Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a Confiscated Past

November 14, 2017 -
12:00 pm to 1:30 pm
Shadreck Chirikure

Lying deep in the belly of Southern Africa, Great Zimbabwe is an ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage site. Known locally for as long as it existed, the first westerners to discover Great Zimbabwe argued that the local Shona people could not have built such an architectural masterpiece. Realizing the political value of history, Cecil John Rhodes quickly appropriated the past, declaring King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba as the creators of Great Zimbabwe, and used it as justification for his colonial project. Nearly forty years after Zimbabwe's independence, the dominant narratives on Great Zimbabwe are still based on models of cities, states, and urban areas borrowed from other world areas, such as Mesopotamia. Even artifacts such as pottery are described using technical jargon with no local parallels. To the locals, this means that the existing interpretations are still foreign - they do not speak to their cultural experiences. To make matters worse, local archaeologists regurgitate the same locally inappropriate interpretations. Great Zimbabwe represents a confiscated past - initially by those who denied local authorship and secondly by archaeologists who continue to rely on borrowed models from elsewhere. This presentation aims to reclaim the past for the locals by using African centered frameworks to interpret Great Zimbabwe. It shows that decolonization of narratives can only be achieved through a bold discarding of framworks to interpret Great Zimbabwe.

Contact name

meredith.watkins363@duke.edu

Unit

  • Concilium on Southern Africa