Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Introductory Grammar To The Ngoni Language 1891 Part 1

  • Tuesday, November 8, 2011
  • Samuel Albert
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    THE Ngoni language, as presented in the present work, is spoken by the Ngoni under Mombera who live on the plateau on the west side of Lake Nyasa. Their country may be defined as lying between 10' 30' and 12' South latitude, and between 33° and 34' East longitude. It embraces the country originally occupied by the Tumbuka and Tshewa tribes, the former being now enslaved and living as servants of the Ngoni, and the latter—or as many of them as are independent—having removed further south. Those of the latter who are living at Kasungu under Mwasi, are in subjection to the Ngoni and pay tribute to their chief, Mombera.

    The Ngoni were until recent years constantly engaged in making raids on all the surrounding tribes, and carrying back whatever captives and plunder they could. This mode of life has made them the scourge of the plateau for many miles, and as in Livingstone's day, so still, the name Ngoni is a source of terror to the weaker Lake and plateau tribes. They have made incursions into the Bemba country beyond the Tshambeze on the north west ; and into the Bisa country on the east side of Bangweolo. They have carried war into the country of the Marambo on the Loangwa to the south-west, and have made attacks on Kotakota on the south-western shore of the Lake. They have compelled the Poka people among the hills to the north to live in underground dwellings for safety ; and those Tumbuka and Tonga who choose to struggle for an independent life rather than be slaves in Ngoniland, have been compelled to live high up Mount Waller, on bare rocky islets, or in villages on piles in the Lake, and inside stockades in unhealthy and almost inaccessible places on the Lake shore. Their predatory wars have even been carried into the country of the quiet Nkonde people at the northern extremity of Lake Nyasa.

    When, in the course of extending the Mission, the head station was removed from Cape McLear to Bandawe in the country of the Tonga, it was found necessary to establish peace with the Ngoni in order that the work at Ban dawe night go on without interruption. On various occasions the Ngoni marauders came to the neighbourhood of Bandawe, devastating the district and compelling the missionaries-to prepare for flight.

    To secure peace an embassy was sent to Mombera. It was eventually successful, and Ngoniland was occupied at first by the Christian Kafir, William Koyi, who was subsequently joined by James Sutherland. Both of these brave and faithful men lived amid great personal danger and hardship, while the Ngoni wer suspicious and evil-disposed toward them.

    No direct work was permitted, but these men lived down opposition, and cleared away misapprehension, and laid a firm foundation for the work.

    It is not necessary here to write much on the results of the Mission to the Ngoni. After years of waiting, schools were opened and other work— medical and evangelistic—carried on without let. Hundreds of children are being educated in the schools which are carried on at five different points, and the first fruits have been gathered in the formation of a native church. The Ngoni are growing less inclined to make raids on other tribes. The Lake tribes are able to live at peace, and are consequently leaving the precarious existence on the mountain tops, or on rocks in the Lake; while the thousands who were confined in stockaded villages in the swampy low ground, are able to spread out and choose more healthy situations for their homes. A formal treaty of peace between the Tonga (runaway slaves of the Ngoni) around Bandawe, and the Ngoni, was concluded through the efforts of the Mission staff at Bandawe and Ngoniland in 1887, and has been respected since. These general effects of the Mission were visible at a distance before the particular results were visible in Ngoniland.

    The history of the Ngoni is full of interest. They are a branch of the Zulu race living in the far south. Various other branches are found scattered over the central Lake districts, all of which have at one time or other been connected with the Zulus, as their habits and language show.

    The members of that branch, to which Mombera's people belong, were originally conquered by Tshaka when living as an independent tribe on the banks of the Tugela and Umpisi rivers in what is now the colony of Natal. Their tribal name was Amahlongwa. They were allowed by Tshaka, to retain their own lands, and Zwangendaba, the chief, was placed over them under Tshaka. They united with a tribe living in Zululand whose name was Xumalo. ±The chief of this tribe was named Umkotshwa. He-had two sons named Manukusa and Umhlabawadabuka. The former is probably the person who appears as the leader of the migratory Zulus as "Manikusse" or " Manikoos," as the name is variously spelt. Manukusa was the early name of Umzila, and as his people are called Nguni or Ngoni it is probably through the Hlongwa people's connection with them that they now call themselves Ngoni. Manukusa, drove out and away to the north Umhlabawadabuka and his following, from among whom the Ngoni under Zwangendaba journeyed further north. The Ngoni say that they revolted from the tyrannical rule of Tshaka and were not sent north by him to fight the Portuguese at Sofala, and that rather than return after defeat chose a new home in the north, as has been by some considered to be the case. As they brought their wives, children, and cattle with them, it is clear that they were not sent out to war and deserted. Besides, none of the Ngoni have ever seen the sea, which they must have done had they been at war on the Sofala coast. The Zulu warriors referred to are probably the Matebele.

    The Ngoni crossed the Zambezi in 1825*, led by Zwangendaba, the father of Mombera. They crossed near Zumbo, and moved northward on the high land between Lakes Nyasa and Bangweolo, crossed the Tshambeze, and entered the Fipa country on the south east of Lake Tanganyika.

    In the Fipa district they settled for a time, and enslaved part of a tribe living there whose clan name was "Jeri." Their own clan name was " Pakati," and they impressed this name on the subjugated people and took their name of "Jeri," by which name the original Ngoni living in Mombera's country are now known. As to this day the Ngoni do not care to speak of their history, fearing their former tyrannical master, Tshaka, they changed their name with the desire of breaking off all trace of their former position.

    The Ngoni must have been a numerous people when they came north. When living among the Fipa mountains they made raids into the countries lying north and north eastward, being at times successful and at other times defeated.

    They have now become broken up into several sections. When Zwangendaba died in the Fipa country there was war over the appointment of a successor. One party put forward a chief whose policy was for a renewal of their northward journey. The sons of Zwangendaba, who were mere youths, joined together and advocated remaining where they were. Mtwaro (recently dead) was proclaimed chief, being the son named as his successor by Zwangendaba, but, unwilling to bear rule, he placed his brother Mombera in power. Two other sons of Zwangendaba (but not full brothers of Mombera and Mtwaro) disputed the chieftainship of Mombera, after that section which decided to move northward had broken off. The only way of settling the dispute was by a farther disunion, and Mperembe decided to remain behind while Mombera and his following proceeded eastward.

    The party under Mombera reached the north end of Nyasa, where they had severe fighting with the natives of the district. They then proceeded southward and settled on the plateau where they now are. Sometime after settling in their present locality they were joined by Mperembe and his people who came from the Fipa district, and they are again united in upholding the Ngoni Kingdom.

    After settling in their present locality there were several internal quarrels which on each occasion led to a separation of a section of the tribe. Though Mombera was, and still is, paramount chief, each district is ruled by a sub-chief. Mombera's brothers already referred to, and another named Mpeseni, acted as chiefs over certain districts. Mpeseni disagreed and led off a large section of the tribe, and is now settled between the south end of Nyasa and the Loangwa. Tshiwere, a head man of a district, led off another section, and is now settled on the hills south west from Kotakota.

    The so-called Ngoni under Tshikuse at the south west of Lake Nyasa were not an offshoot from the party which migrated under Zwangendaba. There are now no Ngoni among them and their language is Nyanja.
    From Moderator: Dr Emslie was wrong in stating that there were no Ngoni among the Chikuse Ngoni as several studies have proven that the Chikuse or Maseko Ngoni are real Ngonis and had among the elders people who spoke Ngoni until the early 1900s. See Some Ngoni Words And Their Meaning Taken Down by A Werner in 1894. and Some Oral Traditions Among The Maseko Ngoni

    The Gwangwara on the east side of Lake Nyasa are evidently of an earlier disruption than we have referred to, and Mombera's Ngoni deny all knowledge of them.

    The various names by which the Ngoni are known may be referred to. The Tumbuka called them Mazitu, with reference to their migratory habits. This name is not now in use. The Nyanja people called them Maviti, which name also probably refers to the same characteristic of the Ngoni.

    The name by which they call themselves should be in all cases in English writing chosen, and a convenient method of such use of it is found in dropping the personal prefix (aba) and designating them Ngoni, just as we drop the ama, and write Zulu both for the Zulu nation and language.

    The Ngoni tribe under Mombera, as now existing, is made up of people belonging to various tribes, which have been taken captive and incorporated with the original constituents.

    When the tribe was on its march northwards they fought with the following tribes—Amatonga, Abakalanga (Abakalaka) and Abasenga (on the Zambezi). The principal men of these tribes were put into positions of trust by Zwangendaba, and afterwards made councillors of state. In this way he tried to consolidate the tribe and unite their interests. Even at this date the chief's counsellors almost all belong to the Tonga, Kalanga, and Senga tribes who lived to the south. When any children were born to these incorporated peoples they were given free born rights and privileges equal to those of Ngoni children. Several of Zwangendaba's head men, by attaining to considerable wealth and power as sub-chiefs in the tribe, were considered dangerous and were put to death. In Mombera's reign such things have occurred also, but Mombera is a more merciful and righteous ruler, not delighting in wholesale murder as did his father.

    Of tribes met with north of the Zambezi, there are representatives, such as Senga Bisa, and Rungu, while the inhabitants of the district in which the Ngoni now live are represented by the Tumbuka, Tonga, and Tshewa.

    The position of the slaves is not devoid of comfort. They have their wives and houses and gardens ; are allowed to choose their own masters, and have security which their friends struggling for an independent position do not possess. They are well treated, and as no slaves are sold, they enjoy the fruit of their own labours and live in peace. It is only occasional service that their masters require of them, such as help in cultivating the ground, and gathering in the crops.

    ±The Rev. G. A. Wilder, of the American Mission in Natal, in a letter to the author

    *When crossing the Zambezi there was an almost total eclipse of the sun. There was no eclipse near the point where the Ngoni crossed between December, 1759, and November, 1635, except one on 16th June, 1825, so that we may safely infer the last mentioned is the eclipse to which the Ngoni refer, other circumstances corroborating it.

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