Ngonis re-unite to celebrate their heritage
By Andrew Lungu
THE Ngoni people of Zambia trace their origins from the Zulu people of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
In the early 19th century, a period of political instability in Southern Africa known as the ?Mfecane? which has also been added in the Zambian secondary school history syllabus, was the genesis of the migration of the Ngoni people, some of who settled in Zambia.
The political instability of the Ngoni people in South Africa saw the rise of the Zulu nation and also the creation of a number of other groups such as the Ngoni people who settled in Eastern Province of Zambia.
The creation and destruction of political allegiances led to a number of northward migrations of the Ngoni people from the KwaZulu-Natal region in South Africa.
A book written by Nwankwo Nwaezeigwe entitled The Heritage Library Of African Peoples explains that around 1817, the Mthethwa alliance, which included the Zulu clan came into conflict with the Ndwandwe alliance.
One of the military commanders of the Ndwandwe army was Zwangendaba kahlatshwayo who reigned from 1780-1848 as the head of the Jere or Gumbi clan, which itself formed part of the larger emancwangeni alliance in what is now north-east KwaZulu-Natal.
In 1819 the Ndwandwe alliance was defeated by the Shaka, popularly known as ?Shaka Zulu? at a battle on the Umhlatuze river near Nkandla.
Many of the Ndwandwes fled, and over a period of about 20 years Zwangendaba led a small group of his followers north through Zimbabwe to the region around the Viphya plateau, between what is now called Lundazi district in Zambia and Mzimba and Karonga districts in Malawi and Matema district in Tanzania.
In this region the Ngonis established ?states?, using Zulu warfare techniques of conquering and integrating with local peoples.
While the Ngoni have largely retained a distinct identity in the post-colonial states in which they live, integration and acculturation has led to them adopting local languages. In present time, Zulu is used only for a few ritual praise poems.
Following Zwangendaba?s death in 1848, succession disputes split the Ngoni people further into five groups, some of whom moved to new territories.
Ngoni Royal establishment committee chairman-general for the Nc?wala, George Mwanza, says the Ngonis who settled in the Eastern Province of Zambia came from Durban in the Natal province.
He explains that from the Republic of South Africa, the Ngonis entered the country from Zimbabwe where Mzilikazi and his people, the Ndebele, remained.
The Ngoni are said to have crossed the Zambezi river near Zumbo where they experienced the eclipse of the sun in 1835 which up to date has remained a historical significant event to all the Ngonis.
Mr Mwanza further explains that the other group of the Ngoni warriors, who wore animal skins, usually leopard skins to be precise, wielding spears, club and shields passed through Mozambique and entered Zambia through Petauke district.
They went through the Luangwa valley and entered the Bisa-Lala land.
The Ngoni reached Tanzania where Zwangendaba died near Lake Tanganyika (Songeya)
The sons scattered. Mtaiven went to Kenya. Zulu-Gama remained in Tanzania. Mbwelwa went to Malawi and Mpezeni went and conquered the Bemba land.
Mr Mwanza says the Bemba people gave Paramount Chief Mpezeni a wife in whom Chief Mwamba was born, creating the birth of an ancient cousinship between the people of Eastern Province and the Bembas, which is cherished to date.
It is believed that later on, Paramount Chief Mpezeni (Nsingo) moved up to Chipata where he exhibited his warrior?s skills when he fought bravely against the whites.
British colonial government soldiers who were led to him by a fellow Ngoni warrior only known as Chapalapata killed Nsingo.
Due to the expansion of the Ngoni kingdom in Zambia by conquering other tribes, the British colonial government had no option but to ban all Ngoni traditional ceremonies in the country until in 1980 when the ceremony was revived again.
??This ritual that had broken prominence was revived in 1980 from its 70 years of slumber. British rulers who had feared active political resistance from the fierce Ngoni warriors almost managed to consign it to obscurity. It is believed that the British colonial government did not understand the characteristic Ngoni stomping of feet and brandishing of their clubs which accompanied all songs sung at ceremonies,?? says Mr Mwanza.
At present one would be correct to say the ceremony is surely claiming back its position among the top cultural traditional ceremonies this country can proudly boast to attract more tourists.
Today, there are a total of 11 Ngoni chiefs in Zambia under Paramount Chief Ngwenyama Inkhosi yamakosi Mpezeni IV who has settled in Luangeni at his Imphudukeni palace in Chipata, few metres from the Zambia-Malawi Mwami border.
The chairman-general says the Ngoni chiefs, being warriors, have always been associated with cattle and they have always kept kraals known as Chibaya among them, a symbol of prestige. All the Ngoni chiefs command Kraals and all the installations of Ngoni chiefs take place in a Kraal.
??Each chief has to come from a Kraal. Any Ngoni chief should be identified or associated with a kraal from where he hails, no wonder all the Ngoni chiefs in Zambia have traditional kraal names given to their palaces,?? says Mr Mwanza.
He explained that Senior Chief Nzamane comes from the Mfumbeni Kraal. Chief Madzimawi, who is usually in Ngoni traditional gear regarded as ?Gogo Mazimawe? meaning ?grand father? hails from the Mtenguleni kraal, which happens to be the venue of the Nc?wala ceremony.
Chief Mishoro is from the Dingeni kraal. Others are Chief Mnukwa who comes from the Chikenkhe kraal, and Chief Kapatamoyo hails from Thondweni kraal while Chief Maguya is from the Ngiyelo kraal.
The rest of the Ngoni chiefs include Chiefs Saili from Chiphinga kraal, Chief Mshawa of the Khutchweni kraal and Chief Chinyaku from the Ndina kraal.
In Malawi, a total of eight Ngoni Chiefs reign under Paramount Chief Inkosi yama Khosi Mberwa. These include senior chiefs Mzikuola, Maulawo, Mzukuzuku and Mtwalo while others are Chief Mphelembe, Chindi Mulonyeni and Zulu.
The ancient Nc?wala traditional ceremony signifies the union of the Ngoni people of eastern Zambia and part of Malawi and Tanzania as they prove their unique cultural identity and image as a warring tribe that conquered and defeated many tribes as they searched for better lands.
The ceremony is a rare occasion when the Ngoni tribesmen rejoice and dance freely with their paramount chief in the arena.
Nc?wala forms part of the rich cultural diversity this country had been blessed with as it comes first on the calendar year on the last Saturday of the month of February each year.
The ceremony, though associated with the war victorious tribe of the Ngoni people,
is a thanksgiving ceremony to God for good rains and abundant harvest.
Since time in memorial it has been the tradition of the Ngoni people that every year during the month of February, when crops in the fields are ripe, elders from each village collect the crops and present them to the traditional medicine man called Nyanze.
Later on, together with other headman from other villages, and some people from the royal lineage of Inkosi yama Nkosi, which means ruler of the rulers, take the fresh crop to the Paramount Chief Mpezeni himself to bless the harvest.
Thus begins the Nc?wala ceremony. The process of tasting the food is called Mulumo.
The ?Mulumo? is regarded as the most solemn occasion of the year for the Inkosi yama khosi and his subjects.
On this occasion, the Ngoni ruler becomes the medium of the direct communication between the royal ancestors and the Ngoni tribe.
A night before the actual day of the ceremony, the paramount chief travels from his Imphudekeni palace in Fenni near the Mwami border in grand style with a heavy convoy of warriors to Mthenguleni, the main area of the Nc?wala ceremony.
On the actual day of the ceremony, the main arena is surrounded by the Ngoni Impis and Khuzyeni group mainly comprising women who clap their hands to produce an indigenous African Ngoni rhythm for the Ngoma dance to take place.
Although the word Ngoma means drums in most the 72 ethnic tribes of the country, the Ngonis? Ngoma is a warrior dance where no drums are played but the clapping of hands by women and the stomping of feet on the ground by the fierce and energetic Ngoni warriors producing the Ngoni sound and rhythm.
The climax of the ceremony is the ritual of slaughtering a bull known as the Mnikelo among the Ngoni people.
The young bull is usually tied to a tree on the centre of the main arena and a Ngoni warrior is assigned to spear the animal until its dies.
Under normal circumstances the bull is supposed to be struck only once until it dies. The Ngoni Impis then present the fresh blood from the animal on a plate known as Chingwembe among the Ngonis to the Paramount Chief NKosi yama Khosi who then drinks the blood in full view of the people.
At this year?s ceremony, Celtel Zambia Limited, who are the chief sponsors of the ceremony, have pumped in K20 million for logistics and also for the hosting of a dinner dance after the ceremony.
A number of foreign chiefs, including two from South Africa and a number of other Ngoni chiefs from Malawi are expected to attend this year?s ceremony.
Mr Mwanza said a number of local chiefs from all the nine provinces of Zambian had also been invited to attend the ceremony.
With all the preparations made so far, this year?s ceremony is promising to be unique, more so that this will mark the first ceremony from the time the Government connected the main arena to the national electricity grid.