Shona - Orientation

Identification. The Shona-speaking peoples comprise about 80 percent of the population of Zimbabwe, with significant groups in Mozambique. Most of what follows applies to the Shona in Zimbabwe, who have been extensively studied.

There are a number of linguistic subgroups of Shona: the Zezuru, who inhabit the central plateau of Zimbabwe; the Karanga, to the south; the Korekore, to the north and dropping into the Zambezi Valley; the Manyika, to the east; the Tavara, in the Zambezi Valley in Mozambique and in the extreme northeast of Zimbabwe; the Ndau, in the southeast of Zimbabwe and stretching down to the coast in Mozambique; and the Kalanga, in the southwest of Zimbabwe and overflowing into Botswana.

These linguistic classifications led to the formation of distinct ethnic classifications in colonial times. Historically, however, neither the subgroups nor the Shona as a whole comprised distinct political or ethnic units. The Kalanga and the Ndau, in particular, have been considerably influenced by neighboring Nguni peoples.

Location. Central Shona country is the high plateau of Zimbabwe, with an elevation of 1,200 meters or more, a temperate climate, and an annual rainfall of 70 to 100 centimeters. The Zambezi Valley, in the north, is hotter and drier, as is the southwest. Few Shona now inhabit the eastern highlands, which are cool and wet. Generally, the colonial administration moved the majority of Shona away from the best farmland, into areas where the soils are sandy and thin and where the amount of rainfall is less favorable for agriculture.

Demography. The Shona population is estimated to have been slightly more than half a million early in the twentieth century. There has been rapid population increase in Zimbabwe throughout the twentieth century: there are now around 8,000,000 Shona in Zimbabwe and perhaps half a million outside. Approximately 26 percent of the population now reside in urban areas. Life expectancy at birth is 57, and the population growth rate is estimated at 3 percent.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Shona language is tonal and is one of the Bantu Group. There is relative ease of communication with neighboring peoples. A kind of pidgin Bantu, chilapalapa, based largely on Zulu and Afrikaans, is widely spoken in the region, especially in the towns.

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