chapter  7
32 Pages

Homesteads, pots, and marriage in southeast southern Africa

Cognitive models and the dynamic past
WithGavin Whitelaw

The Iron Age sequence east of the Drakensberg and south of the uPhongolo River dates from ad 450 to the onset of the colonial period at, say, ad 1820. This sequence is conventionally divided in two at ad 1060. There are significant differences in the material culture of the two periods, and it now seems widely accepted that the late period marks the settlement of Nguni speakers in the region. Settlement pattern evidence strongly suggests that agriculturists of both periods were patrilineal and married through the exchange of cattle for wives. The focus here is on the differences. A high exchange value for women (relative to average cattle holdings) between ad 650 and 1060 meant that enduring relations between cattle-linked siblings—wives and their brothers—posed a significant challenge to the ambitions of homestead-heads. By contrast, evidence from the period ad 1300–1650 suggests that agnatic clusters were more isolated, that the exchange value of women was low, that relations between wives and their natal households were de-emphasized, and that there was a corresponding emphasis on the authority of the homestead-head.