A New 'Epoch of Secession': The end of the Rolong morafe in Seetsele Modiri Molema's History of the Barolong
Ettore Morelli (SOAS, University of London)
Paper short abstract:
The paper analyses the accounts of the Rolong historian Molema about the collapse of the Rolong morafe in the late eighteenth century. The fall of this large precolonial polity poses questions on the periodisation of Southern African past and on the novelty of the decades before the Mfecane.
Paper long abstract:
Historical research over the past thirty years has considerably updated our understanding of Southern Africa's 'Time of Troubles'. Today Shaka and the amaZulu are not seen as the sole protagonists of this story, nor as the sole initiators of a wholly different period of Southern African history. As questions on the origins and fall of various African polities over this time remain partially unanswered, historians are broadening their geographical, chronological, and theoretical scope to include multiple causes in their explanations. In line with the approach proposed for the panel, the paper studies a large-scale political crisis taking place in a different region of Southern Africa and in a previous period: the collapse of the Rolong morafe in the second half of the eighteenth century, in the western Highveld/Thornveld region. During the lifaqane, the Barolong were divided in various communities and struggled to cope with the invading Matebele of Mzilikazi. Their recent history, however, had been marked by greater political power and regional dominance. This complex historical development is analysed through the lenses of a notable Rolong historian, Seetsele Modiri Molema. He quizzically set the rupture at 1777, and defined the crisis and collapse as a new "Epoch of Secession", comparing it with much older - and perhaps less reliable - accounts of civil war in Rolong history. Twisting the general perspective, the paper will investigate both the existence of similar "Times of Troubles" in older Southern African history, and of new causes of instability that endured until the lifaqane.