The downfall of the Mutapa State

05 Mar, 2023 - 00:03 0 Views
The downfall of the Mutapa State Mutapa State

The Sunday News

The Mutapa State had largely declined before the arrival of the Portuguese. Why? It was because of a number of reasons.

Succession disputes of inexperienced Mutapas for example Nyahuma, which affected the political stability of the state. Succession disputes seemed to be one of the common problems which prevailed in most Shona traditions and were not handled properly. This could have attracted foreign intervention hence facilitating its downfall.

There were civil wars among the Mutapa people as a result of succession disputes, for example Chikuyo against Nyamanda in the 1490s and Negomo versus Chiputo in the 1550s.

This division in the state weakened the political base of the state. They weakened the moral fibre of the state and divided people. The division within the state resulted in the creation of puppet rulers, for example Mavura allying with Portuguese against fellow rulers. It was now a state within a state where Portuguese were controlling the state through African rulers. They intensified internal political division and disunity within the state.

Rebellions from vassal chiefs included chiefs like Changa and Togwa of Guruuswa, laying the basis of what was to become the Rozvi Empire. Thus, the rise of Rozvi mambos from the Mutapa group had a strong bearing towards its downfall. Emergence of other strong chiefdoms like Uteve and Barwe offered a great challenge to its survival.

Incompetence leadership of some Mutapa rulers was demonstrated by Gatsi Rusere, Chioko, Mavura whose weaknesses were manipulated by the Portuguese to their advantage to interfere into the internal politics thus creating a state within a state;  planting the Portuguese colon, that is the royal fire was made useless thus the vassal chiefs Madanda and Uteve broke away. Thus, the state became too vast for young inexperienced and incompetent leadership. As such weak rulers after Matope could not effectively implement the centralised system of Mutapa.

A series of droughts affected the state to its decline. There were also outbreaks of epidemic and plagues which killed many people. Loss of Manyika, Teve, Danda provinces had left the authority of Mutapa confined to Dande, Chidima and Zambezi valley. From this, it can be argued that the Mutapa had lost a large part of its territory in the 15th century.

Its downfall was rather gradual as evidenced by its loss of provinces. The Portuguese only arrived in the Empire in the 16th century when provinces were already reduced. The Portuguese were only responsible for a fall of the small remnant of the state. However, the Portuguese should not be completely dismissed since they completed the process of decline of this state through their intervention.

NB: The Portuguese only arrived in the empire in 16th century when the state had already reduced and had become weak, thus the Portuguese were only responsible for a fall of the small/remnant of the state.

However, the  Portuguese also played a role to complete the process of decline. How?

There were also threats from the Portuguese through charismatic and military expeditions for example Fransisco Barreto in 1569 and Vasco Homen in 1574. These did not lead to the downfall of the state but their failure to effectively penetrate the state encouraged other Portuguese to come in dozens in order to plant a colony.

The death of Gonzalo da Silveria really attracted Lisborn to take some measures against the conservative elements of the Mutapa people. This Portuguese missionary was killed because Christianity had weakened the moral fibre of the state and again had divided people.

Loss of land was also an issue. The agricultural economy was paralysed through creation of prazo system that is large pieces of land were taken by the Portuguese.

This affected their economic base on crop farming. Control of trade and mining now being controlled by Portuguese. Again, Portuguese were no longer paying tribute to Mutapa rulers. This negatively affected the economy of Mutapa.

Intermarriages were practised resulting in the creation of Mulato population. Cultural erosion was inevitable. The Portuguese used the Chikunda army to curb opposition and recruit cheap labour.

External threats from the Rozvi at Guruuswa for example campaign of 1684-85 – was a crushing blow on the state in 1695 thus Portuguese joined forces with the Rozvi.  There was also exhaustion of natural resources through trade with Portuguese.

The Portuguese were actively involved in mining of mineral resources that resulted in the depletion of these resources.

This negatively affected the economic base of the state. The British South Africa Company marked the final end of the Mutapa State after the Portuguese gave in fearing British authority. There were also the Maravi invasions.

Manners Msongelwa is the president of History Teachers of Zimbabwe and a teacher at Camelot College in Kwekwe.

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