Contact and Conquest, 1890-1904
If the "frontier" opens with the first regular contact between indigenes and intruders and closes "when a single political authority has established hegemony over the zone," 1 then the frontier history of the Tonga Plateau was short indeed--little more than a decade. Three processes dominated this period: the migration of Tonga males southward to perform wage labor; the arrival of the first significant waves of Europeans; and the European colonial occupation of the Plateau.
The largest category of Tonga to "migrate" south before 1890 probably consisted of those taken as slaves by Ndebele raiders. Otherwise, indirect evidence suggests that a few especially adventurous Plateau men may have travelled far southward for work or other reasons before 1890. In 1888 F. C. Selous found Tonga in the neighboring Gwembe Valley far more extortionate than on his first visit eleven years earlier. They had lost their fear of the white man, said the famous hunter, whom they now considered "only a mortal like themselves." He attributed the change to the fact that many of the Valley men had been to the South African diamond fields and to Ndebele country. 2
As the British conquest of Southern Rhodesia proceeded in the years 1890-1897, Tonga movement to the budding, scattered employment centers in that territory increased. The Ndebele defeat of 1893 ended Ndebele raiding, and it is likely that some freed slaves went home to the Plateau and carried word of the new possibility of wage labor. St. Hill Gibbons commented, while describing a visit to Tonga country in 1895, that the black workers called "Barotse boys" or "Zambezi boys" in Southern Rhodesia and South Africa were "almost entirely" drawn from the Tonga. 3 By the end of the 1890s, Tonga laborers had become a regular part of the work force in Southern Rhodesia, particularly in and around the fledgling gold mines of Matabeleland. A few continued to the Transvaal or Cape. Robert Coryndon, North-Western Rhodesia's first Administrator, stated in 1900 that Tonga from Pla teau and Valley