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.


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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