Sunday, November 7, 2010


Some Notes on Angoni by Alice Werner

  • Sunday, November 7, 2010
  • Samuel Albert
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  • From 'The Natives of British Central Africa', 1906.

    The Angoni were originally a Zulu clan who came from the south, under Zwangendaba, about 1825, and incorporated with themselves large numbers of the tribes whom they conquered by the way, so that there are now few, if any, of unmixed descent remaining. The 'southern Angoni '—formerly known as 'Chekusi's people'—are mostly Anyanja ; but there were, in 1894, a few head-men and others, besides Chekusi's own family, who spoke Zulu, and some of the elders wore the headring, but of a different pattern from the Zulu isigcoco (which is a smooth, round ring), being more like a crown done in basket-work. The northern Angoni (Mombera's people) all speak Zulu, with considerable dialectic modifications, such as the gradual elimination of the clicks, and the substitution of r for l. But their speech is quite intelligible to Zulus from the south. As already stated, there is a great variety of types. The young warriors introduced to me under the name of 'Mandala's boys ' (Mandala was the brother of Chekusi or Chatantumba, at that time chief of the southern Angoni) were big, swaggering, long-limbed fellows, somewhat vacant of face, and, I think, somewhat lighter in colour than the sturdy little men who went to work on the Blantyre plantations. But whether the difference
    between them was a matter of race, or merely of an easier life and a diet of beef, I would not venture to say; for these warriors must have been, in part at least, recruited from the sons of the small, dark, hard-working Anyanja, who lived on scanty rations of maize and millet porridge in the Upper Shire villages. These were always liable to have their growing lads sent for 'kumudzi'—i.e. to the chiefs kraal in the hills—where they had to herd Chekusi's cattle, and, later on, entered what we may call the ' Life Guards.'

    The favourite ear ornaments are a kind of conical stud, ornamented in patterns with beads. They are quite small, and do not distend the lobe of the ear much. I think they are considered by natives to be a speciality of the Angoni. I have once or twice seen young warriors wearing in their ears ornaments about the length of one's finger, which may have been very diminutive tusks of the bush-pig (nguluwe), or perhaps the teeth of some other animal. Both sexes have the ears bored. I have seen girls who had only recently had it done, wearing a flower stuck in the hole.


    The Angoni are very fond of the long pigtails called minzu; these are not plaited, but very neatly and tightly rolled round with twisted palm fibre, fastened off at the ends. The most popular fashion used to be to have these arranged in aline (like the crest already referred to), forming a kind of lateral halo, if such a thing were possible. The dandy with iniuzu nine or ten inches long is a proud youth indeed. It is a quaint spectacle to see such an one seated on the ground and a chum squatting beside him, doing his hair. But the caprices of fashion are endless. 

    The illustration shows another style of coiffure worn by a Mngoni, who may have evolved it out of his own inner consciousness, or borrowed it, directly or indirectly, from the Bashukulumbwe of the Kafue. As many Angoni have of late years travelled overland to Salisbury and even farther south, to work in the mines or otherwise, it is possible that the subject of the picture may have seen his model for himself in the course of his wanderings.

    Beliefs on killing men during war.

    The Angoni, like the Zulus, apply the notion to killing a man in battle, and think that, unless they gash the bodies of the slain, so as to let out the air from the intestines, and prevent the corpse from swelling, they will be attacked by a mysterious disease which causes their own bodies to swell up. (This precise symptom is not given in the accounts before us, but is believed in by the Zulus, and probably by the Angoni.) The Angoni afterwards dance a war dance 'to throw off the chirope' The word appears to be connected with mlopa, 'blood/ used particularly of blood shed in killing—as of animals in hunting—and the idea is that the spirit of the slain enters the body of the slayer. This is even the case with animals ; and hence it is the custom for the hunter to cut off' a small piece of the meat as soon as he has shot any animal, throw it on the fire, and eat it, 'because of the spirit of the beast that enters into one if one does not.'

    The Angoni and Fish

    The Machinga are looked down on by some other tribes because they eat fish, which the Angoni,e.g. never touch.

    Ngoni children clothing

    Very little Angoni boys have a mat of beads, three or four inches square, worked for them by their mother or elder sister, and wear it like an apron. Sometimes also they have a 'sporran,' made from the skin of some small animal, such as a field-rat. In most homes now there is enough calico to give each of the children a piece to wrap round the waist, as they grow bigger. The only difference between the dress of the boys and girls, as a rule, is that the latter put theirs on a little higher up. The stuff used is the cheap ' unbleached,' which can be got in this country for about two pence a yard. Babies are washed very carefully; older children are left to do much as they please in the matter of cleanliness; but they love bathing, when the means are accessible, and near a lake or river all know how to swim.

    Ngoni War Dance

    The war-dance of the Angoni—executed, perhaps, by hundreds of men leaping into the air at once and beating their shields—is very striking ; the Yaos and Anyanja also have one, though the latter are not a particularly warlike race. 'One in the war-dance,' says a native account, ' comes and stretches his leg, stamping down his foot, di ! and his gun, di ! before his chief, saying, "Chief, we are here, none can come to kill you, for we are not dead yet."

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