The Plateau in the Late Nineteenth Century
For much of the later nineteenth century, the Tonga Plateau was a relatively unsettled, unprosperous, underpopulated place. A series of African invaders, raiders, and tribute takers hit the Plateau, bringing instability and sometimes violence, extracting wealth and people. It is true that early European observers exaggerated the degree of devastation experienced on the Plateau; they cherished a "liberator" self-image and developed a stereotype of the "mild" or "docile" Tonga, an image often contradicted by actual behavior in the colonial period. 1 Nonetheless, Tonga sources generally confirm that intermittent disruption shaped the context in which communities lived and worked in the period, and negatively affected their welfare.
Conditions in this period may well have represented a departure from previous eras. The archaeological record of the Plateau indicates a "basic cultural continuity" from about the twelfth to the nineteenth century. Bantu peoples belonging to a "Tonga" or "Tonga Diaspora" pottery tradition developed a way of life based on the use of iron and a combination of hunting and gathering, crop cultivation, and herding of livestock, including cattle. The Tonga tradition had replaced two earlier Iron Age cultures on the Plateau, the first of which dates to the fourth or fifth century A.D. 2
There is evidence that by the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century the Plateau was supporting populations of considerable density and prosperity. David Livingstone, who traversed the Plateau in the 1850s and was the first to record his observations, said "everywhere we came on the vestiges of large towns and extensive cultivation."3 Jesuit missionaries noted in 1903 the abundant signs of dense population and extensive gardens which they estimated to have existed some fifty to sixty years previously. 4
By the time of Livingstone's visit, however, the Tonga were living in small and widely separated settlements; he called them "a nation scattered and peeled." 5 Some years earlier an invading force had come