War Songs of the Ngoni People

By Margaret Read. It also includes youtube videos and some explanations provided by the moderator of this blog.

To the Ngoni war was man’s work. Throughout their history as a separate people they were a nation under arms, and on the success of their arms depended their existence as conquerors. Their life was organised in every detail to make them efficient as warriors, and in the preparations for war, songs and dances played an essential part. There was one group of war songs, imigubo, sung before going out to fight, another, imihubo, sung on the return from the war. The imigubo are danced today in Gomani’s country in full war dress with shields and spears, and only in the Paramount’s village, the place of mobilisation of the army in the old days. The Ngoni women join in the dance, some inside the circle of men, some outside, and the tempo of the dance works up and up as it did in old days to inspire men with the lust of battle.

It is in the group of war songs that I have found those which are common both to Gomani’s and M’mbelwa’s country, and which therefore point to a common source in the south. Though the songs appear brief in their wording, much of the tune is sung to ‘sounds’ such as inyo ho, zi, oya ye yayo, and accompaniment is varied with stamping the feet and knocking the shields either with spears or against the knees.

The following five songs are common to both Ngoni areas. The next five songs (6 to 10) are selected as typical of songs.

(1) Ngoni:

Ay’ inkosi yadinga ngomkhonto
Mbayekeyani na?
Hay’ inkosi yadinga yomkhonto
Mbayekeyani na?


No chief can be poor because of the spear 1
Then why are you running away?

Moderator’s comment: The following is possibly another version of the same song. It was sung in 1958 by Robert Golozera, three elderly women and Inkosi Njolomole. Only the first sentence appears the same apart from the last word of that line. Instead of ngomkhonto the singers use the word mhla. Below is a youtube version of this version with a picture of Inkosi yamakhosi Chikusi as I could not get the picture of the singers. Just below the video I have tried to transcribe the words of the song. Enjoy.


e nkosi
Ay’inkosi yadinga mhla
yadinga mhla.
ee nkosi
Ay’ inkosi yadinga mhla
Ay’ inkosi yadinga ngo mhla
Bayaphela makhosi
Ay’inkosi yadinga mhla yadinga mhla
Nkosi yethu
Ay’ inkosi yadinga mhla
yadinga mhla
nayo nkosi yethu
Ay’inkosi yadinga mhla

(2) Ngoni:

Umngoni uvela enzansi2
Uyezwa zi


Do you hear?
The Ngoni comes from the south-east.

(3) Ngoni:

Inkomo yami na
Ye Somfuya
Inkomo yami na
Ye Somfuya
Wadl’inkomo zabayeka
Ye ye Somfuya.

Alternative version:

May’ inkomo yami na
E kuboNdleya
Inkomo yami na
Ye Somfuya
Owadla’inkomo zabayeka
Ye ye Somfuya


Is it my beast?
Yes Somfuya
He ate the cattle. They ran away.

(4) Ngoni:

I i i
Njenje phezulu?
I i i
Oyi oyi oyi!
Lilanga liyashona
I i i
Njenje phezulu?
I i i
Oyi oyi oyi!

Alternative version:

I i i
Kubangwani? Ho
Kubangwani? Ho
Kubangw’ ilang’ eliphezulu
Ho yoya
Inyo inyo inyo i
Hoyawonje liyashona
A ho a ho
Kubangw’ilang’ eliphezulu
I i i
Oyi oyi oyi!


What are we contending for?
In this way in the sky
The sun is setting.

Alternative version English:

What is contended for ?
For the sun is in the sky
It is setting

(5) Ngoni:

O may’ inkosi zi ha ho
O sibangel’ inkosi yethu nje


O alas ! the chief
We fight for our chief, only that.

(6) Ngoni:

Ngagoba ngangoba ngigobele UZwidi
Kunjani-nje, Kunjani-nje?
Ngibengigobel’ Uzwidi kaLanga
Inyo i inyo
Kunjani nje, kunjani nje?
Ngibengijiyel’ ukulala
Inyo i inyo i
Kunjani-nje Kunjani-nje?
Izidikalala zemizi yabo
Inyo i inyo i
Kunjani-nje, kunjani-nje?
Manxeba emikhonto
Enyi i enyi i
Kunjani nje kunjani nje?


I have waited, I have waited, Iam waiting for Zwidi
How? just how?
I have been waiting for Zwidi son of Langa.
I have been longing for sleep.
The tremendous size of their villages3
The wounds of the spears.

(7) Ngoni:

Bayakhuluma Bayakhuluma
Izwe lonke
Muyezwa muthule muthi du
Kuyakhulunywa kuyakhulunywa
Izwe lonke
Longiyeka uhlale uthi du
Kuyakhulunywa bantu


They are talking they are talking
Throughout the land
Listen keep silent be still
They are talking
It will be spoken it will be spoken
Throughout the land
Longiyeka you keep silent you be still
People are being talked about.

(8) Ngoni:

Zemuka inkomo magwala-ndini
Naziya zemuka magwala-ndini
Inkomana zemuka na? zemuka magwala-ndini
Ubujaha buphelile na, zemuka hi ha o ho
Nihlala nemijingathi zemuka e he he
Hayi nkomo zemuka na zemuka hi ho
Nilibele namabele, zemuka o ho ho


The cattle run away you cowards.
Those yonder; they run, you cowards.
The cattle, see, do they run? They run, you cowards.
Is your young manhood over? They run,
You are left with the carriers. They run,
Look the cattle run, they run,
You have eyes only for the foodstuffs. They run.

(9) Ngoni:

Asazi asazi
Asazi asazi ezweni lomfo
Asazi thina.
Ingani uyazishuka?
Asazi thina
Ulibele uyazishuka
Ulibele uyazishuka ezweni lomfo
Asazi thina.


We do not know
We do not know in the lands of the serfs
We do not know, we ourselves
Why do you trouble yourself?
You are troubled for nothing
You are troubled for nothing in the land of the serfs,
we do not know even we.

(10) Ngoni:

Hayo hayo hayo
Thina siyanda lizwe
Elele zi a ho
Siyabuya kuneBonga
O uhlaya uMaphikenkani6
Sabuya kuneBonga
O kusale amaphik’inkani6
Elele zi a ho


We follow the country
We are returning from Bonga
You remain you do not yield
We have returned from Bonga
There remain those who have not yielded.

From the Moderator: The following is a Mgubo dance song sung after hunting a leopard or lion. It was recorded in Mzimba district in the 1940s. It is one of my favourite ngoni songs. I hope to get the words of this beautiful piece. If you happen to know the words please email me so that others can be blessed by this beautiful piece of Ngoni music. The Ngoni had a rich culture of music which we appear to have lost, please let us revive it.


Below is another Mgubo from Mzimba


And another one from Ntcheu, ‘Buyani Sangweni’ (Come or Return to the Gate)This song was recorded in Ntcheu, Malawi. It was sung by group of elderly ngoni men from Chief Njolomole’s area in 1958.



1. A reference to the probable loss of warriors in the coming fight.

2. Alternative reading: Lomngoni owaye enzansi.

3. Isidakalala is a very big village with many izigawa or hamlets contained in it.

4This is one of the best known songs in M’mbelwa’s country. The tune is used as a hymn tune, as are also may others.

5. This is a war song sung women, deriding the men to do great deeds. They would see herds of cattle being driven away hastily in villages passed on the march, and would sing this song to persuade the army to go after them.

6. Used by warriors to express their determination to die rather than yield to the enemy.

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