Traditions of monumental stone architecture in present-day Zimbabwe are continued into the early seventeenth century by the Torwa state, an apparent offshoot of the Great Zimbabwe culture. Closer to the coast, in what is today eastern Zimbabwe and central Mozambique, the Mutapa state controls trade routes that link the coast to the interior. Prestige items imported from Asia and Europe, as well as locally produced cloth and precious metals, are disseminated through the Mutapa court to gain the support of client chiefdoms. On the island of Madagascar, the Maroserana dynasty, a ruling class of foreign origin, emerges in the early seventeenth century and gains control of populations and territories throughout southern and western Madagascar, forming the Menabe, Boina, and Mahafaly states. The Merina state of the central highlands, which is not under Maroserana rule, also emerges at this time. Textile and funerary arts are central to the courtly cultures of these polities. On the eastern coast of Madagascar, Arab-influenced rulers employ court scribes to compile royal histories in Arabic script called sora-bé. In 1652, the Dutch East India Company establishes the colony of Cape Town on the Cape of Good Hope in present-day South Africa. Wealthy Dutch landholders and members of the colonial government build lavish homes here in the Dutch colonial architectural style.
The Mutapa state, located south of the Zambezi River in present-day Mozambique and Zimbabwe, controls trade routes from the interior of southern central Africa to the coast. Luxury imports such as silks, carpets, ceramics, and glassware are incorporated into courtly culture and distributed among client chiefs to win support. Mines in this area produce large quantities of gold and silver that are worked into bracelets and other insignia of rule by local craftsmen. Machira cloth, made locally from indigenous cotton, is an important emblem of leadership that is draped over the ruler’s throne and hung from the palace walls. It is also used to wrap the bodies of deceased rulers and important officials. Animal products such as lion and leopard hides and ostrich plumes are reserved for royal use. Dynastic continuity is upheld through a cult of royal ancestors who advise and support the current ruler through court-appointed spirit mediums.
In present-day Zimbabwe, remains of decorative masonry found at Danangombe (the Torwa state’s second capital) feature herringbone and checkerboard motifs and probably date to the early 1600s. Torwa is conquered around 1650 by Dombo Changamire, who establishes the Rozvi dynasty. No large stone structures are believed to have been built after this point.
The Maroserana dynastic ruling class emerges on the island of Madagascar. Introducing concepts of large-scale state organization and divine kingship, branches of the Maroserana dynasty proceed to create several states throughout southern and western Madagascar. Linguistic and ethnographic evidence suggests that the founders of the Maroserana dynasty may have come from mainland East Africa, possibly from the Mutapa state.
Maroserana rulers consolidate their power along the southern coast of Madagascar, forming the Mahafaly state and introducing new models of social organization and kingship rituals. It appears that imposing royal tombs, made of stone and decorated with cattle skulls and carved wooden posts, are introduced at this time.
The leader Ralambo consolidates Merina society in the central highlands of Madagascar, forming the Merina state. A council of twelve royal amulet guardians known as the sampy, as well as royal circumcision and bathing rituals, are introduced during Ralambo’s rule. Noble and artisanal classes, a head tax, and a standing army are also created.
France establishes Fort Dauphin at Antanosy, on the southwest coast of Madagascar. Many French residents of the fort, including the first governor, marry into wealthy Malagasy families.
The states Menabe and Boina emerge in present-day western Madagascar. Although ruled by members of the foreign Maroserana dynasty, these states are composed of predominantly Sakalava populations. Consequently, elements of Sakalava cultures such as the dady and tromba, which are associated with the cult of royal ancestors, are adopted by the Maroserana for state use.
The Dutch East India Company settles Cape Town at the Cape of Good Hope in present-day South Africa. Wealthy residents and government officials build large homes for themselves in the Dutch colonial style. The home of Cape Town’s first governor, Willem Adrian van der Stel, is depicted in an engraving from 1705.
Portuguese merchants and adventurers settle along the banks of the Zambezi River in estates called prazos. Many prazeros adopt African customs and marry into local chiefly families.
Along the eastern coast of Madagascar, scribes at the courts of both indigenous and Arab-Malagasy (Antemoro) rulers produce sora-bé, royal records written in Arabic script. The earliest of these documents contain mostly religious formulae, but in later decades political accounts and clan genealogies are also recorded.
Great Britain gains control of Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope.
“Southern Africa, 1600–1800 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=09®ion=afo (October 2003)