The colonial irruption was a catastrophe for traditional African societies that obviously lacked the material resources to withstand the onslaught from phesheya (out there). Beings from beyond the sea must have appeared to eighteenth-century Africans much as beings from outer space would appear to us today. But outgunned and out-resourced though they were, African societies were possessed of a resilience based on intricate and coherent social, economic and cultural structures. They resisted for many years but continual defeats on the battlefield necessarily led to adaptation, accommodation and ultimately absorption into the emerging global society and culture.
This section will concentrate on the Xhosa experience because the Xhosa faced the Europeans for longer, and their experiences are well documented. However, it needs to be remembered that variations on the Xhosa experience occurred in every other part of South Africa.