The names of Zimbabwe’s districts, rivers and places reveal a colourful past. They tell of witches and warfare, of strong men and weak, of kings and tribes and of centuries-old movement of peoples.
The tracing of place names in a country in Africa can be both fascinating and frustrating. One must know – or quickly learn – something about history, about geography and the origins of words and their meanings – in different dialects and even different languages.
As the names fall into place, so one learns much that is new and revealing; facts which go far beyond textbook knowledge of those early people who came from all sorts of strange places to settle themselves in different parts of Rhodesia.
From the meaning of the African names alone it is possible to see the country with new eyes. The place names hint at fresh and different descriptions. A range of hills, which when you flyover it looks almost small, was seen by the huntsman on foot as a barrier, a girdle encircling the waist of the whole country.
A river, which is no more than a stream flowing between grassy banks today, was once known as the place of the buffalo, because so many of these animals came down to the shallows to find water.
Hills, especially, had quaint names: Makunguwo, the hill where crows roost at night; Gokomere, a kopje with natural fortifications like a shell which could keep out the sound of battle; Doma, a place whose name it was forbidden to mention, perhaps because of the hidden, impolite meaning; and finally, a hill so high that the VaDumha people called it Denga– Heaven.
Goats, witches, the strangely shaped fork of a tree, an outsize mushroom, twin hillocks like the breasts of a girl, all these and many more lent themselves to the astute observations of the tribal man, and were recorded by him in the names he gave to different places.
Not only shapes or oddities caught the eye of the tribesmen. The habits of people and their way of life also gave rise to names of villages: Chisumbanje, a place renowned for its dagga smoking; Chipuriro (today, Sipolilo), the place where grain is threshed; and sudden death – eMfelabuso (Filabusi), meaning death in the face. . . these are not empty names. They tell you about the people themselves.
The names can also tell you where people came from: Enkeldoorn, an Afrikaans word; Penhalonga, from the Portuguese; English and Gaelic names, some of them nostalgic reminders of a home country, or a place well loved.
Sometimes the reasons for the giving of these names has been lost down the years. Was Trelawney christened by a wistful Cornishman, or did the name merely have appeal for the cartographer? Who was Colleen Bawn? Was she a person, or was this the longing of a young man for his Irish colleen, whoever she might be? Read through the list. You may find the answers, or they may remain a mystery, waiting to be discovered through patient research or by a lucky chance.
Although a name or two may be missing, to expose a gap in the knowledge of our history, you will learn from these names (as I did when I was searching for them), a little of the hopes, the fears and the difficulties of a people who came from all over Africa and the four corners of the world to settle and live together within the borders of Rhodesia.
PHILLIPPA BERLYN – with some amendments by Tony Tanser.
ALASKA. Copper mine, probably called after the rich goldfields which had been discovered about the same time in Alaska, North America.
AMANDAS. Beyond Mazoe, near Concession, a famous old witch also known as Nyanda lived, and the village at the foot of the hill is named after her – Amanda’s. A suggested alternative for the meaning of this name is that it derives from mhanda – “the fork of a tree”, or from mhandu – “enemy”.
AMANZA TUNQAYO. SiNdebele name for the Victoria Falls: it means “the water which rises”.
AYRSHIRE. Takes its name from the old Ayrshire Mine. Once a source of plentiful gold, the reef faded out and was lost.
BALLA BALLA. Means “mountain” in SiNdebele. Repetition of the word implies large size and number.
BANKET. The geological formation of gold-bearing rock on the Johannesburg reef was called a “banket”. Early prospectors in Rhodesia thought they had discovered a second similar reef, and hopefully christened the place Banket.
BATTLEFIELDS. This name was given, not on account of any fighting which took place there, but because many of the mining claims and reefs were named after famous battles; e.g., Trafalgar, Tel-el-Kebir.
BEATRICE. A farming centre, named after Beatrice Borrow, sister of an officer in the pioneer corps. Beatrice Mine was pegged by another officer, Robert Beal on October 6, 1890.
BELINGWE. A corruption of the verb berenga – “to count”. With the intrusion of the Matabele into the area, the letter “r” was exchanged for an “l” and the name became Belingwe.
BEZA RANGE. The word beza implies “sitting quietly”.
BINDURA. Probably an anglicised version of the Shona phrase pindura mhuka meaning “turn the game”. The word bindura also means “a bitch in season”.
BINGA. On Lake Kariba; the name has two meanings – “the enclosure surrounding a chief’s village”, or “thick forest country”, both of which could apply.
BIKITA. Corrupted from dikita, named from a hill shaped like an antbear.
BIRCHENOUGH BRIDGE. After Sir Henry Birchenough, who is buried beneath the structure of the bridge.
BOPOMA. “Waterfall” – the name is ideophonic, and means the “roaring of waters”.
BROMLEY. Originally Broomley, after a dower house on Tullichewan Estates on the banks of Loch Lomond.
BUBI. The name means “ugliness”.
BUHERA. The district of the Vahera tribe.
BULAWAYO. Originally kuBulawayo, meaning, in SiNdebele, “the place of killing”, the name given by Lobengula, the last of the Matabele chiefs, to his first settlement. His reason for choosing such a name was that on his accession to the chieftainship, three regiments of the army refused to accept him. A battle took place, won by the Lobengula faction, after which he is believed to have said: “I have been killed by my people. I shall call my kraal kuBulawayo”.
BUMI HILLS. The word in Chizezuru means “wild dog”.
BULALIMA-MANGWE. A combination of bulilima – “the country in which the Balilima people live” and mangwe referring to the yellowwood trees.
CABORA BASSA. Correctly spelled – kupera basa – “to finish work”. (Actually located in Moçambique/PEA although the dam of same name reaches the Rhodesian border)
CASHEL. After Lt.-Col. R. Cashel, a former member of the British South Africa Police and the Rhodesian Volunteers, who retired to this area after World War 1.
CHAMABONDA DRIVE. Meaning “where you have clapped your hands together in respect” (from – bonda – “to clap the hands in greeting”).
CHANGARA. From the Shona, shangara, meaning “a place of dancing and rejoicing”. – (Actually over the border on the Tete road in Moçambique/PEA)
CHETE. A game reserve on the shores of Lake Kariba: the word in Shona means “only”, but in this case it is more than probable that the original word was chetu, an onomatopoeic word implying cutting across sharply or suddenly. This would apply where the river cuts through a deep gorge.
CHIBI. Derived from the name of the local chief, Chivi. The word chivi means “dirt” or “sin”, and was given to the original chief by the Rozwi Mambo, the senior chief of the Rozwi tribe, because of a crime committed by the first Chivi.
CHILIMANZI. At one time named chirimuanzu meaning “it is in the garment”, because the first chief Chirimuanzu was the owner of a splendid garment made of dassie or rock rabbit skins.
CHIMANIMANI MOUNTAINS. The original name may have been chimwenjemwenje, mwenje being the word for a “light” or “torch”. At certain times of the day these mountains look as if they are covered with fragments of light as the sun makes them sparkle. Alternate meaning: “a narrow defile”.
CHIREDZI. This means “a place for line fishing”.
CHIRINDA FOREST. The “place of watching”. It is said that the local people used to hide in the forest from raiders, and kept a watch from the trees (-rinda – “to watch”).
CHIRUNDU. Means “people following one another in a line or queue”, probably referring to the crossing of the Zambezi River by bridge at Chirundu.
CHIPINDA POOLS. The word – pinda means “enter” or “excel”.
CHIPINGA. “A buttress”, or “block”, – the alternative meaning being “a forest pool”.
CHISUMBANJE. Originally may have been chifumhabanje – “a place well known for marijuana (dagga) smoking”; alternative spelling chisumambanje – “one who offers dagga”.
CHIZARIRA. A game reserve near Lake Kariba. The word – zarira means “to close” or “to be angry”.
CHONGWE. Written by both Thomas Baines and Livingstone as Shungwe, the ancient name of the Victoria Falls, meaning “rainbow”.
COLLEEN BAWN. Limestone claims registered by John Daly on March 28, 1895. Research has failed to disclose whether Colleen Bawn was an actual person or not, but the words colleen bawn in the Gaelic mean “white girl”, and it is reasonable to suppose that a young man on his own in such rough country might be thinking about a colleen bawn.
CONCESSION. The more commonly used name for Amandas, derived from Moore’s Concession. Cecil Rhodes granted a mining concession anywhere in Mashonaland to an American prospector, Henry Clay Moore, if he in turn would withdraw his claim to a similar concession in Matabeleland which had been granted him by Lobengula. Moore pegged his claims in the Mazoe Valley.
DANDANDA. “Drum”, made out of a hollow log, the name of a settlement.
DARWIN, MOUNT. Named by the hunter and explorer Frederick Courtney Selous after the British naturalist Darwin, author of “The Origin of Species.”
DAWSONS. After a trader who opened a store and trading station at Lobengula’s kraal, before the Pioneer Column came to Rhodesia.
DEKA. In the Shona language the word can mean either “a flat depression” (which seems likely, as the banks are low lying there), or can suggest “a quick exit”. Alternative meaning – “to scoop up water”. At Deka the currents flow across one another where the Deka river joins the Zambezi.
DETT. The proper Shona spelling for this name should be dete, referring either to a “narrow place”, or to “a clump of trees”, most probably to the former.
DHLO DHLO RUINS. Either uDhlodhlo – “a person belonging to the Mpangazitha clan”, or the name of a regiment, but in the SiNdebele language isidhlodhlo means “head-ring”, which was only worn by men who had earned it, similar to the old English custom of earning one’s spurs.
DIANA’S POOLS. After Diana, wife of J. P. Richardson, one of the first district commissioners.
DOCTORS GIFT. Name of a road, leading to a farm, which was given to the original owner by Dr. Jameson.
DOMA. Shona word for “name” or “list of names” it also means “a name not to be spoken about” and has an impolite meaning.
DOMBADEMA. Dombo – “a rock” and dema – “black”.
DOMBOSHAWA. A hill near Salisbury with well-preserved Bushmen paintings and huge rocks covered in red and yellow lichen dombo – “rock” and shawa “red”.
DOROWA. When the Matabele invaded the village, they forced the local women to make beer, which unknown to them was poisoned. Dorowa – “the beer of death”.
ENKELDOORN. The district was first settled by Afrikaans-speaking people from South Africa and the town’s name was that of a farm near Humansdorp, in the Cape, from which Hendrick Ferreira, one of the early settlers, came. Enkeldoorn means, in Afrikaans, “single thorn”, and the name may have been adopted because of the scarcity of thorn trees in the area. Today, the citizens of Enkeldoorn display a sense of humour, claiming that their town is the Republic of Enkeldoorn and demanding that visitors to the local pub acquire a visa. They also sell a “republican” tie, the design of which is a branch of the thorn tree.
EMPANDENI. A well-known mission station in Matabeleland, the name empandeni meaning “at the roots”.
EIFFEL FLATS. Named after a gold reef originally pegged by Dr. Leander Starr Jameson in December, 1890, and also named by him.
EWANRIGG. A magnificent aIoe garden now a national park, given to the nation by H. B. Christian, the first owner. It was called Ewan after Mr. Christian’s elder brother who was killed in the First World War, and rigg is the Welsh word for a ridge or small hill.
FEATHERSTONE. After the name of a farm originally owned by the Tarr brothers, well-known in the area.
FIGTREE. Named after a large figtree on the direct road from the Mangwe Pass to Bulawayo. Here pre-pioneers had to outspan unil Lobengula’s permission to proceed to his capital had been obtained.
FILABUSI. Derived from the SiNdebele eMfelabuso – mpfela meaning “to make” or “death” and buso – meaning “face”. A man was struck in the face by an arrow, and the correct word, eMfelabuso therefore means “death in the face”, Filabusi being a corruption of the original word.
FORT GIBBS. After Captain J.A.C. Gibbs, an imperial officer in the West Riding Regiment, who was brought out by Rhodes as Adjutant of the Rhodesia Horse in 1894. He was in charge of the Gwelo laager during the Matabele Rebellion in 1896 and built the fort which bears his name.
FORT INGWENYA. Ingwenya is SiNdebele for “crocodile”.
FORT RIXON. Built during the 1896 Rebellion, this small village took the name of Theodore Rixon, the owner of the farm on which it was built.
FORT VICTORIA. Named after Queen Victoria, this is the oldest township in Rhodesia. It was settled by the Pioneer Column in 1890 and was the second of four forts built at the time, the others being Fort Tuli, Fort Salisbury and Fort Charter.
GADZEMA. In Chizezuru dialect kudzima – “to put out fire”, or “to dazzle”. The old Africans call it Gwidzima– “a place that shines”.
GAIREZI. Suggested spelling kairuwizi meaning “a small swiftly flowing river”.
GARAMAPUDZI. Gara – meaning “to live” or “stay”, and mapudzi – “a type of gourd or pumpkin”, thus, “live among the pumpkins”.
GATOOMA. After a hill near Golden Valley called Kaduma a corruption of the SiNdebele, meaning “it does not thunder or make a noise”.
GLENCLOVA. A settlement which takes its name from a nearby farm;
GOKOMERE. Goko – meaning “outer shell”, and mhere meaning “noise” or “disturbance”. The hill was strongly fortified both by its natural geography and its caves, providing a stronghold against invaders.
GOKWE. May be Tonga, meaning “a bee hive” or from goko – “outer shell”.
GONA-RE-ZHOU. The name of a game reserve, the words are, appropriately, “the horn (tusk) of the elephant”.
GOROMONZI. T he Geographical Place Names Gazetteer gives alternative spellings as either Goromanzi, Goromondzi or Goromonzi. In my opinion, since none of these are easily translated, it may be either koromodza – “tumble over” or “slide” (this could refer to the water tumbling over rocks into a pool); or it could be garamodzi, gara meaning “stay”, “stop” or “live”, and modzi meaning “one”. In the days of travel by Zeederberg’s Coaches, this was the last stop before Salisbury, and obviously, the first stage away.
GUMBORIMWE. Derived from gumbo meaning “leg” and rimwe meaning “one”, the name of this river suggests that it was full of crocodiles and there was danger of losing a limb to the reptiles.
GUTU. After the local chief, in its complete form guta remiseve, meaning “sheath full of arrows”. It is also the name of a certain species of caterpillar with spiky hairs sticking out of its back like arrows.
GUVULALA. Famous waterhole in the Wankie National Park. If derived from the SiNdebele, it should be spelt kubulala – meaning “there is killing”. If, however, it was named by the first tribe in the area, the Nhanzwa, who are basically Shona speaking, the name may have been guvurwa referring to the “sloughing off of skin”, mispronounced over the years to guvuruwa and eventually guvulala. The first game guards were Bushmen and Matabele, and they use the letter “I” to replace “r”. The sloughing of skin may refer to the fact that certain species of snakes slough their skins near water; or it may refer allegorically to the fact that people who washed at a waterhole in a dusty area would emerge clean, having, like the reptiles, sloughed off an outer covering.
GWAAI. The name is not, as sometimes suggested, a reference to the wild tobacco paid by the local tribes as tithe to the marauding Matabele, but comes from the Sesutu word ukayi meaning “where”.
GWANDA. Derived from the name of the local chief. A couple of miles out of the town is a hill named Jahunda’s Hill. In Karanga dialect jaunda means “water melon”.
GWEBI. The name suggests that it comes from the Shona language, meaning “hairless”, as a skin blanket or kaross would become when old and worn out. It refers to the sparse vegetation.
GWELO. When the Matabele settled in the district, the women found it difficult to draw water from the river because of the steep banks. It became known as iKwelo – “the steep place”.
HAMPDEN, MOUNT. Named by Frederick Courtney Selous, the hunter, in 1880 “after that great Englishman, John Hampden, who struggled so manfully for, and eventually gave his life in defence of, the liberties of his countrymen…” In his contract with Rhodes, Frank Johnson undertook “to build a fort on Mount Hampden or other suitable place in its vicinity”. The Pioneer Column settled some 12 miles to the south in what is now Salisbury.
HARARE. African township, after the African name for Salisbury’s Kopje. One theory is that it was named after Chief Neharawa, who lived there, another that it was called after the Havata tribe. However, there is a legend which claims that a famous witch doctor lived there in days gone by, and that he never slept. When ordinary mortals passed the hill, they would say “Ha-a-rare”, – “He does not sleep”.
HARTLEY. After Henry Hartley, famous hunter, the first man to discover gold in the district. Hartley township was settled in 1891, but the original site was abandoned and moved 18 miles to the west.
HEANY. After Captain Maurice Heany, an officer in the Pioneer Corps.
HUNTERS ROAD. An early road which led from Bechuanaland, through Inyati to the Hunyani.
HUNYANI RIVER. The word was originally manyani – “an edible root”.
INSIZA. Derived from the SiNdebele verb ukusiza, referring to the fact that water is greatly appreciated in this area.
INYANGA. Either “the place of the witchdoctor”, or “it is the horn”.
INYANGOMBE MOUNTAIN. Means “the horn of the cattle”.
INYATI. Means “buffalo” in SiNdebele. A large mission station, one of the first in the Bubi district in Matabeleland, it was named after the Enyatini royal kraal where one of Mzilikazi’s queens, Loziba, lived. Enyatini means “the place of the buffalo”.
INYAZURA. Correct spelling should be nyazure or nyazvure, meaning “the place for looking around cautiously”.
KABANGA. A bombing range built during World War II, and still in use today. The name was given to it by the pilots who used it, and derives from the fanikalo word kabanga meaning “may be”, but implying “unlikely”.
KAMATIVI. The word mativi means “sides”, “embankments” or “valleys” ,and the prefix “ka” though not grammatically correct, is a diminutive – therefore “little valleys”.
KANDAHAR ISLAND. One of the islands above the Victoria Falls, named after Lord Roberts of Kandahar, on the occasion of his visit to the Falls in 1905.
KARIBA. A corruption of kariwa, meaning in Shona “a little trap”. The Zambezi River narrows at the Kariba Gorge and the old people say that at one time there were two huge boulders on either side the gorge which created a bridge. Riwa can also mean “bridge” or “lintel”.
KAROI. Contraction of the Shona word kamuroyi – “little witch”. At one time witches were given a form of trial by ordeal by immersion in the local river.
KAZUNGULA. Probably means “to rotate”, the waters of the Zambezi move slowly at this point with cross currents. The Shona word kusungura means “to rotate”.
KEZI. Probably a shortened fonn of makhezi – “maize plants which have not yet tasselled”.
KHAMI. Originally khame in Sesutu meaning “very slow”, or “almost not moving”. The river, after which the Khami Ruins are named, is very sluggish.
KUMALO. Bulawayo suburb. Originally spelt khumalo, the honorific name for Lobengula, and his family name.
KYLE, LAKE. Thought to have been named after the Kyle district in Scotland, from which pioneer of the Lowveld Tom Murray MacDougall came originally.
LALAPANZI. Transport riders in the early days often had difficulty getting their oxen through a vlei in the region, as the animals sank to their bellies in the thick mud and it looked as if they were lying down – hence lala – “to lie” and panzi – “down”.
LUBIMBI. Thought to have been originally rubimbi – “a long portion which has been cut off something”.
LUNDI. Derived from the word – runda – “to be high or steep” referring to the flow of a full river. The Lundi River often flows bank high and has been known to block road travel.
LUTOPE. The original Shona word for this river was rutope, meaning “a long stretch of mud”. This describes the river well for it appears to be no more than a stretch of mud with reeds growing out of it.
MABIKWA. Means “you have been cooked”, implying a feast.
MACHEKE. There are two possible derivations for this name: that it was originally Nyacheke – “the place of the division, referring to some long-forgotten division of land; and that it comes from the Shona word macheke– “gardens”.
McILWAINE, LAKE. Called after Judge McIlwaine, who was founder of the Water Court in Rhodesia, this lake is edged on the south by a game park.
MADZIMUDZANGARA. A complex of ruins near Mtoko, it means either “pool”, or “mountain spirit” or “mirage”, possibly a combination of all three together.
MAFUNGABUSI. Means “rising dust” or “whirlwind” , in the language of the AbaSankwe.
MAKORI RANGE. Probably derives from the Shona word for “clouds” – makore. The word also means “years”.
MAKUTI. Means “wet mist” or “a persistent drizzle”.
MAKWlRO. Corruption of the Shona word makwira meaning “you have climbed”. A certain Chief Zwimba, on first coming to the country· from the Zambezi Valley, developed a limp and was slow in climbing the hill known now as Makwiro. On arrival he was greeted with the words makwira – “you have climbed”.
MAJENJERE HILLS. The word refers to “a variety of fish”, the plural being majenjera, the singular jenjera.
MALVERNIA. A border customs post, in thc Eastern Districts. After Lord Malvern, Prime Minister of the former Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.- (Actually just over the border in Moçambique/PEA)
MANA POOLS. A group of pools, an extension of the Zambezi River, lying east of Chirundu, the word manameaning “four”. The surrounding area has been turned into a game reserve.
MANGULA. Kalanga for “copper”. The Shona word is nearly the same, mangura – “base metal”.
MANGWE. A river and settlement – n’mangwe being the name in SiNdebele of the yellow wood trees which grow nearby.
MANGWENDI. The district takes its name from the chief – ngwenda meaning “to tremble”.
MANZAMNYAMA. SiNdebele for “black waters”, the river being full of deep dark pools.
MAPATA GORGE. Mapata means “a pass between two tall hills”.
MARANDELLAS. An anglicisation of the name of the man who was once local headman in the area – Marondera, derived from the Shona meaning “to follow”.
MARKWE. It is thought that this name was originally corrupted from mabgwe meaning “rocks”.
MARULA. The name is taken from the marula trees in the vicinity, which bear fruit similar to plums.
MASHABA. The African name for this town was at one time mavu mashava – “the red soils”, but today only the name Mashaba remains in an anglicized form. A second explanation is that the word mashaba is of Venda origin also meaning “red”.
MASHONALAND. Comprising roughly half of Rhodesia, this name probably comes from the Zulu phrase tshona langa, meaning “the setting sun”, but the phrase later became distorted. The verb shona in Chizezuru dialect means “to speak contemptuously”.
MATABELELAND. Part of Rhodesia, originally under the control of the Matabele Chiefs.
MATETSI. It is possible that the original spelling of this word was madedza, meaning “a slippery place”.
MATOPOS. Either derived from the SiNdebele word matobo, meaning “bald heads”, or matombo, meaning “rocks”.
MATSHEUMHLOPE. SiNdebele name meaning “white stones” the name for a small river which runs through the centre of Bulawayo, describing the whitish stony hills at the source of the stream.
MATUSADONA. The word in Chizezuru is a combination of the verb tusva meaning “to push ahead”, and/or “keep in front”, and the word dona, an onomatopoeic word implies “stretching towards something”.
MAVURADONA MOUNTAINS. The name should in all probability be spelt mvuradona, to mean “water stretching out over a long distance”.
MAZOE. A corruption of the word manzou, or nyanzou, meaning the “place of the elephants”.
MCHEKA WAKASUNGABETA. Means “the girdle which holds the country together”.
MCHINGWE. A river in the Bulawayo area along the banks of which grow a large number of palms called mchingwe.
MELSETTER. After Melsetter on the Long Hope Sound, Isle of Hoy, Orkney, the original settlement having been founded by the brothers Thomas and Dunbar Moodie, who named it after their family home in the Orkneys.
MIAMI. From the river Mwami, flowing in the vicinity. Mwami, in the Makorekore dialect, means “warthog”.
MKWASENI. The Geographical Place Names Committee give the correct spelling for this river as mukwasini, but it is more likely to be mukuvasini, meaning “the one which gathers spear grass”.
MOSI-OA-TUNY A. “the smoke that thunders”, the name given to the Victoria Falls by the Makololo and Batonga people living in the vicinity.
MREWA. Originally murehwa meaning “the one spoken of”.
MSONNEDDI. A large plain in the Umvukwes district. The elders of the tribe believe the word to have been muswewedede – “the tail of the baboon”, this being a description of the plain, which twists and winds across the countryside.
MSUNA RIVER MOUTH. Probably a corruption of the word masunda, or of the word masundisundi, the first meaning “a backward motion”, and the second meaning “waves”, or “ripples”.
MTOKO. After the local Chief of the area – Chief Mtoko. Mutoko means “bambarra nut”.
MTILIKWE. A river which rises in the Gutu district and is very swift flowing. As it passes over the rocky course there are waves which are described by the people in the district as being like “a shimmering mirage” called tirikwe tirikwe. Through usage the name has changed.
MTOROSHANGA. From the Shona word matorashanga – “you have fetched the old maize stalks”. Alternative spelling, matorashangu – “you have fetched the shoes”.
MURRAY McDOUGALL DRIVE. After Thomas Murray McDougall, the original owner of the Triangle Sugar Estates and a pioneer in the development and irrigation of the Lowveld.
MUSHANDIKE. Means “you may work”, and perhaps refers to the fact that the Mushandike Dam provides irrigation for lands that were previously short of water and unworkable.
MUSIKAVANHU. Means “the one who creates people”. It is an alternative word for the Shona god, Mwari.
MUTAMBARA. Takes its name from the chief and his tribe. Mutambara means “you spread out”.
MUTANDAFUSI. Derived from Jusi a “tiny fish”, and meaning “the place where you net fish”.
MUTARAHUNGWE. Means “river of fish eagles”.
MUTASA. The name means “straight” in the physical sense.
MUTEMWA. The name of the highest mountain in the Mtoko area, meaning “you have been cut”, or “the one who is cut”.
NANTWICH. A camp in the Wankie Game Reserve, after the farm of this name that forms part of the reserve.
NALETALE RUINS. Originally spelt nyaletele, meaning “that which has been bought”.
NDANGA. From the local chief, Ndanga. Either a shortened form of the word ndatanga – “I began”, or ndanga ndiri pano – “I was here (first)” Recalls an ancient quarrel between the first Chief Gutu and his elder brother, then called Mtastsuri, but later Ndanga.
NGEZI. The Shona word for the English language is chiNgezi.
NGOMAHURA. Ngoma “drum”; huru – “big”.
NORTON. After a nearby farm owned by Joseph Norton, who, with his wife and child and three employees, were murdered in the Mashona Rebellion in 1896.
NTABAZINDUNA. A flat-topped hill near Bulawayo, the name meaning “the place where indunas died”. lnduna – “a headman” in Sindebele. When Mzilikazi fell out with some of his headmen, they were murdered there.
NUANETSI. Originally nyanetsa “place of weariness or affliction”.
NYAHOKWE RUINS. The word was probably spelt nyanhokwe, meaning “the place of reed grass”.
NYABIRA. “The place where a river is forded”; alternative meaning – “the place of feasting”, from bira – “feast”.
NYAMPANDA. Either “the place where roofing poles are found”, or “the place that divides”, or “the place of Chief Mapanda”.
NYAMANDHLOVU. Correct spelling in SiNdebele: nyamayedhlovu – “the flesh of the elephant”. It is said that when Mzilikazi, breakaway Zulu chief, came north, he arrived at a pan shaped like the head of an elephant, and named the surrounding country Nyamayendhlovu.
NYUNI. Derived, perhaps, from the SiNdebele word nyoni meaning “bird”.
ODZI. Derived from ChiManyika dialect, odza – meaning “cause to rot”. The Odzi River is subject to flash floods and a number of rotting carcases are brought down by the flood water.
PANDAMATENGA (given as MPANDA MATENKA), name of a road and township on the north-west border with Botswana. After the name of Westbeech’s old trading station. The words come from the Munhanzwa tribe; they mean “to invite trade”, – panda being “to seek” or “look for”, and matenga “you have bought”. The name has probably been corrupted from the phrase mapanda matenga you have sought, you have bought”.
PENHALONGA. Named after a Portuguese aristocrat, Count Penhalonga, who, with Baron Rezende, formed a mining company. Pena means “rocky mountain”, and longa “long or tall”, in Portuguese.
PLUMTREE. The marula trees in the neighbourhood reminded the early settlers of plum trees, bearing a similar fruit.
POPOTEKWE. A river which rises in the hills, and has waterfalls all along its course: popoma kwesekwese – “waterfalls everywhere”.
QUE QUE. Either Shona onomatopoeic word for the sound made by frogs, written kwe-kwe and anglicised to Que Que, or from the Si-Ndebele, meaning “a crowd”. The nearby river is named Kwe Kwe.
RUPISI. A group of hot springs – The name means “a thin, hot place”.
RUSAPE. In the VaHungwe dialect “the place of sandy soil”, or “a storage hut for grain”.
RUTENGA. A long cave with a high rocky roof.
RUWA. In Chizezuru, “inhabited country”, or “a district”.
SABI. Corrupted from shave or shavi, meaning either “an alien spirit”, or the “fruit of the Rhodesian fig tree”.
SALISBURY. After Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, Third Marquess of Salisbury, Prime Minister of Britain in 1890.
SAUERSTOWN. After Dr. Hans Sauer, one of the two Matabeleland members elected to the first S. Rhodesian Legislative Council in 1899. He owned the farm on which it is situated.
SEBAKWE. Originally either chiwake – “that which is built up”, referring to a barrier built during the Rebellion, or chibagwe – “a maize plant”.
SELINDA, MOUNT. The original word is chirinda – “please keep watch”. It was in the forests that the local tribesmen used to hide and keep a look out against invasion.
SELOUS. After the early hunter and explorer, Frederick Courtney Selous.
SELUKWE. Outside the town is a bare oval granite kopje, in the same shape as the pig pens that the BaVenda people used to build. The Venda word for “pig pen” is chirugwe, varied by the Matabele to Selukwe.
SHABANI. Correct spelling should be shavani, meaning either “finger millet”, or “trading together”, in which case it would be spelt shavana.
SHAMVA. Was originally Abercorn, but altered to avoid confusion with a district in what was then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. The present name, derived from Shona, – “to become friendly”.
SHANGANI. Corruption of the Kalanga word hankano – “a junction”. It was changed by the Matabele to Shangani, and was at one time applied only to the junction of the Gwaai and Shangani rivers. Alternative: sanganana “to meet together”.
SHASHANI. Should be spelt tshatshani, meaning in SiNdebele “a basket of grass”.
SHASHI. There are two names, one spelt Shashi, the other Shashe. Correct spelling is shayashe, meaning “death of a chief”, or “lacking a chief”.
SINAMATELLA. This farm was originally registered by a Greek surveyor. It appears to be an African name. The tribe in the Wankie area are basically Shona speaking (the Nhanzwa) so that this word would have been spelt asina materu – “without slopes”. It was mispronounced by the Bushman and Matabele game guards who first worked in the Wankie Game Reserve.
SINOIA. After the local chief Chinoi, who use to hide in a large cave complex now known as the Sinoia Caves to avoid attack by Matabele raiders.
SIPOLILO. A Corruption of the name of the local chief, Chipolilo, originally chipuriro – “the place where the threshing of grain is done”.
SOMABULA. Probably shamaburo, referring to a renowned elephant hunter of this name; shama “wonder at” and buro – “the sharp stick used in a game pit”; alternatively, buru, corruption of the English word bull.
SOSERA. The name may have arisen from the fact that the original store was fenced off with a brushwood enclosure, the verb shosha meaning “to block the way with branches”, but sosera is the name for the “eagle hawk”.
TEGWANI. A missionary station and big secondary school for Africans, the name means “hammerkop”.
TOKWE. The original spelling is turi, implying “wandering”.
TJOLOTJO. At Tjolotjo is a pan shaped in the form of an elephant’s head, as seen by Mzilikazi. The local people told the Zulu raiders that their· name for the pan was Tshololezhowa – “the head of the elephant”.
TRIANGLE. The sugar estates were so called because Tom McDougall had great difficulty in acquiring his first cane cuttings, and was only able to obtain three small pieces which were then planted in the lie of a triangle.
TULI. An African name meaning “grey”, or “ghostly”. eNthuli – “dust”.
UMNIATI. Spelling corrupted from sanyati meaning “many buffalo in the area”.
UMSWESWE. Derived from the onomatopoeic word sweswe – “the sound of dragging feet”. This refers to the slow movement of the river.
UMTALI. A corruption of the ChiManyika word mutari meaning “metal”, and probably referring to the finding of gold in the ancient workings near Penhalonga.
UMVUKWES. Originally spelt murwi, meaning “a heap of pieces”.
UMVUMA. Originally spelt mvumi, meaning “thunder cloud”, or “thick blanket”.
VAJECHE. Jecha is the word for sand.
VAN NIEKERK RUINS. After Major Pompey Van Niekerk, a distinguished soldier who was second in command of the Afrikakaner Corps and fought during the Matabele Rebellion.
VICTORIA FALLS. Named by David Livingstone after Queen Victoria. Livingstone was the first white man to see the Falls – on November, 16, 1855.
VILA SALAZAR. A border post on the rail link to Lourenço Marques named after the Portuguese prime minister Antonio Salazar. The corresponding border post in PEA being Malvernia.
VUMBA. The Vumba Mountains, in the African dialect, are the “mountains of mist”.
VUTI. Vuta means “blow” and the word is derived from it to mean “bellows”, or “place where there is constant wind”.
WANKIE. Is a corruption of the name of Chief Wangi, wangi meaning “it is this one”.
WATSOMBA. Tsomba – “a species of fish”; the original spelling was kwatsomba – “where there are tsombafish”.
WEDZA. Of Shona origin, contracted from the word kuswerahwedza – “always tomorrow”. There are a number of high mountains in the district and the name hwedza is given to the area because the other side of the mountains will only be reached “the day after tomorrow”.
WEST NICHOLSON. After Andy Nicholson, an early prospector who entered Rhodesia as a civilian attached to the Pioneer Column and was responsible for mining exploration in this area.
WHITE’S RUN. White was a trooper, who, with two others, was placed on mounted picket duty at the Bembesi, where the force under Major Forbes that was about to attack Bulawayo was laagered on Novemebr 1, 1893. One trooper went in to get his dinner. The other two, White and Thompson, dismounted and were sitting under a bush when the Matabele surprised them. Thompson, failing to catch his horse, was stabbed. White mounted but fell off and then ran on beside his horse into the camp, falling down from exhaustion as he reached it. White’s Run is the name of the farm where the incident took place. A small landing ground on the farm was used during the last war and was also known as White’s Run.
ZAKA. The site of the District Commissioner’s office in Ndanga district, the name means “district which is very low lying”, and is derived from the word kwakazaka – “where it is going down”.
ZAMBEZI. Originally zambazi, the SiNdebele word being egwembeni – “the place of boats”.
ZAWI. There are two places of this name near one another, a village and a hill, the correct spelling being zaveand refers to the name of the headman in the area.
ZIMBABWE. Originally dzimbadze-mabwe – “great houses of stone” – an apt name for the Zimbabwe Ruins.
In addition to the place names given above, the following are words* for features of the landscape that most visitors to Rhodesia will come across many times.
DOMBO. A large hill of smooth exposed granite (whale back).
DONGA. A steep-sided watercourse, usually heavily eroded and dry.
KRAAL. An African village, also an enclosure for keeping livestock.
KOPJE. A small rocky hill.
SPRUIT. A small stream.
VELD. The open countryside.
VLEI. A marshy place.
- The article above was originally distributed by the Rhodesia National Tourist Board in 1970. Some errors in the original, identified by Mr. G.H. (Tony) Tanser, have been incorporated in the above version.