African chiefdoms

Homesteads and villages

Crop cultivation led to a more settled village life, but this did not mean that the farmers stayed at one place all the time. When the land was not good for cultivation or if the area was affected by natural disasters such as drought or famine, the farmers would move in search of better land. Iron age farmers lived in settled villages that were made up of homesteads. Each homestead housed a family in a cluster of circular huts built out of poles and covered with thatch and sometimes mud plaster. 

Agriculture: crops and livestock

These crops were mainly grown in the savannah regions, which has grassy vegetation with trees scattered about. The farmers also kept animals such as cattle, goats, sheep and dogs.

Social, political and economic structures

Men and women had particular roles and had to carry out their duties on a daily basis. Children in the villages played an active part in the chores of daily life. They were educated by their parents to accept their different roles in society.

The chief was the head of the village. He was usually the wealthiest man in the village as he received cattle from his people when he settled their disputes or fined them for wrongdoing. His men also handed him cattle which were taken from any other chiefdoms that they overtook or defeated in warfare. The chiefs used their position of power to accumulate wealth

Cattle played a very important role in African farming societies as peoples wealth was mostly determined by the number of cattle they had. Cattle became a symbol of power, which led to African farming societies becoming hierarchical.

Note to teachers: SAHO is developing further content for this section

Last updated : 08-Aug-2016

This article was produced by South African History Online on 20-Jan-2012

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