Below is a very interesting and informative article on life,culture and eye witnesses testimonies on events sorrounding the killing of Inkosi yamakhosi Gomani Chikuse (Gomani I) by the British Colonial soilders in the 1890’s. The article has largely been left intact, you may therefore note that names such as Chidyaonga were spellt differently by the author, who lived in Ntcheu in the 1930s. If you have any comment and clarifications on the names and events feel free to post your comments. We need those comments to gain more insights on these important events in the history and culture of our people.
M. E. LESLIE.
NEARLY 40 years ago I was Assistant D.C. at Ncheu under Mr. S. J. Pegler D.S.O. The Paramount Chief of the Angoni was then Philip Gomani. He, and his friend Bibole Chakumbera became, I like to think, my friends. We used to meet quite often because that was the period when the Portuguese Government was beginning to tighten its control after the Mocambique Company’s Charter had run out, there was difficulty and high feeling all along the border over grazing rights, gardens and the precise boundary line.
The Portuguese sent a Surveying party and I well remember being fascinated by the Surveyor, a rotund roan, who used two immensely long (and not very clean) finger nails on the the fore and little fingers of his left hand as dividers. Presumably they had been grown for this purpose. Certainly, his rough measurements were made with great speed.
But that is another story. It was about this time that I became interested in the Gomani Monument, near Ntcheu Boma, and the whole history of the Angoni people. In putting together the random notes I made from all sorts of sources, African and European, on these subjects I am conscious that my main debt is owed to the late Mansf:r Bartlett M.B.E. who was a close friend of Philip Gomani’s, and to the late Mr. and Mrs. “Bambo Smith of Gowa Mission, and their daughter Miss K. A. Smith, through whom I was able to make notes from old letters of the period and to receive the recollections of old African men and women taken down after conversations with them – in the 1930’s.
That there are discrepancies reflecting very different points of view is not surprising. One reads of similar discrepancies every day in newspapers. Truth, as anyone who has ever sat through a case in Court knows, can be sworn by honest witnesses speaking from diffrent standpoints and yet be found to be not precisely clear and mutually confirmatory in every detail. For this reason I put down all my references so that readers mav know the various versions of the affair and form whatever conclusions they please.
….War Scare. Gomani had threatened the lives of all Europeans whenever ‘the moon came back’. I sleep with my rifle loaded. Gowa is the last European outpost in these parts – and the first on Gomani’s march down country.” (Extract from a private letter from the Rev. Mr. Chisholm of the Baptist Industrial Mission, 1896, but otherwise undated)
What was this war about? Why did it start? Perhaps it would help to set the scene if we first refer to the Historical Introduction to the Handbook of Nyasaland (1932). The slave trade was the main concern of the British authorities after the proclamation of a British Protectorate in 1891. The Yao chiefs Chikumbu and Mponda were actively raiding and Mponda, in particular, was a constant threat to peace concerned, as he was, to capture slaves to send to the coast. He was at odds with the Angoni under Chief Chikuse for this reason. In fact, there was almost incessant warfare from 1884 to 1296 and it should be noted that while the British aim was to put a stop to the slave trade and establish peace-it was against the Chiefs whether Arab, Yao or Ngoni that military activity was directed- the population in general welcomed the freedom from fear which resulted from British action. When Chikuse died in 1891 he was succeeded by his son Gomani and a civil war between Gomani and his cousin Kachindamoto lasted for a couple of years after that. Gomani’s oppressive government drove many of his people into British Territory (from the Portguese side near Domve) and his raids on the refugees necessitated an expedition against him in 1896, as a result of which he was captured and shot.
So much for the official record. It serves to show, at least, that raiding and warfare were almost every day occurrences then.
Of the events leading up to his grandfather’s death the Inkosi Gomani III has kindly Written to me as Follows “The Zambezi Industrial Mission and other missionaries had employed many of the Inkosi Gomani I’s people to dig holes fOr cotter plantations without the Chief’s knowledge and when he wanted to see the people they were hidden by the Missionaries in a cavern under a big house at Dombole. Secondly, Mandala Europeans who were
friendly to Gomani had complained that some or Gomani’s people stole pieces of cloth which they had carried some for Mandala and other pieces, as presents for Gomani. The Inkosi expected to find the thieves among those who were hidden by the Missionaries. The Missionaries who refused to give the people to the Inkosi quickly reported to Zomba that Gomani (had) started war and the soldiers came to take him to Zomba. They shot at him with guns but he could not be killed. They tried to cut his head off with an ordinary knife. They failed. His head was cut off by using a strip of maize stalk. His death is the responsibility of the British Government. Gomani I. signed no treaty with the British Government, nor with the Portuguese Government, as his country was between the two authorities. The Missionaries came and were free to establish their Missions but no report was made to the Inkosi regarding the employment of his people whom, you know, he needed for war and other activities .. .
Now hear what the Rev. Mr. Chisholm had to say in an undated private letter of 1896 – he died only a few weeks after the events he describes, from fever.
“Poor things (The Women). They have a very hard lot. One came crying up to the house the other day with her arms all marks. Along with some others she was watering the seed beds at a good distance away when one of Gomani’s men from the Mountains pounced out and wanted to carry her away with him. She resisted and he beat her and threw her into the burn. Some of the men went to hunt him with spears but he had cleared out.”
Incidentally, although nothing to do with the main point, it is not without interest to quote some current prices of the time mentioned in the same letter:-
1 yard of cloth – 2 1/2d.
2 goats for 7 1/2 and 4 yards of cloth respectively.
1 cow for 40 Yards of cloth.
1 hen for 3/4 yards of cloth.
1 egg for one teaspoonful of rock salt.
Mr. Chisholm dealt more fully with the local situation in a letter dated from the B. I. M., Gowa, on 24th. Oct. 1896.
“Gomani, the ruling chief, came down with his warriors on Oct. 6th. and had a few days burning, shooting, spearing and pillaging . . . Called roll on Tue. morn, and found 74 workers absent. News had come down during the night. Thos. thought this another rumour and sent workers to their jobs. Just then a German, Mr. Gerthe, a planter from Zomba district came. He was on his way to Gomani’s to arrange for workers for his estate. Some of his carriers had run off leaving him stranded at Gowa. Later he heard that warriors had come down hill in two groups, one to S. of estate and one by a path which crossed our estate to N. of the house. In the afternoon we heard that some of the soldiers were camped in Mori, one of our villages. Mr. Gerthe went down to see them . . . By night we had news from various directions about the villages being raided, all who were caught were tied up and taken to the hills to be made slaves. At Livelezi, according to reports Gomani came down unexpectedly and many were caught. On Wed. morning we went down the path to see a company but they made off. Shortly after one of his headmen (from other sources this was confirmed as being Kaludzu) came in, apparently to spy, and we found him to be telling a pack of lies. I asked him if his gun was loaded and he said `Oh, no, it is without fire’. I took it up and found that it had about as much powder rammed in as would do two or three. We thought we were justified in making him our prisoner. Meanwhile a hand of warriors had appeared down in the wood to the N. of us – within about 200 yards. They sent forward two spokesmen who stated that Gomani was behind and had sent them to fetch his people, that he did not want them to work for the white men. We told them to come and take the people, that they had conic to us for protection and we meant to protect them. They went away vowing vengeance. By this time we had about 300 refugees. Wc started them to put up a strong stockade in front of the house in case they might attack us. It was built of stones and trees in a semi-circle and over 6ft. high. While at work a boy came in to say our prisoner was off and sure enough when we went round the corner of the house he was speeding down the path. Mr Gerthe went down and apprehended him. We took away his gun and powder horn and he got away later without these. The soldiers meantime were burning the villages. That night we counted 15 in flames. Those who endeavoured to escape were speared Or shot. They paid a similar visit to Dombole that same afternoon. Gomani himself with his men, were up sitting on the verandah for 1/2 hour discussing the matter. Mrs. Wilson, Miss Pairman, Mr. Graham and Mr Rayment were sitting there defenceless, quite in his power. Their cellars were packed with refugees whom Mr. Graham refused to give up. Mr. Graham dealt very faithfully and fearlessly with him and summed up the palaver by saying ‘Before you get them you must kill us, and here we are.’ They went off at last shouting “moto ! moto !” and very soon all the Dombole villages were in flames .. .
On the following night Mr. Gerthe and a few natives went down to intercept a returning party. We thought they had slaves. They just arrived at the path as a party was passing and made at them. The Angoni fled homewards dropping loads and some shields which were carried back here in triumph. Mr. Gerthe left for home the following Sat. by way of the S. end of the Lake down river (I have heard since that he got down river in a gunboat). So much for Gomani’s crimes. Retribution has followed very swift in the footsteps of the wretched man. The British have been up under Capt. Stewart. By forced marches during the night they reached his village between 4 and 5 am. exactly a fortnight after he came down. They were taken completely by surprise, but made a short stand until the small cannon began to speak. It spoke 7 times in a ‘grapnel’ tone of voice and struck terror into the hearts of the Angoni. They fled and Gomani has since been captured. All his villages within a radius of 20 miles have been burned. There were one or two wounded on the British side, but no deaths. The conquerors arrived here yesterday morning. Capt. Manning (Senior officer, arrived since the campaign began) sent for me and asked to see our boundary on the west side, and selected a spot on the first ridge nearer the hills, where he says he intends to plant a fort (two men). It is within 200 yds. of the present house, so we will soon he ‘at the lug of the law’ ! They are building a bigger fort at Gomani’s town which will be garrisoned for some time. We are very thankful that the Angoni question has been settled so quickly and with so little bloodshed. Gomani is a tall strapping, fellow, but he looked most miserable yesterday tied arm and arm with three of his boys. Another chief, Kichere, who was a prisoner, foolishly tried to escape the previous night and got shot by the guard.
Gomani was tried by Court Martial at his village but was remanded and re-tried yesterday in Dombole house, not 3 weeks after he had sat under the same roof and heard the word of God and the warning of Graham. We haven’t heard the decision but he was marched off to Chiole where the camp was …”
Now let us turn to an African’s story of these events, as told by Tom Kaliguba to Mr. Bartlett. His standpoint was obviously much more political than that of the Europeans. Tom said “I was one of Gomani’s anyamata and I want to say that the stories circulating about Gomani having started the war because of the Nkhunda Yamadosa (Perhaps this is the story about ornamental long tailed pigeons owned by a minor headman near Chanya and said to have been coveted by Gomani who brought a raiding party to get them when the owner refused to give them as a present) are untrue, as are many other stories. The real reason why Gomani commenced the war was because he was led astray by Nhinga Mbera Mpezeni who, having four bands of warriors, thought that, with Gomani’s help, he would be able to conquer Mwasi Kasungu. He told Gomani that if he helped him to fight he, Gomani, could remain in the north as Chief. Gomani’s old Ndunas tried to prevent him from making war saying that he would anger the Europeans if he did so. But the others said there were too many chiefs around the district – Chikuse, Mpota and Aonga, the grandfather of Kachindamoto. Gomani seemed determined to go but his people in the lowlands from Goya to the Lake having settled were not keen to move. To compel them to follow him Gomani determined to burn their villages.
I, Tom, having joined the Linkiuve Mission determined to stay with Bwana Kosamu (Chisholm) and when Captain Grint (?)* arrived he told Bwana Kosamu that war was near and they built a stockade. We all helped and we were given rifles. Bwana Grint would have taken presents to Gomani but Bwana Kosamu prevented him. Gomani told Kosamu that it was not war but a big hunt. However, a wounded man came in and said that another man had been killed. Grint told us to fire if the warriors crossed a certain place so when they crossed we called out to him and he commenced firing and the warriors went away. Kaludzu came to Linkiuvi and entered the house with a gun. He was asked if it was loaded but said “no”. However, Kosamu took it from him and fouund it was loaded, and Kaludzu ran away. – undoubtedly he intended killing the Europeans. Kaludzu’s brother was caught but he redeemed himself with goats and then stayed within the stockade to assist the Europeans.
Some of Gomani’s warriors went to Mwenda Ng’ombe where Bwana Barclay stayed and `anacita cipongwe, Anabvula Dona wace’. Bwana Barclay had at one time been in the Zambezi Industrial Mission.
Bwana Kosamu sent letters at night to Bwana Graham who, with Bwana Rayment, was at Dombole and Bwana Graham, whose cellars were full of people who had run away from Gomani, went to Morgans Boma at Namuyo, at Ntumbi, and the Boma sent an army. Champita Yohane, whose son Yohane Champiti is still at Ntumbi, led the Boma army and they followed Gomani, burning as they went. Namlangeni (Gomani’s grandmother) decided to “gonja” so she went to Bwana Kosamu and asked him for letters to give to the askari. This he did and so when the askari reached her place she handed over the letters and her place was not burnt.
When Mlangeni gave in Gomani’s ndunas advised him to give in also and he negotiated for peace. He sent Kawere Mandala dressed in his clothes to try to pass himself off as the Chief, but Champiti Yohane knew it was not Gomani and they were told to come next day.
The following day they all came and Gomani, being pointed out to the askari, they caught him and his warriors fled. Later they returned and were made to carry the arms. Gomani was tied between Kawere and Tom…, and they were brought to Likiuvi as Gomani had lied and said that Chisholm and Ross asked him to go to war on the people because they would not come to work. We all went to Dombole, Daniel led the escort. And there a ‘mlandu’ was held. One of the Dombole Church elders had been killed and Graham dug up his corpse. The Boma asked him why he lied and said that the Missions wanted him to kill people. He himself would be killed. Daniel returned to Linkiuve and Gomani was loosened from the two men to whom he had been tied, and they came back. Not one of his anyamata save him die, they only heard three shots. Bromera was the real culprit and Gomani was led astray by him.
One of my own informants told me that when Gomani and the troops established contact it was agreed, through messengers that conversations would take place in a dambo – presumably one close to the Gomani Monument. – The troops were drawn up in line, in the open, clear of the trees. When Gomani and his party appeared they were carrying arms and it was then agreed that the British representatives and Gomani’s men would meet without arms out in the open between the two main bodies. The troops “piled arms” and stood back from them, the Angoni left their weapons with their own main body. When the ‘conversations’ broke down the troops were quick to get to their arms because they were much closer to them, and Gomani and his immediate escort were taken.
Mr. Bartlett’s long letter to me in 1945 states that among the reasons for the unhappy feeling among the Angoni of Ntcheu district after the 1914-18 war was over was the continued recollection of the manner in which Gomani I met his death and the ignoring by the Gov’t., as represented by the D.C., of the desire of the population to erect a monument to his memory. The tale, which was subsequently confirmed to Mr. Bartlett by the Rev. Stewart of the Livingstonia Mission who lived in the district at the time was that missionaries at Chiole had encouraged We local natives to refuse to obey orders sent to them by Gomani. Gomani gathered some troops and descended upon them. The missionaries asked for help from Zomba and Sikhs under a European officer were sent. This officer asked Gomani to come in and treat. Gomani’s Council advised him to do so. He went in, was seized and shot, and died crying to his bodyguard to spear him before he could be shot. Such is the tale believed and it is understandable that it did not tend towards making European authority popular. Indeed, feeling was so strong that, allied to the fact that Philip Gomani’s status among the Angoni was ignored by the Government at that time, subscriptions poured in from everywhere, including South Africa, for a proper grave and memorial.
An Association was formed, to take charge of the moneys received and to arrange for the erection of the memorial and its subsequent maintenance. The opening ceremony took place on 27th. Oct. 1927, precisely 31 years after the events this obelisk, so unusual in our part of Africa, commemorates. The Association, called the Angoni Highlands Association, continues to maintain the monument and village headman Gongolo, who lives close by, reports any damage to the Inkosi. While the Association continues to exist its activities are in abeyance in compliance with Regulations brought in by the Federal Government some years ago and which are still in force. The original ad hoc aims of the Association were changed in 1937 when it became a sort of modernised extension of the ancient Ngoni political system. Its aims were to discuss happenings in Ntcheu district, to maintain contacts with Angoni from other districts and to tender advice to the Paramount Chief – much in the same way as was provided for in old tribal custom.
This opens up a fresh field of discussion since it seems that past failure on the part of the administration fully to understand the precise nature of the functions of Gomani may have been the source of much friction with Government and much confusion in the minds of people struggling to adjust themselves to changing conditions in a world no longer dominated by tribal warfare but, instead, by growing economic considerations and a strict ban on martial pursuits.
The proximate cause of the status of Gomani becoming an active political consideration was, improbable as this may seem at first sight, the appointment of Manser Bartlett as P.W.D. Supervisor at Bemvu in 1925.
It must be remembered that after the death of Gomani I the Kingdom was divided between his grandmother Namlangeni and Mandala, his brother. Both resisted the Portuguese administrations which was then being formed and this capture in 1900. Subsequently both died in captivity at Tete. It was in the somewhat “rudderless” aftermath of these events that Philip Gomani the Chief-to-be, grew up. He was sent to Bemvu school and was, while there, under the general care of Manser Bartlett who was a friend of his father’s. It is obvious. therefore, that Manser Bartlett was in a priveleged position to ascertain the facts of the Ngoni tribal organisation. It has for long been suggested in some quarters that the tribal structure is no longer a valid factor in the life of the people on the grounds that time has eroded it and that while it is true that the Angoni subjugated many other tribes in the course of their wars, and trained them up in their customs and war activities, those people have 1argely reverted to their own original customs and allegiances. The Inkosi Gomani III, however,maintains that this is not so, that Ngoni tribal structure is still intact, that Ngoni customs and way of living still prevail.
When Manser Bartlett arrived at Bemvu the recruitment of P.W.D. labour was a matter for the Boma. He found that this meant that he could ask for 300 men for road work, receive them and find that their numbers would be halved the next morning and progressively reduced by desertions until he was left with, perhaps, 10 at the end of the week. Of course, the P.W.D. man on the spot was blamed for not doing his job and so Bartlett began a systematic enquiry into the reasons for the obvious unpopularity of the work on the roads. He concluded that there were three main reasons.
(a) the recruiting system which involved the sending out of a policeman to put pressure on some influential local headman to provide men. It was all too easy to compound with such a man to leave his own people alone in return for help in rounding up men from amongst his neighbours.
(b) the aftermath of the recruitment of tenga-tenga in the 1914-18 war with the memory of the numbers who never came back and the tales of those who did -such as deaths from hunger while actually carrying food for the troops.
(c) A definite sense of grievance at the failure of Gov’t. to recognise Philip Gomani and to approve the public wish to erect a monument to Gomani I.
At about this time Mr. H. L. Mood became D.C. Ntcheu. He had been in the Kenya Admin. Service amongst the Masai and was a man of strong views. At the same time it so happened that Mr. Mortimer, a planter, reported a severe famine in the Senzani area and that the people, in despair, were using their remaining grain to make beer before they died of hunger.
The D.C. called a public meeting at Senzani and, with Mr. Bartlett took Philip Gomani down to it. Gomani, at the meeting, ordered the immediate cessation of all beer drinking, the pulling up of all half-dead crops and the planting of beans as a substitute. Mood and Bartlett bought the beans and paid the transport. R.H. Murray, the P. C., gave Bartlett special powers to see that Gomani’s orders were carried out, and Bartlett supervised the bean planting. These measures were 100% successful, and only a few months later the Chief’s status was formally recognised by Government and Philip Gomani was proclaimed Paramount Chief at an enormous meeting at the Boma.
Another result was that Bartlett, for all the time that he remained at Bemvu, got all the voluntary labour he wanted – in all, 6,000-7,000 men a year. He never had to ask the Boma for help, and never had a ‘case’ of any description. It was during the period covered by these events that he got together the following facts regarding tribal law and custom.
“The main point to bear in mind is that Gomani’s authority is almost purely sacerdotal and that it is, in the opinion of his people, of most use in time of war when the spirits of his forefathers would gather round him to protect and fight for him and the people he is leading. So strong is this feeling that he is surrounded by these spirits, especially at night, that I have actually seen a leading Councillor, a principal Headman, kicked on his backside for addressing Gomani as `Ngwagwa’ after darkness had fallen. The reason being that the spirits, now having gathered round for the meeting of the Council, would naturally be annoyed that the youngest of the family should be addressed as the most important among them. In such circumstances the correct mode of address for a reigning chief is “Usiku Phiri.”; before sunrise it is “Mmawa Phiri”; and during daylight hours his full honorific titles “Bayete Gumede”, “Bayete Ngwenyama”, “Bayete Ntwanakosi.” The first two, night-time titles were intended to camouflage the chief.
The political power of a reigning chief has always been extremely limited. Only in time of war was his authority paramount. In time of peace the people were governed in the following manner:-
1. A Council which sat with the Paramount as Chairman,the members being known as Alumuzana. Its function was both executive and judicial. Heads of Limana, (Sections) belonged to this Council together with men of family or particular intelligence.
2. Councils in each Limana (Section) which dealt with minor judicial and executive matters within the Limana. If such a matter was considered of sufficient importance they would tell any local members of Alumuzana rank who would, in turn, report it for consideration to the Alumuzana Council.
3. Nduna – who were really leaders in time of war, whose rank was then approximately that of Captain. They might exercise minor executive and judicial functions as village headmen but not all such were necessarily appointed to peace-time authority and pure civilians might be nominated as Ndola to call upon others in a village to settle small affairs.
The Method of election to various ranks in the tribe was as follows:-
(a) Paramount Chief. The general rule was for the Alumuzana to select the eldest son of the previous chief, but the right was reserved to choose a more suitable candidate in the general opinion of the tribe. For example, Mandala, an uncle of Philip Gomani was passed over in favour of Gomani I because his mother was married without dowry and he was a man of violent disposition.
The Council could also appoint regents. For example, Chidyaonga, a younger brother of Mputa, was so appointed during the minority of Chikuse, Philip Gomani’s grandfather.
Both Alumuzana and Malisenga (in effect, village headmen chosen by the inhabitants of a village – their assistants are Nyakwawa) would meet to discuss the appointment of a new Paramount Chief together with other men of rank and influence in the tribe. When they reached a decision they called a “Bwalo” – which denoted a meeting of the whole tribe (or the whole Council) as opposed to an “Upo”, a sectional meeting within tribe or councils. At this bwalo the people were informed of the decision and the Chief’s chosen name was called out. Everybody answered with the salutation “Bayete Nkhosi” and then began a dance called “Legubo”
(a) Alumazana. This rank, as in the case of the Paramount Chief normally passed from father to eldest son, but the right was reserved to choose a more suitable candidate. They were elected be popular choice at a general tribal meeting at which the Paramount Chief was present, and thanks were always made to him when the selection was made. Selected men world dance individually before him.
(c)Malisenga. Chosen by villagers resident in a village. The choice was reported to the local Mlumzana who, in turn, told the Inkhosi. The Inkhosi considered whether he was a man of importance, perhaps a taker of many prisoners in a past war, or a man of good reputation before approving the appointment. Their sons and grandsons continue in the appointment unless they are considered unsuitable for any good reason.
(d) Nduna and Ndota. These were appointed by Alumazana and Malisenga combined.
Should disputes arise between members of the two senior councils these were always decided by the Paramount Chief. If Malisenga and Nduna or Ndota could not agree the Alumuzana considered the matter in
dispute and decided.
The Chief Council, that of the Alumuzana, always sat as an advisory body to the Paramount Chief in the chair; and for the Chief to take any action on a matter of moment without the advice and consent of this Council would seriously prejudice his position.
A point to notice is that promotions to higher ranks although discussed by the Paramount Chief in Council were only considered in the first instance upon the general recommendations of the tribe as a whole. In really important cases a general meeting of the tribe could be called to tender recommendations before the Paramount Chief met in Council to discuss and approve.
It will be clear then, that the actual power of the Paramount Chief was not despotic but strictly limited and controlled – and that all really important matters were decided by a general meeting of the people as a whole. At such meetings any person had a right to speak, limited only by popular impatience at the burblings of a mere fool. Women of influence could speak and, for example, Bambo Manga attended all the meetings at which Manser Bartlett was present and always had her say. She was an old, old woman and was always listened to with the greatest respect. She was the aunt of Philip Gomani’s father, the sister of the Inkhosi Chikuse.
I well remember this venerable, but lively old lady and made a point of paying my respects to her from time to time. With the Chief’s permission I asked her to come for a ride in my car. She had never been in one before and accepted with alacrity. Accompanied by a namwali, as lady-in-waiting, she insisted on the middle of the back seat on the edge of which she sat, gripping the back of the front seat, with a wide smile of pleasure throughout the brief ride. She thanked me most graciously and I felt very well rewarded for such a small courtesy.
*Note by Tom Kaliguba. Captain Grint we thought was a Portuguese. He had a small moustache and uneven teeth.” It seems unlikely that there were two strange (and foreign) Europeans in the Gowa vicinity at this very same time and so, perhaps, Grint and Gerthe were the same person.