The Emergence Of Bantu Speaking Chiefdoms

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The southward penetration of pastoralists brought Khoikhoi stock farmers to the western Cape, where sheep can be traced to the early Christian era, and cattle to about the end of the first millenium AD. But befor the beginning of agriculture it is necessary to look to the east. The growing of millet, associated with the very early settlements, and (from about 1700) of maize, which required much higher rainfall, limited the main areas of settlement to the summer rainfall regions. There a pattern of mixed farming developed, as settlers acquired livestock and lived as a rule in small villages within rang of pastures up to 1000 metres above sea level.

Probably there were major cultural changes at the start of the late Iron Age, though all elements of the later Iron Age were already present in the earlier. Livestock increased, and so did the population. The villages grew in seize, and settlement on the highveld spread. Forms of social and political organisation now became more complex, pottery styles became more localised, stone buildings began to appear, and metal production became linked with trading activities. The distribution of communities on the highveld depended largely on the location of minerals -gold, copper, and above all iron ore- and on the directions followed by new trade routes between Mozambique and the highveld. There were a few trade centres as Great Zimbabwe.

This late Iron-Age cattle raising community of over 10 000 people reached the height of its prosperity in the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, thanks to its geographical position, to control trade between the gold-producing areas of Matabeleland and the coast. The buildings were unquestionally the work of Bantu-speakers. The collapse of Great Zimbabwe dates from the sixteenth century mainly as a result of economic exhaustion. This probably induced a migration westwards to Khami. Another Shona state, Torwa, now emerged, based on Khami, and it was here that a domestic revolution in the late seventeenth century saw the emergence of a new ruler, the Changomire, whose followers were collectively known as Rozvi, who developed a strong government to subordinate chiefdoms.

Four main groups are normally distinguished among the Bantu-speakers south of the Limpopo. These were the Venda, the Sotho-Tswana, the Nguni and the Tsonga.

The Venda (of the Soutpansberg), though speaking a language akin to Shona, have cultural associations with the Sotho. Traditions remain largely unexplored, but they began to flourish when iron- and copper-working spread in the trans-Vaal. The original Sotho-speakers are not easy to identify. The area of Sotho dominance between the Drakensberg, the Kalahari and the Limpopo was apparently occupied by three settler waves. They possessed similar cultures, and it seems possible to associate the beginnings of iron-smelting and different chiefdoms which survived into the twentieth century as separate political entities (Hurutshe, Kwena, Kgatla ...

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