The Kingdom of Mutapa, established in the 15th century in present-day Zimbabwe, was a notable southern African state. Originating from Great Zimbabwe’s decline, it thrived on gold trade. Portuguese attempts at control in the 17th century weakened but couldn’t subdue the empire.
Origins of the Kingdom of Mutapa
What makes the Kingdom of Mutapa interesting is that it was established in the 15th century, after the collapse of Great Zimbabwe. As a result, the Kingdom of Mutapa claimed to be the successor state to Great Zimbabwe. The founders of the state of Mutapa used the legacy of Great Zimbabwe to legitimise their rule and claim authority over the region.
Scholars believe that the Kingdom of Mutapa was a direct descendant of Great Zimbabwe. Oral traditions among the Shona people strengthen this belief, as they state that the kings of Mutapa were the descendants of the rulers of Great Zimbabwe, who were known as Munhumutapa. In Shona, the kingdom was known as the “Mwenemutapa”. The kings of Mutapa derived their authority from the Munhumutapa, which was the title for their spiritual and political leader. They believed that the Munhumutapa was chosen by the spirits of the ancestors to rule over the kingdom.
Archaeological evidence supports these points further, as Great Zimbabwe and Mutapa shared many cultural and architectural similarities. They even had similar building techniques and artefacts!
However, there is a twist to the story that makes the origins of the Kingdom of Mutapa not as clear as we would like. According to historians, the origins of the kingdom can be traced back to the Kingdom of Mapungubwe, which existed between the 10th and 14th centuries. This was a wealthy and powerful state that controlled the trade routes between the interior of southern Africa and the Indian Ocean coast.
Mwene Mutapa (which means “owner of the mines” in the local Shona language) established the Kingdom of Mutapa in the early 15th century. He claimed descent from the ruling dynasty of Mapungubwe and used this to legitimise his rule over the area. Under the leadership of Mwene Mutapa, the kingdom grew in power and wealth.
Economics, Society and Politics
The Kingdom of Mutapa was mainly an agricultural society, as it had a complex irrigation system and terracing for cultivating crops such as beans, sorghum, and millet. Additionally, the kingdom was rich in minerals, such as gold and copper, which were mined and traded with the Portuguese and other European traders.
The Kingdom of Mutapa was an important state in Southern Africa and played a key role in the region’s history. As a major producer of gold and other valuable resources, it had a rich culture and complex society. The Kingdom of Mutapa was the first African state to have diplomatic relations with a European state, the Portuguese. It controlled trade routes and had a great political influence on neighbouring states. The legacy of the Kingdom of Mutapa lives on through the cultures and histories of the people in Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The decline of the Kingdom of Mutapa
By the late 15th century, the Portuguese had established a strong presence in the Kingdom of Mutapa. They were mainly interested in gold mines and began trading with the kingdom. The relationship between the Portuguese and the people of Mutapa was tense, as the Portuguese attempted to exert control over the kingdom and the Mutapans would resist their attempts.
By the 16th century, internal conflicts and external pressures took their toll on the kingdom. The Ndebele people conquered the Kingdom of Mutapa in the 17th century and established their own state in the area. The legacy of the kingdom lived on, and the descendants of Mutapa continued to rule over smaller states in the region.
The Kingdom of Mutapa officially came to an end in the 19th century when it was colonised by the British. However, the people of the Kingdom of Mutapa continued to play an important role in the history and culture of the region.
Cartwright, Mark. “Mutapa.” World History Encyclopedia. August 31, 2017. https://www.worldhistory.org/Mutapa/.
“Mutapa Empire: History & Decline.” Study.com. Accessed January 21, 2023. https://study.com/academy/lesson/mutapa-empire-history-decline.html.
“Mutapa Empire.” New World Encyclopedia. Accessed January 26, 2023. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Mutapa_Empire.