History of Tuli Block

© On a sunset-game walk at Mashatu Game Lodge
The Tuli region has one of the longest and most fascinating histories in Botswana, with many different groups fighting over it. It eventually became a sanctuary for the wildlife and now forms one of the most amazing wildlife regions in Africa.

The Tuli Block is situated in south eastern Botswana and is known as "the Land of Giants." The region has an illustrious history that has made it one of Botswana's prime destinations. The Tuli Block is located at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers.

For tens of thousands of years the majestic land was inhabited by the Bushman or San who roamed the endless plains, living in sheltered caves that occur among the amazing geological rock structures of the Limpopo Valley.

These early settlers were neither farmers nor herders, and lived solely off the land. Glimpses in to their lives can be seen through their rock art and cave paintings, which can still be seen around the Tuli area.

The bushman lifestyle remained unhindered for a long period up until 2000 years ago when they were uprooted by the aggressive ways of the Iron Age settlers. The arrival of these people from the east and west dramatically altered the cultural landscape of the region.

These traders were skilled iron craftsmen and made pottery specifically for trade and thus established vibrant commercial villages forcing previous traditional settlers off the land. They created large trading communities between neighboring tribes and regions which lasted for many years.

Slowly the climate shifted from being warm and perfect for crop cultivation to a colder dryer era forcing inhabitants to move away. Between 700 AD and 900 AD the region once again became inhabited by a group known as the Zhizo. With the arrival of this group came the emergence of a class structure whereby a man was the head of the household and the amount of cattle he possessed was the indicator of his wealth.

Cattle also became an indicator of political standing where politically important chiefs held more cattle than their lesser individuals with fewer cattle. History indicates that there was a conflict between the Zhizo and the Leopard Kopje people where the Leopard Kopje people eventually dominated and created a network between the inland area and the coast.Chiefs now gained much more wealth through trade, and with this wealth came power. Power struggles created a distinguished class society, whereby chiefs were regarded sacred and were buried in tombs. In the years to follow, the area became so congested with different peoples, that the Leopard Kopje people were forced to move to the Mapungubwe area within walking distance of the original settlement. Chiefs were now separate from their people who further evolved in terms of skills, farming and trade giving rise to a professional craftsmen class.

It was evident that by the 13th century, the people of Mapungubwe were skilled in many aspects including that of mining reef gold. This lead to lucrative trade networks with the surrounding coastal areas and increased the capitals economic and political power.

The climate shift meant that inhabitants of the Mapungubwe and other areas moved to the Great Zimbabwe region on the edge of an escarpment where people would receive whatever rainfall fell. Thus the collapse of the Mapungubwe was the Great Zimbabwe's gain. With the economic and political growth of the region came the cultural growth of its society.

The region flourished for almost 200 years until political turmoil lead to its demise just as the climate began improving. The fall of the Great Zimbabwe forced people to move southwards establishing settlements in the region of the Limpopo River Valley.

After the passing of three generations, the area had developed societies of merged groups and languages. Historical evidence points to the establishment of a new cultural capital at Khame.

The Khame sphere of influence was not as extensive as that of Great Zimbabwe but was several times larger than Mapungubwe. This was followed by the arrival of the European settlers, of which the Portuguese were the first, who had a profound effect on the kingdom as they arrived with guns which inevitably changed the scale of warfare. A civil war in Khame territory forced the Khame people to move further west into the Limpopo Valley where they became well established shortly after.

By the late nineteenth century eastern Tuli became central to a number of disputes between two powerful African chiefs creating many confrontations. Although the area was rather inhospitable due to dense bush, rocky outcrops and swamps with dangerous insects and animals, it was still in demand by all. President Kruger of the Transvaal seized the opportunity to stir up strife between the two chiefs in order to aid the Boer ambitions in the north of the Limpopo Valley.

The land was finally awarded to the Chief Khama while Rhodes pursued the railway route from Cape to Cairo, negotiating with the chief for the use of Tuli and its narrow strip of land parallel to the Limpopo River from Mafikeng to the Sashe River.

The resolution over the land eventually came about between the Khama and Rhodes on condition that the land was distributed into farms keeping it separate from the Boers of the South, and cattle of locals and Europeans remain divided to avoid the spread of disease which eventually happened anyway along the trade routes.

The relationship between Rhodes and Kruger continually declined due to their history of disagreeing over the use of the land, trade disputes and general mutual distrust. By the end of the 19th century Kruger had declared war on Britain, which started the bitter Anglo-Boer war. The war eventually ended when the Boers could no longer cope with the British resistance coupled with ongoing disease which was killing off horses and spreading to the soldiers who fell ill to severe fever.

This shameful past brought about a bright future however, as wherever there were animals there were hunters which spawned the birth of the great white hunter who exploited the land and its wildlife for this hero-like hunter status. Hunters however suffered the severe hunting conditions in the region with its immense number of bugs, insects and tsetse flies which spread disease.

The hunting became more of a sport as oppose to measures of trade for animal hides, tusks ,meat etc, and was widely known as a hunt at own risk area giving a sense of high status to successful hunters while at the same time depleting the wildlife population. Eventually when people became concerned about the depletion of the wildlife, it brought about the birth of a Northern Tuli Game Reserve as a wildlife conservation area.

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