The Conical Tower

Conical Tower, The Great Zimbabwe, © James Mann

My thoughts have turned back to my visit to the Great Zimbabwe in January 2013, with Saki Mafundikwa as my guide. Something he told me that day was confirmed by a passage I later read in Stephen Howe’s Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes (1998), on the subject of the Hamitic Hypothesis, which holds that African monuments such as the Great Zimbabwe were built by the Hamites rather than indigenous Africans. Howe writes: “Early European ‘discoverers’ of the Great Zimbabwe proposed a bewildering variety of external origins for the builders of these massive, eerily impressive structures. The two favourite theories, proposed together or separately, were that they had been Phoenician, and that the monuments were connected with biblical tales of King Solomon’s goldmines and the Queen of Sheba.”(117) Howe goes on to describe J. Theodore Bent’s initial excavations of the Great Zimbabwe in 1891, followed by those conducted by Richard Nicklin Hall in the early 1900s, which damaged the site extensively; these excavations occurred concomitantly with those of David Randall MacIver who, in 1905, affirmed that the structures were of indigenous rather than Hamitic origins. Subsequent research at the site confirmed this, though Howe writes that the influence of the Hamitic Hypothesis could still be detected in some scholarly literature of the 1980s.

I have not yet found accounts of the destruction of the tower which, Saki told me, was dismantled brick by brick as colonial Europeans looked for King Solomon’s gold.