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4— Missionaries, Migrants and the Manyika: The Invention of Ethnicity in Zimbabwe
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Ethnicity and History

Carolyn Hamilton and John Wright have recently urged that we seek the roots of twentieth century ethnic divisions in the pre-colonial past:

The processes by which rulers and ruled in a specific region of an emerging pre-capitalist state manipulated, or sought to manipulate, concepts of group identity in pursuit of what they perceived as their particular material interests. . . . Our argument that the emergence of pre-capitalist states in south-east Africa was grounded in the development of ethnic categorization would lead us to dispute the common view that (in the words of Colin Leys) '. . . modern tribalism is a creation of colonialism. It has little or nothing to do with pre-capitalist relations between tribes'. More likely, we would argue, is that modern 'tribalism' is a creation of the impact of colonialism on forms of ethnic consciousness whose roots lie deep in the pre-colonial past.[7]

However convincing this proposition may be for the Zulu state, it does not apply in the case of Zimbabwe.

David Beach's admirable history of the Shona-speaking peoples shows clearly that before 1890 there were two 'historical realities'. One was that all speakers of Shona possessed not only a language but also many other cultural traits in common. Scattered over a large area, in contrasting environments, and pulled in different directions by trading links and military alliances, however, these Shona-speakers were not conscious of a cultural identity, still less a political one. The second reality, and the one of which Shona-speakers were conscious, was the local chieftaincy group. These numerous groups were not and never had been clustered together in self-conscious ethnicities such as are today implied by the terms 'Manyika', 'Zezuru' and the rest. At times in the past, powerful states had emerged which had exacted tribute from chiefly groups in a system of over-rule. But these states had never pulled all their subjects together into self-conscious identities, nor had they manipulated concepts of group identity in a manner which left a lasting ethnic legacy. Between the Shona culture as a whole and the local chiefly group there existed no intermediate concept of ethnicity.

Beach does show, however, that the terms Korekore, Zezuru, Manyika and the rest did have a pre-colonial currency. Each arose in a different way and had different connotations and each was available to be pressed into distorting service by the classifiers of the twentieth century. Two of the terms had long significance,


two were topographical, one was a slang term invented by an enemy.

The terms which had a long recorded history were 'Karanga/Kalanga' and 'Manyika'. When the Portuguese came into contact with the Shona-speaking peoples in the sixteenth century, they recorded that the chiefly lineages which ruled over the commoners were known as 'Karanga'. They also reported the existence of a chiefly territory which was called 'Manyika'. European usage came to transform the significance of these terms. As we shall see, the Portuguese called a large region around the Manyika chieftaincy by the name of Manicaland, and the name was picked up by the British in the late nineteenth century. Most of the peoples of this region, however, did not think of themselves as related in any way to the Manyika chieftaincy. As for the term 'Karanga', it suffered a shift both of location and of meaning. The Portuguese had used it to refer to the ruling lineages of the northern and eastern Shona-speakers. The incoming British at the end of the nineteenth century picked up this 'historic' term to describe the first Shona-speakers they encountered, naming the total populations of the southwest area 'Kalanga' and those of the southern plateau 'Karanga'.

The terms which had a topographical connection were 'Korekore' and 'Zezuru'. Beach tells us that 'Korekore gradually appeared in the north. . . . It generally meant the people of the north and northwest.' He also tells us that 'by the middle of the eighteenth century the Portuguese were beginning to refer to the people around the head of the Mazoe Valley as "Zezuru". The term meant "people who live in a high area".  The two words were, then, the equivalent of 'northerner' and 'highlander' rather than ethnic or tribal categorizations. As for the term 'Ndau', it was a derogatory nick-name given to the peoples of the eastern frontier by the raiding Gaza Nguni of the mid-nineteenth century. Beach concludes by regretting the projection backwards into 'tradition' of what have become modern 'tribal' names since, as he says, 'most of these terms were originally used in a much more restricted sense'.[8]

In this way terms which certainly did not mean to convey the idea of ethnic homogeneity in pre-colonial times were picked up in the colonial period precisely to convey that idea. Even then they did not convey the idea very successfully to rigorous observers. Thus the anthropologist Hans Holleman, writing of a number of Shona chiefships, remarked:

All these are commonly regarded as belonging to the Zezuru cluster of the 'Shona' tribes, but it is doubtful if such a classification can be justified on ethnological grounds as no detailed comparative study has yet been attempted. From a native point of view this affiliation is meaningless, as it is not supported by any special ties of a political or other nature. Few, if any, have an intelligent conception of a 'Zezuru cluster' as distinct from, say, a Karanga or Manyika cluster.[9]

The terms have no 'traditional' validity, then, nor did they correspond to any clearly perceived twentieth century 'tribal' realities. The administrative units created by the colonial government were territorially defined districts which bore no intended nor actual relationship to 'tribal' or 'ethnic' identities. Later, when the Rhodesian government began to take the idea of 'tribal politics' more seriously, it demarcated and recognized literally hundreds of 'tribes', each under its own chief. Thus, there was no incentive for Africans to invent regional ethnicities in the hope of tapping the flow of administrative patronage.

And yet, despite all this, the terms have come to possess at least that degree of reality illustrated by this chapter's opening quotations. I believe that this has happened as a result of the agency of both 'unofficial' Europeans and of


'unofficial' Africans—of missionaries and their converts and of African labour migrants. Later, when these 'unofficials' had achieved a diffused sense of 'Manyikahood', 'Zezuruness' and so on, the concepts were belatedly taken up by 'officials' and by chiefs, by the administration and by the propaganda agencies of the Rhodesian regime. I shall illustrate this generalization through the presentation of a case study of twentieth century ethnicity in parts of eastern Zimbabwe. In particular, I shall examine the changing sense of self-identification in the old kingdom of Maungwe under Chief Makoni, an area in the twentieth century constituting the greater part of the Makoni administrative district. In the 1890s no one in Makoni thought of themselves as 'Manyika'; by the 1930s most of them had come to accept that they were members of a wide Manyika identity. I shall try now to explain how this happened.

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