Man’s Historical and Traditional Use of Fire in Southern Africa

Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 48)


Fire is of course far older than mankind and has been a major agent in the environment since the earth’s formative stages. It must have been perceived as a major force by the earliest hominids, as part of the consciousness of the australopithecines and their progeny, modern man. But the point of the Promethean myth is its emphasis on control, for the divine gift was the ability to use fire as an artefact, thus transforming parts of the environment at will. It is not surprising that Olympus decreed a severe punishment, for the effects of anthropogenic fire have been considerable: “The historic records from around the world leave no room to doubt that primitive hunting and gathering peoples, as well as ancient farmers and herders, for a number of reasons, frequently and intentionally set fire to almost all the vegetation around them which would burn.” (Stewart 1963). The purpose of this chapter is to examine the role of such fires in southern Africa in the broader context, beyond its use in modern commercial farming systems and land management.


Fire Regime Rock Shelter Swidden Cultivation Anthropogenic Fire Summer Rainfall Region 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin · Heidelberg 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Hall

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