From small lineages to proto-states

How did societies that previously had lived in fairly small family-based communities, transform themselves into larger, more militarised, more centralised ‘states’?

Historians have tried to explain this by reference to the amabutho. These were originally work parties organised according to age, which rendered service to the chief. But by the late eighteenth century the need for Nguni-speaking communities to obtain more ivory for trade, and more land for cultivation, led to a reorganisation of the amabutho. Their size and range of duties were increased. The young men found themselves undertaking jobs such as hunting and herding on behalf of the chief and senior men. Later, towards the beginning of the nineteenth century, the amabutho seem to have taken on increased military duties. They were also brought much more closely under the control of their respective leaders. In the case of the Zulu the amabutho became a permanent feature of the kingdom centred at the royal household, and were recruited in agesets, rather than in regional communities, to offset local loyalties. Young women were similarly brought under chiefly control.

The female age-sets, or izigodlo, could be made to perform duties for the chief or could be given in marriage to powerful men in the chiefdom, thus ensuring their continued loyalty. These expanded powers allowed the ruling families to cement their control, and to offer economic security and protection which in turn attracted smaller or more threatened communities of individuals. In this way there was a centralisation of power and a growth in their size and administrative complexity.

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