Basongora & The Shenzi [Zenj] Empire
Tales of Shenzi Emperors, Rebellion in Arabia, Raids in Europe & Basongora-Chwezi Royals
The Shenzi Empire was founded in 630 AD and remained in control of central, east and southern Africa for 500 years before disintegrating. The Shenzi Empire came about as a result of the decline of the Axumite Empire. At the height of its power the Shenzi Empire was about the size of today's China and India combined. The Shenzi covered about half of the African continent in terms of territory, and also maintained trading outposts and military colonies across Asia, Arabia and in Europe.
The Axumite Empire did not fall outright after 630 AD but retained the territory that now constitutes modern states of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Northern Kenya, and part of Eastern Sudan. Eventually however, it was attacked and utterly defeated by the Shenzi Empire in 960 AD - during the reign of the Shenzi Empress named Kudidi. Kudidi is known to Ethiopians as Gudit. The Shenzi maintained control of the Axumite territories in NE Africa, for about 170 years, until an uprising by the Agaw [Zagwe Dynasty] caused the Shenzi to withdraw.
LIST OF SUCCESSIVE SHENZI MONARCHS
1 Twale [630 AD]
2 Hangi [650-670]
3 Nyamenge [670-700]
4 Ira [Son of Hangi] [700-725]
5 Kazoba [Brother of Ira] [725-750]
6 Kabangere [750-775]
7 Ruhanga [Rubanga, Rubanda] Consort is Nyabagabe [f] [775-800]
8 Nkya I [Brother of Ruhanda] [800-825]
9 Nkya II [Son of Nkya I] [825-850]
10 Kakama [Son of Nkya II] [850-875]
11 Baba [Son of Kakama] [875-900]
12 Kamuli [900-925]
13 Nsheka [925-950]
14 Kudidi [Gudit, Judith] [Empress] [950-990]
15 Ntozi [990-1000]
16 Nyakahongerwa [Empress] [1000-1025]
17 Mukonko [Son of Nyakahongerwa] [1025-1050]
18 Ngonzaki Bitahinduka [Son of Mukonko] [1050-1075]
19 Kogyere I Rusija-Miryango [Empress] [1075-1085]
20 Ishaza Nyakitoto [Cousin to Ruyonga / Liongo] [1080-1090]
21 Bukuku [1090-1130]
The Shenzi had begun as a maritime empire with the commercial interests and military activities that spanned both the South Atlantic [also known as the “Aethiopian Ocean”] and the Indian Ocean. It is possible that the Shenzi had outposts in the Americas, or that at least some of its ships made their way to Americas - a feat that was certainly well within the empire's naval capacities. However, the Arab-driven slave trade that began in 650 AD in Africa initially targeted the citizens of the Shenzi Empire and came to have a destructive effect on the empire, but also to unintentionally spread the cultural influence of the Shenzi all across the globe as Shenzi captives ended up all over the planet.
Throughout the existence of the empire, the Shenzi had a syncretic religion that had retained pharaonic, as well as shamanistic elements. Some of these elements of Shenzi spirituality have survived in the Vodun beliefs, as well as in other religions around the world. In Haiti the Lwa spirits are also known as Zanj spirits - the name Zanj is a variant of the word Shenzi. In any event the only free black communities in Europe before the 1400s that were determinedly neither Christian nor Islamic were mostly Shenzi and had an impact on Nordic sprituality, and on Islam and Christianity.
ORIGINS OF THE NAME “SHENZI”
The term “Shenzi” should not be confused with “Chwezi”. The term Chwezi initially referred to commanders and last rulers of the Shenzi Empire, but came to be associated almost exclusively with the empire of Busongora that succeeded the Shenzi in Central Africa. The word “Chwezi” is a derivative of “Chw’a” - meaning to “issue a decree” or to “give orders”. The term “baChw’ezi” literally translates as “those who issue decrees” - i.e., “the rulers”.
It is certain that the people of the Great Lakes Region of Africa referred to themselves as Shenzi long before - and long after - the founding of the Shenzi Empire. The name Shénzi is an ancient African word - in Kushite lingua franca - that originally meant “Region of Lakes”. The ancient Egyptians and Kushites referred to the Great Lakes Region of Africa as “Ta-She”. “Ta” is a prefix indicating or denoting “land of”, and “She” denotes “lakes”.
The structure of the name Ta-She is similar to other names given to regions in Africa by the Kushites. Sudan was Ta-Seti meaning “Land of the Bow”, Lower Egypt was Ta-Meht “Land of Flax”, and Upper Egypt was Ta-Resu. So the correct break-down of the word should be “She-nzi” with the “zi” suffix also denoting “domain of” or “element of” or “principle of”. Today in the languages of the TaShe region, you say “pe-nzi” to mean “lover” - the root for love being “pe” and “zi” implying “action” or “essence”.
“Shé-nzi” or “She-zi” therefore breaks down as “domain of lakes” or “lakes-world”. An expanse of water, a group islands, to pour water, to flow, to rain, to flood, to fertilize, to spread, to dawn after the rain - all of these concepts and the phrase words that describe them in the now lost ancient African language of the region contain the root word “shé”, which denotes water.
THE SHENZI IN EUROPE AND ASIA
Shenzi imperial interests were dispersed widely. There is evidence of the Shenzi in Hungary, and among the Mongols. The Shenzi who arrived in Europe in the 700s AD were seafarers as well as experts in siege war-fare, and excelled at the use of stone-fortifications. The Shenzi - rivals of the Islamic armies of the Umayyads, and also of the Christian armies of the Ethiopians and Nubians - were quite capable of matching the military skills of their rivals. It was the Shenzi colonists who dominated the Indian coast, and it was the Shenzi who maintained military colonies in South East-Asia long before the Moslems and Christians arrived.
The Shenzi Rebellion [Zenj Rebellion] - a mutiny largely carried out by Shenzi captives - brought Arabia and Persia to its knees in the late 800s AD for over 20 years, and it was only quelled by the intervention of the all-black Egyptian army.
In Europe the story of the Shenzi impact was just as impressive as in Arabia and Asia. The Shenzi maintained fleets of ships on the coast of the Congo and Angola, which plied the sea routes of the Atlantic without much hindrance. They had Shenzi settlements on the coasts of Wales and Scandinavia.
According to some medieval records, the Shenzi had colonists in Northern Europe at least by 700 AD. It is possible that some Shenzi had integrated with the Vikings and may have influenced the Odinian spirituality. Umberto Eco in one of his books repeats claims by medieval writers to the effect that the priestesses of Odin and other Norse gods were mostly black African women. Striking similarities exist between ancient Shenzi and ancient Viking customs and languages and should be of interest to everyone with a stake in the history of the African Diaspora.
The Shenzi in Scandinavia were referred to as Black-Vikings. Little-known European records - such as those left by the Irish monks at Anglesy [Mons] in Britain in 850 AD - attest to the existence of the Black Vikings. The Catholic monks claimed that on some days long-ships entirely manned by black-skinned [gentilibus nigris] norse-men arrived on their shore and then proceeded to pillage the coast and sack the churches. On other days white-skinned Vikings did the raiding.
In 1954, a key conference held by European historians in Denmark debated the significance of the eye-witness accounts left by medieval Saxon monks, and tried to down-play the role that the black-Vikings had in the conquest of England and the invasions of western Europe by the Norsemen. Determining where these blacks originated fell to Robert Graves, Umberto Eco, and to other less jaded researchers - whether or not they had ever heard of the Shenzi. The names of legendary black Vikings and black knights populate Europe’s so-called Dark Ages.
At the height of its power - around 1000 AD - the Shenzi Empire extended east-west, from the Atlantic coast of western Congo to the coast of eastern Kenya on the Indian Ocean. The empire extended south and included all of what is now Southern Africa. The main cities of the Shenzi Empire were located on the East African coast - and included Kilwa - but there were several other Shenzi cities within the African interior, notably, the city known as Bigo-bya-Mugyenyi in what is now Uganda, and ancient city of Izimba-za-Mabwe - which is conventionally known as Great Zimbabwe.
Bigo-bya-Mugenyi is the largest single ruin in equatorial Africa, and is larger than the coastal cities of the Shenzi. However, unlike Great Zimbabwe which is built upward with stone, Bigo is built downward into the ground. Essentially the two great nuraghe-type beehive forts have the same structure and are built with the same level of sophistication. The ditch forts in Uganda were built at the same time as the forts of Great Zimbabwe.
The Shenzi supplied not just Europe and Asia with ideas and technology and spirituality, but much closer to home - in Africa itself - their influence is deep and widespread. The power of the Shenzi Empire was such that around 1000 AD pastoralists from Shenzi lands could push northwards and westwards into Sudan and West Africa in annual migrations, unmolested by slave traders and the armies of the Nubians and Moslems. The empire maintained ambassadors abroad, as well as a well-supplied navy capable of transporting large amounts of cargo across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
The Sung Shi (History of the Song Dynasty) records visits to China in 1071 CE and 1081-3 CE of the embassy of Zenjistan. Zenjistan is the Persian for "Land of the Shenzi", in Africa. The leader of the embassy - whose name is recorded in Chinese as Zengjiani - made a considerable impression at the imperial court (the Chinese called Africa "Zengdan"). On his 2nd visit, the Shenzi ambassador received a large amount of "white gold" in exchange for "tribute", and was given treatment due an honoured guest. He is said to have taken 160 days to reach China, passing through Sohar in Oman, Kulam-Malay in South India and Palembang in Sumatra.
The Shenzi at that time were a theocracy that had divine rulers and a parliamentary system. It is out of the Shenzi royal houses - the direct ancestors of the Songora-Chwezi Dynasty - that the Basongora trace their ancestry and culture. BaSongora - and therefore BaChwezi - culture is essentially composed of the court rituals and ceremonies of the ancient Shenzi Royals.
One of the Shenzi Empire’s last great rulers was the Empress Kogyere I Rusija-Miryango, successor to her father, the Emperor Ngonzaki Rutahinduka [a.k.a Bitahinduka]. Kogyere [also spelled Koogere and Kogelo, and pronounced as “kog-ye-reh”, “cog-eh-ray” and “Koh-gel-lo”] counts among her ancestors at least five emperors of the Shenzi Empire.
Generally regnal names are meant to have significance for their bearer and for the intended audience of hearers... and “Kogyere” translates as “she who has been cleansed”. Her character and reputation certainly accord with her name. During her reign Kogyere was reputed to be the richest person on Earth, as well as the wisest. Kogyere I Rusija-Miryango founded - and was the first ruler of - the independent kingdom of Busongora.
The Shenzi Empire faced severe famine and other extreme climatic stresses during the reign of Ishaza. The empire suffered divisions and dramatic decline that culminated in his becoming a hostage to Nyamiyonga, a senior royal who ended up as emperor of the southern half of the empire. The northern half of the empire was briefly ruled by a powerful courtier named Bukuku [Bukuru].
Ishaza had several sons including Rubunda and Isiimbwa. Neither of these sons were able to become emperor even though they participated in fomenting rebellion. Rubunda's son Nkoni ya Rudunda, as well as Isiimbwa's many sons - Mugarra, Kyomya I, Ndahura - all joined the rebellion led by their grand-aunt Kogyere in Busongora where they formed the new Chwezi Dynasty with its capital at Bigo-bya-Mugyeni.
Some East African coastal cities areas broke away from the Shenzi empire beginning in the AD 950s - largely on account of the expansion of Islamic forces. The rise of Bukuku only hasted the break-up of the Shenzi empire. The Kogyere Rebellion which made Busongora independent of the empire, effectively broke the empire into three parts with the north-eastern part ruled by Bukuku, the southern half by Ruyonga, and the northern middle bit - that is Busongora - ruled by Kogyere. Kilwa and the Somali Coast, as well as Shenzi colonies on the Arabia coast, all became autonomous sultanates.
The Kogyere Rebellion also turned Busongora into a new kingdom, and subsequently the kingdom became an empire known as the Chwezi Empire. Under the reign of Ndahura I kya Rubumbi, the Chwezi Empire absorbed Bukuku's Shenzi territory. The areas that were not absorbed by the Chwezi became autonomous states, and suffered a prolonged period of instability and war as some states tried to expand at the expense of others.
In modern times the word Shenzi came to acquire negative connotations and is considered an insult by many across the world. It is understandable that almost a thousand years after the collapse of the Shenzi Empire, and at the same time, language being fluid and so malleable, the name Shenzi has since acquired multiple pronunciations which have resulted in much confusion. The "Ssese" Islands in Lake Victoria are the same as the "sezi" and "senze" of Buganda, the "Zenj" at Lamu, the "Zanzi" in the name Zanzibar... all of these are variants of the name Shenzi. The "Janji" in the name Janjira in the former base of the Shenzi armies in India. In Oman there in Zinjibar. In anthropology we find the Shenzi morphed into Zinjanthropus.
This article was written by King Ndahura II Imara Kashagama of Busongora [Posted 24 Jan 2016]. It was modified on 22 Aug 2016.