Coping with Scarcity or Uncertainty? Grain Bins in the Matopo Hills, south-western Zimbabwe, 1896.

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

Grain-bins are a common presence in the Matobo Hills, a World Heritage Site in south-western Zimbabwe. They have often been regarded as modern features of little consequence in the wider history of the landscape and consequently, have been largely ignored, archaeologically speaking. New research has indicated that they played an important role in preserving food that sustained the fighters of the first liberation struggle in the Matopos in 1896. As such, they are an integral part of the history of the area and need to be studied, conserved and presented to the general public in a more intensive manner than is currently the case. The paper examines the construction and use of the grain bins, and evaluates their contribution to the Matopos local economy, before, during and after the 1896 war. In addition, I argue that the grain bins are an important indicator of cultural change and adaptation in the area reflecting the integration of disparate identities on the cusp of the twentieth century. When the war started, Ndebele traditional food storage methods were not insufficient for their sustained campaign of resistance and hence alternatives were sought. The construction of the grain bins in significant numbers, and their continued use in the area today, reveal one small aspect of how the local people merged during their mutual struggle against colonisation.

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