Friday, August 9, 2019


The Abenguni (AbaNgoni of Nyasaland)

  • Friday, August 9, 2019
  • Samuel Albert
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  • The Genealogy of their Chiefs.

    1. Mlotshwa 2. Mafu
    1. Zwangendaba 2. Ntabeni 3. Mgayi
    Mbelwa (Mombela) 2 Mpezeni (first born, not heir), 3.Mthwalo, 4. Mphelembe 5 Maulawu (Sons of Zwangendaba)

    The AbeNguni of Nyasaland migrated from Natal at the time of the disturbances of Tshaka. They had travelled southward from up-country as had the AmaXhosa, but they turned again and, retracing their steps, went north. 

    I have given them a place in this book because I believe they are one in origin with the Xhosas. Their name AbeNguni also decides me. As of old the name represents the tribe, and the tribe originates from some Chief whose name it bears. 

    It was not by accident that the Xhosas were described as Abenguni. The appellation is derived from an ancient chief of the tribe called Mnguni. 

    With regard to this point, Mr Fuze in his book, entitled, The Black Races (Abantu Abamnyama), says of the AmaXhosa, "The major portion of the tribe of the Chief Mnguni went westward toward the setting sun....It is the same Mnguni who was father of Xhosa, who, it would seem, was the great son of Mnguni. This tribe (AmaXhosa) has been long separated from their relatives whom they left behind (p.78). The point raised by this son of Zulu, we have referred to before. Its repetition is meant to draw attention especially to the latter part of Mr Fuze's statement. He says in brief: "The Xhosas in removing from the North (from Dedesi) left behind them a remnant of their own people, the AbeNguni in Natal." 

    Now we find that the people who responded to that name are the AbeNguni of Zwangendaba, and moreover the the tribe was known by that name in Natal prior to their migration northward. Evidence to this effect is found in the statements of Ntombazi, mother of Zwide. 

    In order to understand the point it ought to be borne in mind that Zwangendaba, Chief of the AbeNguni, had gone with his people to live under the protection of Zwide, the Chief of the AmaNdwandwe tribe. 

    The AmaNdwandwe were at constant war with Tshaka, often defeating him by the help of the AbeNguni. There came a day when the AmaNdwandwe were also defeated by Tshaka, whereupon Zwide withdrew with Zwangendaba to the country now described as Wakkerstrom. 

    There a quarrel arose between Zwide and Zwangendaba which was decided by the assegai. Zwide was defeated and made a prisoner by Zwangendaba, but after a time the latter relented, mindful of their former relations, when they fought their numerous battles together, and he released Zwide sending him home with provisions in the shape of sleek cattle. 

    But it would seem this act of kindness did not pacify Zwide. The scandal of his defeat embittered him, and he vowed vengeance on Zwangendaba. 

    The missionary of the AbeNguni in Nyasaland, Doctor Elmslie, says in his book on the history of these people:- Zwangendaba, who was one of the chief captains of Zwide, although living under Zwide, was not subject to his authority altogether. 

    After his quarrel with Zwide that Chief marshalled his forces seeking to revenge himself on Zwangendaba. When Zwide's impi was assembled at the Royal Kraal preparatory to marching out against Zwangendaba, Ntombazi, wife of Langa and Zwide's mother appeared and endeavoured to discontinuance the war, saying to her son "My child, would you destroy the AbeNguni? Did they not release you and send you home with many sleek cattle?" 

    But Zwide was not to be appeased. Upon which, Ntombazi adopted a singular course in order to remove this thought from her son's mind. In full view of the assembled host she disrobed herself and stood before them completely naked. This most unusual action startled and disconcerted the warriors who, filled with traditional superstition, regarded it as an omen of impending disaster; they were unmanned and disheartened and refused to fight. 

    Now for my present argument, the important point is this:- Ntombazi described the people of Zwangendaba as the AbeNguni. That was at that time quite a familiar name, nor was it casually adopted, nor yet was it given to them by other tribes like the Tongas who only heard their name in their flight northward from Shaka. 

    There are those who say: This name of AbeNguni originated with the Tongas when Sotshangana (Manukuza) arrived among them, fleeing from Tshaka. But Manukuza was a son of Gasa of Zwide's tribe, the AmaNdwandwe. 

    In seeking a new country he proceeded along the seaboard and settled in the territory beyond the Limpompo River which is now described as the country of Gasa (Gasaland). Gasa was a younger brother of Zwide. 

    Others again say: The tribe of Manukuza got their name from the Tongas who called them Abenguni because, as they said, the name implied that they were thieves or bandits. My reply is that Manukuza was one of the Ndwandwe tribe, which was only politically related to the tribe of Zwangendaba. 

    Manukuza tribe are not AbeNguni. True, in former days they were neighbours, assisting each other in their wars, but differing in tribal origin. It is reasonable to infer, therefore, that because of the familiarity of the name it also came to include the people of Manukuza. To the Tongas the name AbeNguni may be familiarly connected with thieving, but other tribes do not use in that sense. Here the tribal title is taken from a person who originated the tribe namely Mnguni.

    We left Zwangendaba on unfriendly terms with Zwide, and it appeared to this son of Mbekwane that in the circumstances his present abode would not, to use a Xhosa expression, "rear him any calves." In other words, he determined to leave Zwide and look for a new country in which to settle. 

    At that time, these chiefs and their peoples were settled in the Wakkerstrom district, just north of Natal, where they had proved a hard nut for Tshaka to crack. 

    Departing thence, Zwangendaba took the road to Mzilikazi's country, with whom he was on friendly terms, and who had preceded him in his flight to the country now known as the Transvaal and settled there. He followed the coastline at a distance, then went further into the interior looking toward the setting of the sun. Arrived at Mzilikazi's place they lived on friendly terms, but only for a time. 

    Therefore, Zwangendaba trekked, this time turning towards the sea in search of his friends Manukuza and Mhlabawadabuka, sons of Gasa, youngest son of Langa, son of Ndwandwe. He cleared a road with the assegai, sweeping, his enemies  before him, and none could stay him in his course. 

    He arrived there with with his following enlarged by accessions from other tribes he defeated in his course. However he did not stay long with Manukuza, for trouble arose between Manukuza and his younger brother, Mhlabawadabuka, and the latter was driven away. The latter with his following then joined Zwangendaba. 

    Now, people who have been accustomed to rule by the assegai and to live independently, do not easily accommodate themselves to the rule of others, which becomes irksome to them. So they separated from Manukuza, Zwangendaba while his "feet were still wet" (with travelling) parted from Manukuza together with Manukuza's younger brother, Mhlabawadabuka, making for the North. 

    Smaller parties broke off from them on the way up; some settled at the Sabi, others at the Zambesi. In the year 1835, Zwangendaba crossed the Zambesi near the township of Zumbo, built on the shores of the Zambezi by the Portuguese. 

    He forced his way until he crossed the Tshambezi,  a river which precipitates itself into the Lake Bangweolo, and skirting the shores of Tanganyika entered the country of the AmaFipa. The AbeNguni of Zwangendaba having reached this country settled there, and took possession of the land for themselves. 

    But this tribe was still to break into two sections. Zwangendaba, whose language was outspoken and who, besides being a man of power, was loved and respected by his people, at length lost his vitality, being well on in years when he arrived among the Fipa, and he died there. He left several sons. 

    The sections which broke away from the AbeNguni after Zwangendaba's arrival there, were numerous. The most notable were the AmaTuta, AmaViti, AmaLavi and the AmaHehe. These tribes exercised authority over all the country north of the Zambesi and right up to Tanganyika. 

    There were few tribes which dared to fight with them. Inorder to understand the strength of these tribes, we must remember  that the Amasai, a tribe of Hamitic origin responsible for the migration of Bantu tribes from their country at the Tana, and was powerful enough to settle among other tribes of the Bantu, is described by Mr Last as follows : "The Masai are reported to be the most powerful of the races of Central Africa, but should they ever meet the AmaHehe in a life and death struggle there would be wonders and surprises and a reshuffling of tribes, for it is not the first time the Masai have been beaten by the AmaHehe." 

    This tribe settled below the Ruaha, a branch of the Rufigi (A.H. Keane, Africa, Vol. II., p. 512) The AmaHehe (WaHehe) tribe in September 1891 routed a large force of Germans. It is a very savage tribe, and is a terror to any of the surrounding tribes. 

    And so it was with the AbeNguni, they have the capacity to live. They also know how to die like men. 

    Let us now follow the sections which went out from the AbeNguni of Zwangendaba, and set up tribes of their own. We have already seen that Zwangendaba died in the land of the AmaFipa, also termed the AmaSukuma. After his death, internal disputes over the succession arose and frequent battles followed. Mgayi, a younger brother of Zwangendaba, broke away with other followers, and went forth till he came to the neighbourhood of the great lake, the Victoria Nyanza. The country did not suit him, so he returned to the place where his elder brother died - the territory of the AmaSukuma.

    There Mgayi died, and as successor Mpezeni, eldest son by birth of Zwangendaba, was appointed chief. But he was not the heir although the first born. Mpezeni did not satisfy the abeNguni by his administration and they deposed him, substituting Mbelwa (Mombela) who became Zwangendaba's heir in his place. So Mpezeni removed with his following, and created his own tribe.

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