Warfare, Political, Leadership, and State Formation: The Case of the Zulu Kingdom, 1808-1879(1)
Deflem, Mathieu, Ethnology
The origin and evolution of the nineteenth-century Zulu Kingdom are used to examine two competing state formation theories: Robert Carneiro's circumscription theory and Elman Service's theory of institutionalized leadership. Both theories partly clarify Zulu political developments: Carneiro's explains the origin and territorial expansion of the Zulu empire, while Service's can account for the beginning differentiation of political roles in the Zulu state. Two alternative explanations of the causes of Zulu state formation are discussed to integrate the diverging theoretical perspectives of Carneiro and Service. First, the role of the Zulu king, Shaka, should be considered politically relevant only inasmuch as Shaka's wars of conquest were instrumental for the unification of the Zulu Kingdom. Second, further developments in Zulu politics involved limited structural change from dispersed tribes to a unified military state. The analysis of political formations, including their origin and further transformation, should not be conducted in unilinear evolutionary terms, but from a multidimensional processual perspective. (State formation, circumscription theory, institutionalized leadership, Zulu Kingdom)
The development of the Zulu Kingdom is one of the most remarkable and extensively documented case studies in the history of state formation. The rise of the Zulu empire over a relatively short period of time, its powerful expansion over a wide territory, the overwhelming violence and terror involved, and the brutal European overthrow of the regime have long attracted scholarly attention from historians, anthropologists, and sociologists of African political systems. In this article, two theories of state formation are applied to the development of the Zulu Kingdom: Robert Carneiro's circumscription theory (Carneiro 1970) and Elman Service's theory of institutionalized leadership (Service 1975). These theories represent two influential perspectives in the historical study of state formation, but they have not yet been carefully tested in light of the Zulu case. This is particularly remarkable given the widely acknowledged analytical merit of both theories as well as the historical significance of the evolution of the Zulu political structure. This essay therefore undertakes an examination that may prove valuable to assess the strengths and limitations of two theories of state formation in light of a significant episode in the history of African indigenous politics. I also seek to advance ideas that may aid in breaking through all too commonly held conceptions of state formation processes due to a nearly exclusive orientation on European political processes. My analysis rests on the assumption that political systems developed autonomously in precolonial times in Africa (and elsewhere) that were of sufficient complexity to be discussed in terms of state formations, yet that have to be explained by theoretical models that take into account specific conditions of time and place which set them apart from their European counterparts.
After outlining the main theses of Carneiro's circumscription theory and Service's theory of institutionalized leadership and deriving testable propositions from a comparison of both, I present a brief history of the Zulu Kingdom from its formation to the European destruction of the empire (1808-1879) and trace the factors that can account for the evolution of Zulu politics in terms of Carneiro's and Service's state formation theories, indicating the strengths and limitations of the theories. Two alternative explanations of Zulu political processes will also be considered: the role of the Zulu kings, particularly Shaka; and the nature of Zulu political developments from dispersed tribes to a unified political entity. These lead to a discussion of the applicability of Carneiro's and Service's state formation theories to the case of the Zulu Kingdom. I conclude by suggesting the need for a multidimensional processual framework of political developments that combines coercive and integrative mechanisms to explain the dynamic nature of political formations and transformations.
TWO THEORIES OF STATE FORMATION
One of the crucial problems in the historical study of political systems, specifically in non-Western contexts, is the transformation from egalitarian to state societies. This transformation is observed in the transition from bands to tribes and chiefdoms to states (Flannery 1972:401-04; Lewellen 1983:18-38; Walter 1969:56-86). Bands are the simplest forms of political organization: families are organized along kinship lines, while other integrative mechanisms of leadership are largely absent. Tribes are larger communities integrating different bands by principles of descent (lineages). Chiefdoms are the first social forms to differentiate political roles: lineages are ranked in a hierarchy that sets the descent group of the chief above others to indicate authoritative leadership. The power of the chief is centralized and relatively stable, and the economic order is to some extent structured by chiefly rule (through the organization of labor and the redistribution of wealth). In states, government is highly centralized in a professional ruling body separated from kinship bonds and organized into specialized offices that handle political, economic, and legal matters. The legitimized monopoly of the use or threat of force is one of the salient features of states. There is little disagreement over the transition from bands to states, but the state formation theories of Carneiro and Service represent two prominent and competing viewpoints in the debate over the conditions of this political transformation.
Warfare and Circumscription
The circumscription theory of Robert Carneiro explains the formation of states as the outcome of a regular and determinate cultural process (Carneiro 1970, 1981, 1992). Carneiro asserts that since different states arose independently at different historical times in various part of the world, their origin needs to be accounted for by a general theory. Warfare, Carneiro argues, plays the most decisive role in the creation of states, but three socioecological conditions also have to be met.
First, states arise in areas where the availability of agricultural land is restricted. This refers to the ecological condition of environmental circumscription. When agricultural land is readily available, warfare will lead to a dispersal of villages because the basic means for subsistence can easily be found elsewhere. As, on the other hand, the limits of arable land are reached, villages can no longer disperse into other areas. Then warfare arises out of a need to acquire agricultural resources, and some villages will be politically subjugated by other, more dominant groupings. Formerly autonomous villages thus become incorporated into larger political formations: chiefdoms are formed and come under the control of a paramount chief. Increased competition over land accelerates the process of warfare and political subjugation to create even greater political units (compound and consolidated chiefdoms). Eventually, when an area is sharply circumscribed and sufficiently large, highly centralized and internally differentiated states are formed. Individual war heroes then occupy newly formed political offices to decree and enforce laws, collect taxes, organize labor, and draft men for war.
Resource concentration is a second condition for warfare to lead to state formation. Resource concentration refers to the fact that the availability of food in an area can be restricted so that exploitable areas become completely occupied. When this is the case, competition over cultivatable land increases. This leads to conflicts and warfare, which can become intensified to the extent that political communities are united and eventually, through a progression of processes of political subjugation, form a state.
Finally, Carneiro argues that population pressure and social circumscription can also explain how warfare leads to the creation of states. Population pressure refers to the density of population relative to available land. High population density in villages located near the center of a territory can lead to increased pressures to occupy agricultural land. Warfare arises, becomes more intense, and is redirected to land acquisition. This brings about the crystalization of larger political units and, ultimately, the formation of states. The territorial limits of the state are reached at the point where sufficiently consolidated groups meet other social formations of equal political complexity. The geographical spread of the state is halted because of social circumscription.
The Institutionalization of Centralized Leadership
Elman Service (1975) situates the origin of state government in a process of institutionalization of centralized leadership. Leadership refers to the exercise of power, defined as the relative ability of a person or group to command obedience and/or challenge resistance. For a community to become a state, its political organization has to evolve in such a way that the power of leadership is not only based on authority resting on a hierarchical relationship but also on a legal system to sanction the monopoly of force. Some initial form of leadership, based on a hereditary aristocracy, can evolve into a bureaucratic system that secures a redistributive and allocative economic system. The rise to statehood is essentially a process through which political power becomes formally established in a central bureaucracy.
In egalitarian societies (bands and tribes), reinforcement mechanisms operate through a system of rewards and punishments within the traditional kinship structure There are no formal laws to regulate behavior since the community is small enough to deal with matters in an informal manner based on habits, custom, and domestic power. Leadership is not permanent but intermittent and accepted because of an …
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Publication information: Article title: Warfare, Political, Leadership, and State Formation: The Case of the Zulu Kingdom, 1808-1879(1). Contributors: Deflem, Mathieu - Author. Journal title: Ethnology. Volume: 38. Issue: 4 Publication date: Fall 1999. Page number: 371. © 1998 University of Pittsburgh. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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