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Periodical issue Periodical issue Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Special issue: Rethinking South Africa's past: essays in history and archaeology
Editors:Delius, Peter
Marks, ShulaISNI
Periodical:Journal of Southern African Studies (ISSN 1465-3893)
Geographic term:South Africa
Subjects:social history
precolonial period
External link:https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cjss20/38/2
Abstract:The essays in this special issue reflect the recent revival of interest in late precolonial history in southern African studies, and a renewed dialogue between historians and archaeologists. A central theme is that ethnic identities - whether among hunter-gatherer/herding people or Bantu-speakers, or shared between them - are not nearly as clear cut as earlier literature would have us believe, as discussed in the contributions of Karim Sadr on the stone-building of Later Stone Age people, hitherto generally ascribed to Bantu-speakers, and that of Sam Challis on the 'creolisation' of the Amatola 'Bushmen'. Similar issues of identity and cultural hybridity lie at the heart of the triad of articles 'written in tandem' by Simon Hall and Carolyn Hamilton. Hamilton analyses questions of identity and culture in the social and political life of the Zulu kingdom as 'processes in the making', and looks at the way in which what is regarded as 'evidence' shapes key analytical concepts. Using archaeological and oral evidence from the large-scale settlements in the Rustenberg-Zeerust region, Hall examines continuity and change in the identities of people with both 'Nguni' and 'Tswana' cultural inheritances. The renewed dialogue between historians and archaeologists has inevitably raised questions about the available sources, how they become part of an archive, the possibilities for cross fertilization and what other sources can be drawn on for the period prior to 1880. Amanda Esterhuysen provides an example of the benefit that accrues from considering in tandem forms of evidence which often fall into distinct archaeological and historical disciplinary domains. A number of the other contributors reflect on the potential and pitfalls of oral history. Jeff Peires argues that the process of deconstructing and contextualizing traditions should not drown out the messages that they carry from the past, nor should oral sources be conflated with oral traditions which have stabilised over time, and become generally accepted within a given community. In reassessing all the evidence for the career of Rharhabe (ca. 1715 - ca. 1782), the Right-Hand Son of King Phalo, he revisits the chronology and westward movements of the Xhosa from the seventeenth century, and the nature of political authority, the State and social identities among the southern Nguni. John Wright looks at the body of published work produced by the elusive Trappist missionary, Father A.T. Bryant, in KwaZulu-Natal. Kirsten Rüther interrogates mission archives, pointing to the processes and assumptions that structure and colour this material. Fred Morton's examination of the development of the 'mephato' age-based military units amongst Tswana chiefdoms illustrates the importance of exploring issues seen to be critical to early nineteenth-century social and political development in greater time depth and geographical reach. The final article, by Peter Delius, Tim Maggs and Maria Schoeman, on the stone-walled terraces and cattle paths on the Mpumulanga escarpment, attributed in oral sources to the 'Bakoni', sums up the achievements to date of the interdisciplinary and inter-institutional initiative launched in 2007 to rethink the last five hundred years of South African history. [ASC Leiden abstract]