Kruger Tribal History – Hunter-Gatherers to Settlers

Our Kruger tribal history briefly covers the San, Nguni, the Makuleke people and the Ba-Phalaborwa who used to live in the present day national park area.

San and Nguni

Kruger National Park tribal history starts when hunter-gatherers, like the San people, roamed the present day national park region. There’s lots of their rock art in the park. The Nguni herders, who lived in most of south-east Africa, also roamed the park with their cattle.

Thulamela Settlement

In about 1550, groups of people from a large cultural civilisation who lived in what is currently Zimbabwe, moved south and crossed the Limpopo River.

They settled in an area called Pafuri Triangle. The area is also called Makuleke. It’s a piece of land bounded by the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers at the northern most tip of Kruger National Park.

One of the new settlements these people made was called Thulamela. It was a walled city on the southern bank of the Luvuvhu River. Lots of golden jewellery, Chinese porcelain and Arab glass beads have been found in the ruins.

Thulamela culture had faded away by 1650.

Makuleke People

The people of Makuleke began living in Pafuri Triangle in the early 1800s. The Makuleke were a Tsonga speaking tribe who farmed and fished.

The people were moved from Pafuri Triangle so the land could be incorporated into Kruger National Park.

In 1996 the Makuleke people submitted a land claim for the northern part of Kruger National Park. It was successful. The people invested in tourism and built a 5 star luxury safari lodge called Pafuri Camp. The lodge is decorated with fabric made locally by the Makuleke people and reflects their culture.


On the road between Phalaborwa Gate and Letaba Rest Camp, there’s a late Iron Age site called Masorini on top of a hill. The Sotho speaking Ba-Phalaborwa tribe lived there during the 1800s. They developed an advanced mining industry. They smelted iron ore and traded their products like spears, arrowheads and simple farming tools to:

  • Local tribes
  • Arabs
  • Chinese
  • Portuguese

The remains of the huts that they lived in and their furnace have been reconstructed by the local Ba-Phalaborwa people who now live on the borders of Kruger National Park. There’s a museum and picnic spot at this historical tribal site.