Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The land of South Africa was what first drew colonists to the area as it was full of “watercourses and shorelines.” (1) It gave opportunity for “growth of pastoralism and….fostering large scale polities.” (2) Though the area pulled settlers, they kept themselves in small groups and avoided larger political and social units. As the years went by, trade expanded as evidence shows “beads imported from the Indian Ocean coast.” (3) These trading venues only grew as archeology has found later periods with larger amounts. Along with the beads were “scraps of ivory that suggest … prosperity.” (3) Even around the first millennium there were signs of use of gold which was abundant in the region. As more of the tribes began to expand, they began to speak each other’s language which meant a less defined individualism between the tribes. They were not as ‘alone’ as they had originally been. It was the expansion of the Leopard’s Kopje people that would push the colonists to a new level with expansion of social and economic interactions while preserving “much of [the] previous local cultures.” (4) The way of everyday life stayed the same while politics took a new turn by “exploiting international trade in gold” which expanded other productions such as cloth and established “a political state [that was] no longer subject to the repeated segmentation that had restricted the scale of previous chiefdoms.” (5) It is easy to see how the control of gold would give power to any chiefdom so it could “outstrip rivals and become the centre of an extensive culture.” (6) Gold opened the doors of South Africa to the rest of the world. Evidence of trade with China, Persia and Arabic countries have been found though there is no archeological evidence that these nations had communities in the African culture. (7) It was gold that changed Africa’s development and how it tied in with the rest of the world. Once Europe knew of the vast amounts of gold, they began moving in and capturing cities and chiefdoms in an attempt to control the gold trade. (8)
(1) John Iliffe. Africans: The History of a Continent. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 101.
(3) Ibid, 103.
(4) Ibid, 104.
(7) Ibid, 105.
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