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African Art  - Art Africain - Tribal Art -  菲洲艺术 - Afrikanische Kunst - Außereuropäische Kunst


Central and Southern African Tribal Art





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Southern African Tribal Migrations












In the Beginning





An animation showing the break-up of Pangaea into the current continents.


The southern super continent Gondwana, included most of the landmasses in today's southern hemisphere, Africa included. The animation shows the break-up of Gondwana into the current continents.



The oldest map of the African continent is Chinese and dates to 1389. It measures more than 17 square meters and was produced from silk. It is thought to be a copy of Da Ming Hun Yi Tu, showing a unique snapshot of a map sculpted into rock 20 or 30 years earlier of the Ming Empire.


The map clearly shows the shape of Africa, more than 100 years prior to European explorers and map-makers reaching the continent.




Azania is the name that has been applied to various parts of sub-Saharan Africa. In Roman times, and perhaps earlier, the name referred to a portion of the east African coast south of the "tip" of the Horn of Africa, extending south perhaps as far as modern Tanzania. In the late 20th century, the term was used in place of South Africa, by some opponents of the white-minority rule of that country.


First mention of the name Azania in a Southern African contex, appeared in the 1930's archaeological reports of excavations at Mapungubwe in the northern Transvaal. Skeletal remains were referred to as "ancient Azanian's", meaning they were probably Cushitic peoples who had filtered down the Rift Valley from Ethiopia and East Africa.



The San Bushman




The Bushmen, San, Basarwa, Kung or Khwe are indigenous people of the Kalahari Desert, which spans areas of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Angola.



Bushman were traditionally hunter-gatherers, part of the Khoisan group, and related to the traditionally pastoral Khoi Khoi.



According to Spencer Wells - Population Geneticist: Archaeological evidence suggests that these people have lived in southern Africa, as well as other areas of Africa, for at least 22,000 years and probably much longer. Genetic evidence suggests they are one of the oldest, if not the oldest, peoples in the world, a genetic Adam, from which all humans can ultimately trace their genetic heritage.


Southern African Bantu Migration


Sometime between the 2nd and 5th centuries, Bantu peoples from western Africa, who had been expanding across sub-Saharan Africa, crossed the Limpopo River, entering what is today South Africa.



Dr. Tim Maggs advises; Southern Mozambique, Swaziland and coastal Natal were populated by the 3rd or 4th centuries, confirmed by 100's of known archaeological sites. He advised that the present day Eastern Cape was inhabited in the 5th or 6th centuries. These people are referred to as Nguni, which include the Swazi, Xhosa, and Zulu nations. The people were of Bantu origin and the period is known as the early iron age.



The Native Races of South Africa
Tribal Migration Map - 1880 - George W. Stow, F.G.S., F.R.G.S

At the time, people in present day Natal did not inhabit the grasslands above 1500 meters, which only occurred in the 12th and 13th centuries. The large and relatively high central plateau is today known as the Highveld. Immigrants were predominantly of Bantu origin and referred to as Sotho-Tswana, which include the Basotho and Tswana nations.



The checkerboard section of this map demarcates Bantu migration.

The area to the west and southwest of the Highveld is known as the Northern and Western Capes. This vast region was inhabited by Khoi Khoi and San Bushmen, whose historic roots predate the Bantu in Southern Africa.



Mfecane - Lifaqane - Difaqane


19th Century Upheavals


Tragedy on a vast scale struck southern Africa in the early 1800's. The event was named the Mfecane "the crushing" by the Nguni and Difaqane "the scattering of tribes" by the Sotho-Tswana. Europeans called the catastrophe the "Wars of Calamity".  By 1825, two and half million starving, homeless people wandered about southern Africa looking for respite.




The Mfecane "Difaqane" - Tribal Migration between 1818 and 1935

The causes of the Mfecane were many. Starting in 1800, a long drought made southern Africa inhospitable. People moved in search of food and fought for meagre supplies, producing the Difaqane. The entire Sotho-Tswana region had fallen into a state of anarchy. One clan conquered the other, only to be defeated by another.

Shaka Zulu (1787 – 1828)


The Mfecane gave rise to Shaka Zulu. In less than two decades, a powerful Zulu empire arose from a typical Bantu decentralized pastoral society.


Shaka created a highly centralized, well organized nation-state, with a large and powerful standing army. Refugee groups escaping Chaka's anger, invaded the lands of present-day Botswana.


Sobhuza of the Swazi moved his people north from the Pongola River to present-day Swaziland and conquered the peoples living there. The marauding Hlubi and Ngwane created chaos as they tramped westward. The Basotho were pushed into the mountains where they were harassed by cannibals. Setting towns on fire, the Ndebele swept ahead of the Zulu Impi to settle in present day Zimbabwe, where they absorbed others and became the Matabele. On their way, they encountered King Thulare's Pedi empire, which was destroyed. They attacked the Mokololo to the northwest, who were Sotho-Tswana 's speakers from the south pushing north. Forced off their lands, many Nguni and Tswana peoples collided with the Voortrekkers moving from the south. The Xhosa expanded into Khoi-khoi lands. Some Khoi-khoi retreated into the Kalahari Desert. Others were killed or enslaved by the Voortrekkers. The Tlokoa marched from Natal leaving a path of destruction all the way to Botswana. They attacked the Fokeng forcing them west. The Fokeng marched north to the Zambezi River and beyond, where they raided destitute refugees. Vagrants from various Nguni and Sotho groups formed a new tribe, the Mfengu, which means 'beggar' in iziXhosa. By the time of Shaka's murder in 1828, no group of people were living on their original lands.  


Adding to this historic account, it should be remembered that this written history was recorded by Afrikaans and English speaking people, on or about their first contact with the inhabitants of the interior of South Africa. What they failed to consider or record when dating, defining and anointing "the" Mfecane - Lifaqane - Difaqane or Wars of Calamity, were that  droughts and tribal adventurism had been going from early times. The historic generalization of "the period", ignores any mention of Portuguese 16th century accounts of more or less the same shenanigans. No, we do not surmise that peace prevailed between the centuries it took the new arrivals to catch up with the earlier European adventures, nor do we have reason to believe tribal behaviour or natural weather patterns, were significantly different prior to the arrival of the Portuguese.



Southern African Language


Tribal Regions




       Afrikaans         Northern Sotho        Southern Sotho      Swati


     Tsonga            Tswana       Venda              Xhosa             Zulu


This map shows the principal South African languages by municipality.  Lighter shades indicate a non-majority of tribal peoples and resulting migrations.


The 20th century brought the urbanization of South Africa and the 21st century is poised to proceed to A-zainer future!



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Galerie Ezakwantu

Southern African Tribal Art - African Art 


Central and Southern African Tribal Art


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