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Settlements, Landscapes and Identities among the Tswana of the Western Transvaal and Eastern Kalahari before 1820

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Document pages: 12 pages

Abstract: This paper suggests that our appreciation of Tswana history in the 17th and 18th centuries can be improved by taking into consideration the diverse types of landscape the many Tswana groups attached themselves to. Making the argument has required generating forms of corroborating evidence: plotting settlements derived from oral traditions; linking resettlement patterns to territory with overlays of terrain, soil and water resources; measuring likely territories controlled by individual groups; using archaeological studies and the observations of early 19th-century travellers to determine the relationship of settlements to water, agricultural and grazing resources, and finally, using totemic identities as a measure of mobility as related to landscape. There appears overall to be an east-to-west pattern of landscape resources that correlates with individual Tswana settlement options. From east to west, rainfall, water and soils decline in quantity and quality, leading to greater territory deployed to sustain agriculture and grazing, with the nature of settlements adapting accordingly. The larger the territory, the greater was the incentive for leaders to use force to control or expand it. The paper seeks to refute widely held assumptions that the pre-1800 Rustenburg area in the Transvaal was suffering from increasing violence and demonstrates that Hurutshe hegemony, such as it was, could not have extended much beyond the Swartruggens area to include Rustenburg-Pilanesberg. It suggests, however, that conflict was on the rise in the pre-1800 period among the Kalahari Tswana. It also supports the broadening of archaeological analysis through the use of oral traditions, language analysis, terrain analysis and other contextual approaches, as well as the application of geographical information systems software, to historicise the archaeological record. It suggests that some Tswana groups preferred to move periodically and build smaller and more sustainable settlements rather than attach themselves to mega-sites.

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