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'Great Zimbabwe built by Indonesians'

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By Mduduzi Mathuthu

THE treasured Zimbabwean stone wonder -- the Great Zimbabwe -- was built by Indonesian mariners, a controversial new book claims.

"Without the input of Indonesians, the Great Zimbabwe might never have come into being," writer Robert Dick-Read claims in his new book The Phantom Voyagers.

In the book, Dick-Read also claims that several monuments like the Nyanga and Khami ruins were built by the Indonesians, modelled on structures that still exist in Madagascar.

Dick-Read further makes the staggering claim that the name Zimbabwe (short for Dzimba dza mahwe or house of stone) could be derived from Zomba-be`, a Madagascan word which he says appears to have the same meaning.

People who reject this theory, he says, are "contrarians by nature who love to complicate simple things".

The latest claims contradict popular wisdom that the 32 feet high and 800 feet stretch of stone walls were built by the local Karanga tribesmen around 500 AD.

Archeologists and historians have struggled to solve the mystery of Great Zimbabwe due to the absence of written language nor any oral traditions. The greatest puzzle for historians is why the civilization declined around 1600, after the great archeological triumph that is Great Zimbabwe.

In The Phantom Voyagers, Dick-Read traces the journey of Indonedian mariners who settled first in Madagascar, then Africa, long before the arrival of the Europeans.

Says Dick-Read: "Within the walls of Great Zimbabwe there is an anomalous structure known as 'The Conical Tower' that has so far defied explanation, but which like so much else in Zimbabwe may find an explanation in Madagascar."

He further draws similarities between some minor features of the monument and similar structures in Madagascar. Mbira music, he adds, could have its origins in Madagascar.

But George Landow, a Professor of English and Art History at Brown University in the U.S rejects Dick-Read's analysis as flawed and reflecting a refusal by Europeans and their friends to embrace the fact that the Great Zimbabwe was built by the Karanga.

"Since Europeans first encountered the ruins of Great Zimbabwe," he writes, "it has been the focus of ideological concern and conflict. Unwilling to believe that sub-Saharan Africans could have built such a structure, adventurers and ideologues long claimed the ruins a mystery, theorising that ancient Phoenicians, Arabs, Romans, or Hebrews created the structures. In fact, since archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson's excavations in 1932, it has been widely known that Great Zimbabwe is truly of Africa and less than 1000 years old.

"Nonetheless, the White Rhodesians, whose ideology proclaimed the land 'empty' of people and culture before they arrived, tried to rewrite history -- even asserting that an African genesis for Great Zimbabwe was tantamount to treason," says Landow.

Some archeologists have surmised that the site's impressive stone structures were the work of Egyptians, Phoenicians, or even Prester John, the legendary Christian king of lands beyond the Islamic realm.
The Phantom Voyagers is published by Thurlton Publishing in England, a copy can be obtained by e-mailing the author at or writing to Thurlton Publishing, 5 St James Villas, Winchester, Hants, SO23 9SM, England

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