Ndoro found in Zimbabwe can be divided into two separate categories. Firstly, the original marine mollusc of the genus Conus Virgo or the calcareous Operculum of large marine snails such as Conus Turbo and secondly, the mass produced factory copies of the natural mollusc.
Having established themselves on the Mozambique coast and started trade links with the interior, the Portuguese first learned of the value placed upon the ndoro which, because of its scarcity, was much sought after. The Portuguese took advantage of this demand by introducing large quantities of the natural mollusc ndoro and, later, mass-produced factory ceramic and porcelain copies. Portuguese traders of the sixteenth, seventeenth and later centuries are believed to have exchanged ndoro for gold, ivory and other goods. Most of the ndoro found in Zimbabwe today are the ceramic or porcelain copies of the natural ndoro.
Perhaps the earliest written reference to the ndoro can be found in the journals of a sixteenth century Portuguese chronicler who observed that: “The Monomatapa and the Macarangas and their vassals wear on their foreheads a white shell, as a jewel, strung from the hair, and the Monomatapa wears another large shell on his chest. They call these shells Andoros.”
According to a colourful legend, the ndoro played a dramatic role in the early history of Zimbabwe. At some time in the fifteenth century, it helped in a battle. The story goes that a descendant of Mutota, the apparent founder of the Munhumutapa dynasty, was trying to subjugate a rival king named Karuva. Discovering, through a spy, that Karuva held the ndoro in great awe and respect, he ordered his warriors to wear ndoro upon their foreheads as they marched into battle against Karuva’s forces. On seeing the ndoro-ornamented soldiers approach, Karuva became confused, and the tide of the battle turned against him.
In the north east of Zimbabwe there is much oral history suggesting that ndoro were brought into the country by the Muzungu or Gouveias, by which is meant Portuguese traders, from Mozambique. Ndoro were used by chiefs in Shona society as symbols of rank and authority and as signifiers of wealth.
I have used the Ndoro shape in many of my jewellery designs including chains, pendants and earrings. Silver Ndoros age beautifully and always have that African look and feel to them.
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