We left off our exploration of Bakalanga history by taking note of Ikalanga traditions linking the formation of a kingdom under the Chibundule dynasty, also referred to as Butua, Torwa or Tolwa, to a south-westward migration of peoples from eastern Zimbabwe under a legendary figure named Madabhale. Such accounts further connect Madabhale’s exodus to internal strife within the Mwenemutapa kingdom arising from the emergence of Portuguese sponsored slave trading in the region.
While the above construction is compelling in both the detail of the Ikalanga sources and their consistency with other local and Portuguese accounts, it diverges from alternative interpretations arising from archaeological evidence. Whereas the debilitating influence of Portuguese expansion on Mwenemutapa is well documented from the late 16th century, archaeology dates prominent Chibundule associated sites, including the royal ruins at Khami, to least a century earlier, which is the period that neatly coincides with the abandonment of Great Zimbabwe.
The conclusion on the part of some archaeologists of a material link between the Bakalanga and the 11th century Mapungubwe civilisation calls into further question the notion that Bakalanga state building began with a breakaway from Mwenemutapa. Available evidence rather suggests that although Madabhale is the earliest known Mambo or King of Bukalanga, his lineage may very well have been preceded by any number of now forgotten dynasties.
The post-16th century legacy of the Chibundule dynasty is at least clearer, being associated with the contemporary Balilima or Bahumbe section of the Bakalanga, which incorporates such modern Botswana based branches as Mosojane, Madandume, Nshakashongwe and Majambubi.
Returning to the dynastic traditions, by the end of Madabhale’s reign the boundaries of Chibundule royal authority are described as having extended from western Zimbabwe into the Kgalagadi as far west as Makgadikgadi, thus taking in conquered “Bakwa” (i.e. Khoe/Kua or “Basarwa”).
To the south the Kingdom is said to have extended as far as Palapye, at its height including much of the Limpopo valley and Venda country. Its northern boundary was the Zambezi. From an Ikalanga account recorded by Masola Kumile as transcribed by P.J. Wentzel:
“Obusa Bakalanga naBakwa, wakabusa xango sawoku: Wakabe ebvila kuDzimbabwe kanoti kumunya [“at the salt”= Makgadikgadi]; kunta yobuVenda eme ngeHuri [Limpopo]; kunta yoBurwa eme ngePalapye; kunta yoBunanzwa eme ngeZambezi. Kabusa yose odan’wa Chibundule.”
It may be further noted that the monumental stonewalled architecture found at the royal ruins at Khami, which are located just to the west of Bulawayo, differ significantly from those at Great Zimbabwe. The walls are elaborately decorated with “check” and “herring bone” patterns.
Well-built houses, presumably belonging to members of social elite, were constructed on the top of stone platforms consisting of layers of retaining walls with rubble fill. The remains of fourteen such platforms can be found at Khami itself, while similar constructions exist throughout north-eastern Botswana as well as western Zimbabwe. Though less massive than Great Zimbabwe, to this author’s own subjective eye the aesthetics of the Khami style ruins are more elegant.
Excavations at Khami and other Chibundule era sites further confirm that from 16th century the Bakalanga and their neighbours continued to be connected to extensive international trading networks. Ceramics and glass objects of Dutch, German and Portuguese, as well as Asian including Chinese origin have been unearthed, along with fragments of both imported and locally manufactured cotton cloth, indigenous pottery and objects made of gold, iron and copper. Also common are glass beads, which as we have previously noted for many centuries served as a regional currency.
Traditional manufacturing is reflected in the following text, also recorded by Kumile:
“Bakabe beziba tsipi imumavu. Mhuli imwe neyimwe yakaba iyenda kumangula inosenga mabwe ewavutiwa kuna mixa dzeduma nebutho. Kupfugwa: mapadza, mathumo, maxanhu, mipanga, man’ina, kachi kene majoda, zwinyengo, njunji, hopolo, maboko anobhata imwe tsipiinopisa, mbehwana. Zwidla zwabo zwabodlila noxingila: hali dzobumbiwa ngontapwi, ndili nematuni, nemisi nenjugo kobva mumiti nomumidzi yemiti, selo nezwitundu. Zwifuko zwabo zwabva mumhuka nemuzwipfuwo nentsinga dzinopfuma, dzobva mumhuka nemuzwipfumo. Banhu bose bakabe tama izwezwi zwinhu banodan”wa batama bezwiddla, bengubo nemathumo.”
Translation: “They knew the iron which is in the earth and families collected copper ore, which was taken to the enclosures for extracting and smelting. There the following things were cast: hoes, spears, axes, knives, earrings, bracelets, blades, long needles, hoop irons, pairs of pliers to hold other iron and adzes for carpentry. Their eating utensils included pots moulded from clay, plates, mortars and pestles, wooden spoons, winnowing baskets and big baskets for storing things.
Their clothing came from wild animals and from livestock, and also from their sinew, which was used for sewing cords. All the people who were making these things were called makers of the eating utensils, of blankets, and of spears.”
The Bakalanga also became renowned for their possession of imported firearms, including cannon well before others in the region. By the beginning of the 19th century they, along with their Vashona cousins, had even begun to construct guns of local manufacture known by the Chishona name “chigidi” or “zvigidi”, as well as manufacture their own gunpowder.