empire, however there is little evidence that Mutapa ever established such control over the region. Mutapa prospered due to local resources of gold and ivory. It traded with Muslim merchants and the Portuguese merchants. The kingdom went into decline when it was weakened by civil wars, and then the Portuguese conquered it around 1633.[2] The meaning of the word Mutapa is “the conquered lands”.[1]

Decline of Great ZimbabweEdit

In the 15th century, the kingdom of Great Zimbabwe was in decline (see Kingdom of Zimbabwe). By the second half of the 15th century, the Bantu-speaking people migrated north to lands inhabited by smaller tribes who fled to the forests and deserts. The relationship between the Kingdom of Mutapa and the Kingdom of Zimbabwe is unknown, but it is known that both kingdoms had very similar pottery, weapons, tools, and jewellery.[2]


The kings of Mutapa held the title Mwene Mutapa meaning “lord of metals” or “master pillager”. They were also the religious head of the kingdom. The king, who ruled as absolute monarch, was assisted by ariosos officials such as the head of the army and chief of medicine. The ministers had their own estates and also some judicial powers: for example, they had the ability to impose death sentences on those found guilty of serious crimes.[2]

Art and ArchitectureEdit

Unlike other kingdoms in Southern Africa, there were no local stone deposits in Mutapa, so they were unable to build impressive structures. The capital was enclosed by a wooden fence, and buildings were made with mud and wooden poles. At its peak, around 4,000 people lived in Mupangubwe (Mutapu’s capital).[2]

Mutapu produces local pottery that was burnished using graphite and red ochre. Mutapu’s jewellery included necklaces and anklets made from long coils of iron, bronze, copper, or gold wiring. It was described by European explorers and found in local burial sites.[2]


Following the voyage of Vasco De Gama around the Cape of Good Hopes, and up the East Coast of Africa in 1488-1489, the Portuguese started establishing a presence in the lucrative Swahili coast trade cites. Attempts were made to establish trade with Mutapa, interfere with its rules, and even convert its king to Christianity, but they all failed. Another contact came from Muslim Swahili merchants but the people of Mutapa never converted to Islam and held onto their Bantu beliefs.[2]

Around 1633, the Portuguese decided to attack and conquer the Kingdom of Mutapa to control the regions' resources and cut out their great rivals - the Swahili merchants. The Portuguese created the first written records about the Southern African people. However, due to tropical disease and the fact there was far less gold in the area than in other places such as West Africa and Peru, the Portuguese presence was only a temporary one. What remained of the Mutapa was later taken over by the Batua (a rival Shona kingdom) in 1693.[2]