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The meaning of «bokoni»

Bokoni (meaning 'land of the people from the north') was a pre-colonial, agro-pastoral society found in northwestern and southern parts of present-day Mpumalanga province, South Africa.[1] Iconic to this area are stone-walled sites, found in a variety of shapes and forms. Bokoni sites also exhibit specialized farming and long-distance trading with other groups in surrounding regions. Bokoni saw occupation in varying forms between approximately 1500 and 1820 A.D.

Across literature, a number of variants can be seen of Bokoni. These include Bokone, BoKoni, Bakoni, Bakone, and BaKoni.

A great deal of debate surrounds terminology regarding Bokoni and its residents. Linguistically, Bokone translates to 'northern region', and translates Bakone to 'people from the north'.[1] BoKoni and BaKoni are no longer considered accurate in their frequent, incorrect depiction of Koni origins. In spite of inaccuracies surrounding the term 'Koni' (having been used to describe an incorrect background as Nguni), it is still used in reference to the communities associated with Bokoni. It is generally agreed upon that this is a term applied to the group by outsiders, not one used by the Koni for self-identification.[2] Bakoni, also referring to 'people of the north', sees very infrequent use and could be seen as an alternate spelling of Bokoni or Bakone.[2] With the interests of aligning with the most popular terminology in literature, Bokoni will be used (to reference the society), as will Koni (to reference the people).

In the same way that Bokoni relates to the Koni, 'Bopedi' (sometimes listed as Bapedi) refers to the area or society of the Pedi people.[3]

It is thought in recent studies that the Koni are not a single ethnic entity, and should not be counted as such. Archaeological studies conducted on early Koni sites may actually study a selection of groups, bearing different origins and ethnicities, that arrived in the same region around the same time. At some point between then and the more recent stages of Bokoni's history, these groups merged and formed a collective identity.[2] It has been theorized that Roka groups made up part of this merged identity.[4] A number of scholars note that some of the groups making up the Koni came from the east of the area, while others came from the northwest.[5] Other academic sources note that modern Koni groups reference Swaziland (modern-day Eswatini) to be the location of their ancestral origin.[5][6][7]

Bokoni sites are found almost continuously between Orighstad and Carolina, usually along the various rivers branching out to the east and west along this 150 kilometer stretch.[8][9] Bokoni communities generally consisted of centralized, large villages, found on valley hills; with smaller settlements bearing similarities surrounding them.[10] The largest of the villages associated with Bokoni have been measured at over 5 kilometers across.[11] There are a few notable outliers to these patterns: including clusters of sites in the nearby southern Komati Valley, and within the Crocodile Tributaries. A single cluster of sites can also be found to the west of the general Bokoni region, in the Steelpoort Valley; but these sites do not bear the same characteristics as other Bokoni sites, and have been somewhat ignored in various analyses. The Bokoni region has also been described more generally as being between the Leolu Mountains, the Spekboom River, and the Badfontein Valley.[7]

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