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Zimbabwe: The House Munhumutapa Built

By Blondell Peterson
August 2005

 Michael Madziva, left, with Virginia Ivanoff
Michael Madziva, left, with Virginia Ivanoff, EEO specialist and EEO-Diversity Council coordinator. (Photo by Steve McCaw, Image Associates)

Madziva holds an "Mbira," a traditional instrument
Madziva holds an "Mbira," a traditional instrument from Zimbabwe. (Photo by Blondell Peterson)

The Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management sponsored a cultural mini-series July 13 at the Rodbell auditorium. The presentation was titled, "Zimbabwe: The House Munhumatapa Built."

Virginia Ivanoff, an Equal Employment Opportunity specialist, said the purpose of the series is to expose NIEHS employees to the culture, history, language and customs of the Institute's international scientists and to promote harmony through understanding.

"We have the usual barriers of gender, race, religion and so on among our fellow Americans," she said. "Imagine trying to deal with someone for whom it is improper to shake hands with another gender, or understanding why men can't shave. Only through learning about our different cultures and traditions, will we have a chance to not misjudge another."

The speaker for this year's presentation was Dr. Michael Madziva, LST, visiting fellow and resident of Zimbabwe.

The Munhumatapa were the local residents of Zimbabwe during the Iron Age. They built the Great Zimbabwe around AD300. Zimbabwe means "great houses of stone" in the Shona language.

"From the lush, rolling hills of the Eastern highlands, to the deafening roar of the Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe encompasses a wide expanse of natural scenic beauty," Dr. Madziva said. "This appealing facet is equally matched by the generosity and good-natured humor of the citizens. Despite the drudgery of day-to-day life, they continue to exhibit the spirit of resilience that will hopefully stand the test of time."

Madziva played traditional music clips, one of which was reminiscent of Caribbean music. He also brought two traditional instruments that his grandfather taught him to play when he was a little boy. The "Hosho" is similar to the maraca, and is made from a dried gourd. The "Mbira" sounds and looks like a miniature xylophone.

Ivanoff said she was interested in Africa for this year's presentation, and when she found out NIEHS had a researcher from Zimbabwe, she took the opportunity to introduce him through the series.

"I thought this would be a perfect time to understand a people and a country that currently are marred by bad press," Ivanoff said. "Indeed we have discovered, through Dr. Madziva, a rich, ancient people with a noble history."

Notes About Zimbabwe

  • It was first occupied in 300AD in the Iron Age
  • It is said to be the site of King Solomon's mines
  • In 1880 Cecil Rhodes (i.e. Rhodes Scholars) established De Beers diamond company
  • Early successes included obligatory education to age 16 and a health care system that serves all citizens through an intricate referral process.
  • Recent tribulations include a life expectancy of 35 years for men and women and an unemployment rate of over 70 percent.


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