Norman Etherington: The Great Treks

In a series of papers and within his 2001 book The Great Treks, Norman Etherington presented revisionist histories of the ‘Great Trek’ and ‘the Mfecane’. He argued that depictions of each have been shaped by scholarly assumptions and in some cases by deliberate misrepresentations by white colonial scholars.  Rejecting the special significance frequently afforded to the Afrikaner trek, Etherington argued that a succession of ‘great treks’ by numerous African and European groups had taken place across south-east Africa between 1815 and 1854. These treks were closely associated, he argued, but had long been treated as insular phenomena. Etherington praised Julian Cobbing’s Mfecane critique in so far as it had exposed the extent to which colonial intrusion into south-east African was a significant influence on the region.  Etherington also criticised the notion that African state-formation was specific to the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries, thus demonstrating how the notion of African state-formation had become entwined with the concept of the Mfecane.

Relevant Works

Cobbing, Julian. “The Mfecane as Alibi: Thoughts on Dithakong and Mbolompo”. The Journal of African History 29, no. 3 (1988), 487-519.

Etherington, Norman. “A False Emptiness: How Historians May Have Been Misled by Early Nineteenth Century Maps of South-Eastern Africa”. Imago Mundi 56, no. 1 (2004), 67-86.

Etherington, Norman. “A Tempest in a Teapot? Nineteenth-Century Contests for Land in South Africa’s Caledon Valley and the Invention of the Mfecane”.  Journal of African History 45 (2004), 203-219.

Etherington, Norman. The Great Treks: The Transformation of Southern Africa, 1815–1854. London: Pearson Education Limited, 2001.

Etherington, Norman. “Were There Large States in the Coastal Regions of Southeast Africa before the Rise of the Zulu Kingdom?” History in Africa 31 (2004), 157-183.


Online from: 16 Jul 2021