The origins of Kruger and its first inhabitants

People have always felt a mysterious attraction to the Greater Kruger National Park area. Long before it had been named this area attracted ancient tribes that made it their homeland leaving for us intricate relics and artwork to find and observe in our modern age. The Stone Age Bushman of the Kruger National Park area who occupied this wilderness between 500,000 and 100,000 years ago survived of the land with wonderfully fashioned implements that they used in their every day lives in the savanna. These early savanna pioneers hunted and gathered for survival leaving their stories engraved or painted on rocks throughout the Park. For thousands of years these people lived in harmony with the land and all her creatures. There are many Cultural Sites situated throughout the Park that showcase this rich and diverse history. Some of these accessible sites which we like to share with client’s on our Overnight Safaris include:

Thulamela Iron Site – At the site of Thulamela, which is found in the far north of the Park, there is evidence of early human occupation that dates back some 1,5 million years. San people also lived in the area roughly 100,000 years ago and many of the first Nguni tribes brought their cattle to graze in the northern stretches of the Park around 2,000 years ago.

By 800AD the Arabs had started capturing natives in the area for slavery and civilisation sprang to life in the region of the site. These early immigrants tried to farm cattle and goats but as a result of the tough conditions they were forced to hunt and gather from the area. Crops that they were able to farm included millet, sorghum and beans. Artefacts were discovered and revealed that early iron ore smelting took place and as such gold was also mined. Gold then became the major source of trade together with ivory. These were traded for beads, cloth and corn.

Thulamela is part of the Great Zimbabwe culture and dates back over 1,000 years. Their cultural practices saw the rise of chiefdoms with their chiefs dwelling in large stone walled palaces on top of hills and ridges. The first recorded palace that was constructed was that of Mapungubu and was occupied between 1220 and 1300. Somewhere in the 1400s the great palace of Zimbabwe was abandoned and many of these original tribes ventured south across the great Zambezi and Limpopo rivers to establish new kingdoms.

The Muslim traders of the middle-east also began trading with India and China during the 8th century and by the 9th century started to expand their reach to include the east coast of and interior of South Africa. They had controlled much of the early gold trade until the arrival of the Portuguese who took over Sofala (now Beria) in 1515. Thulamala was occupied during this trading period and the presence of these traders is reflected in porcelain crockery, seashells and intricate beads found at the site.

Masorini Ruins – Towards the end of the 19th Century, there was a tremendous increase in trade between South Africa and Mozambique. One particular trade route that moved into the interior was via the present day town of Phalaborwa, which was on the way to Soekmekaar and the Soutpansberg. In this region the Ba-Phalaborwa people were well known craftsmen of ironware and their attracted all traders that passed through. Their industry was very sophisticated for their time and involved shallow open cast mining for iron ore. Labourers were also hired to make charcoal that would drive the smelting furnaces that reached temperatures of 1000°C.

The Masorini site today has been rebuilt by archaeologists from original stone walls that were discovered in the area. All of the furnaces and foundries are original but some huts have been built into the site to indicate the early hierarchy within this tribe. This early village offers some deep insight into the early technology used during this era with examples of pottery and implements on display.

When Gold was discovered near Pilgrims rest and Barberton in the late 1800’s fortune seekers from far and wide flocked in their droves to claim their stake in this early gold rush. With the many new migrants making their way into the area there was a great deal of pressure placed on the wilderness and in particular the wildlife.

Modern era settlers and their effect on the land, which is today Kruger National Park

With the influx of the Nguni tribes and the early settlers and their need for land and hunting of bush meat, it’s wasn’t surprising that without any regulation the natural game that occurred in this area was severely impacted.   Not surprisingly the wildlife numbers started to dwindle. For this reason new hunting regulation was put in place to manage and curb the scourge of slaughter. This did work to stabilise populations but there was another blow, which struck, the rinderpest. This epidemic reached Southern African in the late 1800’s killing all cattle and wildlife that stood in its path. Many South Africans were now very concerned as to the levels on natural occurring wildlife and the idea of state controlled reserves again took the spotlight.