Culture & Traditions of Zimbabwe

Updated April 17, 2017

Zimbabwe is a country located in the southeast corner of the African continent. Like much of Africa, it experienced colonial rule, so traditional ways continue to be overrun by the West. Zimbabwe has hardly lost its rich culture. Instead, like many places, it finds ways to combine the old and the new.


The earliest tribes recorded as inhabitants of what is now Zimbabwe are called the San or Bushmen. Their population began to decline in the second century A.D. when the Bantu tribes arrived from the north, bringing farming and cattle-herding practices with them. The largest tribe that still exists in Zimbabwe today is the Shona tribe which migrated to Zimbabwe in the 13th century. Zulu warriors--another offshoot of the Bantu tribe--arrived during the 19th century and are known today as the Ndebele.


Totems (mitupos) were used to identify the different clans of the Mashona tribe and are one of the earliest traditions in Zimbabwe. These totems are of such importance that even if descendants of the same clan are from different tribes, the clan ties hold greater sway than the tribal ones. Totems give a clan not only their identity, but can give praise to an individual or guard against incestuous behaviour.


European missionaries brought Christianity to Zimbabwe, and 44 per cent of Zimbabweans are Christians, making it the largest practised religion in the country. Many of those Zimbabwean Christians still believe in spirits and witchcraft. Independent churches like the Apostolic Church recognise this and allow for an interpretation of the Bible that incorporates traditional values and faith healings. Traditional beliefs involve the honouring of ancestor spirits. Diviner-healers (n'anga) and witches have the power to help the living communicate with spirits and help avenge deaths.

Mbira Music

Music is sacred and has many purposes in traditional Zimbabwean culture. Mbira music is played during ceremonies such as weddings, funerals and the promotions of new chiefs. There are also ceremonies which take the whole night and are performed to Mbira music. These allow people to communicate with spirits. The spirits can be those of ancestors (vadzimu), of deceased chiefs (mhondoro), as well as powerful guardian spirits (makombwe). Music is not only used to summon spirits, but can also chase away bad spirits.

Circumcision Ceremony

Called the mukanda, the circumcision ceremony takes place between May and October (the dry season). This important ceremony marks the boy's passage into manhood and continues over several months rather than a single day. During this time, the boy not only heals from the circumcision, but is taught about adult life by the village elders. All of this occurs in a place called the katateveje, which means "place of death," as it is the place where the boy's childhood dies and he enters adulthood.

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About the Author

Joanne Robitaille's first journalistic experience was in 1994, when she did school reports for a local newspaper, "Shoreline." Her articles now appear on various websites. Robitaille has a Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing from the University of Windsor.