Saturday, November 6, 2010


The History of The Angoni According to Alice Werner

  • Saturday, November 6, 2010
  • Samuel Kadyakale
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  • Note: Alice Werner worked as a Blantyre Mission missionary in Nyasaland in 1890s and was more acquainted with the Maseko Ngoni having worked among some Maseko Ngoni as a teacher.

    It is not known when the Zulus moved southward into the territory they now occupy, and where they must have been settled for some generations before thebeginning of the nineteenth century, as the graves of at least four kings (some say eight), of earlier date than that epoch, are still to be seen at Mahlabatini, in the valley of the White Umfolozi. In 1687 they, and tribes allied to them, seem to have been in peaceful occupation of Natal and Zululand, living so close together that migration on a large scale was impossible. Yet, about the same time, the Amaxosa, or 'Cape Kafirs,' who are very closely related to them, seem to have been pressing on to the south ; and they reached the Great Fish River soon after the beginning of the eighteenth century. However this may be, the Zulu king Senzagakona had, about 1800, risen to a position of some importance, though still subject to Dingiswayo, chief of the Umtetwas in Natal. His son, Tshaka, succeeded in 1810, and,
    after Dingiswayo's death, assumed a paramount position, his career resembling that of Napoleon, or rather (since he may be said to have consolidated, if not erected, a nation), Theodoric or Charlemagne. But what chiefly concerns us here is the northward migration of the Zulus which took place in his time. Umziligazi, one of his captains, quarrelled with him and fled, taking his clan with him. These are the people now known as the Matabele, having settled in the early thirties between the Limpopo and Zambezi.

    Another chief, Manukosi, seceded about 1819, and invaded the country about Delagoa Bay, gradually subduing the Tonga tribes. This branch of the Zulus is called Gaza; their last king, Gungunyana (Manukosi's grandson), was deposed by the Portuguese in 1896, The Angoni (Abanguni) were originally the tribe of
    Zwide, the son of Yanga. He, too, rebelled against Tshaka (about 1820), and was defeated ; his people fled north—the only direction open to them—under Zwangendaba, and, according to a native account, came first into the Tonga country, where they fought with the people, and took many captives, then into the Basuto country (meaning probably the Bapedi of the Eastern Transvaal), where they did the same, and thence to the Karanga (Makalanga) country. Here they were overtaken by Ngaba, one of Tshaka's captains, with whom they fought two battles, and then fled, crossing the Zambezi in 1825. The date is fixed by the tradition of an eclipse, known to have occurred in that year; and in the terror of that mysterious darkness, so inexplicable to the native mind, Zwangendaba's son, Mombera, was prematurely born. This is the Mombera whose funeral was described in an earlier chapter. He was a man of great shrewdness and force of character, and remained to the last, in spite of some passing misunderstandings, a staunch friend to Dr. Laws and the Livingstonia missionaries. He refused to be a party to sending his own or his people's children to school on the ground that they would soon become wiser than their parents, and so learn to despise them. If the missionaries liked to try their hand at teaching the grown men, they were welcome to do so; and Mombera, not content with this negative permission, took reading lessons himself, with praiseworthy assiduity. Unfortunately, he began too late in life, and though he mastered the alphabet quickly enough, he failed, in spite of all his efforts, to grasp the principleof combining letters into syllables. He would not, however, allow the blackboard used by his instructor (the Rev. J. A. Smith, now of Mlanje) to remain at his kraal, for fear of magic.

    A curious tradition about the crossing of the Zambezi was given by the Ntumbi head-men, who said that, when the Angoni reached the river and found no canoes to take them over, their chief, Chetusa, struck the water with his staff, and it divided to let them pass. Then he struck it again, and it returned to its place. It is only fair to add, that this account was written down by one of the Blantyre teachers, and, if not unconsciously coloured by him, may possibly contain an echo of his own narratives. On the other hand, he had been but a short time in contact with them, and these older and more responsible men, while well up in the traditions of their own people, were less likely to have been impressed by 'the stories of the white men.'

    This account then goes on to state that they went north, and came ' to Magomero,' and fought two days with the Atonga, 'who dwell there to this day'; and the Atonga ' clasped their feet,' i.e. submitted, and acknowledged them as chiefs. The name of Magomero is given by the Blantyre people to the Konde country at the north end of the Lake, as well as to the place of that name, near to Lake Chilwa. As the word seems to mean 'the slopes,' it may be of frequent occurrence. They then passed round the north end of the Lake, and turned south again. Harry Kambwiri's written account says nothing ofthis, but it is evidently to be understood, as the next fact mentioned is that they crossed the Rovuma. Crossing the Lichilingo, and another stream called the Luli, they came to Mvvalija's, where there were cattle, and intended to push on thence to the Lujenda, but 'found a desert without water'—so they returned, lifted Mwalija's cattle, and struck off south westward, wishing to return whence they came. They reached the Shire at Matope (the regular crossing place, a few miles north of the Cataracts), and wished to settle there; but one Sosola cheated them into going on by showing them a basket of cow-dung, and saying that cattle had passed by, but were now in the Chipeta country. The raiders' instinct at once rose to the bait, and they crossed to Mponda's, and went on north-westward to Mount Chirobwe. Finally, they settled near Domwe Mountain, somewhat to the north of it, and while there fought with Mpezeni, son of Zwangendaba, and defeated him. ' Mpezeni's people ran away,' and this must have been when they settled in the old Undi country (near the present Fort Jameson), where Mpezeni died a few years ago.

    It is interesting to note that, in 1903, Madzimavi, a son of Mpezeni's, but not the one chosen as his successor,
    applied to the Native Commissioner for permission to take the name of Zwangendaba (Sungandawa, as spelt in the official document), on the ground that his grandfather's spirit had appeared to him in a dream, and ordered him to do so. His request was refused, after discussion with the principal chiefs, a majority of whom seemed to be of the opinion that such a step on Madzimavi's part was only preliminary to declaring himself independent, if not ousting his brother altogether.

    Champiti, the Ntumbi head-man, (Ntumbi, a village in Upper Shire Distirict) who seemed to be between forty and fifty years of age, a tall, thin man, of a type common both among the Mashona of the south and the Wahima of Uganda, said that his father came from the south and crossed the Zambezi, with many of his people. They passed by the district where he was then living, 'but none of them died by the way,' and went on to the north, and round the top of the Lake. This might very well be, even if Champiti's father had been grown up in 1825—and he need not have been, as it seems to have been a wholesale migration of families. Or he might have been impressed as a mat-carrier for the army; every Zulu warrior was attended by several of these boys, usually under ten years old. Champiti himself was born somewhere on the northward march. He mentioned passing through a country called Bena, up in the north, where the people 'had no clothes and howled like dogs'; they had cattle there with long horns—the length of the walking-stick he carried (about four feet). The Wabena, at the present day, live in German East Africa, some sixty or seventy miles to the north of Lake Nyasa, though in accordance with Dr. Theal's principle, stated above, they may have been anywhere in the middle of last century. But the absence of clothes, and the possession of long-horned cattle—if not the howling like dogs—would equally well fit the Wankonde.

    Coming south again, Champiti's people lived at Matengo, wherever that may have been, till he was the age of a small boy whom he pointed out to me— say, at a rough guess, eleven or twelve. Pembereka and Kaboa, whom I have had occasion to mention more than once, accompanied the party when they left Matengo, after which they passed Zomba, Lake Chilwa, and Blantyre, and 'crossed a big river with a great deal of sand in it'—evidently the Shire at, or above, Lake Malombe. After this they seem to have settled pretty much where we found them.

    The above is sufficient to show that the 'Angoni' are a very mixed multitude; there were probably no Zulus in this particular band; and we find in another account that Chiwere, one of the leading chiefs, was a Senga, who detached himself from the main body because his people, being regarded as a subject race, had been 'treated badly' by the Zulus. And, while those who crossed the Shire from the east brought some new elements back with them, they left some of their own forces behind in the shape of those 'Magwangwara,' who have been thorns in the sides of Yaos and Anyanja ever since.

    Other bands, under different names, penetrated still farther north, some of them even reaching Lake Victoria. The date of the crossing referred to is fixed at 1867, or soon after, by the late Mr. E. D. Young, who, reaching Chibisa's with the Livingstone Search Expedition, in August of that year, found that the 'Mazitu' were encamped on the hills at Magomero. They had taken the place formerly occupied by the Yaos in the estimation of the Anyanja, and the former foes united to oppose them. The Makololo, too, began to regard them as a serious danger, and expelled their old adversary, Mankokwe, from his position near Tyolo, lest he should make common cause with the Angoni. The latter were at this time occupying the left, or eastern, bank of the Shire, and negotiating with the Anyanja to be ferried across, while the Machinga Yaos were in possession of the right bank, from the Cataracts to the Lake.

    The Angoni are variously known as Mazitu, Mavitu (Maviti), and, in more northern regions, as Magwangwara, Wamachonde, and Ruga-Ruga,

    From this time forward, Chekusi's Angoni raided Yaos and Anyanja impartially for some years. The former fled to the hill-tops, the latter to islands in the Shire. When the invaders retired, they came from their hiding-places and cultivated their gardens in the plains, but only to have their crops swept off by fresh raids, as soon as they were ripe, and (as we have previously mentioned) their women and children carried off as slaves beyond the river. These raids occurred with unfailing regularity, till the settlement of the Mission party at Blantyre in 1876. There was an alarm in July 1877, but the invasion did not take place, probably owing to the presence of the Europeans. 

    The last of these raids took place in 1884, but was brought to a peaceable conclusion. The Rev. D. C. Scott, accompanied by Mrs. Scott and Dr. Peden, visited Chekusi's kraal and succeeded in coming to a friendly understanding with that chief; and thenceforth the only Angoni hosts to cross the river were gangs of porters, or of men seeking work on the plantations, Chekusi died subsequent to the proclamation of the British Protectorate in 1891; his son was executed by the British administration after the 'rising' of 1896; and Mandala, whose village, after the delimitation of 1901 was found to be in Portuguese territory, was taken prisoner and died on the march to Tete. Mpezeni's son and successor is a minor, and Mombera has been succeeded by a chief who has but little real authority, so that the prestige of these Zulu clans is now a thing of the past.

    Note.—It appears that there were really two Zulu migrations, the second one led by Ngola, Chekusi's predecessor. It was the latter who fought with Mpezeni's people, as stated on page 281, and Champiti's account must probably be taken to refer to them. It seems that at one time they even reached the sea at Mozambique.

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