The mountains of the Barberton Greenstone Belt have seen many peoples come and go. The ancestors of the San may have been mining here for ochre, haematite and specularite, used for rock art and body adornment, as much as 80 000 years ago. They were definitely working the Ngwenya iron/ochre mine in Swaziland 40 000 years ago. The San were displaced with the arrival of waves of Bantu peoples from the north beginning about 1 700 years ago. Around the time of the arrival of the Bantu, Indian traders, known as the MaKomati, were in the area in search of gold and other valuable commodities. Their legacy endures in the language of the region and even in the facial features of some of the Bantu people in this part of the world. The Swazi nation, then known as the Bembo-Nguni, migrated south from Kenya, settling for a time in Mozambique and later moving west to present-day Swaziland in the 18th century. The eNcakeni area (mostly the area known today as Songimvelo Nature Reserve) was settled by the bakaNgwane (people of Swaziland) under the eMjindini authority during the reign of King Mswati II (1840-1868). The first Europeans began exploring Africa in earnest in the late 16th century and eventually established settled footholds in Cape Town and along the east coast. Jan van Riebeck settled in the Cape in 1652 to establish a way station for ships sailing the spice route to the East Indies. In the late 18th century the British began to settle in the Cape. In the aftermath of political conflict between the English and the Dutch, and the discovery of gold in the hinterland, the population began to rapidly expand and move north.
The local history and the famous and sometimes rich, colourful characters of the past, such as Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, the Swazi Queen, Yoyo, of the Mjindini Kraal, the Barber brothers, French Bob and Cockney Liz are chronicled in books such as “Lost Trails of the Transvaal” by T. V. Bulpin and “Pioneers of the Lowveld” by local author Hans Bornman. A book well worth reading, if you can find a copy, is Cyril Hromnik’s highly controversial but extremely thought-provoking “Indo-Africa –– towards a new understanding of the history of sub-saharan Africa”.
The Barberton Museum has a display of cultural history artefacts that chronicle some of this rich heritage.