Story of The Looted Zimbabwe Birds

The Zimbabwe birds are stone-carved birds found in the ruins of the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe, an African civilization located in the modern country of Zimbabwe. The country was named after the ruin built by the ancestors of the Shona people, a bantu ethnic group native to the area.

According to many scholars, the bird was the totem of that ancient civilization. A symbol that can also be seen among many other ancient African civilizations like Kemet, Mali, Somalia or Madagascar. It is believed that each bird represented a ruler of that civilization. Once again a practice that reminds us of other African civilizations like Kemet (ancient Egypt) were each pharaoh was associated to Heru (Horus) the falcon God.

Scholars identify that bird as a fish eagle (Hungwe), a bird that is believed to have been the totem of the Shona people. Today, that soapstone sculpture of a fish eagle became Zimbabwe’s main national emblem.
Eight of the Zimbabwe Birds were looted from the ruins of the ancient city.

Only eight of the birds were ever recovered. They stood on the walls and monoliths of the ancient city built between the 12th and 15th Centuries by the ancestors of the Shona people.

Seven of the carvings are in Zimbabwe since 2003 when the bottom section of one was returned by Germany.

It had ended up in the hands of a German missionary who sold it to the Ethnological Museum in Berlin in 1907.

Then after Soviet troops invaded Germany at the end of the World War Two, it was moved from Berlin to Leningrad and remained there to the end of the Cold War and then returned to Germany.

The eighth remains in the old bedroom of 19th Century British imperialist Cecil Rhodes, whose home in the South African city of Cape Town is now a museum. He had taken a number of birds from Great Zimbabwe to South Africa in 1906. South Africa returned four of them in 1981, a year after Zimbabwe gained its independence.

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