chapter  2
16 Pages

Tracking and Colonial Warfare

In pre-colonial Africa, as elsewhere, weapons and skills used in hunting were o en transferred to warfare. Tracking must have been part of this. It is generally assumed that as most Africans began to develop larger agricultural and pastoral settlements, hunting skills such as tracking declined but were retained by small groups of hunter-gatherers who became specialists. Increased demand for ivory and other hunting products, a result of expanding external trade during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, meant that powerful Southern African states came to rely on the tracking abilities of small bands of hunter-gatherers. By the mid-1800s, in what is now northern Botswana and western Zimbabwe , the rival centralized states of the Ndebele and Ngwato , and sometimes European elephant hunters regularly employed Khoisan trackers. Around the same time, Khoisan hunters also became important suppliers of ivory to the nineteenth century Mpondo state along the Indian Ocean coast.1 Nonetheless, and as illustrated in the previous chapter, tracking skills did not disappear entirely from settled African communities. For example, in pre-colonial times Zulu chiefs would demarcate a meeting place where trackers and warriors would gather to discuss an upcoming hunt and then depart with the former leading the way in search of game.2 e lack of documentary records relating to pre-colonial African history and the limitations of oral traditions means that it is almost impossible to reconstruct the role of tracking in African warfare before the coming of Europeans.