Published: “Moving Beyond Ethnic Framing: Political Differentiation in the Chiefdoms of the KwaZulu-Natal Region before 1830”

22 Jun 2017 - 13:45
Carolyn Hamilton & John Wright
Carolyn Hamilton & John Wright

In earlier work, we saw the making of social categories in the Zulu kingdom under Shaka, particularly those of ‘amantungwa’ and ‘amalala’, as an example of the development of embryonic ethnic groups. In the present article, we move on from our previous discussion in a number of ways. We reconsider the category of ‘amalala’, pushing back further against the categories of ethnicity that previously dominated socio-political analysis of pre-Shaka chiefdoms.

For reasons that we argue out in the article, we now question the notion that groups of this kind were ‘ethnic’ in character. Rather, they constituted socio-political categories with identities that were moulded under specific historical circumstances from pre-existing notions about relationships between different ‘layerings’ of people in society. We go on to consider case-studies of political differentiation and social categorisation that took place in the KwaZulu-Natal region before the reign of Shaka.

In making our arguments, we move away decisively from an approach that sees texts like those in the James Stuart Archive, one of our main sources of evidence, as bodies of recorded ‘oral traditions’. For our part, we see them as the products of conversations on the past between Stuart and his interlocutors that were rooted in particular moments of political life in what is now the KwaZulu-Natal area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

We conclude with reflections on how understanding the ways in which groups were categorised in the era before the establishment of colonial rule has been obscured by the later entanglement of indigenous political ideas with imported discourses on tribe and ethnicity.

The full paper is available on the publisher’s website

You may also be interested to read an earlier paper by Hamilton and Wright, ‘The Making of the AmaLala: Ethnicity, Ideology and Relations of Subordination in a Precolonial Context’, published in the South African Historical Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1 and made available online in 2009