What the objects tell us

Interaction, integration, and innovation at the 17th century Luso-African feira of Dambarare in northern Zimbabwe

French Institute Seminars in Humanities (FISH)

28 November 2016
10:00 - IFAS Conference Room, 62 Juta Street, Braamfontein

Catherine Schenck (UCT)
Alexander Antonites (University of Pretoria)

The Indian Ocean Trade Network, connecting large parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, was joined by the Portuguese towards the end of the 15th century. They settled on the eastern coastline of the African continent and soon attempted to move inland in order to get closer to the sources of gold and ivory which largely came from the Zimbabwe plateau.

South of the Zambezi River they established trading towns with the people of the Mutapa Kingdom. Dambarare was one such 17th century trading town (or feira in Portuguese), located 40km north-east outside of present-day Harare. Although occupation lasted less than a century at Dambarare, it is visible through the material culture that a unique community emerged at this place where people of different world(view)s met.

The question asked, therefore, is what can we find out about the nature of interaction at Dambarare through looking at the integration and innovation of material culture?

Catherine Schenck is a Master’s student in Archaeology at the University of Cape Town, supervised by Prof. Shadreck Chirikure. She is interested in situations of culture contact and change, and how objects can inform an understanding of interpersonal interactions. More specifically for her Master’s thesis she concentrates on hinterland dynamics in south-central Africa, related to the larger Indian Ocean Trade Network during the Early Modern Era.

Prof. Alexander Antonites works on the archaeology of Farming Communities in southern Africa. His earlier research concentrated on the social context of production. More specifically, he focused on discerning patterns of household and specialists activities and how these relate to economic organization of early farmers in southern Africa. Although production and consumption patterns remain a topic of interest, he has changed focus to political organization and hinterland-heartland interaction during the Mapungubwe period (c. AD 1200). The University of Pretoria has a long research history on Mapungubwe, and his research continues to build on this.

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