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gubwe. Here, early in the eleventh century, people of Leopard™s Kopje culture
initially established a settlement around a central cattle pen. It was also an
important trading centre, with many ivory objects exchanged for imported glass
beads, and as it grew the cattle herds were shifted away from the settlement, hav-
ing presumably become too large to maintain within it. Then, around ad 1220,
the court moved from the plain to the top of a sandstone hill, where a distinct
elite culture evolved, with imposing stone walls to designate important areas,
spindle-whorls to indicate the ¬rst cloth production in the interior of Central
Africa, gold-plated grave-goods to accompany dead notables, and a hierarchy
of surrounding settlements to suggest a political state no longer subject to the
repeated segmentation that had restricted the scale of previous chiefdoms.
Rather, when Mapungubwe was abandoned in the late thirteenth century,
regional power shifted north of the Limpopo to Great Zimbabwe, where today
stand the most majestic remains of the African iron age. Its stone buildings “
a hilltop palace, the high-walled Great Enclosure below, and an adjoining net-
work of low-walled house sites “ were only the core of a small city of less
permanent structures, the most impressive of some 150 sites still visible on
the plateau, mostly spaced along its southeastern edge with access to the var-
ied environments and all-year grazing of high-, middle-, and lowveld. Great
Zimbabwe was in an especially well-watered area, admirably located for pas-
toralism. In the twelfth century, it was probably the capital of a local dynasty,
one of the hundreds of microstates on the plateau that formed the building-
blocks of ˜empires™, much like the kafu of Mali.3 The building of its granite walls
began during the later thirteenth century, coinciding with the ¬rst traces of the
gold produced by miners, often women and children, who at great risk sank
shafts down to thirty metres deep, exporting at the peak perhaps one thousand
kilogrammes of gold a year, or about as much as Europeans later took from
the Akan gold¬elds of West Africa in good years. Great Zimbabwe lay far from
the gold seams but apparently controlled the gold trade along the Save Valley
to Sofala, enabling the chiefdom to outstrip rivals and become the centre of
an extensive culture. Its peak was probably in the early fourteenth century and
coincided with Kilwa™s dominance of the Sofala coast. A Kilwa coin of c. 1320“
33 has been found at Great Zimbabwe, along with many imported Chinese,
Colonisation in eastern and southern Africa 105


Persian, and Islamic wares of the period. Trade was probably in African hands,
for there is no evidence of a foreign merchant community. Like most African
capitals, Great Zimbabwe probably had religious functions: spirit mediumship,
initiation, and worship of the Shona high god Mwari have all been suggested
with varying degrees of probability. Yet agriculture, pastoralism, and trade
were the core of the city™s economy; its decline during the ¬fteenth century was
probably caused in part by overexploitation of the local environment (which
is still denuded today) but chie¬‚y by a reorientation of the gold trade north-
wards into the Zambezi Valley below the northern plateau rim. This area™s
prosperity is displayed by late fourteenth- and early ¬fteenth-century burials
at Ingombe Ilede, near the Zambezi-Kafue con¬‚uence, whose wealth in gold,
locally produced copper ingots, spindle-whorls, and imported shells and beads
suggests extensive trade with the coast, where during the ¬fteenth century dis-
sident merchants from Kilwa created a rival port at Angoche to tap the Zambezi
Valley commerce.
Great Zimbabwe™s inheritance was divided. In the south, power passed west-
wards to the Torwa rulers of Butua, whose capital at Khami was built in the
¬nest Great Zimbabwe style. In the north, however, the expanding trade of the
Zambezi bred the kingdom of Munhumutapa, founded in the ¬fteenth cen-
tury on the northern plateau rim, ostensibly by an army from Great Zimbabwe
but more probably by hunters, herdsmen, and adventurers who were part of a
larger population drift northwards and who gradually extended their alliances
with local chiefdoms and Muslim traders into a kingdom whose in¬‚uence
reached the sea. There it interacted with the Portuguese who reached the East
African coast around the Cape in 1498 and seven years later looted both Kilwa
and Mombasa to the advantage of their fortress at Sofala, designed to capture
the gold trade. A Portuguese traveller reached the Munhumutapa™s court in
c. 1511 and Portuguese established an inland base on the Zambezi at Sena in
1531. Relations soured in 1561, when the missionary Goncalo da Silveira brie¬‚y
¸
converted a young Munhumutapa but was killed in a reaction by traditional-
ists and Muslim traders. A Portuguese expedition, chie¬‚y designed to seize the
gold mines, slaughtered Muslim traders but was prevented from scaling the
plateau, instead creating concentrations of armed slaves on the south bank of
the Zambezi. Adventurers used these chikunda to exploit trade and exact tribute
from the chiefdoms of the valley and its fringes, creating private domains that
the Portuguese Crown recognised from 1629 as prazos. These estates, exploita-
tive, paternalistic, and increasingly African in character, dominated the valley
until the nineteenth century. Their private armies destabilised the Munhumu-
tapa™s kingdom during the 1620s, enabling the Portuguese to impose a client
dynasty, which remained largely under their control for sixty years. Yet the Por-
tuguese position in eastern Africa weakened during the seventeenth century.
Between 1693 and 1695, they were driven from the plateau by the Changamire,
106 africans: the history of a continent



a Munhumutapa vassal whose power appears to have rested on an army of
brutalised young men modelled on the chikunda. With this force he also con-
quered the Torwa state, set up a Rozvi (˜Destroyers™) kingdom that exercised a
loose overlordship in the southwest until the nineteenth century, established
a subordinate dynasty among the Venda people south of the Limpopo, and
asserted paramountcy over Manyika and its gold workings. Gravely weakened,
the Munhumutapa™s kingdom moved its capital down into the Zambezi Valley,
where it survived until the twentieth century.


central africa
North of the Zambezi, in the open woodlands of Central Africa, social and
political evolution followed a different path because tsetse infestation made
pastoralism a less dynamic force than population growth, cultural interaction,
and trade. The best record of continuous development from the early iron age
here comes from a vast graveyard at Sanga in the Upemba Depression in the
southeastern Congo, one of several ¬‚ood basins that were the centres of cultural
evolution in Central Africa. By the sixth century ad, a relatively sparse popu-
lation of ¬shermen occupied the lakeshore at Sanga, working iron, exploiting
palm oil, probably speaking a Bantu language ancestral to that of the modern
Luba people, but virtually bereft of trade beyond their neighbourhood. The
community™s subsequent evolution probably rested on dried ¬sh traded over
widening areas of the protein-starved savanna. Between the eighth and tenth
centuries, some Sanga graves contained ceremonial copper axes of a kind sig-
nifying political authority in the region for the next thousand years. Hierarchy
was emerging and the population had much increased, although the economy
probably still rested more on ¬shing and hunting than on agriculture, while
cattle were absent. Cowrie shells ¬rst appeared in tenth-century graves, imply-
ing trading contact (probably indirect) with the East African coast. During the
next four centuries grave-goods grew richer, suggesting professional craftsmen,
and were especially elaborate in elite graves, notably those of women in what
was probably a matrilineal society. A grave of perhaps the fourteenth century
contained a large copper cross of a kind found widely in Central Africa at that
time. It may have been a prestige object used in bridewealth. During the next
two centuries smaller copper crosses of standardised sizes became common
and were almost certainly currency.
During the eighteenth century, Sanga was probably incorporated into a Luba
empire based in the plains to the north. A nuclear Luba kingdom had cer-
tainly emerged by 1600 and probably some centuries earlier. As so often, legend
attributed it to the arrival of a handsome hunter, Kalala Ilunga, who gained
authority over local chiefdoms and created the institutions of a larger king-
dom. The real process probably took place gradually over several generations
Colonisation in eastern and southern Africa 107


and involved control of regional trade, the collection and redistribution of trib-
ute, extensive intermarriage between kings and provincial families, a network
of initiation and other societies, and the diffusion of prestigious regalia and
an ideology stressing descent as the quali¬cation for chieftainship. During the
eighteenth century, the kingdom expanded into an empire stretching from the
Lubilashi in the west to Lake Tanganyika in the east. Its in¬‚uence and prestige
extended even more widely, for chiefs claiming Luba origin established them-
selves east of the lake in U¬pa, while others had settled further southwards
during the seventeenth century to create a confederacy among the Bemba peo-
ple in the sparsely populated woodlands of northeastern Zambia. Moreover,
Luba culture had already shaped two major political systems.
One was the cluster of Maravi states to the west and south of Lake Nyasa.
Immigrants from the broad Katanga region had probably joined the population
here during the early second millennium, perhaps attracted by the lakeshore™s
reliable rainfall. They were followed, perhaps around 1400, by Phiri clansmen
claiming Luba origin, a claim supported by their word for chief (mulopwe) and
their rituals. The Phiri intermarried with indigenous leaders, acknowledged
their control of land, gave them important political functions, but successfully
asserted their own suzerainty. Their political history is dif¬cult to reconstruct
from surviving traditions and Portuguese documents, but it centred on three
chieftainships with hereditary titles. Kalonga, based southwest of Lake Nyasa,
claimed seniority but could enforce it only sporadically. Lundu, in the Shire Val-
ley south of the lake, pro¬ted from ivory trade with the coast and attempted to
assert supremacy in the late sixteenth century, when its Zimba warbands twice
defeated the Portuguese and conquered much of Makua country in Mozam-
bique. Undi, west of the lake, became the most powerful during the eighteenth
century through trade in ivory with the Portuguese on the Zambezi.
The other major state claiming Luba origin was the Lunda kingdom, across
the Lubilashi to the west, where rulers traced descent to Chibinda (The Hunter)
Ilunga, nephew of the legendary Luba founder. In reality, the nucleus of the
Lunda state among savanna peoples south of the Congo forest was probably
created around 1600 by local processes, but with some Luba borrowings.4 The
people were matrilineal, but chiefs in the new state were patrilineal in the man-
ner of Luba chiefs and were known as mulopwe, although by the late seventeenth
century the king had acquired the distinctive title mwant yav. Most important,
in this area of sparse population where the danger of political fragmenta-
tion was even greater than among the Maravi, the Lunda state adopted two
brilliant devices, positional succession and perpetual kinship, by which each
new incumbent of an of¬ce inherited his predecessor™s total social personality,
including all his kinship relations, so that if a king™s son created a chiefdom it
remained always thereafter in a ¬lial relation to the kingship, however distant the
blood relationship between current holders of the two of¬ces. By separating the
108 africans: the history of a continent



political from the social system while retaining family relationships as models
of political behaviour, Lunda could exert a loose, tribute-exacting suzerainty
over peoples of broadly similar culture in a huge area of Central Africa, ˜a
chain of political islands in a sea of woodlands™. Westward expansion of Lunda
in¬‚uence in the eighteenth century affected Pende and Yaka political systems.
Eastward emigration in the seventeenth century probably created the Bulozi
kingdom from existing small chiefdoms in the Zambezi ¬‚oodplain, a sophis-
ticated political system in a complex environment of man-made settlement
mounds, drainage channels, ¬‚ood-irrigated agriculture, and redistribution of
specialised regional products. Further north, during the 1740s, a Lunda general,
the Kazembe, conquered and settled among the Bemba-speaking people of the
fertile Luapula Valley, retaining his formal allegiance to the distant mwant yav
and the Lunda aristocrats™ conviction that their speciality was to rule while
their subjects ¬shed or cultivated. Yet even here, where the elevated Luba-
Lunda notion of chieftainship was sternly enforced, rulers were constrained by
human mobility in a largely empty land, as David Livingstone was to write of
the incumbent Kazembe in 1867:
When he usurped power ¬ve years ago, his country was densely peopled; but
he was so severe in his punishments “ cropping the ears, lopping off the hands,
and other mutilations, selling the children for very slight offences, that his
subjects gradually dispersed themselves in the neighbouring countries beyond
his power. This is the common mode by which tyranny is cured in parts like
these, where fugitives are never returned. The present Casembe is very poor.5



east africa
In the East African savanna, the evolution from early iron age cultures to
more complex societies showed much continuity. In part it was a process of
Bantu-speaking cultivators expanding their numbers and developing the skills
needed to colonise new environments and absorb their scattered populations.
Early in the second millennium, for example, ancestors of the modern Sukuma
and Nyamwezi, who specialised in dryland grain agriculture, settled western
and central Tanzania, while at the same time the adoption of the banana (an
Asian plant) enabled other cultivators to colonise upwards into the forests of
mountain outcrops like Kilimanjaro. But continuity was due also to the grad-
ual drift southwards into East Africa of Nilotic-speaking peoples from their
homelands in southern Sudan. Southern Nilotic pastoralists (ancestral to the
modern Kalenjin of Kenya) had probably arrived during the ¬rst millennium
bc. Eastern Nilotic pastoralists expanded slowly behind them, perhaps reaching
as far south as Kilimanjaro by the early second millennium ad, although their
most powerful group, the Maasai, came to dominate the Rift Valley only during
Colonisation in eastern and southern Africa 109


the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Western Nilotes, by contrast, were
cultivators as well as pastoralists when their expansion from southern Sudan
began early in the second millennium ad, one group moving northwards to
create the Shilluk kingdom south of Khartoum while the bulk expanded south-
wards into the Great Lakes region, where their most numerous descendants,
the Luo, occupied the eastern shore of Lake Victoria.
Many peoples of the East African savanna remained stateless. Among the
Southern Cushitic peoples who had ¬rst brought food production to the Rift
Valley and its environs, the largest surviving agricultural group, the Iraqw of
north-central Tanzania, spurned political leadership despite centuries of Nilotic
aggression. The original Bantu word for a chief dropped out of many Eastern
Bantu languages. Isolated agricultural peoples, especially in highland areas,
could resolve their disputes by shared custom, as among those who settled
where the ¬g tree (mukuyu) grew and became known as the Kikuyu of modern
Kenya. Pastoralists, too, generally had no political chiefs, acknowledging only
the authority of war-leaders, hereditary ritual experts, or age-set spokesmen.
Political authority in East African savanna regions generally evolved in one
of two ways. In the sparsely populated woodlands of modern Tanzania, many
small chiefs were descendants of pioneer colonists and took their title, ntemi,
from a word meaning ˜to clear by cutting™. Like Xhosa chiefdoms, their small
units divided repeatedly as unsuccessful princes broke away to clear another
tract of bush. Alternatively, tradition might picture the chief as descended from
a stranger, typically a hunter or herdsman, whose quali¬cations to rule were
neutrality in local disputes and the possession of resources to attract follow-
ers. Many such traditions personalise interaction among peoples of different
cultures who lacked shared custom and needed political authority to resolve
disputes. In the Shambaa country, a mountain block rising from the plains of
northeastern Tanzania, long-established, Bantu-speaking Shambaa cultivators
were threatened during the early eighteenth century by immigrant pastoralists,
possibly Cushitic refugees from Maasai expansion, whose scale of organisa-
tion was wider than that of small Shambaa chiefdoms. Tradition tells that the
organisation of a kingdom embodying and defending Shambaa culture against
this threat was the work of Mbegha, an immigrant hunter who by prowess
and political alliances with local chiefs convinced the Shambaa to make him
their king. The history of the Western Nilotes reveals a similar pattern, for
whereas those who settled in an unoccupied area of Uganda as the Padhola
had no political authorities, the Kenya Luo, who had to counter earlier Bantu
and Nilotic populations, created several small chiefdoms. Possession of cattle
was especially advantageous in this situation, for no other scarce, storeable,
and reproducible form of wealth existed by which to gain political clients or
to acquire wives without exchanging kinswomen. Cattle gave their owners a
crucial demographic advantage.
110 africans: the history of a continent



These dynamics help to explain the history of the second major region of
East Africa, the high-rainfall area around the Great Lakes. Bantu-speaking cul-
tivators occupied only the best-watered parts of this region until late in the
¬rst millennium ad, when grain farmers with growing cattle herds moved into
the higher and drier grasslands. Linguistic evidence suggests a multiplication
of words relating to cattle and to bananas, which probably became the staple
crop of the best-watered areas at this time. The pottery of the ¬rst millennium
also gave way to a cruder, ˜rouletted™ style with links northwards to Nilotic
peoples, although there is no linguistic or other evidence to suggest immi-
gration. The ¬rst indications of a larger-scale society come from Ntusi and
Munsa, grassland sites where concentrations of some hundreds or thousands
of people with both agriculture and cattle existed from at least the eleventh
century. They have yielded glass and sea-shell beads, which may be the earli-
est evidence of contact between the Great Lakes region and the Indian Ocean
coast. At Bigo (Defended Place) in the same region, huge earthworks enclosed
over three hundred hectares of pasture between the thirteenth and sixteenth
centuries, but with no exotic goods and indications rather of greater emphasis
on cattle. Bigo was once thought the capital of the ¬rst state in the Great Lakes
region, but there is no evidence of a hierarchy of settlements of different sizes
indicating state-formation, as on the Zimbabwean plateau. That emerged dur-
ing later centuries, after a Nilotic clan, the Bito, had moved southwards into
the grasslands of western Uganda, perhaps in the late ¬fteenth century, and
gradually created a kingdom of Bunyoro, which combined their own pastoral
symbolism with Bantu terms for authority presumably taken from earlier and
smaller chiefdoms. Although Bunyoro™s spearmen raided neighbouring peo-
ples, royal power was probably slender until the eighteenth century, when a
ruling class of Bito and prominent pastoralists and cultivators began to extract
tribute from the rest of the population. This may have provoked resistance, for
several provinces broke away during the late eighteenth century.
Bunyoro™s most troublesome neighbour was Buganda, on the northwestern
shore of Lake Victoria where heavy rainfall enabled bananas to support a rel-
atively dense population, but cattle diseases inhibited pastoralism. Bunyoro™s
traditions claimed that their ¬rst king™s younger brother founded Buganda, but
some Buganda traditions and linguistic evidence suggest that the kingdom was
an essentially Bantu creation. When it can ¬rst be glimpsed during the ¬fteenth
and sixteenth centuries, it was little more than a confederacy of large patrilineal
clans on the lakeshore within ¬fty kilometres of modern Kampala, led by a king
(kabaka) who had no royal clan but relied on his mother™s kinsmen and his
loose suzerainty over all clans. Buganda™s subsequent history was dominated by
territorial expansion, chie¬‚y at Bunyoro™s expense. During the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, this created a kingdom of largely homogeneous culture
extending some 250 kilometres around the lakeshore and up to 100 kilometres
Colonisation in eastern and southern Africa 111


inland. Kabakas drew booty and tribute from conquered provinces and
appointed agents to govern them, thereby creating appointive of¬cers to rival
hereditary clan heads. At the same time the settlement of Ganda clansmen in
conquered lands broke up the clans™ territorial solidarity and created an increas-
ingly individualised society. Older political of¬ces were gradually detached
from clan control and the royal household expanded into an administration.
Eventually even most village headmen were appointed outsiders, although the
older central provinces remained a jungle of private jurisdictions where the
Kabaka had limited power. The core of social organisation was military: a chief
was a ¬ghting man and every freeman could choose the commander he would
serve in return for protection and land to cultivate, forming rival chains of
personal loyalties akin to those of Ethiopia. The political system was similarly
open, competitive, and focused on the throne, which at the end of the eigh-
teenth century ceased to pass from brother to brother, generally by succession
war, and was instead inherited by a young prince designated by his father and
the leading chiefs, rival princes being killed. The court also redistributed spe-
cialised products received as tribute from each province. Territorial conquest
was changing a clan society into a militarised state with patrimonial of¬ces.
Bunyoro™s aggression may explain why another major kingdom of the Great
Lakes region, Rwanda, also took clearer shape during the eighteenth century.
Its distinctive feature was that cultivated hills were interspersed with valley pas-
tures. Although many inhabitants combined cultivation and livestock-keeping,
a more specialised pastoral group also emerged. They were probably not immi-
grants, for they had no migration traditions and spoke the same language and
belonged to the same clans as the cultivators. Yet modern study has shown
that as a group the descendants of Rwanda™s pastoralists are signi¬cantly dis-
tinguished genetically by blood groups, capacity to absorb milk, and perhaps
Y-chromosome pro¬les.6 One possibility is that their ancestors included the
region™s early Cushitic pastoralists. By the seventeenth century, both cultiva-
tors and pastoralists controlled small chiefdoms. At that time a new pastoral
group, probably retreating from Bito aggression, conquered a territory around
Lake Mohazi that was to be the nucleus of the Rwandan kingdom. Its expan-
sion during the eighteenth century to incorporate surrounding chiefdoms was
due mainly to the creation of armies of trained spearmen, who were mostly
of pastoral origin, were drawn from all parts of the country, were bound to
their king and chiefs by ties of clientage, and were supported by designated
lands, herds, and ancillary cultivators. This distinction between ¬ghting men
and their ˜servants™ probably evolved into the distinction between Tutsi and
Hutu, Tutsi having originally been an ethnic term for one group of pastoralists
and Hutu a generic term for servants or rustics. In the late eighteenth century,
however, these distinctions remained nascent, the social categories complex,
and the kingdom relatively small.
112 africans: the history of a continent



The neighbouring kingdom of Burundi also took shape in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries. Here too an economy dependent on combining culti-
vation with livestock-rearing coexisted with a more specialised pastoral group.
In the seventeenth century, immigrants from the east fused the many small
chiefdoms into a kingdom that incorporated both cultures but enabled pas-
toralists to gain predominance through their control of cattle. Eighteenth-
century Burundi expanded rapidly, in ¬erce competition with Rwanda, but
still controlled less than half its future territory.
The most prominent of the pastoral refugees from Bito control of Bunyoro
were probably the Hinda clan, who established a kingdom in Karagwe in the
high grasslands of northwestern Tanzania and then spawned further dynasties
in Buhaya on the western shore of Lake Victoria and in Nkore to the north. Their
traditions oversimplify processes by which Hinda rulers established supremacy
over both pastoralists and agriculturalists, fostered reciprocity between them,
extracted tribute, appointed administrative agents, replaced blood feud by royal
justice, and sti¬‚ed resistance from the priests and mediums of the indigenous
religion that was tied to ancient Bantu chieftainship and iron-working. One
seventeenth-century Hinda king built his palace on the site at Katuruka where
iron had been smelted two thousand years earlier. Great Lakes kingship achieved
its furthest expansion in the eighteenth century when a dynasty from that region
supplanted recently arrived Luba rulers in U¬pa, east of Lake Tanganyika.
Eastern Africa™s two main streams of political innovation had met.


food production and the family
The settlement of the land was an even more dominant historical theme in
eastern and southern Africa than in the west. It had begun later, mainly with
the Bantu expansion, and it took place in an environment where differences of
height created sharp juxtapositions of well-watered and arid terrain. The result
was exceptionally uneven population distribution, with islands of intensive
cultivation isolated amidst huge tracts of pasture or sparsely settled woodland.
The largest population concentration was in the Great Lakes region, where
the agricultural systems based on yams and sorghum that had existed before the
birth of Christ were diversi¬ed and to some degree supplanted by the adoption
of the banana, perhaps in the late ¬rst millennium ad. A banana grove might
last for ¬fty years and enable a woman to produce enough food for three or four
men. But ¬rst it had to be made: in Buhaya the fertility of the one-¬fth of land
devoted to bananas was deliberately built up by transferring grass and manure
from areas relegated to pasture; traditions tell of chiefs having soil carried to
overlay the sterile laterite mantles on which they built their palaces. Further
east, bananas also gave names to densely settled mountain outcrops standing
abruptly from the plains: Shambaai (˜where bananas thrive™) or Mndeny (˜in the
Colonisation in eastern and southern Africa 113


banana groves™, as the people of Moshi on Kilimanjaro called their homeland).
Further south, cultivators still clustered around lakeshores, in river valleys, or on
the well-watered coastlands of southeastern Africa, seeking locations like Great
Zimbabwe where they could exploit several different environments within a
small area. Tools were crude “ Xhosa cultivated with wooden implements,
while iron hoes were often tiny and precious “ so that survival depended on
skill. ˜By taking a single ecological zone,™ it has been written of the Shambaa,
˜understanding its complexity with a thoroughness incomprehensible to even
a rural westerner, developing a rich and subtle language with a profusion of
terms for the understanding of local ecology, planting dozens of crops to which
the environment was peculiarly suited, the farmer sought to defeat famine, to
cheat death.™7 The ¬rst Europeans to visit Rwanda observed intense pride in
cultivating skills “ a mother would give a crying baby a toy hoe to play with “
and a range of techniques often superior to those of eastern European peasants,
notably the use of manure, terracing, and arti¬cial irrigation. Channels led
from mountain streams across wooden aquaducts to feed the banana gardens
of Kilimanjaro and Shambaai. Permanent streams on the escarpment edges of
the Rift Valley were directed into the ¬elds below, notably at Engaruka where
a skilful network of channels irrigated over twenty square kilometres from
the ¬fteenth to the eighteenth century. Unable to control the mighty Zambezi
¬‚ood, the Lozi instead adapted to it, siting their villages on arti¬cial mounds
raised above the lower ¬‚ood level, retreating to the valley edges when the
¬‚ood was highest, and returning to plant in the manured village land and the
silt left by falling waters. In the eighteenth century, their southern Bayei and
Hambukushu neighbours, led by a legendary ¬sherman and hippopotamus
hunter named Haukuzi, created a similar system of ¬‚oodplain and dryland
cultivation in the unique environment where the Okavango River drained into
its swamps. The staple crops of lowland agriculture were sorghum and millet,
gradually supplemented at the end of the period by maize, cassava, beans, and
sweet potatoes of American origin brought by the Portuguese. Maize reached
the Nguni-speakers of southeastern Africa during the seventeenth century and
was widely grown in Kazembe™s kingdom during the eighteenth, along with
cassava, which his Lunda followers had introduced from their homeland, where
it had probably arrived some decades earlier. The new crops transformed many
agricultural systems and, like bananas, probably facilitated population growth
and changes in social organisation. In Rwanda and Burundi, for example,
from the eighteenth century, quick-growing kidney beans and maize made
possible the demographic growth underlying the expansion and consolidation
of kingdoms.8
Intensive cultivators colonised land only gradually, clearing upwards into
the forests or down towards the plains. By contrast, cultivators and pastoralists
in the dry woodlands and grasslands, although probably less numerous, were
114 africans: the history of a continent



immensely mobile. Often they used ¬re to clear the bush “ Portuguese seamen
christened modern Natal ˜the land of ¬res™ “ and either planted millet in the
ash or grazed their cattle on the rejuvenating grass. It was they who reduced
the thick dry forest of East-Central Africa ¬rst to open woodland and then in
some regions to treeless ˜cultivation steppe™, admirably suited for cattle. Vast
areas remained almost unoccupied, often for lack of permanent surface water.
In 1616 a Portuguese traveller passed only a single village while walking for
eleven days between Kilwa on the Tanzanian coast and Tete on the Zambezi.
Similar wildernesses separated Maravi country from Kazembe™s kingdom and
generally isolated each population cluster from its neighbours. ˜Were one to
ascend by a balloon,™ H. M. Stanley was to write in 1871, ˜. . . he would have a
view of one great forest, broken here and there by the little clearings around
the villages.™ The intervening bush was the home of wild animals, of tsetse ¬‚ies
and trypanosomes fatal to cattle, of dissidents and fugitives and bandits. Only
forty-¬ve kilometres east of Buganda™s heartland the Mabira forest sheltered
renegades for centuries, while the Great Lakes region was strewn with marshes
where game and spirits dwelled.
Human mobility was the essence of this empty world, ˜the outstanding mode
of social and cultural communication, the means by which knowledge ¬‚owed
from one part of the continent to another, by which ideas ¬ltered from commu-
nity to community™.9 It might be the short, calculated movement of the shifting
cultivator seeking land for his next crop, thousands of such decisions compos-
ing over time a population movement that tradition would later perceive as a
migration. It might be the pastoralist™s seasonal transhumance, gradually pen-
etrating new lands. It might be the newly initiated men of a Xhosa chiefdom
accompanying a prince of their generation to carve out a territory, obedient
to the law that no man might remain in his dead father™s homestead. But the
motive might be more pressing: to escape a famine, perhaps, or a charge of
witchcraft. And always there was the attraction of empty and game-rich land:

In all their examination they did not see any human foot-prints “ not even
the foot-prints of one man. Moreover they did not ¬nd any other sign, such
as a single tree having been cut by man. So they realized that the country was
uninhabited, and that it was a country that belonged to God only. Oh, how
happy they were! ˜Now we have acquired a country,™ they said, ˜and we shall
rule it ourselves.™10

Planned colonisation by rulers is scarcely mentioned in traditions, although
it was perhaps implicit when Ganda peasants followed a successful chief into
conquered lands, while family traditions in outlying regions of Rwanda tell of
ancestors sent out by kings as colonists. Some pioneers moved and settled as
clans, as did the Luo who colonised Lake Victoria™s eastern shores, but even
Colonisation in eastern and southern Africa 115


there ˜the whole operation was diversi¬ed, irregular and unorganized. . . . What
we see are local heroes . . . who behaved like chiefs or kings.™11
Tradition generally pictures the pioneer as an individualist, especially a
hunter “ for only a skilled hunter dared open new land “ with the hunter™s
aura of violence, wildness, and witchcraft that surrounded Chibinda Ilunga,
Mbegha, and Haukuzi, the true heroes of African legends. Chiti Muluba, sup-
posed founder of the Bemba, travelled from Luba country carrying the seeds
of millet and sorghum in his hair. Then began the task of mastering nature:

Newcomers [in Busoga on the northern shore of Lake Victoria] had to wrest
clearings from the forest in order to begin planting. Brush had to be cut back
and burned so as to destroy the habitats of bothersome ¬‚ies and small animals.
This was dif¬cult work. The ¬rst fruits of cultivation would not provide the
security sought. Nor would the second or the third. The ¬rst years of laborious
penury would not permit one to attract wives for oneself or for one™s sons, nor
to attract followers, nor to engage servants, for there would be little surplus
realizable in the beginning. . . . While dif¬cult, these rough years of existence
could give reality to the traditional ideal of using one™s own labour to open
up the land and thereby to establish within several generations rights to both
the land and the elevated status that landedness accords.12

To clear the hectare needed to support a family in the high forests that became
Kikuyuland is thought to have taken up to 150 man-days of labour. The pioneers
there were generally young men who formed an mbari, a colonising group, who
occupied a ridge, cleared the forest, and then divided the land among themselves
as hereditary property legitimised by physical effort. Other frontier areas were
peopled by pioneers of diverse origins, ¬‚uid in their social institutions and
united only by their common task, by friendship and marriage, by the leadership
of Big Men, and by a collective sense of property that excluded subsequent
immigrants. Among the Kikuyu, latecomers remained ahoi, subject to the mbari
council but not members of it.
As in western Africa, the cultivator™s labour and the herdsman™s care fended
off the risk of famine. Hunger came in many sizes. There was the seasonal
scarcity that led the Kimbu of western Tanzania™s woodlands to name the three
months before the new crops ˜the one which searches for ¬‚our™, ˜the one which
scrapes™, and ˜the one overcome with heaviness™. There was the routine harvest
failure that might occur every ¬ve or ten years, causing damage in proportion
to a region™s isolation. There was the major ˜famine that killed™, by which the
people of arid regions might date their history. And there was the catastro-
phe extending over several years that the traditions of northern Uganda, like
those of Angola, suggest happened roughly once in each full lifetime. Disaster
might be caused by swarms of locusts such as created famine on the northern
Mozambican coast in 1589 or met Dutch colonists almost as soon as they landed
116 africans: the history of a continent



at Table Bay in 1652. But the chief cause of famine was drought. East Africa™s
rainfall was relatively generous between about 1270 and 1850, to judge from lake
levels, but with three prolonged dry episodes.13 The summer rainfall area of
South Africa and its environs may have become drier for some centuries after
ad 900, but tree-ring studies show that its climate since at least the fourteenth
century has been dominated by roughly eighteen-year cycles of wet and dry
years showing some correlation in the eighteenth century with oral traditions
of famine. Fear of scarcity was naturally greatest in savanna regions. ˜What are
you eating?™ was the standard Tswana greeting. But even those in high-rainfall
areas lived in fear of dearth. Buganda had a goddess of drought, Nagawonyi, and
both Rwanda and Burundi had long famine histories. Elaborate precautions
were taken to minimise risk: exploitation of multiple environments, diversi-
¬ed and drought-resistant crops, interplanting, granaries, livestock as a famine
reserve, the cultivation of social relations to be mobilised in crisis. If the har-
vest nevertheless failed, people gathered wild produce “ experts like the San
seldom suffered famine “ and turned to exchange, mutual aid, disposal of assets,
migration, or reliance on chiefs or patrons. ˜Famine that killed™ occurred when
patrons spurned clients “ prazeros manumitted their slaves only in time of
famine “ family ties dissolved, and humans became animals. Yet survival skills
were strong and wild produce amply available to small populations. Mortality
was therefore probably most severe when violence compounded famine and
hindered coping strategies. ˜War and drought, peace and milk™, said a Somali
proverb.
Colonists also braved disease. Malaria was endemic in all but the highest or
most arid regions. Early colonial doctors reckoned that it killed one-¬fth of
young children on the northern shores of Lake Nyasa. Highland peoples like
the Shambaa knew the connection between malaria and mosquitoes, fearing
to sleep a single night in the plains. Ulcers, yaws, endemic (but not venereal)
syphilis, and intestinal parasites were common. Leprosy also was endemic,
chie¬‚y in humid areas like the Upper Nile, the shores of Lake Nyasa, and
the Zambezi ¬‚oodplain. A more localized threat to the colonist was plague,
for rodents harboured the strain that had caused the sixth-century Plague of
Justinian, the black rat often associated with plague existed in the Zambezi and
Limpopo Valleys early in the second millennium ad, and plague was one of the
acute diseases that Ganda called kawumpuli and attributed to a spirit of that
name whose priest supplied protective amulets, treated sufferers, and claimed
to inherit their property. Smallpox was probably also an ancient disease. In
Bunyoro its treatment was the responsibility of the shrine of a divinised ruler
supposed to have preceded the ¬fteenth-century Bito dynasty and to have
suffered the disease in his army. The earliest written evidence of smallpox comes
from Mozambique, where Jo˜o dos Santos reported an epidemic accompanying
a
famine “ a common combination, for famine clustered people together and
Colonisation in eastern and southern Africa 117


made them vulnerable “ on the Makua coast, north of the Zambezi estuary,
in 1589. ˜Sometimes this disease is milder and less dangerous, so that it does
not cause death™, he added,14 implying “ as modern medical research suggests “
an indigenous and relatively mild strain to which Europeans (and possibly
earlier Asians) added their more virulent varieties. ˜Even in the interior of the
country they know of inoculation™, it was reported from Kilwa in 1776:15 study
of the techniques suggests that they were learned from Arabs in East Africa
and from Portuguese in Southern Africa, although the methods used may have
been taken from indigenous medicine. Eastern Bantu languages, like those of
their western cousins, had a common word for cupping as a medical practice.
Herbalism was the staple medical technique, the San™s long familiarity with the
bush making them especially renowned. Later accounts of medical systems in
this region suggest a great variety of specialists and treatments, both physical
and magico-religious, although rarely involving surgery. Smallpox, generally
considered a disease so widespread that it must be ˜of God™ rather than caused
by human malice or breach of custom, was treated with physical remedies, with
careful nursing, and occasionally by isolation. Such public health measures were
probably most effective where rulers existed to impose them. Rwanda™s rulers
quarantined yaws sufferers and if necessary closed the kingdom™s borders to
check smallpox. Munhumutapa™s herbalist sat on the state council.
New diseases arrived with Dutch settlement at the Cape. Typhus, introduced
around 1666, killed large numbers of Europeans and Khoikhoi. An epidemic
of Asian smallpox in 1713 killed one-quarter of Cape Town™s population and
caused unknown but probably extensive deaths among Khoikhoi, whose sparse
population had probably not hitherto harboured the disease. This epidemic
spread as far north as Tswana country and the Orange River, while later out-
breaks in 1755 and 1767 were almost equally extensive and fatal. Europeans
may also have introduced venereal diseases at this time and possibly tubercu-
losis, ¬rst reported conclusively among Coloured people in Cape Town early
in the nineteenth century, although Thonga rituals in southern Mozambique,
linguistic evidence, and other slight indications suggest that it may have been
more ancient.
Despite crisis mortality on one side and infant deaths from endemic condi-
tions on the other, the archaeological evidence of expanded settlement demon-
strates population growth, perhaps more clearly than in western Africa because
the east was so sparsely populated during the early iron age. Little is known
about the dynamics of demographic growth. When ¬rst described by Europeans
in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, birth spacing of three or four years “
presumably to maximise population “ was normal, although not universal; the
names given to children in Burundi, celebrating a seventh child as the ideal
but implying that any more were excessive, would roughly correspond to such
spacing over a complete childbearing career.16 If that was the norm, population
118 africans: the history of a continent



growth must have depended heavily on infant survival and the minimising of
crises. ˜Is there any medicine for women or children which will prevent the
offspring from dying shortly after birth?™ Bunyoro™s king was to ask his ¬rst
European visitor.17 Certainly newborn children received elaborate protection.
Population growth was possible even in so insalubrious an environment as the
Upemba Depression, but infant survival must have pro¬ted from the expansion
of cattle herds and milk supplies, especially when they enabled their owners
to colonise malaria-free highlands. It is tempting to imagine this mechanism
of population growth in eastern Botswana in the late ¬rst millennium, the
Zimbabwe plateau during the ¬rst half of the second, and the southern high-
veld thereafter. Both nutrition and crisis mortality would also have bene¬ted
from the diversi¬cation of crops, especially bananas in high-rainfall areas and
the maize that probably explains the evidence of denser settlement during the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries among Nguni-speaking people, whose
physiques so impressed early observers. Yet most of this is speculation. More
certain is the supreme importance attached to having numerous children, espe-
cially in the strongly patrilineal and competitive societies of cattle-keepers. Early
Dutch settlers observed that in Khoisan wars ˜women seem to be the principal
booty, everyone boasting of the number captured from his adversaries. The rea-
son appears to be their desire to increase their numbers by raising children.™18
˜It is hardly remarkable™, a student of southern African folklore has written,
˜that heroes sometimes populate entire villages at the end of a story, or that the
whole story is about a poor childless woman, mocked by her co-wives, who
eventually has outstanding children, sometimes brought forth in miraculous
ways.™19 To populate a village was no idle dream for a polygynist. Among the
1,500 people in one Busoga community studied in 1971, 445 were descended
from a single Big Man of the previous century whose chief rival, by contrast,
had only 6 descendants.20 ˜The feud is in the testicle™, said a Zulu proverb,21 and
the contest between lineages for survival through procreation was the core of
social and political life:

Eee, one child is not enough,
One child is inadequate,
Eee, when the war drum sounds ˜tindi! tindi!™
Who will come to your rescue “ one child!22

In the Kivu region of eastern Congo, the word for a barren woman meant one
with fewer than three children. Muyaka, the eighteenth-century Swahili poet
of Mombasa, satirised women who claimed to be beautiful when childless.
Male dominance was ancient in southern Africa, for male ¬gures outnumber
females by at least ¬ve to one in San rock-paintings and male hunting almost
excludes female foraging as a subject, although later anthropological studies
have suggested greater equality. The cultural importance of cattle strengthened
Colonisation in eastern and southern Africa 119


the general African emphasis on large polygynous households and female agri-
cultural labour, expressed ideally in a complete circle of huts around a patri-
arch™s cattle pen. Here women had a lower status than was normal in western
Africa. A girl might be trained from childhood to serve all the adult men and
older women in the homestead she entered as a young bride. She had no access
to land except through men and no access even to the grainstore buried beneath
the cattle pen. In case of divorce, she often lost all rights to her children, a device
used to impose more rigorous female chastity than was demanded elsewhere in
sub-Saharan Africa. Even if early nineteenth-century missionaries were quot-
ing maxims rather than realities when they claimed that unmarried Tswana
mothers had to kill their own babies, there was unusual emphasis on premar-
ital virginity. It was probably due to the value of women in bridewealth cattle
in polygynous societies. A census of 5,765 Xhosa households in 1848, when
colonial change had made only initial impact, found that the 20 percent of
polygynous men had 50 percent of all wives, while 32 percent of adult men
remained unmarried.23 Oral accounts from the northern shore of Lake Malawi
suggest that competition for women prevented most Nyakyusa men from mar-
rying before the age of 30, whereas women married before they were 20; the
area™s ˜characteristic sin™ was ˜for a son to seduce one of his father™s young
wives™.24 Sixteenth-century Portuguese described Shona bridewealth paid in
cattle, cloth, and other goods. There, in later times, a poor man might secure
a wife by working for his father-in-law, but he could not take her to his village
or gain rights over her children. Often, no doubt, they eloped instead; many
peoples had a form of marriage by capture in which the daring and violence of
the young could be regularised later.
Cattle-keeping often threw a heavier burden of agricultural labour on to
women. A Tswana household head was buried beneath his cattle pen, his wife
beneath her threshing ¬‚oor. Often men were responsible only for clearing land.
Yet there were also peoples, including the Shona and Nyakyusa, whose men
prided themselves on agricultural diligence, while among Southern Cushites
men did most cultivation. Moreover, female labour was at least as important
in largely cattleless areas like Buganda, where a man needed his wife™s permis-
sion even to enter the banana grove, and in the matrilineal societies of Central
Africa. In other respects, however, the Maravi, Bemba, and other matrilin-
eal peoples of modern Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique displayed differ-
ent relationships between men and women. Bridewealth was low or nonex-
istent here but was often replaced by bride-service, the man marrying rela-
tively young but working for his father-in-law in a community centred on a
close-knit group of related women, perhaps taking his wife to his natal vil-
lage only after many years of marriage. Gender relations could be tense and
divorce common in these societies, but women™s status was generally high,
as can be seen in the rich female graves at Sanga or the woodcarvings of the
120 africans: the history of a continent



matrilineal Hemba people of the eastern Congo, especially the serene and age-
less female ¬gures personifying social continuity. This respect for femininity
also survived in the culture of the Luba and Lunda, both probably originally
matrilineal.
Patriarchal, cattle-owning societies suffered acute generational tension. Ini-
tiation rites through which elders dominated the young and prepared them
for adult suffering by demanding un¬‚inching endurance of pain were espe-
cially prominent among pastoralists. So was the custom, shown by linguistic
evidence to have ancient Cushitic origins, of forming young initiates into an
age-set that passed through a sequence of grades from junior warriorhood
to senior elderhood, at least as the system operated in the twentieth century.
Junior warriors lived in military outposts and were forbidden to marry until
their thirties. This arrangement not only provided defenders for society but
displaced generational tension and ensured for older men a monopoly of wives
and adult power. Where agriculture and lineage structure were prominent, age
organisation sometimes atrophied, but agriculturalists like the Chagga of Kili-
manjaro who were in contact with pastoral Nilotes might organise their young
men into warrior grades that adopted the pastoralists™ military ethos and often
their culture. Chewa, who subordinated young men by ideological as well as
social means, had a legend of male youths wiping out an entire older generation
because ˜it was the young who did all the work while the elders merely ate and
slept™. Sometimes the frustrations of young men denied full adulthood through
marriage and procreation may have been channelled into real violence, as in
the Munhumutapa™s vanyai and the Changamire™s rozvi. Although, as in West
Africa, elderhood might mean vigorous maturity rather than toothless age,
control of cattle probably enabled men to command respect later in life among
stock-keepers than in more agricultural regions like Buganda. Proverbs, dance
masks, and folktales often suggest weariness rather than regard for the elderly,
but the evidence is slender.
Perhaps because long-distance trade was less developed than in West Africa,
only a minority of societies in the east and south appear to have practised
slavery. Where they did, it was generally lineage slavery in which individu-
als detached by some crisis from their kinship group were incorporated into
another as subordinate members. The most common sources were probably
self-enslavement during famine and capture in war. During a locust plague on
the Mozambique coast in 1589, for example, ˜There was so great a scarcity of
provisions that the Kaf¬rs came to sell themselves as slaves merely to obtain
food, and exchanged their children for an alqueire of millet.™25 Where states
conducted warfare, however, captives might not be incorporated into kinship
groups but instead remain a distinct category, as in the Luba kingdom, where
slave villages encircled the capital much as they encircled Mbanza Kongo. Slav-
ery here approximated more closely to that on the Zambezi prazos, where
slaves were regarded as hereditary saleable property, although the institution
Colonisation in eastern and southern Africa 121


also contained much paternalism. East Africa had probably exported slaves
since at least the tenth century, mostly to the Persian Gulf and India, perhaps
on the scale of about a thousand a year. Most became concubines, servants, or
soldiers; in the ¬fteenth century one seized the throne of Bengal. In the six-
teenth and seventeenth centuries, however, exported slaves came mainly from
Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands rather than the mainland, which was
to become an important supplier only in the eighteenth century.
Analogous changes took place in warfare. Pastoral peoples with age-set sys-
tems were militarised, but cultivators, although no doubt ready to defend
themselves in necessity, seldom glori¬ed warfare in their proverbs or tradi-
tions. Hunters, not warriors, were their heroes. The ancestral Iraqw of central
Tanzania, a long-established Southern Cushitic people, appear to have had no
military organisation or ethos, despite centuries of interaction with Nilotic
pastoralists. Iraqw fought one another only with sticks, a common restraint
on internal violence. Even in ¬ghting between unrelated groups, honour and
cattle-lifting often took priority over destroying the enemy. Early nineteenth-
century observers of Xhosa warfare reported an ˜unbelievable fearlessness™ to
which ambush or surprise attack was ˜wholly degrading™; a battle consisted of
two lines throwing assegais at one another until, sometimes, they closed in
hand-to-hand combat with their last remaining spear. Casualties seem gener-
ally to have been small, but growing human and cattle populations probably
increased violence, as did the creation of larger political units. Early nineteenth-
century missionaries watched Tswana chiefs take a thousand men on cattle
raids and lead all their able-bodied followers into battle. Ganda armies prob-
ably numbering thousands subjected neighbouring provinces, creating a code
of predatory cruelty, reckless bravery, and jealous personal honour. Rwanda™s
armies were reorganised to the same effect during the eighteenth century. These
were citizen forces, in contrast to the standing armies of young warriors that
Shona may have imitated from Portuguese chikunda. Shona also experimented
with ¬rearms, although as yet to little effect, but eighteenth-century Lunda
warriors rejected them as ˜a handicap to valour™.


trade
Compared with western Africa, the east and south were overwhelmingly rural.
Commercial towns existed on the coast and at Portuguese strongholds in the
Zambezi Valley. Ntusi was at least a highly concentrated settlement. Other-
wise all towns appear to have been political capitals. They could be elaborate
in design, most obviously at Great Zimbabwe and other stone-built Shona
palaces but also at capitals built in impermanent materials to glorify local cul-
ture, as among the Shambaa and Lunda. Kazembe™s capital was described in
1832 as over three kilometres in diameter. Probably no town was more pop-
ulous than the eighteen thousand or more thought to have inhabited Great
122 africans: the history of a continent



Zimbabwe at its peak. This may have been true even among the Tswana, an
exceptional proportion of whom lived in towns by the eighteenth century,
although most ˜townsmen™ were agriculturalists. Molokweni, the Kwena capital
in the Transvaal at that time, was a stone-walled town as big as Kazembe™s cap-
ital. Another Tswana capital, Latakoo, occupied roughly the same area in the
early nineteenth century and was thought ˜fully as large as Cape Town™, its scat-
tered huts housing between ¬ve thousand and ¬fteen thousand people. Tswana
capitals moved frequently, had little economic or environmental rationale, and
often disintegrated at times of political weakness, suggesting that they arose
mainly from a combination of royal power and cultural preference.
Limited urbanisation went with restricted transport, trade, and industry. In
contrast to the West African savanna, eastern Africa lacked animal transport,
presumably owing to a sparser population and more widespread tsetse infesta-
tion. Several southern peoples rode oxen and used them as pack-animals. Maa-
sai and other peoples of the Rift Valley used donkeys to carry loads. Nowhere,
however, was animal transport employed in long-distance trade. The Great
Lakes had lively canoe traf¬c, but not a single river in eastern or southern
Africa was navigable on the scale of the Congo or Niger. Transport depended
chie¬‚y on human porterage along narrow paths that one early colonial of¬cial
measured as more than four times the direct distance between two points.
Trade was therefore con¬ned to articles that human beings could carry.
There was no parallel to Hausaland™s grain trade. Regular local markets existed
at several borders between ecological or political zones, as in the foothills of Kil-
imanjaro and Mount Kenya or on the frontiers between Great Lakes kingdoms.
They also existed in banana-growing areas like Buganda and Shambaai, per-
haps because populations were dense and staple foods perishable. Yet neither
Great Zimbabwe nor Tswana capitals appear to have had markets. No doubt
many courts had redistribution systems that helped to foster specialisation.
In Buganda even potting was con¬ned to specialists, who made unglazed red
earthenware for peasants and ¬ne black pottery for rulers; they carried small
lumps of clay on their heads, just as musicians carried instruments and black-
smiths carried hammers, to show their immunity from arbitrary arrest. Most
specialisations were regional, forming complex trading networks. Sanga™s ¬sh-
eries and Katanga™s copper were early examples. Ironworking, found very widely
in early Bantu settlements, became more specialised thereafter, partly because
cattle-keepers occupied treeless regions where smelting was impossible, so that
South African smelting centres concentrated in better-watered lowlands, and
partly because expanding trade meant that those like the Nyoro of Uganda who
possessed the best raw materials and skills captured regional markets. Iron-
working was generally respected and often associated with chieftainship, as in
Rwanda, but blacksmiths among Nilotic pastoralists were endogamous in a pat-
tern probably borrowed from Cushites and passed on to certain Bantu peoples.
Colonisation in eastern and southern Africa 123


Copper was another ancient product on which trading networks focused. It was
smelted in Katanga by the fourth century ad. At Bwana Mkubwa, close to the
modern Copperbelt, an early European traveller described the ancient work-
ings as ˜a thousand yard long gash with sheer walls 30“40 feet high, stained
green (malachite), wide enough for two wagons to travel side by side™.26 By
the eighteenth century these two sources supplied trading networks running
northwards along the eastern edge of the equatorial forest and eastwards into
the Zambezi Valley and beyond. Copper crosses used in this trade from the ¬rst
millennium ad became the region™s earliest known currency. By the sixteenth
century, the Shona chiefdom of Uteve in Mozambique was using cotton cloth
for the same purpose, but most of the region had no general-purpose currency
comparable to the cowrie shells of West Africa. Cotton was spun at Manda on
the Kenyan coast from perhaps the eleventh century and at Mapungubwe dur-
ing the twelfth. By the sixteenth century, the areas surrounding the Zambezi
and Shire Valleys were famous for cotton cloth. The industry extended into
the villages of western and southeastern Tanzania but never reached the Great
Lakes, where barkcloth or skins were normal dress.
The cultures of eastern and southern Africa were as this-worldly as those of
the west. In folktales, the rewards for perseverance, intelligence, and courage
were marriage, status, wealth, food, parenthood, achievement, and security.
Buganda™s ¬rst European visitor wrote of ˜women, cattle, and command over
men™ as ˜the greatest elements of wealth™ there.27 The Maasai word meaning
˜rich™ referred properly to the number of children. But material wealth could
procure people, whether for a King of Nkore “ whose title, omugabe, derived
from a root meaning to distribute wealth “ or for a village patriarch. A king
displayed his power by the number of his retainers and the sophistication of his
court, which cultivated urbanity, eloquence, and quickness of wit. Buganda™s
coronation ritual included royal victory at mankala; stone boards for a similar
game survive from the eleventh or twelfth century at Mapungubwe. A village
patriarch displayed his wealth in dependents and livestock:

Look at my enclosure, over¬‚owing with cattle.
Goats and sheep are found all over my land.
Fowls and pigs are also there in abundance.
This is the home of him called What-is-lacking?
Give us beer and let us drink together.28

As means of accumulating, storing, and reproducing wealth, cattle often
replaced the slaves and trade goods of western Africa. Despite their egalitarian
ideologies, pastoral peoples were highly differentiated by wealth, as early Dutch
settlers found among the Khoikhoi. Loans of cattle in return for labour and
support created ties of clientage across these differences of wealth, but they
increased the rich man™s in¬‚uence without reducing his property. Contrary
124 africans: the history of a continent



to the widespread belief that in Africa rich and poor ate the same foods, if in
different quantities, excavations at Shona capitals have shown that the inhab-
itants of stone enclosures ate prime beef, while dwellers in outlying mud huts
at best enjoyed mutton, game, or the beef of old animals.


religion and culture
The distinction between ¬eld and forest, civilisation and savagery, was as central
to thought, folklore, and culture as it was in western Africa. One spectacular
manifestation was the Nyau dance society in Maravi chiefdoms. Some think
that it originated from ancient San hunting rituals, others that it was brought
from Luba country in the second millennium. It certainly became a focus of
resistance to immigrant Phiri rulers. Nyau was said to have originated during
famine. It was a dance of masked ¬gures representing animals and ancestral
spirits who emerged from the forest to take over the village at life-crisis rituals.
Known as ˜the great prayer™ and led by an ˜elder of the forest™, the dance reenacted
the drama of creation. The society was entirely male and gave solidarity to men
living in their wives™ villages in this matrilineal and uxorilocal society. It also
controlled the young and defended village interests against political rulers.
Similar relationships with nature were also central to art. Woodcarvings earlier
than the eighteenth century do not survive, but the rock art of southern and
eastern Africa illustrates the point dramatically. Most paintings are not yet
dated, but some are as old as 26,000 bc, others are securely dated to the late ¬rst
millennium bc, others again were painted in the nineteenth century, and the
tradition employed a symbolic language still used by modern San. In particular,
many paintings recorded the experiences of ritual experts who acquired power
to heal, practise magic, and make rain by entering trance, usually by dance
techniques still taught to San. In the terrifying world of trance “ not unlike
that of hallucinatory drugs “ one experience was to cross the border between
human and animal, so that many paintings, including one of the oldest, show
¬gures with both animal and human features. In this state a ritual expert
might possess an animal and lead it into a human trap. Conversely, animals “
especially the largest antelope, the eland, superbly painted on many rocks “
were sources of power to which trance gave access. ˜Painted sites were thus
storehouses of the potency that made contact with the spiritual world possible,
that guaranteed humankind™s existence by facilitating healing, rain-making
and animal control.™29
San religion appears to have centred on a creating god and a duality of
good and evil forces, which ritual experts sought to in¬‚uence through trance.
Khoikhoi, similarly, worshipped an anthropomorphised deity controlling rain,
while propitiating a rival evil being. This emphasis on a High God was shared by
Southern Cushitic peoples, who identi¬ed their divinity with the sky or sun and
Colonisation in eastern and southern Africa 125


approached him through ritual experts, a religious pattern apparently inherited
by Southern and Eastern Nilotic peoples moving into the same region. South-
ern Cushites preserved these beliefs even after settling as agriculturalists, but
generally they were the beliefs of mobile herding or hunting peoples. Linguistic
evidence suggests that Bantu-speakers had different notions, generally paying
less attention to the creator, who seldom intervened in human affairs, and more
to ancestral and nature spirits and to human malice expressed in witchcraft
and sorcery. These were characteristically the preoccupations of village-based
agriculturalists. As Bantu-speakers interacted with earlier populations, so eclec-
ticism and pragmatism encouraged complex exchange of religious ideas and
practices. Xhosa, for example, took notions of God from their Khoisan neigh-
bours. This interaction was the chief theme of religious history throughout the
period.
Belief that access to spiritual power came only through dead ancestors, who
must be approached by sacri¬ces of cattle, was especially strong among the
patriarchal peoples of southern Africa. An early missionary anthropologist
described Thonga religion in southern Mozambique as ˜ancestrolatry™, while
Tswana buried homestead heads with weapons in their hands for the jour-
ney to the next world. The antiquity of belief in the afterlife appears from the
grave-goods at Sanga. Belief in witches was at least as ancient, as was indi-
cated by the ancestral Bantu word for them. Accusation focused, as usual, on
barren and friendless women, who might be subjected to ordeal (often by
drinking a medicine known in Central Africa as mwavi) and to mob violence.
They were considered enemies of the fertility towards which many religious
practices aimed. Even Bantu-speakers commonly invoked God directly when
seeking rain, often at shrines (frequently associated with caves and water) where
resident mediums and priests concerned themselves with all kinds of fertility
for an entire region. Such territorial cults existed throughout the area from
southern Tanzania to northern Transvaal. Their ancient shrines were often
centres of con¬‚ict and innovation when immigrant rulers sought to establish
authority. Tradition claims, for example, that when the Maravi chief known
as Lundu took control of the Shire Valley during the late sixteenth century he
killed Mbona, the rain priest at an ancient shrine, and sought to replace it by an
of¬cial cult centre, only for the martyred Mbona to become its central ¬gure
and exercise religious authority throughout the region. The Dzivaguru rain-
shrine on the northeastern edge of the Zimbabwe plateau was incorporated
into the Munhumutapa™s kingdom during the ¬fteenth century, but the new
ruler™s anxiety to ˜make peace with the land™ enabled the rainmaker to become
the kingdom™s chief priest, while a cult of¬cer became responsible for installing
each new king. Dzivaguru (probably a personi¬cation of the Zambezi) joined
royal ancestors in an of¬cial spirit mediumship cult of a type described by a
seventeenth-century Portuguese missionary:
126 africans: the history of a continent



[The medium] begins to cough and speak like the dead king whom he rep-
resents, in such a manner that it seems to be his very self, both in voice and
movements. . . . Then all withdraw, leaving the king alone with the demoniac,
with whom he converses amicably as if with his dead father, asking him if
there will be war, and if he will triumph over his enemies, and if there will be
famine or misfortunes in his kingdom, and everything else which he wishes
to know.30

Spirit mediumship was also the core of the dominant religious system in the
Great Lakes region, known as the chwezi, lubaale, or kubandwa cult. It probably
originated in the early Bantu chiefdoms, where it was associated with ironwork-
ing and centred on ritual sites where mediums were possessed by dei¬ed natural
phenomena such as Mukasa, the god of Lake Victoria. When pastoralists gained
power in the region, a complex and obscure chain reaction took place by which
both earlier rulers and heroes of resistance were incorporated into the possess-
ing pantheon, which itself was transformed into a probably mythical dynasty of
former kings known as the Bachwezi. The cult offered remedies for af¬‚iction,
especially among women, either by consultation with a medium, as in Buganda,
or by initiation into the cult and participation in its rituals, as became almost
universal in Burundi. Although mediums and priests might sustain resistance
to immigrant rulers, the two powers generally learned to coexist. In Rwanda, for
example, kings patronised the cult, appointed its head, and channelled protest
into a harmless millenarianism, just as they appropriated all other spiritual
forces in that very authoritarian state. Elsewhere, too, political rulers sought
religious control. The Luba, Lunda, Kazembe, Lozi, and Bemba kingdoms of
Central Africa all had state cults centred on royal graves. Yet religion was hard
to monopolise. When the state cult offered inadequate remedies for af¬‚iction,
Bemba commoners turned to a revitalised cult of possession by ancestral and
nature spirits. In countering af¬‚iction, moreover, Eastern Bantu appear to have
shared an ancestral tradition known as ngoma, by which sufferers were ritu-
ally integrated into a supportive cult group within which the spirit causing
the af¬‚iction could communicate through dance and music. It illustrated the
cultural centrality of health in Africa.


the cape colony under the dutch
In 1652 the ¬rst Dutch colonists landed at the Cape of Good Hope. African cul-
tivators had left this winter-rainfall region to the ¬fty thousand or so Khoikhoi
pastoralists of the southwestern Cape and the San forager-hunters of the moun-
tains and deserts enclosing it to the north and east. Place-names suggest that
in the ¬rst millennium ad Khoikhoi may also have ranged to the southeastern
coast in modern Transkei, while San hunted throughout southern Africa, but
Colonisation in eastern and southern Africa 127


expanding Bantu cultivators and cattlemen had subsequently con¬ned them to
smaller areas. Khoikhoi moved with their herds in a transhumant pattern taking
advantage of winter and summer rains. They belonged to kinship groups that
practised feud and cattle-raiding. Some recognised chiefs whose frail authority
rested on heredity and wealth. Marked inequalities in cattle-ownership were
partially compensated by clientage, which also embraced some San groups at
certain seasons. Archaeological sites show that the two peoples were distinct,
although individuals could presumably move from one to the other. Indeed,
Khoikhoi called their own destitutes San. Alongside clientage and symbiosis,
there was much con¬‚ict between the two peoples, especially over cattle.
Relations betwen Khoisan and their Bantu neighbours to the east were also
complex. The two peoples were extensively interbred, for over half of Tswana
gene components are today of Khoisan origin and one-sixth of Xhosa words
contain Khoisan ˜clicks™.31 Khoikhoi pastoralism was more vulnerable to natural
disaster than the Bantu mixed economy, so that Khoikhoi gradually drifted into
Bantu (especially Xhosa) groups or dependency upon them. But there was also
much violence between peoples sharing an insatiable cupidity for cattle. ˜Xhosa™
is probably a Khoikhoi word meaning ˜angry men™. Relations between San and
Bantu were even worse, as is suggested by the many rock-paintings of ¬ghting
between them. There was also a more peaceful exchange of goods and rain-
making and medical skills, but by the seventeenth century the absorption or
extirpation of the San was well advanced in southeastern Africa, although not
yet in the southwest.
Khoikhoi ¬rst established relations with Europeans. Initially these were hos-
tile, but by the late sixteenth century Khoikhoi were trading regularly with
European ships, exchanging sheep and cattle for iron, copper, and brass with
which they procured further livestock from inland peoples. They probably
expected the Dutch who arrived in 1652 to be as transient as previous Euro-
peans. The East India Company™s aims were indeed modest: to prevent any
other European power from occupying the strategic Cape and to erect a fort
where Dutch ships could secure vegetables, meat, water, and medical treat-
ment. But intensive market-gardening on Dutch lines was impracticable at the
Cape. In 1657, therefore, the Company permitted some employees to become
free settlers. Two years later Khoikhoi drove them from their farms, ˜for no
other reason than because they saw that we were breaking up the best land and
grass, where their cattle were accustomed to graze, trying to establish ourselves
every where, with houses and farms, as if we were never more to remove, but
designed to take, for our permanent occupation, more and more of this Cape
country.™32 Horses and guns prevailed, Khoikhoi in the immediate vicinity were
weakened, and the Dutch began to trade directly with the main Khoikhoi group
in the interior, the Cochoqua. Here too expansion provoked friction and the
Dutch deliberately destroyed Cochoqua power in 1673“7. Dispossessed groups
128 africans: the history of a continent



sought to recoup from other Khoikhoi, spreading warfare further inland. By the
1720s, independent Khoikhoi groups survived only on the eastern and north-
ern fringes of the colony or further in the interior, where Korana, Namaqua,
and Griqua refugees were to retreat. Appropriation of land, cattle, and
water-sources had destroyed the vulnerable Khoikhoi economy and driven
them into dependence. Perhaps a majority of those in the western Cape were in
European employment in 1713. The smallpox epidemic of that year was a ¬nal
blow, but by then Khoikhoi society was already disintegrating.
Realising that a sparse pastoral population could not supply adequate labour,
the Dutch imported the ¬rst substantial number of slaves in 1658. In 1711 the
colony had 1,771 privately owned slaves; in 1793 it had 14,747. At each date they
roughly equalled the number of free people (excluding Khoisan), but since
between 60 and 70 percent of slaves were adult males, slave men outnumbered
free men by at least two to one. Initially many slaves came from India and
Indonesia. Madagascar was an important supplier throughout, while in the later
eighteenth century the largest source was Mozambique. Because the colony™s
economy was simple, most slaves were either domestic servants in Cape Town or
farm labourers. The pastoral frontier, colonised during the eighteenth century,
employed few slaves. The main crop was wheat, overtaken in export ¬gures
after 1780 by wine. Although a small minority of larger farmers, the ˜Cape
gentry™, dominated settler society, only one farmer ever admitted owning over
one hundred slaves, a small number by African or American standards, whereas
in 1750 half of all white men owned at least one slave, an exceptionally high
proportion, which gave the master class much solidarity.
The Cape Colony was one of the most rigid and oppressive slave societies in
history. Because slaves were imported from long distances, they were expensive;
the average price in the mid-eighteenth century, about £40, was perhaps ten
times that normal in Zanzibar a century later. Slaves were therefore treated
purely as labourers, rather than dependents or political supporters, and were
worked as hard and pro¬tably as in the Americas. For this reason, and also
because slaves and masters had no common culture, few slaves gained freedom:
the proportion manumitted each year between 1715 and 1791, 0.165 percent of
the slave force, was only one-sixth of the rate in colonial Brazil. Moreover, of
identi¬able manumitted slaves, 57 percent were born locally and 41 percent in
Asia; most of those freed by private owners were females, suggesting either a
sexual relationship or close personal service. In contrast to Islamic slave law,
the children of free men by slave women became slaves. Consequently the
Cape™s free black community, concentrated in Cape Town, numbered only 4
percent of all slaves, freedmen, and their descendants in 1770. As in all slave
societies, masters adopted a paternalistic attitude towards slaves and sought
to restrain cruel owners, as did the Company through its legal system. But
the incentives by which North American masters exercised much control were
Colonisation in eastern and southern Africa 129


less effective at the Cape because few skilled occupations were available and the
sexual imbalance among slaves “ four to six times as many men as women “ gen-
erally ruled out marriage and family life, such slave families as existed normally
being matrifocal. Slave culture was therefore impoverished. The lingua franca
was a creolised Portuguese or a simpli¬ed Dutch that probably contributed
much to Afrikaans. Masters seldom attempted to convert or educate slaves,
among whom the most potent cultural force was probably the Islam that Asian
slaves propagated within Cape Town. Where paternalism was weak and man-
umission rare, control of slaves rested heavily on coercion, especially because
masters were outnumbered and geographically dispersed. Seventeenth-century
Dutch law was brutal to Dutchmen; to slaves it was unspeakably cruel. Indi-
vidual resistance was common, through violence, crime, obstruction, and even
suicide. But there was no signi¬cant revolt until the nineteenth century, per-
haps partly because slaves were dispersed and heterogeneous, partly because it
was relatively easy to attempt escape, although more dif¬cult to succeed, for
Khoikhoi often killed or returned escaped slaves, perhaps fearing enslavement
themselves.
The initial Dutch colony was not spatially segregated by race, nor did it
prohibit sexual relations between races. Slaves commonly slept in their masters™
houses, nearly half the company™s slave children in 1685 had European fathers,
the governor from 1679 to 1699 was partly Indonesian by ancestry, and a careful
study has estimated that in 1807 some 7 percent of the emerging Afrikaner
people™s gene pool was of nonwhite origin.33 Yet the Dutch brought with them
a strong sense of cultural hierarchy. White miscegenation was either with Asian
or mixed-race women in Cape Town or with Khoikhoi women on the frontier.
In either case, nonwhite wives were not allowed into Holland. The main area of
slave estates, Stellenbosch, did not record a single obviously interracial marriage
during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, one of many indications that
racialism was most pronounced where slavery was most common. Slaves were
themselves strati¬ed by colour. Among those in the Company™s slave lodge
in Cape Town, supervisors and artisans were generally of mixed race, while
Indonesians or Africans did unskilled work, the worst jobs going to people
from Mozambique. Racial divisions sharpened during the eighteenth century,
but there was no fully articulated racial categorisation. Flexibility survived at the
margins, where wealth, culture, occupation, and legitimacy of birth could affect
status, especially in Cape Town and on the frontier. One important criterion
was ability to avoid manual labour. ˜No matter how poor a [free] person is,™
the authorities reported in 1717, ˜he will not accustom himself to perform the
work of slaves.™ A black, rightless labour force was the Dutch regime™s lasting
legacy to South Africa.
Like generations of Africans, poor white people avoided manual employ-
ment by others chie¬‚y by dispersing from their population concentration
130 africans: the history of a continent



around Cape Town to become pioneers, pastoralists who carried the fron-
tier forward more than eight hundred kilometres during the eighteenth cen-
tury, relying on ox-wagons whose suspension could operate without roads,
thus overcoming the chief obstacle to wheeled vehicles. These Trekboers ¬rst
expanded northwards, receiving from the company ˜loan farms™ averaging
between twenty-four hundred and four thousand hectares at nominal rents.
Pastoralism on this land required little capital, especially when the livestock
were traded or looted from Khoikhoi by the bands of mounted gunmen called
commandos, ¬rst employed in 1715. By the 1770s, the Trekboers had reached
more arid country and faced opposition chie¬‚y from San (including many
dispossessed Khoikhoi), a formidable enemy rendered desperate as ¬rearms
destroyed the game. From 1770 to 1800, San checked further expansion north-
wards, while commandos made increasingly brutal forays against them, expe-
ditions in 1785“95 alone killing 2,504 San and taking 699 captives, even on
the minimal of¬cial ¬gures. Meanwhile expansion turned eastwards, skirting
the arid Karoo and entering the better-watered land west of the Great Fish
River, which now became the colony™s growth point. At the end of the century,
the average frontier family had between ten and fourteen dependent labour-
ers, mostly Khoikhoi herdsmen who were often small stock-owners in their
own right. Patronage over these dependents in the African manner, sometimes
institutionalised in stock-loans, was the Trekboers™ chief means of domination,
along with possession of guns and horses and the conviction of superiority,
which they drew from a folk-Christianity far removed from orthodox Calvin-
ism. Racial awareness grew in the late eighteenth century as population built
up on the frontier and competition for resources grew. Trekboers increasingly
thought of themselves as Afrikaners, a term used loosely to distinguish those
born in the colony from European-born of¬cials, whose declining authority
and refusal to support Trekboer ambitions led to minor frontier revolts in 1795,
1799, and 1801.
Trekboer grievances arose chie¬‚y from their entry during the 1770s into the
Zuurveld west of the Great Fish, where they ¬rst competed for cattle, pasture,
and water with Bantu-speaking Xhosa who were pressing westwards. Xhosa,
too, became more assertive at this time as their western frontier wing, the
Rharhabe, struggled to assert leadership of the whole nation. Trekboers and
Xhosa fought three frontier wars between 1779 and 1799 and were still in con¬‚ict
when the British supplanted the Dutch regime at the Cape in 1806. During the
third frontier war, in 1799“1803, Xhosa were joined by rebel Khoikhoi from
white farms determined to reclaim the ˜country of which our fathers have been
despoiled™. Their failure set the course for nineteenth-century southern Africa.
7

The Atlantic slave trade




a h i s to ry o f a f r i c a m u s t g i ve a ce n t r a l p l ace to t h e
Atlantic slave trade, both for its moral and emotional signi¬cance and for its
potential importance in shaping the continent™s development. The view taken
here is that its effects were extensive, complex, and understandable only in
light of the character that African societies had already taken during their long
struggle with nature. At the least, slave exports interrupted western Africa™s
demographic growth for two centuries. The trade stimulated new forms of
political and social organisation, wider use of slaves within the continent, and
more brutal attitudes towards suffering. Sub-Saharan Africa already lagged
technologically, but the Atlantic trade helped to accentuate its backwardness.
Yet amidst this misery, it is vital to remember that Africans survived the slave
trade with their political independence and social institutions largely intact.
Paradoxically, this shameful period also displayed human resilience at its most
courageous. The splendour of Africa lay in its suffering.


origins and growth
The Atlantic slave trade began in 1441 when a young Portuguese sea-captain,
Antam Goncalvez, kidnapped a man and woman on the Western Saharan coast
¸
to please his employer, Prince Henry the Navigator “ successfully, for Goncalvez
¸
was knighted. Four years later, the Portuguese built a fort on Arguin Island, off
the Mauritanian coast, from which to purchase slaves and, more particularly,
gold, which was especially scarce at this time. After failing in 1415 to capture the
gold trade by occupying Ceuta on the Moroccan coast, Portuguese mariners
groped down the West African coast towards the gold sources. Arguin was
designed to lure gold caravans away from the journey to Morocco. Yet slaves
were not merely by-products, for a lively market in African slaves had existed
since the mid-fourteenth century in southern Europe, where labour was scarce
after the Black Death and slavery had survived since Roman times in domestic
service and pockets of intensive agriculture, especially the production of sugar,
which Europeans had learned from Muslims during the Crusades. As sugar
plantations spread westwards through the Mediterranean to Atlantic islands

131
132 africans: the history of a continent




8. The Atlantic slave trade.
Atlantic slave trade 133


like Madeira and eventually to the Americas, they depended increasingly on
slave labour. The Atlantic slave trade was largely a response to their demand.
Yet the trade depended also on Africans being willing to sell slaves. They
did so because underpopulation, with the consequent dif¬culty of com-
manding labour by purely economic means, had already stimulated slavery
and slave-trading among many, but not all, African peoples. At Arguin the
Portuguese traded with Moors, long-established suppliers to the Saharan slave
trade. When the Portuguese edged southwards to the River Senegal in 1444,
they found the people equally integrated into the northern trade. ˜The King™, a
chronicler wrote, ˜supports himself by raids, which result in many slaves from
his own as well as neighbouring countries. He employs these slaves . . . in cul-
tivating the land . . . but he also sells many to the [Moors] . . . in return for
horses and other goods.™1 Wolof cavalrymen paid the Portuguese between nine
and fourteen slaves for each horse. Further south along the coast, however,
the Portuguese encountered peoples without powerful chiefs or experience of
slavery. The Baga of modern Guinea, for example, refused to participate in
the slave trade throughout its history. Like the Kru of modern Liberia and
several neighbouring stateless peoples, they resisted enslavement with fero-
cious courage and, if captured, were so liable to kill their masters or themselves
that Europeans stopped enslaving Kru. A disproportionate number of slaves in
the Americas who escaped to create ˜maroon™ communities came from stateless
societies.
West African slavery was not con¬ned to the Islamic peoples of the savanna.
There was also lineage slavery, where dependents became subordinate members
of descent groups. The Portuguese discovered this when they reached the Akan
peoples of the Gold Coast, probably in 1471. Here, at last, they out¬‚anked the
Saharan trade and gained access to West Africa™s main gold supplies. Here, at El
Mina (The Mine) in 1482, they built the ¬rst European fortress in tropical Africa.
Eventually they probably captured about half of West Africa™s gold exports. The
gold provided about a quarter of the Portuguese Crown™s revenue in 1506. That
proportion soon declined, but it was not until about 1700 that slaves replaced
gold as the West African coast™s most valuable export. Portugal™s problem on
the Gold Coast was how to pay for gold. Horses could not live there. Initially the
Portuguese sold ¬rearms, which were eagerly accepted, but the Pope banned
them lest they reached hostile Muslims. So the Portuguese sold cloth (mainly
from elsewhere in Africa), metals (from Europe) “ and slaves. Akan already
bought northern slaves with gold. Between 1500 and 1535 they bought between
ten thousand and twelve thousand slaves from the Portuguese, using them to
carry other imports inland and especially to clear forest for agriculture, their
dominant concern. The Portuguese initially brought some slaves from Benin,
which was expanding militarily and had captives to sell, but in 1516 Benin ceased
to export male slaves, fearing to lose manpower. Thereafter most slaves sold to
134 africans: the history of a continent



Akan apparently came from the Niger Delta and Igbo country to the east. As in
Asia, the Portuguese became maritime middlemen in a network of indigenous
exchanges.
The early Portuguese discovered one other especially valuable trading part-
ner. In 1482 the King of Kongo learned that unprecedented sea-creatures had
been seen off the Congo estuary. Their Portuguese sailors soon established
mutually advantageous relations with the kingdom™s immigrant rulers, whose
uncertain authority rested partly on the concentration of slaves around their
capital. Here, as among the Wolof, the slave trade became a business in which
rulers and subjects had sharply divergent interests. Eager for new resources and
outside support, the King of Kongo accepted baptism, while his son, Afonso
Mbemba Nzinga, who usurped the throne in 1506, committed himself fully to
Christianity and adopted Portuguese dress, titles, etiquette, technology, and
literacy. This strategy prospered for a decade before crisis ensued. From 1500
the Portuguese created sugar plantations on the island of S˜o Tom´ , off the
a e
coast of modern Gabon, using Kongo as their source of labour. In 1526, when
the kingdom was exporting two thousand to three thousand slaves each year,
Afonso complained to his Portuguese counterpart:

Many of our subjects eagerly covet Portuguese merchandise, which your peo-
ple bring into our kingdoms. To satisfy this disordered appetite, they seize
numbers of our free or freed black subjects, and even nobles, sons of nobles,
even the members of our own family. They sell them to the white people. . . .
This corruption and depravity is so widespread that our land is entirely depop-
ulated by it. . . . It is in fact our wish that this kingdom should be a place neither
of trade nor of transit for slaves.2

The King of Portugal replied that Kongo had nothing else to sell. Afonso did
not stop the trade, but he limited and regulated it. His kingdom expanded and
survived until the mid-seventeenth century. The Portuguese looked elsewhere
ˆ
for slaves, ultimately in 1576 creating a new entrepot at Luanda, which became
a base for direct European conquest and slave-raiding.
Luanda™s foundation was a response to a new phase in the slave trade. The
¬rst West African slaves went mainly to Portugal, then to Madeira, and then
to S˜o Tom´ . Direct shipments from Africa to the Americas began in 1519.
a e
As European and African diseases destroyed the Amerindian peoples, African
slaves replaced them, because Africans alone were available in the required
numbers, they had the unique degree of immunity to both European and
African diseases that came from living on the tropical periphery of the Old
World, and their relatively narrow moral communities made Africans willing
to enslave and sell those outside their own groups, whereas Europeans were no
longer prepared to enslave one another. By the late sixteenth century, nearly
Atlantic slave trade 135


Table 7.1. Slave Departures from Africa to
the Atlantic by Centuries, 1519“1867

1519“1600 266,000
1601 “1700 1,252,800
1701 “1800 6,096,200
1801 “1867 3,446,800
Total 11,061,800

Source: D. Eltis, ˜The volume and structure of
the transatlantic slave trade: a reassessment™,
William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, 58
(2001), 44.


80 percent of all exported West African slaves went to the Americas, especially
to Brazil, where plantation sugar took root during the 1550s.
The numbers were still relatively small: about three thousand to four thou-
sand a year, on average, during the last eighty years of the sixteenth century.
These ¬gures come from an exhaustive study, made during the 1990s, of the
records of 27,233 slaving voyages between 1519 and 1867, about 70 percent of
all such voyages, with an estimate added for those not recorded. As Table 7.1
shows, the relatively small trade of the sixteenth century accelerated during
the seventeenth, peaked during the eighteenth “ the largest number of slaves
leaving Africa in any quarter century was 1,921,100 between 1776 and 1800 “
and then declined slowly during the nineteenth century. The most important
change took place during the mid-seventeenth century. Until then not more
than ten thousand slaves had been exported each year, mainly by the Portuguese
to Brazil. But in 1630 the Dutch conquered northern Brazil, in 1637 they took El
Mina, and in 1641 they brie¬‚y occupied Luanda, destroying Portugal™s position
on the West African coast. From the 1640s, the Dutch supplied many slaves
at low prices to new sugar plantations in the British colony of Barbados and
the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. This attracted
British and French traders who gradually supplanted the Dutch, ¬rst through
chartered companies “ the Royal African Company was chartered in 1672 “
and then in the eighteenth century through private merchants based chie¬‚y
in Liverpool and Nantes. The initial Caribbean sugar islands were overtaken
by Jamaica, the major British slave colony, and especially by the French colony
of Saint-Domingue (Haiti), which imported nearly a million slaves during the
eighteenth century and was the scene, in 1791, of the only successful major
slave revolt in human history. In all, 49 percent of exported slaves went to the
Caribbean, 41 percent to Brazil, and fewer than 4 percent to North America,
largely because it was further from Africa. The selling price of slaves in the
Caribbean rose by 150 percent during the eighteenth century and the share of
the price going to West African merchants increased from 25 to 50 percent.3
136 africans: the history of a continent



Expressed in terms of imported manufactures, cheapened by advances in Euro-
pean industry, the returns to African slave traders improved dramatically. A
slave worth two linen cloths in Dahomey in 1674 fetched seventy cloths in 1750.4
The sources of slaves changed over time. The ¬rst came chie¬‚y from
Senegambia, the Upper Guinea Coast (from modern Guinea-Bissau to Liberia),
and West-Central Africa (chie¬‚y Kongo and Angola), which remained a major
supplier throughout the trade and provided 44 percent of all slaves exported.
The growth points of the mid-seventeenth century were the Gold Coast and the
Bight of Benin (including the Dahomey and Yoruba kingdoms). Eighteenth-
century expansion areas were the Bight of Biafra (especially the Niger Delta)
and Mozambique.
Plantations needed young men. ˜In slaving our ships,™ the Royal African
Company told its agents, ˜alwayes observe that the negroes be well-liking and
healthy from the age of 15 years not exceeding 40; and at least two 3rds. men
slaves.™ The instructions regarding gender were followed: 63 percent of slaves
arriving in the Caribbean during the eighteenth century were males, who gen-
erally cost 20 or 30 percent more than females on the West African coast. Since
African societies and the Saharan trade both preferred female slaves, the various
branches were complementary. But European merchants probably took more
children (aged under 15) than they wanted: 21 percent of those reaching the
eighteenth-century Caribbean.5 One reason was European legislation allowing
more children than adults to be packed into a ship.


operation and experience
The best way to understand the slave trade is to follow a victim from his (or
her) place of enslavement in the West African interior to his arrival in America.
We know least about initial enslavement, but a mid-nineteenth century mis-
sionary in Sierra Leone, Sigismund Koelle, asked 177 freed male slaves (but
only 2 women, who must be omitted) to describe their enslavement.6 Of these,
34 percent said they had been ˜taken in war™, either as by-products of warfare
between polities or as captives in large-scale slave raids, chie¬‚y the great annual
raids that savanna horsemen launched against agricultural peoples. Koelle did
not mention captives made by rulers raiding their own subjects, as was com-
mon in seventeenth-century Kongo and some other regions, but 30 percent of
his informants had been kidnapped, especially among Igbo and other stateless
forest peoples. Eighteenth-century Igbo went to farm carrying their weapons
and leaving the village children in a locked and guarded stockade. Another
11 percent claimed to have been enslaved by judicial process, chie¬‚y on charges
of adultery, suggesting that senior men used the law to rid themselves of younger
competitors. ˜Since this Slave-Trade has been us™d,™ the perceptive slave-trader
Francis Moore wrote of the Gambia in the 1730s, ˜all Punishments are chang™d
Atlantic slave trade 137


into Slavery; there being an Advantage of such Condemnations, they strain for
Crimes very hard, in order to get the Bene¬t of selling the Criminal.™7 Two men
told Koelle they had been enslaved because their kinsmen had been convicted
of witchcraft. The weak were especially vulnerable. Some 30 percent of Koelle™s
informants had already been slaves of Africans; European traders preferred
these as supposedly tougher and less prone to escape. Orphans, widows, poor
relations, the idle, the feckless, and the feebleminded were all likely to end
in slavery. So were those who de¬ed the powerful. One man ˜was sold by a
war-chief, because he refused to give him his wife.™ Seven percent had been
sold to pay debts, mostly family debts rather than their own. None said he had
enslaved himself during famine, but it was common, for slave exports peaked
during famines and one ship obtained a full cargo merely by offering food.
The slave, then, had been captured, kidnapped, convicted, or otherwise
deprived of freedom. A fundamental principle of the slave trade now came
into operation. Slaves were a perishable commodity. Pro¬t depended on sell-
ing them before they died or, in the case of new slaves still close to home, before
they escaped. The traders who bought new slaves and transported them to
commercial centres might be small men who added occasional human beings
to their stocks of cloth or cattle. One kidnapped Igbo girl was sold six times
in less than two hundred kilometres. Generally, however, as a knowledgeable
French merchant observed, slaves, as a valuable and risky commodity, were
˜the business of kings, rich men, and prime merchants, exclusive of the inferior
sort of Blacks.™ Prime merchants included the Soninke who transported slaves
captured in cavalry raids to the coast of Senegambia or Guinea: ˜In front, ¬ve
or six singing men, all of them belonging to the cof¬‚e; these were followed by
the other free people; then came the slaves, fastened in the usual way by a rope
round their necks, four of them to a rope, and a man with a spear between
each four; after them came the domestic slaves, and in the rear the women
of free condition.™8 Further south, three trading groups became famous. Aro
traded between Igboland and the Niger Delta, exploiting especially an oracle at
Arochukwu near the Cross River which was said to ˜eat™ those whom it convicted
of witchcraft or other offences; in reality they were sold down the river. Bobangi
canoemen and traders ranged the seventeen hundred kilometres of the cen-
tral Congo River, transporting slaves to the Vili traders of Loango in modern
Gabon. Afro-Portuguese frontiersmen in Angola led caravans deep into the
interior, whereas elsewhere the inland trade was an African monopoly, except
along the Senegal and Gambia Rivers. Alongside these prime merchants, rulers
also engaged directly in the trade, although as privileged exporters rather than
monopolists. Even Asante and Dahomey, the most authoritarian eighteenth-
century trading states, operated mixed economies in which chiefs and pri-

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