History of Eswatini till the emergence of Swazi nation

Early history of Eswatini

The Swazi nation is a fairly recent political grouping; the main amalgamation of clans happened under Dlamini military hegemony around the middle of the 19th century. Nonetheless, the record of human settlement in what is now Eswatini stretches too far back into prehistory. The earliest stone tools date back more than 250,000 years, and later stone implements are linked with evidence of Homo sapiens from possibly as long ago as 100,000 years. By 42,000 years ago dwellers were quarrying red and black hematite ore on the top of the Ngwenya massif for cosmetic purposes. This is regarded as one of the earliest mining and trading activities on our earth. Mining continued there unabated for many thousands of years after that. Archaeological record reveals habitation by the ancestors of the San hunter-gatherers about 20,000 years ago. They created distinct rock paintings found across the western part of the country.

Groups of Bantu-speaking peoples (Nguni, Tswana, and Sotho) moved southward across the Limpopo River about 2,000 years ago. They indulged in crop cultivation, kept livestock (goats and sheep), smelted iron, and used pottery—so they are regarded as Early Iron Age peoples. Cattle were introduced at a later date. These people were residing at Ngwenya, where the mining of iron ore has been dated to around 400 CE. During the succeeding centuries the more alluring areas of Eswatini were inhabited by these ancestors of the Sotho and Nguni clans, the Swazi came across in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The Dlamini clan ancestors were part and parcel of this southward movement, which got to the Delagoa Bay area of Mozambique quite some time before the arrival of the Portuguese in the early 16th century. There the ancestors of the Dlamini clan settled as part of the Thembe-Tonga group of peoples till the mid-18th century, when, possibly because of dynastic clash, they moved southward along the coastal plain between the mountains and the Indian Ocean—“scourging the Lubombo,” as a royal song of praise puts it. Till this time they termed themselves Emalangeni, after an ancestral chief named Langa. Later they proceeded westward through the Lubombo range and up the Pongola valley, where around 1770 they established the first core of the Swazi nation (bakaNgwane) nearby what is now Nhlangano.

Emergence of the Swazi nation

This was an extremely turbulent period in the history of southeastern Africa, when quite a few major clan groupings were struggling for supremacy. Two of these, the Zulu and the Ndwandwe, situated to the south of the new Ngwane homeland, constituted a grave threat to the Dlamini, who were attempting to establish their control over the clans among whom they had settled. Nonetheless, by the end of the century, they had achieved significant success in assimilating some of these clans and in forging ties with others to create a new political grouping. However, this new power base was not robust enough to ward off aggression by their southern neighbours, so around 1820 under their new king—Sobhuza I, or Somhlohlo (“The Wonder”)—they progressed northward to establish a far safer heartland in central Eswatini (the Middleveld). Son of Sobhuza I (Mswati II) gave his name to the nation.

National Flag