Some Late WHJ Rangeley Correspondences on Angoni (Courtesy of society of Malawi)

Below are some letters I obtained from the Society of Malawi in Mandala House in Blantyre that should be of interest to those studying Ngoni history and language

10th December I952.
Dear Rangeley,

Many thanks for your long and interesting letter. I have questioned an old and intelligent Ngoni named Yakobe, aged perhaps 75 or 80. I did not prompt him in any way but merely asked questions and was impressed by his ready and intelligent replies. I believe he knows the truth of the matter. If Chidiaonga settled at Domwe in 1871 that would be about the time of Yakobe’s birth and he would have got his information from his parents or others who had first hand knowledge of the matter.

Yakobe says ,that when Chidiaonga Maseko arrived at Domwe the natives of the Ncheu District were Amalawi, Ambo and Ancheu. These people never learnt Chingoni. When Chidiaonga came he made war unpon them and subdued them and ruled them from Domwe. He raided them occasionally for recruits for his army,slaves, wives etc but even people thus captured did not learn Chingoni(a dialect of Zulu). He did not put indunas in the Ncheu
District and the Angoni did not settle in the District. He merely ruled the District from Domwe sending warriors to enforce his orders when necessary. All this bears out what I said in my letter to Nance (which you have) and seems to explain satisfactorily the language question.

As regards Chidiaonga himself why did he call himself by that name apparently Chinyanja meaning perhaps “eater of powder”? Why did he use Chinyanja in his dealings with the Anyanja? If he crossed the Zambesi in the eighteen twenties he must have wandered some 40 years mostly among tribes of Nyanja stock. I don’t suppose the original Angoni brought many of their own women with them across the Zambesi. They intermarried largely with Anyanja and would have to use Chinyanja in order to talk to their wives. In that way they found more and more the need and convenience of using the local language. I think that is the explanation.

Yakobe is too old to undertake the journey to Blantyre but if you “have any more questions to ask I will see him again. Simple easy questions. I don’t think there is any chance of his knowing about the Ngoni clan system.

Yours Sincerely,

Reference your recent letter concerning the approx. date at which the Ncheu Angoni gave up speaking Zulu. On the back of this you will find some comments by Cardew on this point. I have made some enquiries myself but have come up against either
(a) complete ignorance or (b) the self-determined history of the local Angoni to which you refer.

Sorry not to be able to be more helpful, but I don’t think I will get anything much even if I hang on to my enquiries for 6 months

Biriwiri, 8th November 1952

Dear Nance,

Many thanks for Rangeley’s interesting letter. I have no doubt that when Maugham accompanied the Gomani expedition in I896 he found the Ncheu Angoni all speaking Chinyanja. My first connection with the Ncheu Angoni was in January 1901 when I was sent to Liwonde to take charge of the Upper Shire District which included the Liwonde and Ncheu divisions. I found then that the language of the Ncheu natives was entirely Chinyanja. A few natives could understand Zulu ; they used some Zulu songs and many of them still retained the Zulu war dress which they elaborated with beadwork and used for dances. There were no Zulu place names or personal names.

Conditions in Mbelwa’s Ngoniland were very different. When I was sent to Nkata in February 1897 to establish a Boma at Nkata and to start the administration of the West Nyasa District I found that Zulu was the language of Mbelwa’s country. The Atumbuka of course retained their own language but for the most part could understand Zulu. The place names of the villages of the important chiefs were Zulu. Each large chief has his impi of warriors in Zulu war dress. The paramount chief held his indabas in his great cattle kraal. He was always greeted with the Zulu
salutation ‘Bayete’

When Livingstone in 1863 made his overland journey to the west of Lake Nyasa he passed through the Ncheu District,up the Rivirivi valley as far as Dzonzi Mt and then north along the Livlezi valley to the Lake, he was well received by the natives.He makes no mention of the Mazitu (Zulus) to whom he so often refers
in his writings as a potential source of danger. It may I think be taken for granted that in 1863 Chidiawonga had nor yet arrived at Domwe to take possession of what is now known as Southern Angoniland.

It is difficult to understand why the occupation of Southern Ngoniland by Chidiawonga and his forces should have left the language, customs and way of life of the Ncheu natives practically unchanged. One can only suppose that like other Nyanja speaking tribes they had no warlike qualities,were easily subdued and needed only a small show of force to keep them in subjection,or perhaps during 30 years of wandering and fighting had lost great numbers of warriors of Zulu origin and that replacements were largely composed of men of Nyanja stock.

In that case Chinyanja would have been the most convenient language to use in dealing with the Ncheu natives.


It is interesting to note that about two years ago there died in S.Rhodesia an old woman of the name of Mafu whose clan name was Zwangendaba. She was a widow of Lobengula the old paramount chief of the Amandebele.

w. H. J. Rangeley;
c/o Provinvial Commissioner,

30th October, 1952.

Dear Ian,

I Would be most grateful if you could make some inquiries on the following lines for me.

I have been corresponding with R. C. F.Maugham recently. He was political officer in the attack on Gomani in 1896 and presumably the person who sentenced him to death. Maugham was a bit of a Zulu linguist at that time and kept his ears open to hear what the Ngoni were talking about. He was struck by the fact that not one word of Nguni speech was used among the assembled Induna in conversation among themselves. They were talking Nyanja. He tried out several men in Zulu and they
could not understand him.

One knows from the customs of Gomani’s people that there is very little Nguni about them, and that they must have abandoned Nguni custom very long ago indeed, so long ago in fact that the very oldest men have no knowledge at all of many of the Nguni customs and words still retained in the Ngoni of Mbelwa and Mpezeni. I have been able to trace the possible existance of only 8 clans from south of the Limpopo in Ncheu but my inquiries were partly frustrated by the fact that the people long ago lost their clan systems and did not know what I was talking about. The IsiThokozo to Gomani is a lot of ‘kitchen kaffir ” twaddle about large bull elephants and no
more. What I want to know is why Gomani’s people were speaking Nyanja among one another so early as 1896. They – entered the Domwe country not before 1869 at the earliest. In 1867 they were still messing about the Shire Highlands before they settled at Nyamvuu, and they settled at Nyamyuu for just over two years. They went from Ncheu to the country of the amaTengo in about 1837. That is, the Induna of 1896 were men who were born in amaTengo-land or who grew up there as children.

One is forced to the conclusion that they abandoned Nguni speech in amaTengo-land and adopted _Nyanja there. Or where – else did they learn and adopt Nyanja as their speech , Can you sort this out for me?

I am quite oertain that the Maseko who broke away from Zwangendawa was Mgawi, the son of Mcecelele ( correctly uMsheshelele ), of the village of eLangeni, whioh is from HhoHho, which is from enHlekisenl ka Magangata, wh1ch is from emDlakude ka Magalela and so on into the mists of time. The Ngoni of Maseko deny this, and I do know that they have an invented, edited, and agreed history which they have typed and adopted. You have a copy in your district book. Alas, they , have not brought enough into the secret. That history is destroyed even within Gomani’s area by those who have not been told what to say. The aMaseko deny knowledge of Mgabi in
order to deny any former subserv1enoe to Zwangendaba. It is quite possible, indeed probable, that Mgabi was the original name and Ngwana the name taken after Mgabi set himself up as an independent chief. Can you get any dope on this ?
{ the name Mgabi or Mgawi has that b-w for which there is a new letter – I’ve not got it on my typewriter ).

As for Mgabi’s defection from Zwangendaba, I have even the name of the ox that led to the trouble.

Hope you are fit. I dropped in at Ntcheu last Sunday and wanted to ask you- then about these things, but you were away having a noggin with Claude Ambrose.

Yours sincerely,

W H J Rangeley

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