Rulership and Colonialism in the Mpondo Kingdom (c. 1780-1867)
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From roughly 1818 to 1867, Faku was ruler of the Mpondo Kingdom located in what is now the north-east section of the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Because of Faku’s legacy, the Mpondo Kingdom became the last African state in Southern Africa to fall under colonial rule.
When his father died, Faku inherited his power. In a period of intense raiding, migration and state formation, he transformed the Mpondo polity from a loosely organized constellation of tributary groups to a centralized and populous state with effective military capabilities and a prosperous agricultural foundation. In 1830, Faku allowed Wesleyan missionaries to establish a station within his kingdom and they became his main channel of communication with the Cape Colony, and later Natal. Ironically, he never showed any serious inclination to convert to Christianity.
From the 1840s to early 1850s, this Mpondo king played a central, yet often understated, role in the British colonization of South Africa. While over the years his territory and power declined, Faku remained quite astute in diplomatic negotiations with colonial officials and used his missionary connections to optimum advantage.
Timothy J. Stapleton’s narrative and use of oral history paint a clear and remarkable portrait of Faku and how he was able to manipulate missionaries, neighbours, colonists and circumstances to achieve his objectives. As a result, Faku: Rulership and Colonialism in the Mpondo Kingdom (c.1780-1867) helps illuminate the history of the entire Cape region.
Timothy J. Stapleton born and educated in Newfoundland, became a postdoctoral fellow at Rhodes University in South Africa and a senior lecturer at the University of Fort Hare, South Africa. He is currently an assistant professor of history at Trent University, Ontario. His previous book is Magoma: Xhosa Resistance to Colonial Advance.
“Stapleton’s magisterial overview of the reign of Faku, chief from the early 1810s to 1867 of the Mpondo Kingdom in the northeastern portion of the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, will be of considerable interest to southern African historians.... Stapleton’s painstaking reconstruction of the military and political history of Faku’s reign ... goes beyond individual biography to shed light on the regional politics of a complicated period. The work is more broadly a useful contribution to the project of reconstructing the history of rural South Africa before the advent of formal colonialism.... [T]his detailed examination of the Mpondo kingdom will doubtless be very helpful to those trying to work out the overall pattern of regional dynamics, as well as to those interested in early nineteenth-century African state formation. Stapleton reinforces what appears to be a growing consenseus that whatever the most important causes of regional conflict, scholars must look well beyond the Zulu and dig deeper than the 1820s and 1830s.... [T]his is a pioneering and significant work.”
— Elizabeth Elbourne, McGill University, Canadian Journal of African Studies
“With this book, Tim Stapleton cements his reputation as one of the most important historians of the Cape frontier in the 19th century. This was a period that saw the emergence of powerful and innovative African political leaders in much of southern Africa....Though poorly studied up to now, Faku belongs in this group. Though less revolutionary than Shaka and less innovative than Moshoeshoe, he parried the efforts of African rivals over a half-century and adeptly used his links with the British and with Wesleyan missionaries to establish his dominion over a large area. The Mpondo kingdom he created was the largest of the Xhosa states. Stapleton uses oral tradition, missionary letters, colonial archives and published accounts to give us a full and interesting picture of Faku’s life and a vivid picture of the complex conflicts that shaped an area caught between the expanding power of first Zulu and then, British expansionism.”
— Martin A. Klein, University of Toronto
“[An] impressive biography ... Stapleton’s control of his sources is admirable. The story he tells is a complicated one, as Faku played politics for fifty years with a cast of characters that included British colonial officials, British traders, the Zulu, the Griqua, the San, and the Mpondo royal family and their clients. He has included helpful appendices listing all the players—African and European—and the significant dates and events. His conclusion is an excellent summary of both the substance and the themes of his book.”
— Catherine Higgs, University of Tennessee, International Journal of African Historical Studies
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