Black and White in Southern Zambia: The Tonga Plateau Economy and British Imperialism, 1890-1939

By Kenneth P. Vickery | Go to book overview

Introduction

What happened in the encounter between Western imperialism and non- Western peoples is surely one of the critical questions of the twentieth century, and will likely remain critical well into the twenty-first. The most casual inquiry into issues of our time--among them nationalism, revolution, neo-colonialism, development, underdevelopment, and not least famine--compels recognition that many were shaped by colonial situations. Nowhere is this clearer than in Africa, the last continent (for the most part) to feel the weight of outright European domination and the last to emerge even nominally from it. This book is a study of one African colonial experience.

Geographically, the story centers on a stretch of country known as the Tonga Plateau in the Southern Province of what is today the nation of Zambia (see Maps 1 and 2). The Plateau lies in the wedge of land between two of south central Africa's great rivers, the legendary Zambezi and the Kafue. It is high (3,000 to 5,000 feet), rolling savanna, visually dominated by the browns, golds, and greens of savanna grass and woodland. Measuring about 60 miles wide by 150 miles long on a southwest-northeast axis, the Plateau's boundaries are usually not sharp. To the east it gives way to a rugged escarpment dividing it from the Gwembe Valley along the Zambezi, dammed in 1956 to form Lake Kariba. To the north the country levels off into the Kafue Flats, a flood plain; to the west it yields imperceptibly to inhospitable Kalahari sandveld, and likewise to the southwest in the direction of the Zambezi's spectacular Mosi-oa-tunya, or Victoria Falls.

For many centuries Bantu peoples speaking variations of the Tonga language (Citonga) have lived on and around the Plateau. All these peoples practiced agriculture, used iron, and where possible--as it was on much of the Plateau--kept cattle. Linguistically and ethnically no less than geographically, boundaries are fluid; a search for a primeval Tonga "tribe" would be as misguided as in most parts of Africa. Tonga in the Gwembe Valley show some differences and some similarities with those on the Plateau; many in both places have ancestors or relatives from the other. Toward the Falls and Livingstone the population has come to be known as "Toka"-- really a variation of "Tonga." To the north and

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