Sunday, July 25, 2010


War Songs of the Ngoni People

  • Sunday, July 25, 2010
  • Samuel Albert
  • Share
  • By Margaret Read. It also includes youtube videos and some explanations provided by the moderator of this blog.

    To the Ngoni war was man's work. Throughout their history as a separate people they were a nation under arms, and on the success of their arms depended their existence as conquerors. Their life was organised in every detail to make them efficient as warriors, and in the preparations for war, songs and dances played an essential part. There was one group of war songs, imigubo, sung before going out to fight, another, imihubo, sung on the return from the war. The imigubo are danced today in Gomani's country in full war dress with shields and spears, and only in the Paramount's village, the place of mobilisation of the army in the old days. The Ngoni women join in the dance, some inside the circle of men, some outside, and the tempo of the dance works up and up as it did in old days to inspire men with the lust of battle.

    It is in the group of war songs that I have found those which are common both to Gomani's and M'mbelwa's country, and which therefore point to a common source in the south. Though the songs appear brief in their wording, much of the tune is sung to 'sounds' such as inyo ho, zi, oya ye yayo, and accompaniment is varied with stamping the feet and knocking the shields either with spears or against the knees.

    The following five songs are common to both Ngoni areas. The next five songs (6 to 10) are selected as typical of songs.

    (1) Ngoni:

    Ay' inkosi yadinga ngomkhonto
    Mbayekeyani na?
    Hay' inkosi yadinga yomkhonto
    Mbayekeyani na?


    No chief can be poor because of the spear 1
    Then why are you running away?

    Moderator's comment: The following is possibly another version of the same song. It was sung in 1958 by Robert Golozera, three elderly women and Inkosi Njolomole. Only the first sentence appears the same apart from the last word of that line. Instead of ngomkhonto the singers use the word mhla. Below is a youtube version of this version with a picture of Inkosi yamakhosi Chikusi as I could not get the picture of the singers. Just below the video I have tried to transcribe the words of the song. Enjoy.

    e nkosi
    Ay'inkosi yadinga mhla
    yadinga mhla.
    ee nkosi
    Ay' inkosi yadinga mhla
    Ay' inkosi yadinga ngo mhla
    Bayaphela makhosi
    Ay'inkosi yadinga mhla yadinga mhla
    Nkosi yethu
    Ay' inkosi yadinga mhla
    yadinga mhla
    nayo nkosi yethu
    Ay'inkosi yadinga mhla

    (2) Ngoni:

    Umngoni uvela enzansi2
    Uyezwa zi


    Do you hear?
    The Ngoni comes from the south-east.

    (3) Ngoni:

    Inkomo yami na
    Ye Somfuya
    Inkomo yami na
    Ye Somfuya
    Wadl'inkomo zabayeka
    Ye ye Somfuya.

    Alternative version:

    May' inkomo yami na
    E kuboNdleya
    Inkomo yami na
    Ye Somfuya
    Owadla'inkomo zabayeka
    Ye ye Somfuya


    Is it my beast?
    Yes Somfuya
    He ate the cattle. They ran away.

    (4) Ngoni:

    I i i
    Njenje phezulu?
    I i i
    Oyi oyi oyi!
    Lilanga liyashona
    I i i
    Njenje phezulu?
    I i i
    Oyi oyi oyi!

    Alternative version:

    I i i
    Kubangwani? Ho
    Kubangwani? Ho
    Kubangw' ilang' eliphezulu
    Ho yoya
    Inyo inyo inyo i
    Hoyawonje liyashona
    A ho a ho
    Kubangw'ilang' eliphezulu
    I i i
    Oyi oyi oyi!


    What are we contending for?
    In this way in the sky
    The sun is setting.

    Alternative version English:

    What is contended for ?
    For the sun is in the sky
    It is setting

    (5) Ngoni:

    O may' inkosi zi ha ho
    O sibangel' inkosi yethu nje


    O alas ! the chief
    We fight for our chief, only that.

    (6) Ngoni:

    Ngagoba ngangoba ngigobele UZwidi
    Kunjani-nje, Kunjani-nje?
    Ngibengigobel' Uzwidi kaLanga
    Inyo i inyo
    Kunjani nje, kunjani nje?
    Ngibengijiyel' ukulala
    Inyo i inyo i
    Kunjani-nje Kunjani-nje?
    Izidikalala zemizi yabo
    Inyo i inyo i
    Kunjani-nje, kunjani-nje?
    Manxeba emikhonto
    Enyi i enyi i
    Kunjani nje kunjani nje?


    I have waited, I have waited, Iam waiting for Zwidi
    How? just how?
    I have been waiting for Zwidi son of Langa.
    I have been longing for sleep.
    The tremendous size of their villages3
    The wounds of the spears.

    (7) Ngoni:

    Bayakhuluma Bayakhuluma
    Izwe lonke
    Muyezwa muthule muthi du
    Kuyakhulunywa kuyakhulunywa
    Izwe lonke
    Longiyeka uhlale uthi du
    Kuyakhulunywa bantu


    They are talking they are talking
    Throughout the land
    Listen keep silent be still
    They are talking
    It will be spoken it will be spoken
    Throughout the land
    Longiyeka you keep silent you be still
    People are being talked about.

    (8) Ngoni:

    Zemuka inkomo magwala-ndini
    Naziya zemuka magwala-ndini
    Inkomana zemuka na? zemuka magwala-ndini
    Ubujaha buphelile na, zemuka hi ha o ho
    Nihlala nemijingathi zemuka e he he
    Hayi nkomo zemuka na zemuka hi ho
    Nilibele namabele, zemuka o ho ho


    The cattle run away you cowards.
    Those yonder; they run, you cowards.
    The cattle, see, do they run? They run, you cowards.
    Is your young manhood over? They run,
    You are left with the carriers. They run,
    Look the cattle run, they run,
    You have eyes only for the foodstuffs. They run.

    (9) Ngoni:

    Asazi asazi
    Asazi asazi ezweni lomfo
    Asazi thina.
    Ingani uyazishuka?
    Asazi thina
    Ulibele uyazishuka
    Ulibele uyazishuka ezweni lomfo
    Asazi thina.


    We do not know
    We do not know in the lands of the serfs
    We do not know, we ourselves
    Why do you trouble yourself?
    You are troubled for nothing
    You are troubled for nothing in the land of the serfs,
    we do not know even we.

    (10) Ngoni:

    Hayo hayo hayo
    Thina siyanda lizwe
    Elele zi a ho
    Siyabuya kuneBonga
    O uhlaya uMaphikenkani6
    Sabuya kuneBonga
    O kusale amaphik'inkani6
    Elele zi a ho


    We follow the country
    We are returning from Bonga
    You remain you do not yield
    We have returned from Bonga
    There remain those who have not yielded.

    From the Moderator: The following is a Mgubo dance song sung after hunting a leopard or lion. It was recorded in Mzimba district in the 1940s. It is one of my favourite ngoni songs. I hope to get the words of this beautiful piece. If you happen to know the words please email me so that others can be blessed by this beautiful piece of Ngoni music. The Ngoni had a rich culture of music which we appear to have lost, please let us revive it.

    Below is another Mgubo from Mzimba

    And another one from Ntcheu, 'Buyani Sangweni' (Come or Return to the Gate)This song was recorded in Ntcheu, Malawi. It was sung by group of elderly ngoni men from Chief Njolomole's area in 1958.


    1. A reference to the probable loss of warriors in the coming fight.

    2. Alternative reading: Lomngoni owaye enzansi.

    3. Isidakalala is a very big village with many izigawa or hamlets contained in it.

    4This is one of the best known songs in M'mbelwa's country. The tune is used as a hymn tune, as are also may others.

    5. This is a war song sung women, deriding the men to do great deeds. They would see herds of cattle being driven away hastily in villages passed on the march, and would sing this song to persuade the army to go after them.

    6. Used by warriors to express their determination to die rather than yield to the enemy.

    0 Responses to “War Songs of the Ngoni People”

    Post a Comment