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Traditional huts in Zimbabwe

Cultural Snapshot of Zimbabwe

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The People

Zimbabwe is a melting pot of a diverse range of groups that reflect their rocky history. The country identifies more with Southern Africa than Central Africa due to its colonial history. The current population is at around 15 million and about 76% of that population lived in rural areas.

The colonial history of the nation, and its subsequent Independence from that rule, has created two distinct cultural groups – that of African descent and that of European. Although ways of assimilation can be observed (such as foods, forms of government, religious practice), the two groups still remain largely separate. Though the European ruling minority lost their political power in the country’s push for Independence in 1980, inequality still reveals itself in the disproportionate control of land and resources.

The vast majority of the population consists of Shona groups, which is then comprised of many sub-groups as well. Roughly 67% of the population falls under this ethnic background. Ndebele people consist of about 18% of the population, and smaller groups of Tonga, Shangaan and Venda are also found in pockets throughout the country.

Culture and religious traditions are very similar across the Ndebele, Shona, and smaller groups of Tonga, Shangaan, and Venda. Many believe in supernatural ancestors and hold similar practices for marriage which rarely ends in divorce and does occasionally allow for polygamous scenarios. A strong belief in witchcraft and the ability to conjure power from ancestors to change the current circumstance is deeply rooted and often coincides with those who hold a Catholic faith as well.


Many languages are spoken in Zimbabwe’s borders, all of which have a Bantu origin with the exception of English. English has been labeled the official language, though few are born speaking it. Shona and Sindebele, a click language, are most widely spoken. Education offered in English, Shona and Ndebele at the beginning levels.


The most consumed grain is corn. “Mealie meal”, or cornmeal, is the result, which is used to prepare a thick porridge called bota.  Millet and sorghum are also principles staples in certain areas. Usually the grain is cooked into a thick porridge and served with vegetables or meat. Green vegetables are common and are often prepared often with onion and tomato. Cornmeal is also used for sadza which is similar to the bota but more cornmeal is added to make it hard again.  Bread is also a staple in urban diets. Meat of one’s own clan totem is generally avoided and not consumed. Ox, cow or goat is generally the food prepared for feasts as a stew or barbecued. Morning and afternoon tea is also very common now, with the English influence taken root.

The Arts

Art is an important component of the culture. The metamorphosis of man to animal is a commonly depicted subject. Pottery including sculpture, masks, drums, basketry, jewelry, carving, theater in the urban areas. Decoration of the body, such as tattoos or scarification, are also common art forms.
Dance is also very important in Zimbabwean culture and it can be a very spiritual and powerful tool for them that helps pass on traditions, their history, and values. Music is typically created using the drums, mbira, and marimba.  Tempo of the music is often dictated by the dancers mood and what they wish to communicate, and the performer’s movements often dictate the rhythm of the dance and can cause it to change mid-song.

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