People & Culture

A mixture of peoples

More than two-thirds of the population speaks Shona as their first language. Shona-speaking people (made up of the Karanga, Korekore, Manyika, Ndau, Rozwi and Zezuru, groups) live mainly in the eastern two-thirds of the country, including the capital of Harare.


DanceIn this video...the SOS children play and sing to accompany a traditional Mbakumba dance. Dancing is very important in Zimbabwean culture.

Around one in five Zimbabweans (the Ndebele and Kalanga groups) speak Northern Ndebele, commonly known as Sindebele.

Both Shona and Sindebele are Bantu languages originating from the time when Bantu-speaking tribes populated the region over 1000 years ago.

Other ethnic groups in the southeast, representing around one percent of the population each, are the Tonga in the Zambezi Valley, the Shangaan or Hlengwe in the Low Veld, and the Venda on the border with South Africa.

About two percent of the population is of non-African ethnic origin, mainly European and Asian.A traditional dance in Bindura, Zimbabwe

Art and music

Art and music are highly regarded. Much of the music is still influenced by traditional rhythms and sounds, which are created using local instruments such as the mbira and marimba (a type of wooden xylophone). See Zero to Hero in Children's Tales, which tells how Godfrey was desperate to learn the marimba from a young age.

The mbira is a small hand-held instrument (belonging to a family known as lamellophones). Commonly referred to as a 'thumb piano', it is actually played using both thumbs and forefingers. Watch the SOS children playing their mbiras in the feature video and hear the instrument's very distinctive soft sound.

Mbiras have been played for over a 1,000 years in Zimbabwe. They come in different sizes and normally have between 22 to 28 metal keys. These keys or iron prongs are mounted on a hardwood soundboard which is often placed inside a large gourd/calabash skin. The calabash shell acts as the resonator (or deze).

Shona art

Shona sculptures are often semi-abstract and minimalist (not detailed). Themes sometimes come from figures in African folklore. Animals also prove popular with foreign buyers. See the video of the Zimbabwean sculptor and his amazing sculptures carved from local stone.

The trademark stone sculptures of Zimbabwe can be found in markets, shops and galleries everywhere. Works are also bought internationally. Though the art form is referred to as Shona, it is not specific to the Shona peoples.

The sculptures are made from many different types of local stone, including black serpentine, springstone and verdite.

A fusing of beliefs

Christianity (of many different denominations, including Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist and Dutch Reformed Churches) is practised widely across Zimbabwe. But many people also hold traditional beliefs in ancestors, as well as in prophecy and divination, where divine inspiration is sought through communication with the spirits.

The Shona have been monotheistic (holding a belief in one supreme deity) for centuries, calling their deity Mwari.