The prehistory of Bakalanga of north-eastern Botswana and south-western Zimbabwe, along with other historically and linguistically associated Vashona groups is contentious.
Most linguists regard Ikalanga as a separate language, as opposed to dialect, from Chishona, which itself has been standardised in modern times from a variety of existing dialects, e.g. Karanga and Zezuru dialects.
Other Chishona dialects or languages notably include Korekore, Ndau and Manyika. It has been suggested by a number of linguists that early Ikalanga may have been the root language of Karanga and other Chishona dialects, but this is disputed. Cultural antecedents of various Southern Bantu language groups in the region, including those ancestral to Bakalanga, can be linked to the emergence of early iron age civilisation in the region by the second century AD (if not earlier).
One can further trace the emergence of the Bakalanga and other modern groups to the flowering of late Iron Age civilisation in the region, more especially in the Shashe-Limpopo Basin from the 10th century AD, which scholars believe was accompanied by a significant increase in both human and livestock populations.
This is prominently evidenced by the survival of stone walled ruins, madzimbabwe, whose settlements were distributed by the 13th century as far as the Mozambique coast on the east and Sowa pan on the west. While the largest and best known of these is the Great Zimbabwe site, which between 1250 and 1450 is estimated to have at any given time housed 11-18,000 people, numerous smaller early madzimbabwe are located throughout north-eastern Botswana.
Most of the early sites in our country are associated with what have broadly been classified as “Zhizo” and subsequent “Leopard’s Kopje” including “Kalundu” pottery styles. Such sites also incorporate a wealth of additional material evidence including glass beads, cowrie’s shells and imported cloth fibres indicating their early connection to the Indian Ocean trade, more especially to the Malay islands we now know as Indonesia.
Here it may be noted that Malay merchant ships of the period were able to sail directly from Southeast Asia to the African coast in about a month using the equatorial trade winds. Beyond the archaeological evidence, the intensity of this early Indonesian connection to the continent is reflected in the Malay colonisation of Madagascar. The shift from Zhizo to Leopards Kopje ceramics in the Shashe-Limpopo coincides with the emergence of the Mapungubwe Kingdom, which ruled over parts of eastern Botswana, including all of Bobirwa, as well as adjacent areas of Zimbabwe and South Africa.
A number of scholars, most notably including the archaeologist Thomas Huffman, have in this context suggested that Mapungubwe can rightfully be considered as the first Bakalanga polity.
Besides importing glass beads, which were accepted at the
It is believed that much of the core of Mapungubwe’s population migrated to the northeast, were their emerged c. 1250-1450 the Gokomere culture, often associated with the Vakaranga in particular, whose centre became Great Zimbabwe.
The emergence of modern Bakalanga as a distinctive community can more confidently be traced to the rise of new polities after Great Zimbabwe’s abandonment in the mid-15th century, an event that remains a mystery notwithstanding the common scholarly assumption that it resulted from environmental pressure.
Oral evidence supports the view that some of Great Zimbabwe’s population moved then north to found the Mutapa state, known to the Portuguese who settled along the Mozambique coast thereafter as the “Monomotapa”.
Some early Ikalanga traditions trace the formation of the first Bakalanga kingdom to the south west migration of people from the Mutapa state during a period of strife fuelled by the Portuguese sponsored expansion of slave trading into eastern Zimbabwe.
From Masola Kumile: “Malambodzibwa, also called Munumutapa- It was him who was found by the Portuguese ruling over the Bakalanga. The name Munumutapa means that before he was conquered by the Portuguese, but that now he met them as a friend. It was then that he was attacking other communities, capturing the male and female children, going with them to the villages of his womenfolk and making them his workers, and also some male ones.
Other male ones he was taking to the Portuguese. It is thought that slavery started with them, showing them to the Portuguese in the year of 1441 [it was actually several decades later]. Now Munumutapa raided many tribes. At the time he went out with his army, the Portuguese also having their army and they went to attack Mongase. And they killed the people, capturing the things of the people and their families. He raided many places doing his will, capturing the people and giving them to the Portuguese. ”