Mar 15

They Lived in the Outer West 3

Inhabitants of Natal By Robin Lamplough

In the Durban telephone directory for 2004-5 there are over 300 entries for people with the surname Ntuli. They live in areas as widely scattered as KwaMashu and Woodlands, Lamontville and Ntuzuma, Mbumbulu and Dassenhoek. Almost certainly, however, the ancestors of some of these people at least lived in the Outer West.
There are similar- records kept by white missionaries and government officials, preserving things they had been told. There are some books written by mission-educated black people. But there are many gaps in our knowledge of that time. And often the accounts we possess have been written from a western viewpoint and therefore present a distorted picture. The work of local archaeologists is helping to correct some of our opinions but there is still a great deal missing. We have no idea, for example, when the first Nguni-speaking people came to this part of South Africa. Historians agree, however, that by the start of the 19th century there were Nguni chiefdoms all over the region. These differed in area, in size of population and in the way in which they were governed. Nevertheless, the people had a common language and a common culture.


Like the other Nguni people, therefore, the amaTuli were cattlemen and agriculturalists. They built their thatched homesteads wherever possible on slopes that would provide natural drainage. They kept their cattle in enclosures at the centre of each village and grazed them on the nearby hills during the day. The women of the village cultivated the soil and grew a variety of crops, with first sorghum and later maize as the staple grain. The boys learned to care for the livestock of the community, reporting problems to the men, who added to the food supply by hunting the wild animals that were so abundant. From time to time the men would combine forces with their near neighbours to deal with a common threat to their security. As far as we are able to tell, life in KwaZulu-Natal was relatively peaceful for a long period of time.

There were occasional disputes between neighbouring chiefdoms over access to water or grazing but these differences were usually resolved without much loss of life. This state of affairs continued until the early years of the 9th century. Then it was suddenly and totally disrupted by a series of conflicts that to one extent or another affected every single community in Southern Africa. Nguni speaking people called this disaster the "mfecane", which is interpreted as “the crushing”. This crushing would help to shape events in the sub-continent for the next hundred years.

1 comment

  1. ~Ed

    Hopefully Archaeology can help shed more light on the original inhabitants of the outer west!

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