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'Chimurenga': The Shona Rising of 1896-97

D. N. Beach
The Journal of African History
Vol. 20, No. 3 (1979), pp. 395-420
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/181122
Page Count: 26
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'Chimurenga': The Shona Rising of 1896-97
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Abstract

There was a basic similarity between the way in which Rhodesian colonial historians looked at the central Shona chimurenga (rising) of 1896 and T. O. Ranger's seminal Revolt in Southern Rhodesia 1896-7: both thought in terms of a pre-planned conspiracy led by religious authorities and a simultaneous outbreak on a given signal. Ranger's reconstruction of the organization of the chimurenga, however, depended partly upon the misreading and misquotation of the sources. In fact, the rising was neither pre-planned nor simultaneous. In the second quarter of 1896 limited resistance to European rule was being carried on in separate, unconnected outbreaks and some communities were thinking of starting a full-scale hondo (war); the threat of famine caused by locusts led certain central Shona leaders to contact the religious leader Mkwati in the Ndebele area, then in revolt against the Europeans, in search of locust medicine. News of European defeats transmitted by these contacts led to a full hondo in the Umfuli valley, which triggered a 'ripple effect' in which Shona communities resisted or collaborated as the news reached them. The element of religious leadership was limited and the element of central pre-planning non-existent. This makes the success and commitment of the local Shona communities all the more impressive, even though it was a traditionalist rather than a proto-nationalist rising.

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