Butua and the end of an era. The effect of the collapse of the Kalanga State on ordinary citizens An analysis of behaviour under stress

by Van Waarden, Catharina, Ph.D., STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT BINGHAMTON, 2010, 998 pages; 3434590


The Kalanga state Butua, which had dominated the Zimbabwe plateau for four centuries, collapsed in the 1830s due to repeated difaqane invasions, and its population became subject to Ndebele invaders. This is a study of how the farming population coped with the stresses brought by these events and how this is manifest in the archaeological remains.

A model of group behaviour under stress suggests that with increasing stress, group solidarity at first increases, but later decreases. A series of hypotheses based on this model guides the study.

Part A—"Butua" is a reconstruction of the state based on oral and documentary evidence and archaeological research in Botswana. This reviews information from the capitals Khami and Danang'ombe and adds new evidence on elite sites with a case study of Selolwe, and on peasant sites of which Vumba is the focus. This portrays a well-organized, stable and prosperous state with clear class distinctions visible in architecture, material possessions, and differential access to beef. Calculations based on granary platforms establish that the farmers produced a substantial surplus with which they supported the elite.

Part B—"The end of an era" combines information from historical sources with archaeological evidence from two villages at Domboshaba to reconstruct events and conditions in northeastern Botswana during the turbulent 19th century. The comparison between these sites and the earlier village of Vumba confirms initially an increase in group solidarity, followed by a decrease, most obvious in an increased emphasis on communal hunting, followed by more individual hunting and snaring. The differences between the sites are in some respects not great, as they are all kin-based farming communities, which by nature already display strong group solidarity even in peaceful times.

Similarities between the sites, despite the passage of time and despite the circumstances, highlight the self-sufficient, stable and independent nature of these communities. Although the state structure and the elite disappeared, the farmer communities survived. This is an example of state collapse where the complex society disintegrated to the level of its building blocks, which were the kin-based farming communities.

AdviserSusan Pollock
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsArchaeology; African history; Social psychology; Political Science; South African studies; Social structure
Publication Number3434590

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