The Zimbabwe Bird

The Zimbabwe Bird

The Zimbabwe bird, based on soapstone carvings representing eagles found at the site of the Great Zimbabwe settlement, is the country’s national emblem and appears on the flag, coat of arms, stamps and a wide array of logos representing official bodies.

The carvings, each about 30 cm (one foot) high and mounted on stone pedestals about one metre (3ft 3 inches) tall, represent sacred totems of the Shona people and play a significant role in the country’s cultural history.

Eight of the birds were found amongst the stone walls of Great Zimbabwe (see more in the article “Stone Settlements of Zimbabwe) which was built sometime between the 14th and 15 centuries but later abandoned. The settlement was spread over some 800 ha. (about 1899 acres) and was a powerful centre of political influence. Modern Zimbabwe takes its name from this settlement.

Although the sculptures are based on raptors some combine a human element too and have toes in place of talons and lips instead of a bill. Experts find it difficult to determine exactly which species of eagle the birds represent, or if they represent a single species at all.

The Zimbabwe government believes that “Zimbabwe birds represent sacred or totemic animals of the Shona – the Bateleur eagle (Known as Chapungu in Shona), which was held to be a messenger from Mwari (God) and the ancestors, or the fish eagle (hungwe) which it has been suggested was the original totem of the Shona.”

Note: The Flame lily is Zimbabwe’s national flower, and the sable antelope is the national animal but the uncertainty over the specific species of eagle represented by the Zimbabwe Bird make it difficult to select a national bird.

Mike Cadman

Mike has worked as a journalist for a variety of international and local media organisations as well as environmental NGO’s for the past 38 years and is the author of five books. During his career, he has covered all major news developments in southern Africa and has travelled extensively throughout many parts of the continent. He spends as much time as possible in the bush and has extensive knowledge of broader environmental issues as well as the creatures that live there.