An Iron Age compound (reconstruction). Image credit

ZIMSEC O Level History Notes: Early Societies (Late Stone Age – Early Iron Age): Effects of the usage of iron

  • the effects of the usage of iron during the Iron Age can be divided into various groups:

Economic effects

  • The introduction made it possible for economic activities such as mining to start
  • They mined minerals such as iron, gold, copper, tin and silver.
  • They used farming methods such as reef and alluvial mining.
  • After iron was mined it was smelted and used to make iron tools such as axes, hoes, arrowheads, knives, or jewellery.
  • Minerals were also used for barter trade with locals and foreign trade with the East Coast Arabs
  • Iron tools made it possible for the tiling of hard soils thus more food was produced and resultantly populations increased
  • The use of iron also made shifting cultivation viable as pieces of land could be cleared and tree cut down, piled, burnt and used as manure.
  • There was domestication of crops like sorghum, millet and vegetables which improved diet
  • Surplus food was used for barter trade
  • The economy changed from a hunting and gathering one to a food production one with the introduction of metallurgy
  • Hunting and gathering were not abandoned but was also improved with the introduction of iron tools as they were efficient
  • The increase in population led to scarcity of resources and the scramble for resources leading to many migrations.
  • This meant there was more meat thereby improving the diet of the people

Social effects

  • Settlement now became permanent and larger as the nomadic lifestyle was abandoned
  • Social institutions grew and became more complex
  • Social classes began with rainmakers, priests, master hunters and metal craftsmen, cattle-owners, salt-pan guardians and traders competing for political influence
  • Iron smelters had a higher status as compared to great hunters
  • Minerals were also a symbol of wealth and status
  • They were used to pay lobola
  • Minerals were also used for tribute payment
  • There was division of labour between man and women
  • Due to the change in economic activities, discrimination against women started as their chores such as housekeeping, gathering and cultivation were valued less
  • Male dominance also surfaced with the coming of the Iron Age as societies became patriarchal
  • Iron also brought about job specialization and the practice of special trade like pottery, smelting, trading and hunting

Political effects

  • During the iron age the basic unit of production was the homestead which consisted of a man, wives and children usually
  • The rich started effecting rules and regulation so as to consolidate their positions
  • They started building up armies which were strong to protect their wealth and oppress the poor
  • The rich became chiefs an kings
  • Chiefs and kings had control over land and redistributed it
  • Iron led to the formation of first state like Great Zimbabwe, Mutapa and Rozvi among others
  • The states were regarded as closed territories ruled by king and could conduct raids on weaker states for women, children, young boys for the army and booty
  • Iron tools made it possible of total warfare and killing of many people because the weapons had become lethal
  • The Iron Age led to tension and war-fare as some kings became aggressive as they felt they were now powerful
  • Tribute payment was also another feature of the usage of iron and tribute was paid by subjects and raided states in the form of grains, minerals, tools among others
  • Tribute was paid as a sign of loyalty and in return subjects were guaranteed protection from external forces
  • Failure to pay tribute resulted in punishment and if it were a state they would be raided
  • Families grew into lineages and life revolved around the lineage one belonged to
  • The Khoisan clan was displaced as they were defeated in warfare by Bantus due to the inefficiency of their stone tools and small numbers with some being absorbed in the new states

Religious effects

  • Iron usage also led to the beginning of religious practices and the people believed in the Supreme God, Nyadenga creator of heaven and earth
  • The ruling class was guided and protected by spirit mediums and diviners
  • These also solved succession disputes thereby giving legitimacy to the ruling family
  • They mediated between the people and their ancestors for good harvests and regular harvests
  • Religion led to the tolerance of the exploitation by the ruling class thereby leading to unity
  • Disregarding the advice of a spirit medium led to disasters such as crop failure, droughts or late rains, animal attacks or a lightning strike

To access more topics go to the History Notes page.