Graduate Student Akil Cornelius has been awarded a Fulbright IIE Fellowship for dissertation research in South Africa. Peter Alegi is the PhD advisor. The dissertation is tentatively titled “The Venda Armory: Warfare, Gender, and Technology in South Africa, 1820 to 1903.” Cornelius will undertake research in from January through December 2018.
Abstract: From the start of the mineral revolution in the 1870s until the South African War of 1899, Great Britain and the Afrikaner Republics subjugated indigenous societies within the borders of present-day South Africa, with one exception. My dissertation explores the history of the Venda confederation and the social, political and military history of its people, who embodied the last autonomous kingdom of the pre-colonial era. Situated in the northeastern extremity of the South African imperial frontier, this confederation of mountain chieftaincies dominated politics, commerce, and military affairs in the Limpopo river catchment from the eighteenth century until their eventual defeat in November of 1898. Venda people buttressed their military sovereignty with firearms, as did many other African societies. And yet, it was the unique role of women, in the vanguard of a musket-toting military that distinguished Venda fighting traditions from those of their seemingly invincible neighbors in Zululand. This multidisciplinary research project draws on evidence preserved in oral traditions, vernacular texts and archaeological artifacts, to reconstruct the hybrid security architecture that Venda people used to defend their kingdom against imperial aggression until the eve of the twentieth century.