Basket weaving is a craft that goes back to the Mutapa state and possibly beyond. Image credit

Basket weaving is a craft that goes back to the Mutapa state and possibly beyond. Image credit

ZIMSEC History O Level Notes: The Mutapa State: Economic Organisation of the Mutapa State

  • The following economic activities took place in the Mutapa State:

1. Cattle Herding

  • The people kept large herds of cattle for meat, milk and hides.
  • Cattle were also a symbol of wealth and they were also slaughtered at religious ceremonies and functions such as funerals.
  • They were also a trade item that was used in both external and domestic trade.
  • They were used to pay tribute to both the chiefs and the king.

2. Mining

  • The Mutapa people mined gold, iron and copper.
  • Gold was used to trade with foreign traders for goods.
  • Iron was used to make iron tools such as hoes and axes for farming as well as weapons such as spears and arrowheads.
  • Copper was used to make ornaments such as bangles and ceremonial spears.
  • Mining was mostly done during the dry season.
  • It was considered dangerous and laborious.

3 Crop cultivation

  • They grew a variety of crops such as sorghum and millet
  • These crops formed the staple diet of a thick porridge.
  • They were also used to brew beer.
  • Cultivation as oftentimes carried out in communal groups in a practice called nhimbe.
  • Grain was harvested and stored in granaries for future use.

4 Trade

  • The people practised internal and external trade.
  • Long distance trade was carried out with the Swahili, Arabs and the Portuguese
  • Foreign trade brought in needed goods and increased the wealth of the king allowing him to continue to rule and reward loyal subjects.
  • The foreigners brought guns, cloth, beads and in exchange they got gold and other precious metals.
  • Local trade was practised by families in order for them to get what they did not have for example grain, iron tools, pottery, salt, livestock and skins.

5 Tribute

  • These were items given to the king by his subjects either directly or through chiefs as a sign of loyalty.
  • Tribute was in the form of cattle, crops, skins, gold, ivory, labour etc.
  • It made the king wealthy and allowed him to exert continued control over his subjects.

6 Craftwork

  • Pottery making-pots were made for cooking and storing liquids such as drinking water and beer.
  • Basket weaving was practised to make different types of mats, winnowing baskets etc.
  • Blacksmiths made iron tools such as arrowheads, hoes and axe heads.
  • Crafts were also used in external and internal trade.

7 Hunting and gathering

  • Was used to complement the other economic activities.
  • Men hunted game and supplied meat, hides and ivory.
  • Women gathered fruit, vegetables and termites.

8 Other economic activities

  • Taxation of  vashambadzi,European traders, hunters and tributary chiefs.
  • Court fees and fines.

To access more topics go to the History Notes page.


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