Iron comes to Central Africa
Besides South Africa, central Africa is the most isolated part of Africa. For many years, the people who lived here saw almost nobody from outside their own area. So it took longer for people in Central Africa to find out about new inventions.
Sheep and cattle reach Central Africa
Neither sheep nor cattle are native to Zimbabwe, so these people probably got the sheep and cattle from Bantu people living to their north. Maybe around the same time, people in Zimbabwe, the Karanga or the Shona, also began speaking a Bantu language.
What did Central African people buy and sell?
Around the same time, Karanga people in Zimbabwe seem to have started selling animal furs and ivory. Maybe they were shipping furs and ivory down the Limpopo river to the East African settlements on the coast of Mozambique. They also seem to have been mining and shipping gold from Zimbabwe down the Limpopo river.
In return, they got lots of glass beads, probably from India, and also cotton cloth, steel knives, and probably Indian medicine. Possibly the Medieval Warming period improved the climate in a way that made Zimbabwe richer than before.
Just after 1000 AD, these people in Zimbabwe began to build the first big stone palaces ever seen in central Africa. The most famous of these palaces, which were called zimbabwes, is called Great Zimbabwe, and it was built around 1250 AD. Musicians living in the Zambezi valley invented the mbira, a new musical instrument.
By 1450, however, there was less trade with East Africa than there had been before, and Great Zimbabwe began to be abandoned.
The kingdom of Mutapa
Climate change may again have played a part, as the Little Ice Age made south Africa cooler than before. And possibly people were dying of the Black Death – the bubonic plague. Nyatsimba Mutota started a new kingdom, Mutapa, a little further north, covering what is now northern Zimbabwe. He kept selling ivory and added copper and salt.
Learn by doing: African trade project
More about Indian Ocean trade
More about East Africa
Mozambique after 1500 AD
Great Zimbabwe (First Book) by Mark Bessire (1999)
Uganda (Enchantment of Africa) by Allan Carpenter, James W. Hughes (1973)
The Forest People, by Colin M. Turnbull (1960s, republished 1987) (this is not a kids’ book, but it is a great account of life in the African rain forest).