Coloniser or the Colonised? The Ndebele State in Zimbabwe in the 19th Century.

  • Author: Paul Hubbard
  • Topic: Younger than 500 BP,Historical archaeology
  • Country: Zimbabwe
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

The Ndebele people, under King Mzilikazi Khumalo, entered southwestern Zimbabwe in 1838. Unusually among the indigenous societies of southern Africa, the Ndebele were both colonisers and later became a colonised people. Theirs was a dynamic society, influenced by their contacts with many different ethnic groupings in the southern Africa. During their movements across the region, the Ndebele conquered, absorbed and/or assimilated several different ethnicities. This had a great impact on their material culture, seen by their shift from a purely Nguni society to a new and vibrant hybrid. In addition to their local contacts, the Ndebele came in to increasing contact with European explorers and traders who consequently introduced new elements of material culture. There is a need to study the impact of the Ndebele on the societies of the Zimbabwean plateau from their arrival and conquest, in 1838 to the end of the state in 1896. It is clear that the Ndebele people retained a distinctive cultural identity, even after conquering and assimilating other peoples and it is posited here that this is identifiable and recoverable from the archaeological record.

My study examines the changes in material, looking at acquisition and discard of various items, ranging from pots to house types, and explore the multiple motivations behind these alterations. What is clear is that there was a great deal of give and take, where the Ndebele both adopted various items of material culture from the people they ruled as well as the white settlers, traders and missionaries, but in turn, had
some influence on these societies. This paper will examine one facet of these changes, namely the house types and settlement pattern at one of the main Ndebele sites, the royal capital known as KoBulawayo. An archaeological survey and subsequent excavation has revealed the full extent and layout of the royal enclosure, thereby providing a holistic and more accurate ground plan, something unrecoverable from the historical records. Objects and artefacts were recovered that show the changing nature of Ndebele society at the time of occupation of KoBulawayo. This paper will discuss these changes and situate them within the broader transformations that Ndebele society experienced in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Back to search