Thursday, 26 March 2015


Sunduzwayo Madise
27 March 2015
Edited 19 October 2015
This article is about the historical origins of the Ngoni found predominantly in Mzimba (Jele[1]) and those headquartered in Ntcheu (Maseko). It is not about the battles that the Ngoni fought, nor is it about the succession battles that each group has had to overcome. It is not about the Ngoni language or culture, although elements as they impact on this article may be touched upon. Though the article mentions present day situations, these are for the sake of comparison and context. The article really does not aim to go into events that occurred after the 19th century. And since most of the sources were originally through oral means, it is possible there maybe a few differences in sources of events and when they happened. This is conceded. In a sense, this article aims to acquaint the reader with an overview of where the two groups predominantly originated from. To those who may be of Ngoni origin, it may be a revelation, surprise, confirmation, a shock – all depending on the history that each individual has grown up to know. As a piece of researched and academic work, it would fail in its purpose if it did not do this. But this research is on-going. Although it is written in a personalised manner, the sources of information have been cross-checked and at times triangulated. But like all research, in order to attain rigour, this work is open to and will benefit from criticism and views. It is therefore a living piece of writing. The use of bold is regrettably deliberate as some of these words maybe new to most readers.

The thrust of the thesis of this article is that the Maseko Ngoni originated from Swaziland while the Jele Ngoni originated from Zululand. However both may be correct to claim that they originated from Natal, because Natal in the early years was the whole region of South-East Africa. Despite differences in their origins, the two groups are cousins. The lived next door in Natal to each other before events thrust them to meet again, but in another part of Africa.

The word Ngoni has been held to be a corruption of the word Nguni. Where used in this article, Nguni refers to the collections of clans and tribes occupying South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho. The Nguni themselves were invaders, named after their legendary leader Nguni, who came down from northern Central Africa bringing with them cattle that was non indigenous to the Southern Africa region.[2] The cattle they brought is aptly called Nguni cattle.[3] The unique click sound of their language is attributed to contact with the San people of the South.[4] The Zulu, Swati and the Ndebele are of the Northern Nguni group while the Xhosa, Pondo and Thembu are from the Southern group.[5]

As used in this article, Ngoni refers to the Nguni that entered and settled in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania after they fled the effects events that unfolded with the rise to power of Shaka in the Natal region.

At this point it is important to mention that the Ndembele, like the Jele both trace their roots to Zululand. However, their flight north was not a joint enterprise and although both run away from Shaka, the reasons were different.

From Swati to Ngoni – the flight of the Maseko Ngoni
The other day I made a facebook posting regarding Nhlangano in Ntcheu and stated that the majority of the Ngoni there are Swati. I argued that actually the name Tsangano as it is called now is a Chewalisation and corruption of Nhlangano. The Chewa speaking people who the Maseko Ngoni found in Ntcheu clearly could not be expected to pronounce the uniquely Nguni pronunciation of ‘Nhla’. Nhlangano means a meeting place, and is an actual place and town in present day Swaziland.[6]

The Maseko Ngoni delineate their roots back to the valley of the Usutu River in modern day Swaziland.[7] The Maseko Ngoni also refer to their ‘odyssey from Natal to Malawi.[8] It is important that Natal not be confused with present day Natal. In the 18th to 19th century, Natal referred to most of South-East Africa.[9] Swaziland, being next to KwaZulu Natal would have been part of the Natal region of the time. However the Swati are not restricted to Swaziland and it is stated that there are more Swati in South Africa than in Swaziland.[10]

The Kingdom of Swaziland is actually knows in Swati as Umbuso weSwatini. [11] It is also called kaNgwane or Eswatini. [12] In Eswatini, Swazis are not called Swazis but emaSwati, and the language is siSwati, a Nguni language.[13] Sometimes the term bakaNgwane (Ngwane people) is used alternatively to emaSwati, and this is because history indicates that the Ngwane people entered present day Swaziland around 1600.[14]  Other records indicate that Ngwane was actually the leader of this group and the group later became known as Ngwane.[15] They settled along the Pongola River, in close proximity to the Ndwandwe people. This is important because it highlights the closeness of the emaSwati to the Ndwandwe.[16] The significance of being called Ngwane will be illustrated later when we discuss the first leader of the Maseko Ngoni. The significance of the emaSwati or bakaNgwane being cousins to the Ndwandwe will also become clear in due course.

Uniquely the Swati refer to their king as Ingwenyama or Ngwenyama (the Lion).[17] In Malawi, only the Maseko Ngoni refer to their Paramount King as such. It is also interesting that among the Swati, their chiefs are never called Makhosi and their King is never referred to as Inkosi ya Makhosi (Makosi). The Maseko Ngoni refer to their Ingwenyama as Inkosi ya Makhosi. It is submitted this is something the Maseko Ngoni may have picked from the Jele Ngoni as they both run away, the Maseko Ngoni from inkatha and the Jele Ngoni from the Mfecane (discussed below). This is so because inkosi is a Zulu word meaning chief or king. It is not a general Nguni name.

Research indicates that the Maseko Ngoni moved out because they regarded themselves as within reach of the lethal inkatha impetus of Shaka. [18] Inkatha is a Zulu word which means ‘crown of woven grass’, a tribal emblem symbolizing the force of unifying the Zulu nation.[19] This was achieved most by assimilating defeated clans and tribes. It symbolises ‘unity, strength and arguably nationhood.’[20] Shaka is widely credited with uniting the Northern Nguni, especially the Mthethwa and Ndwandwe into the Zulu Kingdom.[21] The process of unification however was through military conquest and submission, and bloody.

To understand why this trek by the Ngoni northwards started, it is important that we revisit the birth of the Zulu Kingdom itself. And in doing this we will have to discuss the birth of the Zulu Empire and the flight of Zwangendaba Jele.

From small tribe to Empire, the effects of Mfecane and the flight of the Jele Ngoni
The original Zulu tribe was a small one.[22] Their King was Sezangankhona. Shaka was an illegitimate son of Sezangankhona. He and his mother Nandi, were exiled and lived among the Mthethwa people.[23] As a young man, he fought under Dingiswayo, chief of the Mthetwa. After the death of Senzangakona, with the help of his godfather Dingiswayo, Shaka, took over the Zulu throne, through violent means.[24] Before these events the Zulu, Mthetwa, Ndwandwe and other groups were generally peaceful; dancing more than fighting! In the TV series ‘Shaka Zulu’ it was suggested that wars were not won by who fought best, but who danced best, with their women cheering them on![25] It does not mean wars were not fought, rather that they were not widespread. Shaka changed all that. He organised a band of strong fearless young men he called his Impi. Impi is a Zulu word for any armed body of men, but is used in association with a Zulu regiment.[26] Amongst other Nguni groupings, the term is also for their regiments, but its origin are Zulu. Impi were not only Shaka’s soldiers but his trusted bodyguards as well. He trained his impi in what could be described at the time as modern welfare. With his impi he caught the neighbouring clans unawares and quickly run over them. The sound of the impi, stamping the ground before the attack, with their spears drumming against the shield creating a frenzy was enough to scare any enemy into submission. Shaka organised a strong army by recruiting young men from around his tribe to become soldiers.[27] So even from an early stage, it is most likely that the Zulu army comprised not just Zulu, but also Ndwandwe, Mthetwa and even Swati.

But Shaka’s greatest achievement may well have been his plans for expansion from a small kingdom to a mighty empire through inkhatha.  He also started organising the kingdom socially, culturally and politically and introduced what we can in modern times call far reaching and revolutionary reforms. But clearly his most revolutionary reform was of a military nature. He organised his impi into a mean fighting machine; designing a bigger and stronger shield for them. Fundamentally he redesigned and reengineered the assegai, a light spear or wooden javelin with a pointed iron into the iklwa or ixwa, a name given after the sound that was heard as it was withdrawn from the victim’s wound.[28] Previously the spears were being used more as if it was a javelin contest. Therefore the warfare was not one of close combat, but comprised of warriors throwing their spears at each other, usually without much accuracy and damage. It is said the women would determine the winner according to accuracy of throws and how much were still remaining. Until then it was not very bloody. Shaka changed that. The iklwa was a mid-range weapon with a characteristically ‘long, dagger like blade that was about half the length of the overall spear.’[29] The iklwa could be used as a stabbing as well as a cutting and chopping (slashing) weapon. But it could also be thrown. This meant the iklwa could be used at mid-range, but was more deadly at close combat. Compared to the tradition spear, the charging impi armed with the iklwa was a beastly sight that would leave most foe shaking in their feet and running for dear life. Any spears thrown javelin-like at the impi were easily repealed by the redesigned long shield (sihlangu). The long body length sihlangu ensured protection of the impi unlike the short shields which were custom. The iklwa and redesigned sihlangu were probably the greatest military invention of the time, and was the turning point to catapult Shaka into a new status, the iN’gwazi (root of the name Ngwazi). The iN’gwzi was the ultimate destroyer. The title came because the destruction was one that resulted from killing (kugwaza).  In present day Ngoni talk, one hears of mkondo for spear. I know so, because we have one in our family, left by my father. The actual Zulu name is umkhonto (from which comes umkhonto we sizwe – spear of the nation).

Shaka did not only create military superiority, but also ensure that his Kingdrom was well organised. Despite his brief and bloody reign, Shaka was really a big thinker and the Zulu political and social organisation can still be seen where the Ngoni have settled even outside KwaZulu. Its effects on KwaZulu are still felt to this present day. His military tactics shaped the landscape of most of Southern Africa. A clear example is how we in Malawi have come to accept the title of nduna (derived from induna) to mean government minister or chief’s councillor. This demonstrates the high level of political development that already existed during the Zulu kingdom.

Events started to unfold with the growth in stature of the Ndwandwe. Zwide, the son of Langa, who he succeeded as chief, built up the Ndwandwe into a formidable force.[30] When he expanded to the borders with that of the ‘rival bloc of Sobhuza I, Ngwenyama of the emaSwati, Sobhuza avoided war by migrating north, where he founded the modern Swazi Kingdom.’[31] Zwide’s next target in assuming supremacy among the north Nguni was the Mthetwa confederation led by Dingiswayo.[32] He tricked Dingiswayo into a trap and had him killed.[33] Zwide was known as a magician and it is alleged he added Dingiswayo’s head to his grisly collection of trophies.[34] Shaka made an alliance of peace with the Ndwandwe, most likely I would think, because he was afraid of Zwide’s magic powers. Shaka assumed the leadership of the reader-less Mthetwa confederation, assimilating them into the Zulu Kingdom, which was now rapidly expanding.[35] Wary of the young Shaka, Zwide sent an army to attack Shaka, but was outsmarted by the young man’s tactics resulting in a defeat at the Battle of Mthetwa in 1818.[36] In the following year, Zwide sent his entire army and this time the defeat was decisive, at the Battle of the Mhlatuze River in 1819, resulting in a counter-invasion by Shaka and scattering the Ndwandwes.[37] Other records treat this as a Zulu civil war as the Ndwandwe were largely considered part of the Zulu Confederate.[38] This not only broke the alliance between the Zulus and the Ndwandwes, but it also brought the latter under the authority of the Zulu Empire and in the process unleashed a murderous campaign against other Nguni tribes and clans, setting in motion what later became infamously known as Mfecane. Mfecane is the Zulu name for the scattering, forced dispersal and forced migration across Southern Africa.[39] Some of the Ndwandwe chose to remain under Zulu sovereignty while other joined Soshangane and another joined Zwangendaba.[40] A later group joined Mzilikazi. Zwangendaba kaZiguda Jele Gumbi the son of Nonyanda kaZiguda Jele, was a commander in the Ndwandwe army.[41] The Jele  or Gumbi clan were therefore one. His young brother Somkhanda kaZiguda Jele remained with the Gumbi clan in Kwazulu (Pongola) and their current chief is Mbhekiseni Zeblon Gumbi.[42]

Zwide himself fled and over the next couple of years attempted to regroup the Ndwandwe.[43]

Shaka built his headquarters at a place he called Bulawayo (the place of the killing), not to be confused to modern Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. [44] Modern day Bulawayo was founded by Mzilikazi, a general in Shaka’s army who revolted and then had to flee north. The Zulu kingdom started disintegrating after the death of Shaka's mother, Nandi, the Indlovukazi[45] (mother elephant but also ‘Queen mother’). Shaka is said to have put on his full military regalia and screamed in anguish, as the entire Zulu tribe screamed in unison-anguish.[46] He is said to have executed several people on the spot and a general massacre broke out with some 7,000 odd dead, what was considered a befitting tribute to someone of Nandi’s stature.[47] Shaka really never recovered from Nandi’s death, who he almost worshipped, and was himself killed by his half-bother Dingane (Dingaan) the same year (1827).[48]

During his reign Shaka was not the lion; he chose a bigger representation of the animal kingdom and was the Indlovu (elephant but meaning great King). In fact after he defeated Zwide, one of Zwide’s children, Sikhunyana sought to succeed his father.[49] His brother, Somaphunga, realising this, went and put himself under the power of Shaka.[50] The story was then told of Indlovu ethe imuka babeyilandela abakwaLanga meaning ‘The elephant which as it went away those of Langa follow’.[51] AbakwaLanga (was a reference to the Ndwandwe because Zwide was the son of Langa).[52] Sikhunyana did briefly succeed Zwide but was swiftly defeated by Shaka.

So other than be under Shaka’s rule, Zwangendaba left. Others say he tactfully withdrew while others say he fled. Whichever way, he decided to move north.

The journey to settle in Mzimba
The common narrative is that is that Zwangendaba and his followers passed through Zimbabwe, on to Mozambique before crossing the Zambezi. Others have him passing through Swaziland. Others have him going to Swaziland before he fled. There is more credible evidence of the first route and a temporal settlement in Zimbabwe (Rozviland, near Bulawayo) and Manyikaland where the Zwangendaba group met and had skirmishes with the Soshangane group before they split.[53] It is also undisputed that the Ngwane Maseko started off from Swaziland, passed through Mozambique before crossing the Zambezi. Because of the closeness of the Swati and the Ndwandwe-Zulu clans, it is also possible that there were Ndwandwe-Zulus living in Swaziland and vice versa. In other words, it is submitted that the Maseko and the Jele groups may well have had people from each others’ clans as well as from other clans within the Natal area. In fact, records show that some Swati joined up with the Zwangendaba group, and two of Zwangendaba’s wives were Swati sisters who had followed them. What is unclear is whether these and other Swatis were with the group in Zulu land or they joined them in Swaziland.

It is not clear at which stage the Zulu-Ndwandwe group of Zwangendaba and the Swati group of Ngwane Maseko started calling themselves Nguni again, but what is clear is that by the time they crossed the Limpopo, they were no longer known by the clan names, but rather by the larger Nguni name. This may well be because they wanted to dissociate themselves from events back home and start a new life. But being warriors they caused havoc and conquered wherever they went.

The Nguni (both groups) who came over to Nyasaland were a rather small band of people, but because they had superior military skills, they as well as the political skills of assimilating those they conquered, thereby enlarging their numbers as they moved along.

Other scholars have described the reasons why the Ngoni settled in Malawi, as offering an ‘area of refuge’; one would say from the terror of Shaka.[54]

There are many stories of how the Maseko Ngonis and Jele Ngonis trekked north. Others place the migration as a joint exercise with a split occurring at the crossing of the Zambezi River.[55] Others place the split before the crossing of the Zambezi River. Others however, say these were two different migrations and although closely related in time, were not taken as a joint enterprise. Others attribute the Zwangendaba flight strictly due to Shaka but the Maseko flight as a result of Mziilizaki’s Mfecane (discussed below).

The joint enterprise story would make sense from two angles. Firstly, looking at the location of Swaziland which is north of Zululand, it makes logical sense that the trek was a joint enterprise of sorts, and that either the fleeing Ndwadwe joined up with the Swati who were ready to flee or the Swati upon seeing the fleeing Ndwandwe decided to join them. The second reason is that since the Ndwandwe and the Swati were neighbours in ‘Natal’, when they found themselves on the run from a common enemy, it was logical that they join forces.  Those who subscribe to this refer to a love-hate relationship that saw the two groups having cat-and-mouse but deadly battles for supremacy leading to a split with each group avoiding the other.[56] Mucina says Zwangendaba first defeated Ngwane before Ngwane went into an alliance with another group fleeing from the Mfecane led by Nxaba and they revenged their defeat after which the two sides decided to avoid any more conflicts and avoid each other.[57] This school of thoughts adds that the Maseko travelled eastward of Lake Malawi so that the lake ‘became a natural separator’ to avoid a bloody confrontation with Jele.[58] The latter had trekked westwards of the lake.[59]

However, others argue that these were two separate migrations and the groups never travelled together. This would be supported with records that place the Jele crossing of Zambezi in the Summer Eclipse of November 1835 and the Maseko crossing in 1839. [60] But a difference of 4 years may not be enough to conclude that these were different migrations. Other records have them entering Malawi in 1842.[61] There is even a tale told among the Jele Ngonis of how Zwangendaba struck the waters of Zambezi which separated into two and the Ngoni crossed on dry land. I would think this is most likely a recreation of the Biblical Moses story and only came about after the missionaries had entered Mzimba.

However, the subject of whether the two groups crossed together, were together or migrated separately is not the focus of this paper. However similarities in names amongst both groups may point to this, but as I have already said, this may well be due to the fact that each group was never homogenous, and therefore may not be conclusive as all.

I have heard of stories connecting the Zwangendaba trek with the Ndembele. This is not correct and it is important that this be corrected. I will therefore digress a little and address this issue.  Zimbabwean poet and historian Albert Nyathi provides a brief history of the Ndebele like this:

Shaka Zulu ordered Mzilikazi [who was one of the] generals in Shaka Zulu’s army, to go and raid … Mzilikazi did likewise and like the good general that he was, he … accomplished the mission. He came back and refused to surrender the loot. They started fighting and Mzilikazi went down … and Shaka came in hot pursuit and he went further and then after Shaka died, as if that was not enough, Dingaan followed up… Mzilikazi ended up settling in the Southern part of Zimbabwe called Matebeleland (Bulawayo today).[62]

So while the Zwangendaba were of the Gumbi or Jele clan, Mzilikazi was of the Khumalo[63] tribe, although both trace their roots to the Zulu kingdom. Other researchers do not support the loot theory but rather that there was a quarrel leading to a rebellion and rather than face execution, Mzilikazi decided to flee with his tribe.[64] Now strictly speaking, Mfecane refers to the period when Mzilikazi wreaked havoc in the Transvaal area, through ‘widespread killing and devastation’ as a way of removing ‘all opposition’ and creating a natural border of scorched earth around his Ndebele kingdom.[65]

Back to the Zwangendaba,  he led his group past west of Lake Malawi and trekked north and landed at Mabiri in Mzimba.[66] After a short stay they moved on and settled in Ufipa in Tanzania, at a place they called Maphupo.[67] After the death of Zwangendaba at Maphupo (which means dreams[68]), his followers trekked back and settled at Ng’onga in the Henga valley.[69] Upon the death of Zwangendaba, there were succession disputes involving his brothers Mgayi and Ntabeni. His brother Mgayi seized power but Ntabeni insisted that the throne should go to Mpezeni, the eldest son of the fallen King. The groups split with Mpezeni settling in modern day Zambia while Mhlahlo (who later became to be known as M’mbelwa) led the other group. M’mbelwa was installed as Inkosi ya Makhosi in 1857, two years after settling in Ng’onga.[70] The name Mhlahlo means witch finder and was given because of a situation when a piece of hair was found in Zwangendaba’s bear and witch craft was suspected.[71]  Mhlahlo was later called M’mbelwa which means buried one.[72] This was to commemorate the many Ngosis that had died and been buried, including Zwangendaba their leader. Zwangendaba had three children, Mpezeni, Mhlahlo, Mtwalo.[73] All three were of different mothers, with Soseya (daughter of Zwide)[74] mother of Ntuto, better known as Mpezeni and two Swati sisters who had followed them, Munene and Qutu mothers of Mhlahlo and Mtwalo.[75] Other accounts have Zwangendaba going to Swaziland to marry before fleeing. if this were true, then Munene and Qutu may have been there from day 1 of the flight.  Mtwalo was the more senior but he resigned in favour of Mbelwa thereby avoid a civil war that was looming among the Jele Ngonis.[76] Records are not clearly who exactly Zwangendaba wanted to take over. According to tradition, Mpezeni was the eldest. But others said Zwangendaba had favoured, M’mbelwa, the youngest.[77] But now it is all academic as the succession issues have long been settled.

Among the Jele Ngoni, Mpezeni is still given his due respect and according to Ngoni customary law, is the only one who can install M’mbelwa. Although M’mbelwa is paramount, he still regards Mtwalo as his elder brother. The Jele Ngoni therefore made Mzimba their final settling place, although incessant skirmishes with the Tumbuka, the Kamanga, the Henga, the Phoka and Tonga would continue for some time.

M’mbelwa headaurters is Edingeni (royal place). Some have suggested that this maybe in honour of Dingani,[78] who was Shaka’s half-brother and a prince, rising to become King after he assassinated his brother. But considering that the Jele Ngoni fled before these events unfolded, it is unlikely this is so.

The journey to settle in Ntcheu
The Maseko Ngoni under Ngwane Maseko (other records refer to him as Induna[79] and others as chief/King) landed at Ntcheu. But it is recorded that Ngwane Maseko died before crossing the Zambezi River. [80] Records indicate the crossing was in 1839.[81] He was succeeded by his brother Magadlela as regent until his heir, Mputa became of age.[82]

 But the choice of the name Ngwane shows he may have been, or t least considered himself, of royal descent as this was the official name for the emaSwati. By this time their cattle supplies had been dilapidated by Tsetse flies when passing through the Zambezi so they needed to replenish.[83] The trekked northwards, essentially looking for cattle passed east of Lake Malawi and settled at Songea in Tanzania, just hundreds of kilometres West of Ufipa. Amongst his subjects, Mputa was known as the Whipper.[84] Another group of Ngoni which had split earlier from the Jele Ngonis after the death of Zwangendaba, the Gwangara Ngoni under Zulu Gama[85] moved into Songea where a battle resulted with the Maseko Ngoni. History of what happened here is no all too clear. Others record that the Maseko Ngonis were defeated and pushed out of Songea.[86] Others say that Zulu Gama realising he was no match for Mputa tricked the latter and assassinated him.[87] And as the Maseko Ngonis were offering their customary sacrifice to the sleeping Ngwenyama Mputa, Zulu Gama and his warriors attacked them by surprise inflicting heavy casualties and forcing them to flee from the ruthless Zulu in 1864.[88] The confusion and chaos and the continuous running battles that followed Mputa’s death rise to the phrase ‘Chipasupasu cha aNgoni pa Matengo’, meaning ‘the pandemomium of the Maseko Ngoni at Matengoland’.[89] Matengo is a highland area located in the Eastern part of Mbinga District in Tanzania.[90]

Since Mputa’s heir was not of age, his brother Chidyaonga (eater of gunpowder) led the Masekos into Mozambique.[91]

For some time they trekked endlessly in Mozambique.  A song that the Maseko Ngonis used to sing whilst wandering around says:
Come let us go to Swaziland
Where the people die fat
My father is calling me (Ubaba uyangibiza)
Go home (Hamba ekaya)
Things have turned against you (Indaba zikuyandela)
Go home (Hamba ekaya)[92]

In fact this seems to have been incorporated in the izibongo (praise) for Inkosi ya Makhosi Gomani IV where these words appear near the end:
We are going where people never die,
There people are killed with age,
There people eat meat and drink milk,
There people do not grow thin,
There beautiful and polite women are abundant.
Let us go to Lizulu.
Hail! Your Majesty!
Hail! Our lion! Hail!
Our hero and Chief of chiefs![93]

Some settled in Mozambique but the came back to Malawi and settled at Domwe, where Chidyaonga died, around 1870.[94] Mputa’s son, Chikuse was enthroned King, although others had wanted Chidyaonga’s son, Chifisi to take the throne.[95] This dispute resulted in a civil war between Gomani, son of Chikuse and Kachindamoto, son of Chifisi and the war only ended with the intervention of an emissary of Sir Harry Johnson, Major Edwards in 1894.[96] However the reason for brokering the peace had nothing to do with the goodwill of the Maseko Ngonis but rather the colonial masters were worried with inadequate supply of labour brought about by the Ngoni civil war.[97]

It is however recorded that part of the Maseko Ngoni did not trek all the way down from Songea and some and settled at Kilombero, where they became known as the Mbunga.[98] Others settled at Namabengo, Maposeni, Mgazini and Mbamba.[99]  To say trek would maybe not explain the whole story. As they went down, the Maseko Ngoni conquered all they came across, and assimilated them, especially young men into their military and women and girls as brides. They may not have been part of the Zulu Civil war but they were as mighty a military machine.

Final remarks
So today if you visit Ntcheu and surrounding areas, you find names that are of Swati origin, and which you can find in present day Swaziland, such as Hlangano. Arguably however these are few in number as instead of the Ngonis assimilating and dictating, it would seem in Lizulu they had found a place of refuge and decided to settle and instead be assimilated. Now Lizulu itself is said to be a short form for Lizwe la Zulu. If this is true then it is very interesting because lizwe la Zulu means ‘land of the Zulu’ in Zulu.[100]  So did the Swati decide after the long round trip and all their troubles and tribulations to identify themselves with the same Zulu empire they had run away from? Or was it the case that maybe they did trek up to the Zambezi with the Jele after all? Or was it the influence of the Zulu Gama faction whom the Maseko Ngoni had interacted for a while before the treachery of Zulu Gama?

However it would seem one of the most distinguishing feature was the differences in the customary family law of the Chewa and of the Tumbuka, the bigger tribes which the Maseko Ngoni and Jele Ngoni found respectively.  The Ngoni are patrilineal and offer lobola as part of the marriage contract. This is the practice both in KwaZulu and Eswatini. In terms of family law, the Chewa are matrilineal while the Tumbuka, the Kamanga-Henga and the Phoka are patrilineal. This had profound effects on the continuation of the Ngoni customary law amongst the two groupings. If truth be said, anyone who has not paid lobola cannot truly be said to be a Ngoni. Three things you cannot separate a Ngoni man from: his beer, his women and his cattle (meat). In all this lobola is the unifying factor. So I guess next time you see at a supposedly Ngoni wedding (there is no chinkhoswe in Ngoni customary law), chicken being exchanged, you can laugh out loud! And you may wish to ask, when is mthimba? (the official ceremony when the bride is escorted and delivered to the groom’s ‘village’).

But I would argue that instead of being dominant, especially regarding the customary law, most of the Maseko Ngoni seemed to have adopted the matrilineal customary law of the Chewa, such as chikamwini although I am aware of other Ngoni who still practice the Ngoni customary law. I have also noted that most names in Maseko Ngoni land are not of Ngoni origin. On the other hand if you visit Mzimba, you find names that you can also find in KwaZulu and most of them start with the letter E. The Jele Ngoni have managed to retain their Zulu names for places in most of the places. The language however has been assimilated and there is more Tumbuka spoken across Mzimba than Ngoni. The Ngoni of Mchinji and Chipata are part of the Jele Ngoni. The Ngoni of Ntecheu, Dedza, Thyolo, Chileka, Mwanza and Neno are part of the Maseko Ngoni.

This is interesting and baffling because I hear more Ngoni being spoken by people from Ntcheu than in Mzimba. The only explanation maybe a kind of battle of a ‘dual citizenship’ of the Ngoni in Ntcheu. Or should I say split identities? For example having people dancing Nyau in one setup and then kugiya ingoma in another shows utter confusion of cultures, unless it is all for fun. I have also heard the saying kutsuka mkamwa (literally ‘cleaning’ the mouth) among the Maseko Ngoni and this used as an excuse (or licence) to use of profanity as if it is part of Ngoni culture or day to day living. I would argue that actually it is not. While Ngoni language is usually straightforward and candid, using profanity as a disguise that it is uNgoni is a lame excuse to being profane in public. Next time you hear someone use this excuse, tell them in their face that mukungotukwana apa.

I have also noted that the Maseko Ngoni have a group of people referred to Impi. However, my understanding is that these Impi are not a regiment per se or used in the actual sense of Impi as in Zulu but rather Induna or councillors. Now I am aware that Induna is a Zulu word and not a Swati one, but it is the closest I can associate with this group of Impi.  They are clearly not a regiment because among the Maseko Impi are women, something unheard of in the Zulu nation. Women never went to war. I have also noted that among the Maseko Ngoni, a woman can be regiment. This is not part of Zulu law. It may well be part of Swati law. These are some of the subtle differences that delineate the origins of the Maseko and Jele Ngoni.

Amongst the two groups, the Maseko Ngoni are very colourful, elaborate and flamboyant. They definitely know how to throw a good party! This is typical also of the emaSwati. The Jele Ngoni usually come out as a subdued lot in their festivals, and compared to the Maseko, seem to be stuck in traditions and ceremonies that refuse to evolve. I would invite the reader to visit the Umhlangano wa Maseko (meeting of the Maseko) and uMtheto (literally a rule or procedure for solving a problem but now a ceremony to commemorate the defeat by the Jele of the Tumbuka rebellion led by Baza Dokowe at Hora mountain [resolution of the Tumbuka problem?])  to compare and contrast as a way of underscoring my point.

Where the two groups also chose to settle may have affected how they became integrated into the political system of the country. While the Maseko Ngoni joined an area that was already being administered by colonial elements, for the Jele Ngoni the settings different and it was only in 1904 that the Ngoni agreed to start paying tax and officially brought the M’mbelwa domains under British rule.
On 24 October 1904 Commissioner Sharpe, in the presence of a number of Livingstonia missionaries (excluding the veterans Laws and Elmslie), two European ladies, and thousands of Ngoni, brought northern Ngoniland under British rule with the following assurances: the authority of the hereditary chiefs would be upheld; they would be able to decide minor disputes among their people; they would receive annual subsidies. The chiefs for their part undertook to act justly and rightly; not to accept bribes; to get their people to pay tax; to obey the Resident and to follow his advice.[101]

But it would be wrong to conclude that the Maseko Ngoni did not put up a fight against colonialism. The fearless exploits of Gomani I and Gomani II are well told.

So are the Jele Ngoni all of Zulu-Ndwandwe descent? Are all the Maseko Ngoni of Swati descent?? I would say no. Their leaders may have been but it does not follow that their followers were. For example, my own father, used to say, we are Ngoni but our ancestors were emaSwati. Was his line that of a pure Swati lineage? I doubt it. Cross-breeding did not start today. Does all this matter in today’s Malawi? Yes, in terms of placing ourselves in relation to our roots for a tree without roots will soon die. In any event, the fact that Mhahlo's mother was a Swati should forever tie the Maseko Ngoni to the Jele Ngoni. In fact even in present day Kwzulu Natal, King Godwill Zwelithini (paramount King of the present day Zulu nation) has several wives from the Swazi household. I also note that Msholozi, as Jacob Zuma is sometimes known (his clan name) has followed suit. Hopefully in future we may see intermarriages between royal Maseko and Jele households as a way of cementing this kinship. My family law lecturer once said:  in African customary law, marriage is not just between two people, it is between two peoples. It brings people together.

But maybe the final remark is this: is it not interesting that the current Inkosi ya Makhosi Gomani V was named Mswati at birth, and the current Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa V was named Zwangendaba at birth? I would think Mwasti’s father, Inkosi ya Makosi Gomani IV, knew very well the significance of giving the future Ngwenyama the name Mswati. I do not have to state the obvious that Mswati is the current Ngwenyama of the emaSwati in Swaziland.

For those interested into a deeper discussion, I would recommend DD Phiri’s A History of the Ngoni Exodus from Zululand to Swziland to Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia[102] and Malawians to remember: Inkosi Gomani II.[103]

[1]     The word has been corrupted to Jere. However the correct writing and pronunciation is Jele.
[2]     Louis-John Havemann, ‘History of KwaZulu-Natal’ <> accessed on 27 March 2015.
[3]     Chris vd Merwe, ‘Nguni Facts’ (ZZZ Nguni Stud, 2008) <> accessed on 26 March 2015.
[4]     Havemann (n 2).
[5]     Ibid.
[6]‘Nhlangano’ (Wikipedia, 2014) <> accessed on 26 March 2015.
[7]     Devi Dee Mucina ‘Revitalizing Memory in Honour of Maseko Ngoni’s Indigenous Bantu Governance’ (University of Victoria 2006)  <> accessed on 26 March 2015; 16, 52.
[8]     Ibid 16.
[9]     ‘Maps of Natal and Zululand: 1824 - 1910’ (1972) Natalia 2; p34.
[10]    ‘Swazi people’ (Wikipedia, 2015) <> accessed on 26 March 2015.
[11]    ‘Swaziland’ (Wikipedia, 2015) < > accessed on 26 March 2015.
[12]    Ibid
[13]    ‘Swazi language’ (Wikipedia, 2015) < > accessed on 26 March 2015.
[14]    ‘Swazi people’ (n 10).
[15]    Havemann (n 2).
[16]    ‘Swazi people’ (n 10).
[17]    Ibid.
[18]    Mucina (n 7) 16.
[19]    ‘Inkatha’ (Oxford) <> accessed on 26 March 2015.
[20]    Mucina (n 7) 8
[21]    ‘Shaka’ (Wikipedia, 2015) <> accessed on 26 March 2015.
[22]    ‘Impi’ (Wikipedia, 2015) < > accessed on 26 March 2015.
[23]    ‘Zulu Kingdom’ (Wikipedia, 2015) <> accessed on 26 March 2015.
[24]    ‘Shaka’ (n 21)
[25]    1986.
[26]    ‘Impi’ (n 22).
[27]    ‘Zulu’ (Advameg, Inc, 2015) < > accessed on 26 March 2015.
[28]    ‘Assegai’ (Wikipedia, 2015) < > accessed on 27 March 2015.
[29]    ‘Iklwa’ <> accessed on 19 October 2015.

[30]    Mary R.  Lipschutz  and R Kent  Rasmussen (1989) Dictionary of African Historical Biography (University California Press) 257.

[31]    Ibid.
[32]    Ibid.
[33]    Ibid.
[34]    Ibid.
[35]    ‘Zulu Kingdom’ (n 23).
[36]    ‘Battle of Gqoki Hill’ (Wikipedia, 2015) < > accessed on 26 March 2015.
[37]    Lipschutz & Rasmussen (n 30) 257.
[38]    ‘Ndwandwe-Zulu War’ (Wikipedia, 2013) <> accessed on 26 March 2015.
[39]    ‘Mfecane’ (Wikipedia, 2014) <> accessed on 26 March 2015.
[40]    Lipschutz & Rasmussen (n 30) 257.
[41]    Albert Moyana Gumbi, ‘History of the Gumbi Jele Clan’ (Wikipedia, 2015) < > accessed on 27 March 2015.
[42]    ‘Zwangendaba’ <> accessed on 19 October 2015.
[43]    Ibid.
[44]    ‘Bulawayo (Zulu Empire)’ (2014) <> accessed on 27 March 2015.
[45]    In Swati it would be Ndlovutakati or Indlovukati.
[46]    ‘Nandi (mother of Shaka)’ (Wikipedia, 2014) <> accessed on 27 March 2015.
[47]    Ibid.
[48]    Ibid.
[49]    Gabriel Kingsley Osei, (1971) Shaka the Great, vol 2001 Reprint (Black Classic Printers) 54.
[50]    Ibid 55.
[51]    Ibid.

[52]    Lipschutz & Rasmussen (n 30) 257.

[53]    ‘Soshangane’ <> accessed on 19 October 2015.
[54]    Mucina (n 7) 84
[55]  ‘Movement and Settlement of the Ngoni in East Africa’ (Makerere University (School of Education)) < > accessed on 26 March 2015.
[56]    Mucina (n 7) 16.
[57]    Ibid 78.
[58]    Ibid 79.
[59]    Ibid.
[60]    Ibid 78.
[61]    ‘The Ngoni historical background’ (Wawa Malawi) < > accessed on 27 March 2015.
[62]    Albert Nyathi – mzilikazi <>
[63]    ‘Mzilikazi’ <> accessed 19 October 2015
[64]    Ibid.
[65]    ‘Mfecane’ (n 39)
[66]    ‘Ngoni’ (Malawi Tourism, 2015) < > accessed on 27 March 2015.
[67]    Gumbi (n 41).
[68]    Mucina (n 7) 79.
[69]    ‘Ngoni’ (n 67).
[70]    Ibid.
[71]    Malonje Mdekanjiba Phiri, ‘M’mbelwa not Mombera’ (unpubslihed) (23 March 2015).
[72]    Ibid.
[73]    C. J. W. Fleming, ‘The Zwangendaba Succession’ (WorldPress, 2010) < > accessed on 26 March 2015.
[74]    Owen J M  Kalinga (2012) Historical Dictionary of Malawi (Scarecrow Press) 432.
[75]    Fleming (n 73) & Phiri (n 71).
[76]    Bridgal Pachai, ‘Ngoni Politics and Diplomacy 1848 – 1904 (part 2)’ (1970) < > accessed on 26 March 2015.
[77]    Ibid.
[78]    <>
[79]    Is a Zulu title meaning advisor, great leader, ambassador, headman, or commander of group of warriors. It can also mean spokesperson or mediator as the izinDuna often acted as a bridge between the people and the king. The title was reserved for senior officials appointed by the king or chief, and was awarded to individuals held in high esteem for their qualities of leadership, bravery or service to the community. The izinDuna would regularly gather for an indaba to discuss important issues - ‘InDuna’ (Wikipedia, 2013) < > accessed on 27 March 2015.
[80]    Mucina (n 7) 78-9.
[81]    Ibid.
[82]    Ibid 80.
[83]    Charles M. Govati, ‘The fatal encounter of King Mputa Maseko and the Zulu Gama-Wahuhu or Njeru Ngoni's in Matengoland’ (WorldPress, 2013) <> accessed on 26 March 2015.
[84]    Ibid.
[85]    Other accounts have Zulu Gama as a commoner who took advantage of the leadership crisis that followed the death of Zwangandaba to launch his own crusade -Fleming (n 73).
[86]    ‘Movement and Settlement of the Ngoni in East Africa’ (n 53).
[87]    Mucina (n 6) 80, Govati (n 83).
[88]    Govati (n 83).
[89]    Ibid.
[90]    ‘Matengo Highlands’ (Wikipedia, 2014) < > accessed on 27 MArch 2015.
[91]    Mucina (n 7) 80-1.
[92]    Ibid.
[93]    Devi Dee Mucina ‘Ubunthu: A Regenerative Philosophy for Rupturing racist Colonial Stories of Dispossession’ (University of Toronto 2011)  <> accessed on 26 March 2015; 30.
[94]    Mucina (n 7) 81.
[95]    Ibid.
[96]    Ibid.
[97]    Ibid 82
[98]    ‘Movement and Settlement of the Ngoni in East Africa’ (n 55).
[99]    Govati (n 83).
[100] Devi Dee Mucina (n 93) 27.
[101] C.O. 525/66. Governor Smith to Colonial Office, secret despatch of 17 January 1916 reproduced by B Pachai (n 76).
[102] Desmond Dudwa Phiri, (1982) A History of the Ngoni Exodus from Zululand to Swziland to Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia (Popular Publications).
[103] Desmond Dudwa Phiri, (1973) Malawians to remember: Inkosi Gomani II (Longman International Education).


  1. Nice piece ...our history , despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

  2. My name is Freddie Chisale; my grandfather is from Ntcheu; He came to Zimbabwe(then Southern Rhodesia) in the late 1920s. His registered tribe is Ngoni. Is it true that a Chisale is a Ngoni/Nguni?

    1. Chisale is a traditionally a Chewa name. But if he is from Ntcheu then he mpost likely is a Ngoni who may have taken a Chewa name, something common with some Maseko Ngoni

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  4. The only draw back to some details of the Ngoni is the fact that much of the history was orally passed on from generation to generation. This trend lost us vital information however, we are able to keep what we heard from the mouths of our forefathers and mothers. One other aspect that must be considered is that Ngoni's may have been fewer than the actual population that settled in this part of Africa as the Ngonis recruited their defeated subjects among their ranks. To answer Freddie on whether Chisales are Ngoni, I would say most Ngonis especially the Maseko replaced their names for Chewa ones. Others actually translated their names from Swati to Chewa. My great Grand father was Chidyaonga Maseko, if you can observe, the name Chidyaonga is not Ngoni in anyway, it's a Chewa name. He was called Chidyawonga because he was amongst the first Africans to use a gun, the chewa's called him odya wonga literally meaning one who feeds on gun powder, in the end he became known as Chidyaonga. Little is known about his Swati name but what we know is that he was called Thom Chidyonga Ngwati Maseko.

  5. And that is the biggest tragedy among the Maseko
    Usually the cibongo was used to trace one's ancestry
    The other tragedy was embracing chikamwini, which for a while led to some chieftaincy problems. But Ngwati sounds Swati

  6. I enjoyed reading this article, and have followed my own family history. with names such as Chazula, Magugu and Chipotito.

    Keep up the good work

  7. nguni history is not clear.but what is clear is that it was about me i relate it to the game of was about brother killing brother or or cousin or son.they belived that there must be a dominate lion at any place.Thats why zwangedaba sons clashed,masheko and cele ngonis clashed.Even today especially among nguni kings its evident.Will King Zwiletini talk about unit with his cousin Mswati or will Mbelwa with Mpezeni etc.Its do your thing and i do mine.

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