An Iron Age fishing tale


  • G. Whitelaw Natal Museum & University of the Witwatersrand


The classic ethnographies indicate that most southern African Bantu speakers did not eat fish. Contrary archaeological and historical evidence shows that Iron Age people fished along the South African east coast. Fishing took several forms. It is useful to distinguish between institutional fishing with traps and drives, where fishing was implicated in social production and reproduction, and more casual, informal spearfishing that was simply another way of getting food. Whereas informal fishing probably occurred wherever people lived close to the coast, environmental circumstances limited the opportunities for institutional fishing. Institutional fishing was probably more common north of Mhlatuze lagoon, though Natal Bay was a southern outlier where people built fish traps possibly from the seventh century AD onwards. In the 1770s, the significance of fishing there provided the invading Thuli with an important ideological resource when they took control of the territories around the bay.

To cite this paper: Whitelaw, G. 2009. An Iron Age fishing tale. Southern African Humanities 21: 195-212.



How to Cite

Whitelaw, G. (2021). An Iron Age fishing tale. Southern African Humanities, 21, 195–212. Retrieved from

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