Mwanamutapa (mwäˌnämōtäˈpä) [key], former state, SE Africa. The Mwanamutapa empire, headed by a ruler of the same name, was founded c.1420 among the Karanga people (a subgroup of the Bantu-speaking Shona) and was centered at Great Zimbabwe in present-day SE Zimbabwe. The empire was ruled in pyramidal fashion, with the Mwanamutapa appointing regionally based vassals. In about 1490 the empire split into two parts—Changamire in the south (including Great Zimbabwe) and Mwanamutapa in the north. The latter stretched from the Indian Ocean in the east to present-day central Zambia in the west and from central Zimbabwe in the south to the Zambezi River in the north. An important source of gold and ivory, the area attracted Swahili traders from the east coast of Africa (in modern Tanzania). Beginning in the early 16th cent. Portuguese traders and soldiers from Mozambique established contact with the empire, and by the mid-17th cent. the Portuguese controlled Mwanamutapa, which continued to exist in nominal form until the late 19th cent. During this time, however, the social structure of the empire was severely dislocated by the ravages of slave traders.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.