ALTERNATE NAMES: (Formerly) Rhodesians
POPULATION: 10.4 million
LANGUAGE: ChiShona; isiNdebele; English
RELIGION: Indigenous beliefs; Christianity; Islam
Zimbabwe is known for its rich tradition of stone sculpture and for its natural tourist attractions such as the Great Zimbabwe Falls and Victoria Falls. It was a British colony known as Rhodesia from 1896 until 1980. Before the British arrived, the country was made up of a number of separate kingdoms. The earliest people to inhabit the country were the San, sometimes called the Qoisan or Khoisan. They are also sometimes called "Bushmen," but this is an insulting name that was given to them by outsiders.
After the San, the Shona arrived. They built stone walls in the region around 1200 AD . The best-known of these walls survive today as the remains of two cities, Great Zimbabwe and Khami. The city of Great Zimbabwe prospered until the fifteenth century, and gave modern Zimbabwe its name.
Zimbabwe is in southern Africa. In 1992, the country's population was 10.4 million. Of these, 98 percent were African, and about 2 percent were European, Asian, and mixed-race. People of mixed race are sometimes called "colored persons."
Most of the good farm land is owned by the former European colonists (whites). Africans (blacks) cultivate poorer, overcrowded land. The industries in cities and towns are also mostly controlled by Europeans, Asians, and people of mixed race. Among Africans, those who live and work in the city are better off economically than those who live in the countryside.
The African population of Zimbabwe is made up of at least ten ethnic groups, each speaking a different language. The two largest are the Shona and Ndebele. The Shona people make up about 60 percent of the population. They are well known for their skill in working with iron, gold, and copper. The Ndebele people, recognized for their skill as military strategists before the arrival of the British, make up about 20 percent of the population. Most people speak at least two languages, including one of the three official languages: chiShona, isiNdebele, and English.
Even though there are many different groups, certain cultural practices or customs unite all Zimbabweans. One of the greatest experiences shared by all these groups was the war for independence. In 1980, the nation of Zimbabwe was born when the people won independence from the British.
Each ethnic group has its own heroes and heroines, legends, and myths. These stories record a group's origins, traditions, and history. Some of the ethnic heroes, such as Mbuya Nehanda, Kaguvi, and Lobengula, have become national symbols.
History has altered traditional African life. Because of colonization, most Zimbabwean families live in two worlds: the African and the European (or Western). However, in their daily lives, Zimbabweans blend these two. So, while ancestor worship is the most common religious practice, Christianity and Islam are also observed. In fact, about 75 percent of the population observes either Christianity or Islam.
A dozen public holidays are observed nationally. The most important national holidays are Independence Day (April 18), Heroes' Day (August 11), Workers' Day (May 1), Defense Forces' Day (August 12), and Africa Day (May 25). There are others that are observed by religious groups such as Muslims (followers of Islam) and Christians. There are no indigenous African holidays, but families may have special days in the year on which they remember their relatives who have died.
Most of the traditional rites of passage are being replaced with Western ones, such as Christian baptism and birthday parties. The old celebrations of birth and entry into adolescence have almost ended. A few groups still observe them, however; one such group is the amaFengu. They practice adolescent male circumcision in public to announce boys' graduation to manhood.
Marriage and burial are still conducted traditionally in many areas. Marriage is still a symbol of graduation into adulthood. Death and burial mark a person's passage into the world of the "living dead," that is, ancestors.
Each Zimbabwean ethnic group has its own greetings and visiting customs. In some groups elders begin greetings, while in others someone younger does. Some groups shake hands and some do not. Bowing one's head, and bending one's knees in a bow are followed by some groups but not others. Whenever a person visits another's home, the visitor has to humble himself or herself before the hostess or host. Gestures, including facial expressions, are also an important aspect of greetings.
Dating has been affected by European contact. Traditionally, most people will not date a stranger. To do so is thought to bring bad luck to a relationship. Another explanation is that people who do not know each other's family histories risk being involved in a relationship with a relative. However, these beliefs are changing today. Most young people meet and date in schools, colleges, and universities without meeting each other's family.
Not all Zimbabweans enjoy the same living conditions. Most rural families do not have tap water. Most of the roads in the rural areas are not well paved. Some rural areas are not served by any modern form of transportation. This situation worsens during the rainy season.
The whole country has inadequate health care, but the rural population is hardest hit. Some communities do not regularly have the services of a fully trained nurse, let alone a doctor. Medicines are always in short supply. Some of the most common diseases are malaria, bilharzia, sexually transmitted diseases, tetanus, cholera, polio, and typhoid.
In both the city and the country, there are local differences in the standard of living. In the city, the differences are based on a person's race, gender, and social and economic class. People of European origin, Asians, and people of mixed race enjoy the best standard of living. They are followed by upper class blacks, including business owners and intellectuals.
In cities, women are in the worst situation. They face employment discrimination and other sexist practices. In the country, some families are wealthier than others because of support from their children who work in the city. Others earn money from jobs such as teaching.
The family is the foundation of Zimbabwean society. Marriage is an important rite of passage and a sacred practice. Through marriages the living are connected with their ancestors. Gender roles are defined within the family.
Most ethnic groups have patriarchal (male-headed) families. In these, women play a subordinate role. They are expected to serve their husbands, work for them, and bear them children. However, women do have certain rights.
A typical family today is made up of a husband and wife and at least two children. Traditional families are big, including five or more children, plus grandparents and the children of relatives. Some men have more than one wife. It is not unusual to find a man with ten wives.
Zimbabwean families, especially in the rural parts of the country, keep animals. Most animals are not just pets but serve other purposes. For instance, cats are kept to kill pests such as mice and rats. Dogs are used for protection and for hunting.
Modern, Western-style clothing is the usual outfit in Zimbabwe. There are very few people who wear traditional clothes on a regular basis. Traditional dress include a headdress, a wraparound cloth, and ornaments such as earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. This is usually seen on ceremonial and state occasions such as Independence Day and Heroes' Day.
To serve, wet a small bowl with cold water. Spoon some sadza into the bowl and roll it around until it forms a ball.
Zimbabwe's staple, or basic, food is called sadza. It is made of cornmeal and eaten with vegetables or meat (particularly beef and chicken). A recipe for sadza follows. Other traditional foods are milk, wild fruits, rice, green maize (corn on the cob), cucumbers, peanuts, beans, and home-brewed beer.
Since colonization, Zimbabweans have adopted some foods introduced by Europeans, especially sugar, bread, and tea. Most families usually have at least three meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For breakfast people may eat porridge made of cornmeal or oatmeal, cereal, or bread and tea.
For lunch, people usually have sadza . A similar meal might be eaten for dinner. However, foreign foods such as macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes are now part of the staple diet. In cities, workers get lunch and sometimes dinner from restaurants or take-out food stores.
There are taboos (restrictions) associated with certain types of foods. In some cultures, certain foods are eaten only when they are in season. For instance, the amaN-debele discourage the eating of corn on the cob outside its season. Most ethnic groups also discourage people from eating animal, plant, or other form of food that has their family name. For instance, if one's family name is Nkomo (meaning "cattle," "cows," or "oxen"), one is not supposed to eat beef. Young children are discouraged from eating eggs. When a woman is menstruating, she is not supposed to drink milk because it is believed that doing so might harm cows and calves.
Zimbabwe is one of the very fortunate countries in southern Africa to have basic education, especially for young people. While there are still some people who cannot read or write, most people have at least three years of elementary education. Education is seen as valuable since it can be the way to a good job. Parents are usually willing to spend money on the education of their children as an investment in the future. Children are a form of social security system; they are expected to look after their parents in old age.
The national adult literacy rate (the percentage of adults that can read and write) has been increasing since the early 1980s. Over three-fourths of all Zimbabweans are literate. The rate is higher—over 90 percent—in cities and towns. In rural areas, only about 70 percent of all people are literate. Everywhere, more men than women can read and write, and more men than women complete higher education levels.
University or college education brings pride to a family. Most Africans in the country believe in educating sons rather than daughters; when daughters marry, they take their family's resources to another family.
Zimbabwe has a very rich artistic tradition, including music, dance, fine arts and crafts, and literature. Traditionally, Africans passed on knowledge through music and dance. Music and dance were part of ceremonies and rites of passage; in many places, they still are. Culture is still passed on through praise songs (equivalent to poems), stories, and proverbs.
Traditionally, work is divided along gender lines. Most domestic work, such as cooking, brewing, and housekeeping, is performed by women. Men work outside the home tending cattle, hunting, and cultivating land. However, women also participate in farming. They usually do jobs that are considered "light," such as planting and cultivation.
These roles are changing, however. Men help with some of the roles that were once set aside for women, and women and girls now herd and milk cattle. The colonial government did not allow women, especially black women, to work outside the home. Despite these constraints, women found their way into cities to seek work. The independent government abolished labor discrimination against women. As a result, the number of women working in factories, corporate offices, and government positions increased. There is still much to be done, however, for women—as well as the dis abled—to improve their situation.
The country's national sport is soccer. The Zimbabwe national soccer team is one of the rising soccer powerhouses in Africa. The team plays in the African Cup and World Cup competitions. There are even some Zimbabweans who play on European soccer teams, especially in Great Britain, Germany, and Belgium.
Other sports are track and field, golf, cricket, rugby, wrestling, boxing, netball (women's), tennis, and horse racing. Sports in Zimbabwe are organized and supported along racial lines. Soccer, boxing, wrestling, and track and field are popular among Africans. Europeans prefer golf, cricket, rugby, tennis, and horse racing. But people from either group can cross over to other sports that are not common in their community.
Before colonization, people played traditional games such as hide-and-seek. While herding cattle, boys often ran races or climbed upon and rode small bulls. They also played a type of stone game called intsoro or tsoro. Girls also had their own games such as nhoda, also a stone game.
Traditional forms of entertainment such as drinking, singing, and dancing have continued into modern society. Traditional ceremonies, state events, and rites of passage also serve as entertainment.
Children have their own forms of entertainment and hobbies. They watch television and listen to "top forty" radio. Most of the television programs, videotapes, and films come from Great Britain and the United States. As a result, young people dress like musicians and actors from these two countries and try to imitate their lifestyles. They also listen to local and regional pop artists, especially those from South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some of the local well-known musicians are Dorothy Masuka, Thomas Mapfumo, Lovemore Majaivana, the Bhundu Boys, and Andy Brown and Storm.
Two films known all over the world have come from Zimbabwe. One is Neria, a story about a woman whose property is about to be taken away from her by the relatives of her dead husband. The other is Jit, a romantic comedy about a young man who is torn between Western life and his ancestors.
Zimbabwe is well known for its folk arts, particularly stone sculpture and wood carving. Stone sculpture is a tradition of the Shona people. Mat making and related arts and crafts are popular among the Ndebele, Kalanga, and Nambya people.
Before British colonization, Zimbabweans made weapons, hoes, and other tools for their own use. Wild cotton and wild bark were used to weave mats, dresses, beehives, food containers, and water coolers. Baskets, storage containers, chairs, fish traps, carpets, and sleeping mats are still made from cane, reed, grass, sisal, and similar materials. They are made both for personal use and for sale.
In spite of the gains that Zimbabwe has made building a democratic society, much remains to be done. Soon after independence in the early 1980s, there was political instability in the southwestern part of the country. The government claimed it was caused by some political rebels. Government troops killed many civilians and violated other people's human rights in the region while trying to deal with the situation. This continued until 1988. It is estimated that more than 5,000 people were killed.
Another area of concern is the treatment of women. The present government has treated women improperly and arrested some women that it claimed were prostitutes. It has also taken away some of the gains that women had made since independence. Some of the laws that helped women gain some power and confidence are likely to be repealed, or taken away. One such law, the Legal Age of Majority Act, gave women the right to marry whomever they wanted, with or without their parents' approval.
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