Living like Zimbabweans from back in the day...
Living like Zimbabweans from back in the day...

Even the Irish were called savages. The English hated their lumpy butter, their love of cow blood, and their misshapen clothes. The Irish were wild from bone to white skin. The English were civilized from white skin to bone. The only thing that could reduce Irish barbarism was constant exposure to English ways. Not surprisingly, when the English arrived in Africa, all they found were savages. These people were also wild, but from bone to black skin.

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History is like a radio station that has the hits of the day on heavy rotation. One of those hits goes like this: If a person is on land you really, really want, that person must be a savage. But sometimes this popular tune skips. The skipping is caused by a practice or custom or achievement that reveals the humanity of the savage. In the case of the black Africans the English encountered in Southern Africa, that skip was the Great Zimbabwe ruins.


Long before encountering Europeans, black Africans built from accurately matched and balanced stones a whole city. The ruins of this city, now called Great Zimbabwe, revealed that black minds could build magnificent structures and establish highly civil forms of social organization without assistance or instructions from whites.

All of this was on my mind when I saw the structures that the aged Luke Skywalker lives in on the island of his galactic exile in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. They resemble Great Zimbabwe. The dry stones, the way they are stacked, the apparent absence of mortar, the heaviness and stability of the walls. Skywalker's zimbabwe (house of stones) was built by nuns who appear to have evolved from frogs (or turtles). In one scene, we watch them repair a hole in the wall with fresh stones. Had Europeans discovered these froggish nuns on an island they wanted to grow some cash crop or what have you, they would also have called them savages, but found it hard to explain why the savages were able to build such complicated and handsome structures.