Saturday, March 12, 2011


Some Notes on the Ngoni by James Stewart

  • Saturday, March 12, 2011
  • Samuel Albert
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  • Excerpts From: Lake Nyassa, and the Water Route to the Lake Region of Africa
    Author: James Stewart
    Source: Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography,New Monthly Series, Vol. 3, No. 5 (May, 1881), pp. 257-277
    Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute ofBritish Geographers)
    (Read at the Evening Meeting, March 14th, 1881.) Map, p. 320.

    The Language of West and North of Lake Nyassa (now Lake Malawi)

    The language which is now most widely disseminated through the country to the west and north of the lake is the Kafir language (i.e. ngoni language). It is not, however, the most generally spoken. The Kafir or Mangone invaders have wandered over the whole of the district, and wherever they have been, they have left a knowledge of their language among the residents of the country, many of whom they had subjugated and enslaved during the period of their occupancy. Such men were frequently my interpreters in the highlands of Mambwe and Maliwandu. This language has for years past been reduced to writing. The Scriptures and other books have been translated into it, and newspapers are now published in it, at the Missionary Institution at Lovedale. This fact facilitates our work among them very greatly. None of the other languages,
    however, have been reduced to writing, they contain no store of information, they have no history or poetry laid up in them, so we have chosen English as the classical language of the educated native of the future. Already some progress has been made in this. Not a few of our pupils are able to read an English book for themselves, and some of them can render a simple account, of work done or payments made, in English figures.

    Best Season To Travel and Bathing Habits

    The best season for travelling throughout the Nyassa country is from July to November. Earlier than that the rank vegetation is a serious hindrance to marching, and by concealing the view, greatly perplexes the traveller in forming an accurate idea of the lie of the country. Before the grass is thoroughly dried up, heavy dews fall every night and load the tall feathery grass with countless drops of water, which the luckless traveller receives on his neck and shoulders, much to his discomfort and indeed to his danger, as before the physical energies have been called into play in the morning by continued action, the system is peculiarly liable to chili, and to its accompaniment? fever. To make a short digression, I think travellers may well take a hint from the native practice of never bathing in the morning. The English plan of having a morning tub is quite unsuited to the country, and is highly dangerous. The better way is to do as the natives do, and wait till the sun is high in the heavens, and the day's march finished or nearly so, before plunging into water. After July the vegetation is burnt up, the road is clear, and the view open. The intense cold in the mountainous districts is passing away as the sun returns southwards; the swamps and sponges are drying up, and the rivers are easily fordable. Later than November, on the other hand, the annual rains may be expected. These months therefore I chose for my journey in the end of 1879. The plan I laid out for myself was to start from our sub-station at Kanin- gina, march to Karonga's village on the Kambwe lagoon, and thence, time permitting, to cross to Pambete on Lake Tanganyika.

    Owing to many circumstances, the start was delayed longer than was desirable ; but on September 10th I left Livingstonia in the Hala with thirty natives, some of whom were to act as guard, and the rest as ordinary carriers. Chimlolo, one of our most faithful men?and an adherent of the Universities' Mission in 1863?acted in the same capacity as in the previous year as sergeant and caravan leader. On the 13th I reached Bandawe, and there I found Mr. John Moir who was to accompany me. On the 15th we landed at Nkata Bay, having brought on six of Mr. Moir's carriers and four new recruits. On the 17th we reached Kaningina; then making our final arrangements, and taking William Koyi, Kafir evangelist from Lovedale, with us, we proceeded on our journey. Our road led over the highest point of Mount Kaningina, about 5000 feet above sea-level, and was very rough and steep. We camped on its western side, and at midday on the 19th reached Chipatula's village, the first of the Mangone villages, and were received by him in a most friendly manner. I told him of the endeavours that Dr. Laws had made in the colony to obtain teachers who might be stationed among them, and of the great interest that his account of them had created among their fellow tribesmen there, who were both willing and anxious to give expression to that interest by sending some of their educated youth to reside with them and be their teachers.

    Identity of the Mangoni and Ngoni Language

    It may not be generally known to this Society, that the Mangone or Maviti tribe is identical in blood and in language with the great Zulu tribe of the south, our gallant foes of two years ago. Chipatula begged me to go on and see Mombera, the paramount chief, to give him the same account; and though I had not intended to do so, I consented. The next day, Saturday, we reached Mombera, but when I inquired for the chief I was told he was " not at home." It was soon evident that he was either designedly absent, or that he simply denied himself. We saw only inferior headmen, who expressed dissatisfaction that we had not come to settle among them, and said they did not understand why we should visit other chiefs before doing so.

    Other Details

    I have no doubt that they were sincere in their desire to make friendship with us; but an exclusive alliance only would suit them. They have lost both power and prestige within the last two years, and may now be resolving to attempt to regain both. I heard later that there are two parties in their council. Mombera and Chipatula and their headmen are desirous of peace, and are willing to invite us to come among them; while Ntwaro and Mperembe wish to keep us at a distance, and to recover their power by force of arms. It was in deference to the wishes of this party that Mombera would not see me. Two months afterwards Ntwaro broke the peace, and attacked and burned two Atimbuka villages, killing the inhabitants. Mombera's territory is in the Kasitu valley. It is a gently undulating country, flanked by hills on all sides, and cut np by several water- courses, dry except in the rains. The Kasitu itself is the only perennial stream. The land, though poor, is cultivated to a considerable extent. Maize is chiefly grown, though in an experiment a year ago they got a small patch of wheat to ripen. Trees are few and of stunted growth.

    On Monday, September 22nd, we left Mombera's and marched down the Kasitu valley, the road leading nearly due north. We passed no villages till we came to Mount Bwabwa, on the east slope of which is Ntwaro's village, and camped in the Mpopomo district. Mombera's headman here received us civilly, and we obtained twelve new carriers from him, who behaved in a most exemplary manner throughout the whole journey. On the 23rd, 24th, and 25th we passed through a deserted country, which, however, in places bore remains of old villages and gardens, with patches of cotton, castor oil, and mustard, but as a rule the soil is poor. The district is named Henga, and at present is a no man's land.

    On the evening of the 25th we reached the junction of the Kasitu with the Bikuru, which last is the larger stream, and comes from the west through a wild and mountainous country. The people here and in the valley whence the Bikuru comes are Atimbuka. The principal chief, whom I did not see, is named Mwendera, and lives to the west. The chief in the district we passed through is named Kanyole. We saw him, though we, did not halt long at his village. He met us in a friendly manner, and we obtained abundant supplies of food, which is the best evidence of goodwill that these people can give. They are much oppressed by the Mangone, and hold them in dread. Though we could not communicate with them, friendly relations were soon established by the exhibition of some of our curiosities, which sign of goodwill was responded to by a present of pombe, in greater quantity than I felt disposed to permit my men to accept.

    The valley of the Bikuru north of its junction with the Kasitu is named Ntanta, and is the most fertile valley I have seen. It is some six or eight miles wide; the middle portion near the river is a swamp in the rains, and is covered by long grass, the abode of elephants, buffalo, and zebra. The western side is extensively cultivated, producing abundantly all that the natives require. It is watered by many streams of clear cold water, some of which are used for irriga? tion. The elevation of the valley is about 3,700 feet above sea-level. The climate is cool and pleasant, and I have no doubt healthy, notwith? standing the marsh in the middle. Here I noticed an important change in the geological formation. The granite and quartz which prevail throughout the whole country from the Murchison Cataracts on the Shire river to Lake Tanganyika, give place to soft shale and clay schists. Taking into consideration the lie of the country, and the straight range of hills parallel to the river, and the position of the Kasitu, it is probable that the river forms the geological boundary, and that it runs in the trough of some great fault or nonconformity in the formation. The shale is very dry, and crumbles in the hand into small angular fragments. The schist is soft and micaceous. Ten miles further north I came on regularly stratified beds of hard, dark grey sandstone; dip, 1 in 2^ west and by north. The beds are two or three feet thick, but under heavy blows can be broken into thin laminae of one-quarter of an inch. The Bikuru valley, which I thought would have brought us gradually down to the lake-level, is at its north end blocked by hills forming the lake coast, and the river flows through winding precipitous valleys, falling 2200 feet in the last 15 miles of its course. The water, which enters the gorge clear and sparkling, leaves it heavily laden with bluish clay silt, by which its course in the clear waters of the lake is distinctly traceable for some distance.

    The Bikuru valley, as I have said, is the most fertile I have seen. Before the Mangone invasion, cattle were plentiful, though now there are none. It used to be thickly populated, and would be so again if peace and quiet were thoroughly established. .........

    Here, unfortunately, Mr. Moir and I were constrained to part company. He had suffered a good deal from blistered and swollen feet, and one sore was, we thought, a deep-seated abscess, which it turned out to be. We halted three days, and then agreed that it was better that I should push on alone, and that Mr. Moir, when able to walk, should return to Nyassa. It was fortunate we came to this conclusion so soon, as Mr. Moir was confined to his tent for ten days more. Leaving with him a few men to carry his baggage and stores, I proceeded on October 21st.

    I marched west for 13 miles, and then entered a valley stretching north, and camped at a stockaded village called Mpoko. The villagers were very suspicious at first, and shut the gate of the stockade, but ere long they came out to see us. Next day we reached Chiwinda's village, a few miles south of Mount Lireche, the most prominent hill in the district. Chiwinda is a well-known and influential chief. He received us politely, but I had not much talk with him. He possesses cattle and sheep and goats in considerable numbers. The soil here in parts is very good, but most of it is poor. The natives cut down branches of trees and collect them in a large heap, perhaps two feet high and extending over half an acre. This they burn, and then hoe the ashes into the soil for their gardens. The trees are thus all pollarded, as mentioned by Livingstone. The lower three or four feet of the trees are blackened stumps, while the upper branches are fresh and green. Chiwinda's village is on the Songwe river, which I followed for two days more. It flows to Nyassa. Up wards the valley trends north-west, flanked on the west by a straight range called the Awiwa hills. In the south, near Chiwinda, they are high and well defined; in the north the range slopes down and merges into a high plateau, which I had to cross. On the east side of the valley the hills are irregular and, excepting Mount Lireche, are of small size.

    On October 25th I left the Songwe valley, which is occupied throughout its entire length by the Chungu tribe, and ascended to a higher plateau, the edge of which is a continuation of the Awiwa range. I found the Bachungu everywhere well disposed. In the hills they clothe themselves decently, and cloth is pretty abundant among them. The next day's march brought me to villages of the Anyamanga tribe. Chikanamlira is the principal chief. At his village I came on the track of Mr. Thomson, and thence followed him to Tanganyika, overtaking him rapidly. At Miluma I heard that the emissaries of Mapunda, Kasanga, and Mpanga, chiefs near Livingstonia, had been among the Babemba tribes to the south, and had prompted them to make a foray against the Anyamanga. Miluma's village and four others were broken into, and women and children enslaved. These Babemba are the disturbers of the peace in this district. They occupy the country three or four days' march to the south of Chikanamlira's. Mtuka, otherwise Chitimkuru, is their principal chief just now. Three years ago he got a decided repulse at Chikanamlira and also at Mambwe, but he is still the terror of the country.

    Some Interesting facts About the Ngoni's Stay in Tanganyika

    On the 28th of October we camped by stream Mera, which flows southwards to the Chosi, and then joins the Chambeze river. This stream may be regarded as one of the most remote of the head-waters of the Congo. On the 30th we reached tbe head village of Mambwe. In the evening the chief came to see me. I put him down at first as a Swahili, but afterwards found that he was a native of the district. He is a young man of about twenty years, intelligent and quick, very inquisitive, and a great beggar. He was dressed in Arab fashion from head to foot in clean, fine cloth, and though young has quite the bearing of a chief. I gave him a good present, but he did not feel inclined to show his friendship by giving one in return, though he was in our hearing prompted to do so by some women. He is very nervous, and felt by no means at his ease when at his request I showed him my guns. Opening the breech or a click of the locks was a signal for a start, and he nearly ran off when he saw a rifle loaded in a second or two. His own name is Nsokolo, but he is usually called Mwini Mambwe, or Chief Mambwe. His father, lately dead, was the first of his dynasty. He had long been in league with the Mangone, while they dwelt among the Fipa Mountains, by whose aid he was able to keep the Babemba in check. I here got some further notes of the history of the Mangone tribe. A few years ago (the exact time I could not arrive at), they dwelt at Fipa, which is described as being a beautiful and fertile country. Then the tribe or tribes, which are now broken up and separate, lived together. Pisani seems to have been the most powerful chief. Under him were Chipatula (the old man, not the present), Mombera and his brothers, Mperembe, Chiwere, Tabeni, and the Gangwara tribe. Mperembe quarrelled with Tabeni, but was beaten by the latter, who then with his retainers went north along the west side of Lake Tanganyika, where he is now peaceably settled. Pisani and his followers then attacked the Babemba, and for a time were victorious, but ultimately were clriven back. They all then went to the present Gangwara country, when the Gangwaras detached them? selves and drove the others back. Then Pisani went south to the Bikuru valley, and ultimately to the Kasitu valley. Mperembe and Pisani then quarrelled. Pisani and Chiwere went further south and settled; Pisani to the west, and Chiwere to the south-west of Kota-Kota, where they still are. Mperembe made a second raid against the Babemba, and was assisted by Mambwe. He was soon driven back, and is again settled in the Kasitu valley near Mombera. It is said that this assistance given by Mambwe is the ground of the present enmity of the Babemba. The people of Mambwe say that they would welcome Mperembe among them again, as he treated them better than the Babemba now do. It has been this system of family quarrels and internecine war that has sapped the power of the Mangone tribe.

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