The Shona people are divided into Western Shonas (makalanga) and Eastern Shonas. Origins of the Western Kalanga come from theRozvi State(Moyo). Ethnologue notes that the language of the Western Shona is mutually intelligible with the main dialects of the Eastern Shona, but counts them separately.
- Sure members (10.7 million):
- Karanga or Southern Shona
- Mhari (Mari)
- Rozvi, sharing the Karanga dialect (about 4.5 million speakers and the largest group)
- Zezuruor Central Shona (3.2 million people, 11,000 of them in Botswana)
- Shan Gwe
- Korekoreor Northern Shona (1.7 million people)
- Kwazwimba (Zimba)
- narrow Shona (1.3 million people)
- Members or close relatives:
- Manyikain Zimbabwe (861,000) and Mozambique (173,000). In Desmond Dale’s basic Shona dictionary, also special vocabulary of Manyika dialect is included.
Kalanga(Western Shona),in South-Western Zimbabwe, rather integrated in theNguniculture, therefore little identification with the other Shona (700,000) andBotswana(150,000):
- Dhalaunda/Batalaote (they lived in Madzilogwe, Mazhoubgwe, up to Zhozhobgwe)
- Lilima (BaWombe; Bayela – are in the central district with Baperi)
- Baperi (live together with BaLilima as mentioned above)
- Banyai, speakingNambyain Zimbabwe (90,000) and Botswana (15,000), sometimes subsumed to the Western Shona
- Ndauin Mozambique (1,580,000) and Zimbabwe (800,000). Their language is only partly intelligible with the main Shona dialects and comprises some click sounds that do not occur in standard ChiShona.
When the term Shona was invented during the Mfecane in late 19th century, possibly by theNdebele king Mzilikazi, it was a pejorative for non-Nguni people. On one hand, it is claimed that there was no consciousness of a common identity among the tribes and peoples now forming the Shona of today. On the other hand, the Shona people of Zimbabwe highland always had in common a vivid memory of the ancient kingdoms, often identified with the Monomotapa state. The terms “Karanga”/”Kalanga”/”Kalaka”, now the names of special groups, seem to have been used for all Shona before the Mfecane.
Dialect groups are important in Shona although there are huge similarities among the dialects. Although ‘standard’ Shona is spoken throughout Zimbabwe, the dialects not only help to identify which town or village a person is from (e.g. a person who is Manyika would be from Eastern Zimbabwe, i.e. towns like Mutare) but also the ethnic group which the person belongs to. Each Shona dialect is specific to a certain ethnic group, i.e. if one speaks the Manyika dialect, they are from the Manyika group/tribe and observe certain customs and norms specific to their group. As such, if one is Zezuru, they speak the Zezuru dialect and observe those customs and beliefs that are specific to them.
In 1931, during the process of trying to reconcile the dialects into the single standard Shona, Professor Clement Doke identified six groups, each with subdivisions:
- The Korekore or Northern Shona, including Taυara, Shangwe, Korekore proper, Goυa, Budya, the Korekore of Urungwe, the Korekore of Sipolilo, Tande, Nyongwe of “Darwin”, Pfungwe of Mrewa;
- The Zezuru group, including Shawasha, Haraυa, another Goυa, Nohwe, Hera, Njanja, Mbire, Nobvu, Vakwachikwakwa, Vakwazvimba, Tsunga;
- The Karanga group, including Duma, Jena, Mari, Goυera, Nogoυa, Nyubi;
- The Manyika group, including Hungwe, Manyika themselves, Teυe, Unyama, Karombe, Nyamuka, Bunji, Domba, Nyatwe, Guta, Bvumba, Here, Jindwi, Boca;
- The Ndau group (mostly Mozambique), including Ndau themselves, Tonga, Garwe, Danda, Shanga;
- The Kalanga group, including Nyai, Nambzya, Rozvi, Kalanga proper, Talahundra, Lilima or Humbe, and Peri.
The above differences in dialects developed during the dispersion of tribes across the country over a long time. The influx of immigrants, into the country from bordering countries, has obviously contributed to the variety.
There are more than ten million people who speak a range of related dialects whose standardized form is also known asShona.
The Shona are traditionally agricultural. Their crops were sorghum (in modern age replaced bymaize), yam, beans, bananas (since middle of the first millennium), African groundnuts, and, not before the 16th century, pumpkins. Sorghum and maize are used to prepare the main dish, a thickened porridge called sadza, and the traditional beer, called hwahwa. The Shona also keep cattle and goats, in history partly as transhumant herders. The lifestock had a special importance as a food reserve in times of drought.
Already the precolonial Shona states received a great deal of their revenues from the export of mining products, especially gold and copper.
The term Shona is as recent as the 1920s.
The Kalanga and/or Karanga had, from the 11th century, created empires and states on the Zimbabwe plateau. These states include theGreat Zimbabwe state (12-16th century), theTorwa State, and the Munhumutapa states, which succeeded the Great Zimbabwe state as well as the Rozvi state, which succeeded the Torwa State, and with the Mutapa state existed into the 19th century. The states were based on kingship with certain dynasties being royals.
The major dynasties were the Rozvi of the Moyo (Heart) Totem, the Elephant (of the Mutapa state), and the Hungwe (Fish Eagle) dynasties that ruled from Great Zimbabwe. The Kalanga who speak Tjikalanga are related to the Karanga possible through common ancestry. Some Shona groups are not very familiar with the existence of the Kalanaga hence they are frequently not recognised as Shona today. These groups had an adelphic succession system (brother succeeds brother) and this after a long time caused a number of civil wars which, after the 16th century, were taken advantage of by the Portuguese. Underneath the king were a number of chiefs who had sub-chiefs and headmen under them.
The kingdoms were destroyed by new groups moving onto the plateau. The Ndebele destroyed the Chaangamire’s Rozvi state in the 1830s, and the Portuguese slowly eroded the Mutapa State, which had extended to the coast of Mozambique after the state’s success in providing valued exports for the Swahili, Arab and East Asian traders, especially in the mining of gold, known by the pre-colonisation miners as kuchera dyutswa. The British destroyed traditional power in 1890 and colonized the plateau of Rhodesia. In Mozambique, the Portuguese colonial government fought the remnants of the Mutapa state until 1902.
Nowadays, between 60% and 80% of the Shona are Christians. Besides that, traditional beliefs are very vivid among them. The most important features are ancestor-worship (the term is called inappropriate by some authors) and totemism.
According to Shona tradition, the afterlife does not happen in another world like Christian heaven and hell, but as another form of existence in the world here and now. The Shona attitude towards dead ancestors is very similar to that towards living parents and grandparents.
Nevertheless, there is a famous ritual to contact the dead ancestors. It is called Bira ceremonyand often lasts all night.
The Shona believe in heaven and have always believed in it. They don’t talk about it because they don’t know what is there so there is no point. When people die they either go to heaven or they don’t. What is seen as ancestor worship is nothing of the sort. When a man died, God (Mwari) was petitioned to tell his people if he was now with Him. They would go into a valley surrounded by mountains on a day when the wind was still.
An offering would be made to Mwari and wood reserved for such occasions would be burnt. If the smoke from the fire went up to heaven the man was with Mwari; if it dissipated then he was not. If he was with Mwari then he would be seen as the new intercessor to Him. There were always three intercessors so the Shona prayed somewhat along these lines:
To our grandfather Tichivara we ask that you pass on our message to our great-grandfather Madzingamhepo so he can pass it on to our great-great-grandfather Mhizhahuru who will in turn pass it to the creator of all, the bringer of rain, the master of all we see, he who sees to our days, the ancient one (these are just examples of the meanings of the names of God. To show respect to him the Shona listed about thirty or so of his names starting with the common and getting to the more complex and or ambiguous ones like…) Nyadenga- the heaven who dwells in heaven, Samatenga- the heavens who dwells in the heavens, our father… Then they would describe what they needed.
His true name, Mwari, was too sacred to be spoken in everyday occasions and was reserved for high ceremonies and the direst of need as it showed Him disrespect to be free with it. As a result God had many names, all of which would be recognised as His even by people who had never heard the name before. He was considered too holy to just go to straight up, hence the need for ancestral intercessors. With each new one the oldest was let go.
When the missionaries came, they talked about Jesus being the universal intercessor, which made sense as there were conflicts in the society, with some people wanting their so-and-so, who they believed was with God, to be included in intercession. Doing away with ancestral intercessors made sense.