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  • RACHEL KING (a1) and SAM CHALLIS (a2)

Over the last four decades researchers have cast the Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains as a marginal refuge for ‘Bushmen’ amidst constricting nineteenth-century frontiers. Rock art scholarship has expanded on this characterisation of mountains as refugia, focusing on heterogeneous raiding bands forging new cultural identities. Here, we propose another view of the Maloti-Drakensberg: a dynamic political theatre in which polities that engaged in illicit or ‘heterodox’ activities like cattle raiding and hunter-gatherer lifeways set the terms of colonial encounters. We employ the concept of the ‘interior world’ to refigure the region as one fostering subsistence and political behaviours that did not conform to the expectations of colonial authority. Paradoxically, such heterodoxies over time constituted widespread social logics within the Maloti-Drakensberg, and thus became commonplace and meaningful. We synthesise historical and archaeological evidence (new and existing) to illustrate the significance of the nineteenth-century Maloti-Drakensberg, offering a revised southeast-African colonial landscape and directions for future research.

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We thank Lara Mallen, Mark McGranaghan, Peter Mitchell, and John Wright for comments on this article. This research was supported by grants from the South African National Research Foundation's African Origins Platform, a Clarendon Scholarship from the University of Oxford, the Claude Leon Foundation, and the Smuts Memorial Fund at Cambridge. Maps were created using ArcGIS® software by Esri. ArcGIS® and ArcMap™ are the intellectual property of Esri and are used herein under license. Copyright © Esri. All rights reserved. Author's email:

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1 The Maloti Mountains in present-day Lesotho and the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa, separated by the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Escarpment.

2 Mazel, A., ‘People making history: the last ten thousand years of hunter-gatherer communities in the Tukela Basin’, Natal Museum Journal of Humanities, 1 (1989), 1189 ; Mitchell, P., ‘Gathering together a history of the People of the Eland: towards an archaeology of Maloti-Drakensberg hunter-gatherers’, in Mitchell, P. and Smith, B. (eds.), The Eland's People: New Perspectives in the Rock Art of the Maloti-Drakensberg Bushmen. Papers in Honour of Patricia Vinnicombe (2nd edn, Johannesburg, 2009), 99136 .

3 Theal, G. M. (ed.), Basutoland Records, Volume V (Roma, 2002), 87–8; Mitchell, P. and Challis, S., ‘A “first” glimpse into the Maloti Mountains: the diary of James Murray Grant's expedition of 1873–1874’, Southern African Humanities, 20 (2008), 399461 .

4 Although the Maloti-Drakensberg has been populated by montane hunter-gatherers for several millennia, see Mitchell, ‘Gathering’.

5 Debates over the ethnicised content of ‘San’ and ‘Bushmen’ defy summary here. Within this article, we use ‘San’ to acknowledge the existence of hunter-gatherer behaviours that transcend precolonial/colonial divides, referenced emically and etically in colonial identities. We use ‘Bushman’ specifically for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century hunter-raider-pastoralist communities described in the Maloti-Drakensberg and, arguably, in the northern and eastern Cape. See McGranaghan, M.The death of the Agama lizard: historical significances of a multi-authored rock-art site in the northern Cape (South Africa)’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 26 (2016), 157–79.

6 Wright, J. B., Bushman Raiders of the Drakensberg, 1840–1870 (Pietermaritzburg, 1971); Vinnicombe, P., People of the Eland: Rock Paintings of the Drakensberg Bushmen as a Reflection of their Life and Thought (2nd edn, Johannesburg, 2009). For later addenda, see Wright, J. B., ‘Bushman raiders revisited’, in Skotnes, P. (ed.), Claim to the Country: The Archive of Lucy Lloyd and Wilhelm Bleek (Johannesburg, 2007), 119–29; Wright, J. B. and Mazel, A., Tracks in a Mountain Range (Johannesburg, 2007).

7 Blundell, G., Nqabayo's Nomansland: San Rock Art and the Somatic Past (Uppsala, 2004); L. Mallen, ‘Rock art and identity in the North Eastern Cape Province, South Africa’ (unpublished MA thesis, University of the Witwatersrand, 2008).

8 S. Challis, ‘The impact of the horse on the AmaTola “Bushmen”: new identity in the Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains of southern Africa’ (unpublished DPhil thesis, University of Oxford, 2008); Challis, S., ‘Creolisation on the nineteenth-century frontiers of southern Africa: a case study of the AmaTola “Bushmen” in the Maloti-Drakensberg’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 38 (2012), 265–80; Challis, S., ‘Binding beliefs: the creolisation process in a “Bushman” raider group in nineteenth-century southern Africa’, in Deacon, J. and Skotnes, P. (eds.), The Courage of Kabbo: Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Publication of Specimens of Bushman Folklore (Cape Town, 2014), 247–65; Challis, S, ‘Re-tribe and resist: the ethnogenesis of a creolised raiding band in response to colonisation’, in Hamilton, C. and Leibhammer, N. (eds.), Tribing and Untribing the Archive: Critical Enquiry into the Traces of the Thukela-Mzimvubu Region from the Early Iron Age until c. 1910 (Pietermaritzburg, 2016), 282–99.

9 Mitchell, ‘Gathering’.

10 Mitchell, L. J., Belongings: Property, Family, and Identity in Colonial South Africa: An Exploration of Frontiers, 1725–c. 1830 (New York, 2008), 16.

11 Theal (ed.), Basutoland Records V, 209, 134, 81.

12 Theal, G. M. (ed.), Basutoland Records, Volume I (Cape Town, 1883), 162–3.

13 Hyde, A. F., Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800–1860 (Lincoln, NE, 2011), 1, 4.

14 Zappia, N., Traders and Raiders: The Indigenous World of the Colorado Basin, 1540–1859 (Chapel Hill, NC, 2014), 6.

15 Barr, J., Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands (Chapel Hill, NC, 2007); DeLay, B., War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the US-Mexican War (New Haven, CT, 2008); Hämäläinen, P., The Comanche Empire (New Haven, CT, 2008).

16 Hämäläinen, Comanche; Witgen, M., An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America (Philadelphia, 2012), 113–14.

17 R. King, ‘Cattle, raiding, and disorder in southern African history’, Africa (forthcoming).

18 Stahl, A. B., ‘Colonial entanglements and the practices of taste: an alternative to logocentric approaches’, American Anthropologist, 104 (2002), 827.

19 Beinart, W., ‘Production and the material basis of chieftainship: Pondoland c. 1830–80’, in Marks, S. and Atmore, A. (eds.), Economy and Society in Pre-Industrial South Africa (London, 1980), 124.

20 R. King, ‘Voluntary barbarians of the Maloti-Drakensberg: the BaPhuthi chiefdom, cattle raiding, and colonial rule in nineteenth-century southern Africa’ (unpublished DPhil thesis, University of Oxford, 2014).

21 See, for example, C. Campbell, ‘Art in crisis: contact period rock art in the south-eastern mountains of southern Africa’ (unpublished MSc thesis, University of the Witwatersrand, 1987); P. Jolly, ‘Strangers to brothers: interaction between south-eastern San and southern Nguni/Sotho communities’ (unpublished MA thesis, University of Cape Town, 1994); Jolly, P., ‘Symbiotic interaction between black farmers and south-eastern San: implications for southern African rock art studies, ethnographic analogy, and hunter-gatherer cultural identity’, Current Anthropology, 37 (1996), 277305 ; Hammond-Tooke, W. D., ‘Selective borrowing? The possibility of San shamanistic influence on southern Bantu divination and healing practices’, South African Archaeological Bulletin, 53 (1998), 915 ; Dowson, T., ‘Reading art, writing history: rock art and social change in southern Africa’, World Archaeology, 25 (1994), 332–45. For archaeological arguments, see, for example, Mitchell, ‘Hunter-gatherers’.

22 Eldredge, E. A., ‘Sources of conflict in southern Africa c. 1800–1830: the “mfecane” reconsidered’, in Hamilton, C. (ed.), The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History (Johannesburg, 1995), 150–62; J. B. Wright, ‘Political transformations in the Thukela-Mzimkhulu region in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries’, in Hamilton (ed.), Mfecane, 163–81; Wright and Mazel, Tracks, 73–117.

23 Wright and Mazel, Tracks, 79–80.

24 Isaacs, N., Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa, Descriptive of the Zoolas, Their Manners, Customs, & Etc., Volume II (Cape Town, 1836), 37.

25 Mackuertan, H. G., The Cradle Days of Natal (1497–1845) (2nd edn, Pietemaritzburg, 1948), 157; Challis, ‘The impact’, 97–103.

26 Gardiner, Narrative, 310–8.

27 Isaacs, Travels, 59; Stapleton, T. J., Faku: Rulership and Colonialism in the Mpondo Kingdom (c. 1780–1867) (Waterloo, 2001), 30.

28 Isaacs, Travels, 73–4.

29 See, for example, Bryant, Olden, 531; Lister, M. H., The Journal of Andrew Geddes Bain (Cape Town, 1949), 118; Vinnicombe, People, 99–101.

30 Isaacs, Travels, 164; Bird, J., The Annals of Natal, Volume I (Pietermaritzburg, 1888), 344–5.

31 Etherington, N., The Great Treks: The Transformation of Southern Africa (Edinburgh, 2001), 339; G. Whitelaw, ‘“Their village is where they kill game”: Nguni interactions with the San’, in Mitchell and Smith (eds.), The Eland's, 139–64.

32 Challis, ‘The impact’, 104.

33 Discussed in Lara Mallen's forthcoming doctoral thesis (University of Oxford); Feely, J. M., Early Farmers of Transkei, Southern Africa before AD 1870 (Oxford, 1987).

34 Stapleton, Faku, 30.

35 Morija Museum and Archives, Lesotho (MMA), D. F. Ellenberger Papers (DFEP), letter from J. M. Orpen to J. Ayliff, 15 Dec. 1906.

36 Backhouse, J., A Narrative of a Visit to the Mauritius and South Africa (London, 1844), 259–60; S. Newton-King, ‘The labour market of the Cape Colony, 1807–28’, in Marks and Atmore (eds.), Economy, 174; Wright, ‘Bushman’, 124.

37 Hammond-Tooke, W. D., Bhaca Society: A People of the Transkeian Uplands, South Africa (Cape Town, 1962), 56 ; Beinart, ‘Production’, 122–3. Fred Morton similarly hints at differences in Transvaal cattle-raiding practices and their social significance among chiefly polities: Morton, F., When Rustling Became an Art: Pilane's Kgatla and the Transvaal Frontier 1820–1902 (Cape Town, 2009), 13–4, 35, 41.

38 See, for example, How, M. W., The Mountain Bushmen of Basutoland (Pretoria, 1962); Wright, Bushman; Vinnicombe, People; Jolly, ‘Strangers’; Jolly, ‘Symbiotic’.

39 See, for example, Atmore, A., ‘The Moorosi Rebellion: Lesotho, 1879’, in Rotberg, R. I. and Mazrui, A. A. (eds.), Protest and Power in Black Africa (New York, 1970), 235 ; Eldredge, E. A., Power in Colonial Africa: Conflict and Discourse in Lesotho, 1870–1960 (Madison, OH, 2007); Sanders, P., ‘Throwing Down White Man’: Cape Rule and Misrule in Colonial Lesotho 1871–1884 (Morija, 2011).

40 King, ‘Voluntary’.

41 For a complete record of the relevant archaeological surveys, excavations, and finds, see King, ‘Voluntary’, chs. 7, 8 and appendices D and E.

42 R. King, ‘Among the headless hordes: missionaries, outlaws, and logics of landscape in the Wittebergen Native Reserve, c. 1850–1871’, Journal of Southern African Studies (forthcoming); see also Stahl, ‘Colonial’.

43 Landau, P. S., Popular Politics in the History of South Africa, 1400–1948 (New York, 2010), 5972 .

44 Ellenberger, D. F. and MacGregor, J. C., History of the Basuto, Ancient and Modern (Morija, 1912), 344–7; S. S. Donnelly, ‘Aspects of tone and voice in Phuthi’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana, 2009), 9.

45 Ellenberger and MacGregor, History, 159–60.

46 King, ‘Voluntary’, 114–16.

47 Ellenberger and MacGregor, History, 190.

48 Ibid . 161.

49 Lesotho MMA DFEP, D. F. Ellenberger, ‘History of the Basuto, third period’, manuscript, n.d.

50 Ellenberger and MacGregor, History, 190.

51 Lesotho MMA DFEP, J. M. Orpen, ‘Memorandum referring critically to passages denoted by pages and lines in Mr Ellenberger's manuscript’, 1913; Damane, M., Moorosi: Morena Oa Baphuthi (Morija, 1960), 1214 ; see also Mager, A., ‘Colonial conquest and the Tambookie frontier: the story of Maphasa, c. 1830–1853’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 39 (2013), 260.

52 Lesotho MMA DFEP, J. M. Orpen, ‘Memorandum referring critically to passages denoted by pages and lines in Mr Ellenberger's manuscript’, 1913; J. B. Wright, ‘Beyond the concept of the “Zulu expansion”: comments on the current debate’, in Hamilton (ed.), Mfecane, 116–17; Fry, P., ‘Siyamfenguza: the creation of Fingoness in South Africa's Eastern Cape, 1800–1835’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 36 (2010).

53 Soga, J. H., The South-Eastern Bantu (Johannesburg, 1930), 434; A. Webster, ‘Unmasking the Fingo: the War of 1835 revisited’, in Hamilton (ed.), Mfecane, 256, 271–2.

54 Napier, E. D. H. E., Excursions in South Africa: Including a History of the Cape Colony, An Account of the Native Tribes, Etc. (London, 1849), 226; see also Ross, Borders, 99 fn. 33.

55 See, for example, Challis, ‘Re-tribe’.

56 Kay, S., Travels and Researches in Caffraria (London, 1833), 99; Lesotho MMA, Marion Walsham How Papers, ‘Notes on the history of the Basotho horse’, n.d. 1936; Swart, S., Riding High: Horses, Humans, and History in South Africa (Johannesburg, 2010), 93.

57 Challis, ‘The impact’, 1, 230–1.

58 Vinnicombe, People, 74, n. 40; Mitchell, P., ‘Making history at Sehonghong: Soai and the last Bushman occupants of his shelter’, Southern African Humanities, 22 (2010), 154–5.

59 P. Mitchell, Horse Nations (Oxford, 2015), 310–11.

60 See Tsing, A. L., ‘The global situation’, Cultural Anthropology, 15 (2000), 337.

61 Cape Archives (CA) Government House (GH) 8/23, letters received from Chief Commissioner, British Kaffraria, 1846–52, 414–17.

62 Ibid ; KwaZulu-Natal Archives Fynn Papers 1405, 224–6, Statement of Jenkins, 1850; Challis, ‘The impact’, 171–4.

63 Challis, ‘Creolisation’, 266–9; Challis, ‘Binding’.

64 Ibid .

65 Smith, B., ‘Envisioning San history: problems in the reading of history in the rock art of the Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa’, African Studies, 31 (2010), 345–59.

66 Wright, Bushman, 37, 5–6; Saunders, C., ‘Madolo: a Bushman life’, African Studies, 36 (1977), 145–54.

67 CA GH 8/23, 414–7, Statement of Qinti, 1850; KwaZulu-Natal Archives (KZNA) Fynn Papers (FP) 1405, 224–6, Statement of Jenkins, 1850.

68 Mallen, ‘Rock art’; L. Henry, ‘Rock art and the contested landscape of the North Eastern Cape’ (unpublished MA thesis, University of the Witwatersrand, 2010).

69 Theal (ed.), Basutoland Records V, 51–66.

70 Lesotho MMA DFEP, J. M. Orpen, ‘Statement by Morosi’; King, ‘Voluntary’, 129–30.

71 Theal (ed.), Basutoland Records V, 160–2; Lesotho MMA DFEP, J. M. Orpen, ‘Memorandum referring critically to passages denoted by pages and lines in Mr Ellenberger's manuscript’, 1913.

72 It is uncertain when Mokuoane's chieftainship gave way to Moorosi's but it was almost certainly before 1850, see Damane, Moorosi, 12–17.

73 Theal, G. M. (ed.), Basutoland Records, Volume III (Cape Town, 1883), 106–17; Lesotho MMA DFEP, A. Brigg, ‘Notes on the early history of Herschel Native Reserve, Aliwal North, Cape Colony’, 1906.

74 Theal, G. M. (ed.), Basutoland Records, Volume IV (Roma, 2002), 176–7, 202; Theal (ed.), Basutoland Records V, 161–2.

75 CA Secretary for Native Affairs (SNA) 1/1/8, Diary of Robert Speirs, 1858.

76 Wright, Bushman, 170.

77 Theal (ed.), Basutoland Records V, 161–2; Lesotho MMA DFEP, J. M. Orpen, ‘Memorandum referring critically to passages denoted by pages and lines in Mr Ellenberger's manuscript’, 1913.

78 Wright, Bushman, 170.

79 Ibid . 176–7.

80 Natal Witness, 9 Nov. 1869; How, Mountain, 58.

81 Theal (ed.), Basutoland Records V, 87–8.

82 Ibid . 381–2; Vinnicombe, People, 90.

83 CA A.49-’70, C. Griffith to H. Hope, 4 July 1877.

84 King, ‘Voluntary’, 210–16.

85 Lesotho MMA DFEP, J. M. Orpen, ‘Statement by Morosi’.

86 Landau, Popular, 64.

87 How, Mountain.

88 CA SNA 1/3/19, 255, A. Allison, ‘Statement of Dinilape, a Basuto resident near Silesa's kraal’, 1869; see also Ellenberger, V., La Fin Tragique des Bushmen: Les Derniers Hommes Vivants de l'Age de la Pierre (Paris, 1953), 86, 148–9.

89 Lesotho MMA DFEP, letter from J. M. Orpen to D. F. Ellenberger, ‘describing accounts from the British Resident's Office of 30 January 1851, “The Friend” of 3 February 1851, and Volume 1 of Basutoland Records’, n.d.

90 Lesotho MMA DFEP, ‘Memorandum referring critically to passages denoted by pages and lines in Mr Ellenberger's manuscript’, 1913.

91 King, ‘Among’.

92 King, ‘Cattle’. Again, Morton's discussion of how rustling ‘became an art’ among the Kgatla provides illustrations of this in a different southern African political theatre; see, for example, Morton, When Rustling, 13–14, 35, 41.

93 Challis, ‘Re-tribe’.

94 And across southern Africa, see Etherington, Great; Penn, N., The Forgotten Frontier: Colonist and Khoisan on the Cape's Northern Frontier in the 18th Century (Cape Town, 2005); Morton, When Rustling; M. Legassick, The Politics of a South African Frontier: The Griqua, The Sotho-Tswana, and the Missionaries, 1780–1840 (Basel, 2010 [orig. pub. 1969]).

95 Ellengerger and MacGregor, History, 106; Guma, S. M., The Form, Content, and Technique of Traditional Literature in Southern Sotho (Pretoria, 1967), 152.

96 Wilcox, M., The Pueblo Revolt and the Mythology of Conquest: An Indigenous Archaeology of Contact (Berkeley, CA, 2009), 99, 105.

97 Fleisher, J. and Wynne-Jones, S., ‘Authorisation and the process of power: the view from African archaeology’, Journal of World Prehistory, 23 (2010), 185.

98 Blundell, Nqabayo's, 155–6.

99 See also Landau, Popular, 59–72.

100 Schrumpf, C., ‘Station de Béthesda – 18 January 1847, 25 March 1847’, Journal des Missions Évangéliques, XXII (1847), 280301 .

101 Vinnicombe, People, 24.

102 Bird, Annals, 255.

103 Challis, ‘Creolisation’, 268.

104 Stapleton, Faku, 68.

105 Ibid .

106 Vinnicombe, People, 90.

107 Shaw, W., Story of My Mission in South-Eastern Africa (London, 1860), 64–5.

108 Wright, Bushman, 93, 104–5, 149, 192–5.

109 Challis, ‘Re-tribe’.

110 Challis, ‘The impact’, 258–9.

111 Macquarrie, J. W., The Reminiscences of Sir Walter Stanford, Volume II (Cape Town, 1962), 33.

112 CA Native Affairs 276, letter from J. Austen to C. Griffith, 1879, emphasis in original.

113 Mitchell and Challis, ‘A “first”’.

114 Lesotho MMA, Leselinyana, 2 Oct. 1909.

115 Mitchell, ‘Making’, 156–7.

116 Atmore, ‘Moorosi Rebellion’.

117 CA A.6-’79, J. M. Orpen's evidence, ‘Minutes of evidence: committee on Basutoland hostilities’, 15 July 1879.

118 That is, that ‘foragers-turned-raiders’ remain distinct from ‘farmers-turned-raiders’.

* We thank Lara Mallen, Mark McGranaghan, Peter Mitchell, and John Wright for comments on this article. This research was supported by grants from the South African National Research Foundation's African Origins Platform, a Clarendon Scholarship from the University of Oxford, the Claude Leon Foundation, and the Smuts Memorial Fund at Cambridge. Maps were created using ArcGIS® software by Esri. ArcGIS® and ArcMap™ are the intellectual property of Esri and are used herein under license. Copyright © Esri. All rights reserved. Author's email:

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