People Of The Second Millennium Venda Origins

Around 1300, Mapungubwe leaders and their followers established themselves on the northern side of the Soutpansberg range. The mountains are rich in metal ores, good soils and pasture, and at that time would have harboured abundant game, particularly elephant. These resources clearly attracted Mapungubwe people, who remained there after the collapse of the Mapungubwe state. Related Kalundu Tradition people lived to the south of the mountains. There is archaeological evidence of interaction between north and south, but the mountains functioned as a relatively rigid ethnic and economic boundary separating the Mapungubwe elite from communities on the southern slopes. The sharpness of this boundary was maintained after early Sotho-Tswana people settled in the south in about 1350 where they seem to have absorbed the established Kalundu people after a fairly brief period.

Khami-style stonewalled palaces were built in the Soutpansberg from 1450. These sites could represent an expansion southwards of the Khami state, or Khami leaders seeking independence from the main Khami state. Whatever the case, the area fell under the control of Khami dynasties, which replaced the Mapungubwe elite. The Khami leaders re-established links with Indian Ocean traders (See The Indian Ocean trading system), exporting ivory, gold and copper. The mountain boundary between Shona and Sotho became more permeable as Sotho speakers participated increasingly in the trade, and Sotho sites were established on the northern side. This interaction must have included marriage between Kalanga and Sotho speakers, and in the 1500s it resulted in a merged Kalanga/Sotho ceramic style called Tavhatshena. This style marks the emergence of the Venda language: linguistically, Venda has a Kalanga-like grammar and phonology and a Sotho-like vocabulary. Interestingly, Venda emerged on ‘commoner’ Sotho sites, but the distribution of the Venda pottery style shows that it was widelyspoken in the Soutpansberg by 1650.

The Khami area in southwest Zimbabwe suffered a civil war in the mid-1600s out of which several smaller scale leaders emerged. The famous Rozwi leader Changamire Dombolakonachingwango conquered and reunited them in about 1680. Following a succession dispute after his death in the 1690s, the Singo split from the Rozwi and invaded and unified Venda polities in the Soutpansberg. They established a capital at Dzata, built of dark blue stone, and became Venda by adopting the language of their conquered subjects. The Singo maintained the external trade, but changing dynamics within the external trade routes from around 1700 gradually reduced Singo control of the east coast trade. In particular, the growing importance of Delagoa Bay and Natal Bay as points of access to the interior allowed other people to control and exploit trade wealth. The result was the fragmentation of the Venda polity.

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