The kingdom of the Barolong, kgosi Tau, and smallpox in 18th-century Southern Africa

Photo: 'The Town of Leetakoo', engraved and published by Samuel Daniell (1805).

This will be a physical event with a maximum capacity of 30 attendees. Watch the livestream here.

From at least the beginning of the 18th century and until at least the 1770s, the morafe or kingdom of the Barolong played a central role in the history of the Southern African interior. Then it collapsed during an epidemic, fragmenting in a number of groups competing for resources and primacy, which were progressively marginal on the expanding colonial frontier. A hundred years later, as colonialism engulfed the Diamond Fields and the surrounding lands, only the vague but recurring idea of the old ‘Land of Tau’ was left.

The paper is an introduction to the history of the Barolong in the 18th century, sketching the eventful rule of kgosi Tau, the internal crisis, and the memory, remains, and remnants of the Barolong in the early 19th century. The work moves from the most recent archaeological research and from the redefinition of ‘traditional’ sources as writings of history in their own right, and proposes an analysis of long distance trade, urbanism, and smallpox epidemics in the Southern African interior.

Ettore Morelli is a visiting fellow at the ASCL and a historian of Southern Africa. He is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pavia, Italy, and a member of the PRIN (Research Project of National Relevance) Genealogies of African Freedoms. Ettore’s main research area is the history of the interior of Southern Africa before colonialism, ca.1500-ca.1850. He has published on war captivity and slavery in Sesotho-speaking communities in the 19th century and is currently working the overlapping, differences, and links between elite marriage and slavery in Lesotho in the 19th century. Other current projects include an analysis of the impact of Catholic missionaries on the shaping of royal power and on the discourse on ‘traditional marriage’ in Lesotho since c.1862, and a study of African travellers and travel routes before colonialism.

Date, time and location

22 June 2021
15.30 - 17.00
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Room S.A41