Maseko Ngoni At Domwe 1870 to 19001

By Dr. Ian Linden, Professor of Biology, University of Malawi1

When the Maseko Ngoni settled in Domwe c.1870 their society had already been shaped by almost fifty years of warfare and migrations. The army, organized on an age-set principle, brought together ‘captives from the march’ with different tribal backgrounds. To avoid bids-for power by close relatives of the paramount alumuzana and izinduna, who occupied the positions of political power within the state, were chosen not from the royal family but from members of the aristocratic Swazi clans.
`When the Ngoni were coming from the south they chose lesser chiefs and izinduna from the amakosana, who were the paramount’s brothers, sons of his father and of his father’s brothers. These amakosana were honoured next to the paramount. The alumuzana were for justice in the courts and for being the ears of the paramount in all the country. The change was made by Mputa because he saw that if the amakosana were given power they claimed to be big chiefs themselves. Therefore he chose for the courts and for leaders in war and for lesser chiefs the alumuzana and izinduna who were clever and whom he could trust.’2
Such leaders, chosen for loyalty to the paramount, extended his rule over assimilated groups and minimized the danger of local revolts. Religious office as held by members of minor clans and recently assimilated groups whose role in society was strictly circumscribed. In short, as the Maseko made their permanent settlement around Domwe mountain in the Dedza district of Malawi, they formed a tightly knit, centralized society based on the strength, both military and social, of a well-trained army.
The internal vigour and potential for expansion of this system was apparent during the heyday of Maseko power between 1870-85. Its weakness and inability to respond to changing circumstances became equally evident in the last fifteen years of the nineteenth century. The division of the period 1870-1900 into the categories ‘rise’ and ‘fall’ is simple, though unoriginal, but corresponds broadly with the facts.
The Dedza district formed the periphery of Mpezeni’s raiding territory and there seems to have been an initial degree of overlap between the two Ngoni kingdoms. The Fort Jameson (now known as Chipata) Ngoni appear to have attacked Domwe at least once, and there is evidence that Magwambane, a cousin of Mpezeni, was killed during one such abortive raid.3 The Maseko themselves were raiding mainly in an arc to the east of Domwe, extending from Nkhoma in the North to South of the Shire. Ntumba, Chipeta, Nyanja and Mbo villages were brought under Ngoni rule. Few Chewa villages managed to withstand the Ngoni onslaughts unless they were fortunate enough to occupy relatively impregnable positions, such as the top of Chirenje mountain where Chief Odete held out until dislodged by British cannon in 1898. The more gently sloping mountain opposite Chirenje, and rising above Kasina mission,known significantly by older people as ‘Chidiaonga’,4 has the remains of a burnt-out village still visible on its summit.
Chidiaonga, the regent, died in the early 1870s and Chikusi,who had until then been in the care of Mputa’s chief wife, Namlangeni, became paramount. By 1875 Chikusi was proving himself in raids across the Shire on Yao villages.5 Already the area between Murchison Falls (now known as Kolombidzo) and Lake Malombe was beginning to show signs of depredations by the powerful Yao.6 The force of the Maseko can be gauged by the response of the Kololo chiefs in the lower Shire; stockaded villages were built at the main fords on the Shire staffed by Kololo, or headmen drawn from their Mang’anja vassals. In 1884 Chikusi’s raiding parties bribed their way across the river again to put the fear of God into the European population of the Shire highlands. The ostensible reason for this crossing was to offer assistance to Malemia at Zomba against another Yao chief, Kawinga.7
The impressive Ngoni advance, reaching even to the sacred groves of Buchanan’s coffee plantation, was cut short at Mkanda hill, where a stand by the Yao, backed up with strong fire-power and watched by the Church of Scotland missionaries, had a group of the Maseko retreating through Blantyre. This massive trans-Shire raid was a harbinger of future events; in the face of superior Yao fire-power the Maseko could be thrown into disarray.
The Yao invasion of Malawi that gained momentum in the 1860s had dramatically altered the political and economic situation around the southern end of Lake Malawi. Slave caravans converged on the area of present-day Fort Johnston as the Yao chiefs in the Mlanje and Zomba districts became profitably involved as middlemen in the coastal slave trade. Although chiefs such as Mponda, Makanjila, Matapwiri and Zarafi had fewer followers than Chikusi, their possession of powerful Enfield rifles brought by Arabs from the coast more than offset the numerical superiority of the Ngoni. By the 1880s the southern end of the lake was ringed with Yao chieftainships, from Mpemba and Tambala around Cape Rifu to Makanjila opposite them on the other side of the lake. In the centre, by the Shire, was Mponda whose strength in 1884 can be guessed from the following entry in the diary kept by an employee of the African Lakes Company:
‘He had sitting round him about 40 of those low caste arabs and all were armed with guns. . . . Mponda showed the captain a goodly number of Enfield rifles and as he showed them he boasted that now he had as many guns as the white man.’8
The Maseko found themselves on the edge of a major slave route that stretched from Mwase Kasungu’s in the north to the coastal ports of Mozambique and southern Tanzania. This was not entirely to their disadvantage. The large numbers of Chewa-speaking groups falling under Ngoni hegemony from 1870 onwards risked swamping Maseko society with captives that could only be absorbed with difficulty. The slave trade with the lakeshore Yao and Chikunda middlemen from the Zambezi valley offered a convenient method for disposing of the unassimilable and the socially undesirable.
This pressure from Chewa groups with their alien traditions and social organization might account for the centralization of Chikusi’s kingdom that began during this period; his capital, Liwisini, was to grow considerably in size.9 This concentration of population may have been forced on the paramount by the few aristocratic Swazi-clan members at his disposal. Hawes observed in 1886 that: ‘Of the real Angoni, with the exception of the King, his numerous wives and family, the Chiefs of districts and towns, and the Head men of villages, but few exist.’10 This aristocracy had to serve a kingdom that extended from Domwe to Mpimbi, on the Shire, and the edge of the Phirilongwe forest, as well as to an ill-defined extent westwards. To make his presence felt even more the paramount took up residence in each of his major villages for a period of the year.
Perhaps the most serious defect of the Maseko custom of passing over the amakosana in the choice of leading indunas was that disaffected members of the royal family were given little incentive to support the paramount. Coupled with this there was the problem of the regency; on the death of the regent his son was passed over in favour of the legitimate patrilineal heir to the paramountcy. For the son of Chidiaonga, a regent who had been in power during the long march from Songea to Dedza and had established the Domwe settlement, the sight of a young cousin as paramount must have been extremely galling. Chifisi, Chidiaonga’s son, had every reason for disentangling his segment from Chikusi’s jurisdiction.
These tensions were aggravated in the 1880s by the sheer success of the Ngoni raids. Unlike the situation on the march, once settled, the paramount found it impossible to restrain the build-up of local regiments belonging to particular indunas, defined territorially rather than by age-set. Such brigades were able to swell their ranks with captives from local raids to create formidable little armies not directly controlled by the paramount. This problem would have been more acute when a young paramount was surrounded with older, more experienced indunas, at the beginning of his reign. Chikusi’s attempts to centralize his polity can also be understood in the light of this need to control the proliferation of semi-autonomous local regiments.11
There can be little doubt that before 1890 Chifisi built up such an army, the Njokozera war division, which became independent from, and a powerful threat to, Chikusi’s paramountcy. At the same time the lakeshore Yao, as yet free from British punitive expeditions, were at their apogee, walled up in strong stockades through which a steady trickle of slaves passed. The lesson of Songea seems to have been salutary for both Chikusi and Chifisi began forming strategic alliances with the Yao.12
With fortified villages along the Shire and the Blantyre area dominated by the Church of Scotland missionaries, it is not surprising that both Maseko leaders turned their attention to the old Mpinganjila crossing between the two lakes, where the self-titled Mponda II had made his stockade.13 This part of the Shire was not only a weak link in the slave route to Angoche but, owing to the Chungwarungwaru war between Mponda II and his relatives, a weak point in Machinga control of the southern end of the lake.
By 1889 Chifisi had made an alliance with Mponda who doubtless saw in this incipient Ngoni civil war a way to relieve himself of an annual tribute to Chikusi.14 Chikusi, in turn, allied with Mponda’s enemies, Malunda and Chungwarungwaru, so that the Ngoni and Yao succession disputes had, as it were, coalesced; a remarkable example of how much the need for well-timed alliances had been impressed on the Maseko by the debacle at Songea. As a result of the alliance Ngoni troops moved into the Lake Malombe area and 400 of Chifisi’s men under his war induna, Gwaza, became loosely attached to Mponda as mercenaries. On 22 January 1891, Chikusi with his Yao allies mounted a major attack on Mponda, This battle, if the word can be used, was recorded by the White Fathers who were living at Mponda’s stockade. It is worth describing it here in some detail as symptomatic of the declining prowess of the Ngoni :
`At daybreak the king comes to the mission asking for guns which we lend him. All along the outer stockade the men are on watch, laughing and joking like troops in their trenches. We find the king under a tree where he had taken up his position next to the Yao banner which was hoisted on the inner stockade. Seven barrels of powder and a pile of musket balls are stacked up on his mat. We arrive just as the Msano15 is going out with the sorcerer to make some war medicine. On every one of the termite mounds sentries are mounted. In a space no bigger than a third of the stockade we count 300 guns (which means 1,000 guns overall not to mention men only carrying their bows). . . . At a distance of 300-400 metres we see the Angoni advancing. With our field-glasses we can make out individuals with their enormous massed head-pieces. They advance slowly, very many of them, like an ant-heap on the move; Chungwarungwaru’s men are with them. The enemy moves in slowly and inexorably, destroying the fields of mapemba as they go. Finally at 10.30 a.m. there is a fusillade from the south-west corner of the village. Five minutes later we can hear the `lou-lou’s’ from the women. The enemy had fled at the first volley carrying off their dead and wounded. What cowardice for the redoubtable Angoni.’16
Later in March, after raiding parties from Mponda’s had been harassing Chikusi’s outlying villages, taking slaves, it seems, almost at will, a major assault was mounted on Liwisini and the capital looted and razed.17 The conservative military tactics of the Maseko, their use of the shield and short abbing spear, bows, arrows, and clubs with a minimum of old flintlock rifles was no match for the Machinga raiding parties. The conclusions of the missionaries on this score, whose testimony, after two years of close contact with Mponda, must be taken to be reliable, can hardly be gainsaid:
‘We are no longer in the time of Mr. Steere,who in his introduction to Yao Grammar informs us that the Yao were members of a tribe using bows and arrows, despised by tribes with clubs, axes and spears like the Angonis. Thanks to guns, which have replaced bows and arrows, the roles now seem to be reversed. It is the Yao who despise the Angoni at least as much as they used to be despised themselves.’18
These remarks can profitably be contrasted with those of occasional visitors to the Ngoni such as Johnston and Hawes. Johnston’s preconceptions were surely clouding his judgment when he expatiated on how Chikusi was ‘by far the most powerful chief between the Zambezi and Lake Nyasa’.19 Similarly four years earlier in 1886 Hawes was writing: ‘It is undoubted owing to the despotic sway of the King that Angoni Land is kept under sue complete control. He has absolute power…’20 The fascination of both administrators and missionaries with what they took to be the Ngoni ubermensch says a lot for the darker recesses of the Victorian mind.
The year 1891 was a turning point for the Maseko Ngoni. Chifisi died in March and Chikusi in August, the last of the leaders moulded by the rigours of the Mfecane. With the Portuguese threat countered and Johnston as official Consul, planters began to come into the Shire highlands at a steady trickle. The rate is conveniently reflected in the rising cost of land, from a penny per acre in 1890 to two shillings and sixpence in 1893 with some plots in Blantyre going for up to £20 per acre.21 The few Ngoni labourers who had come down to build Blantyre cathedral in the 1880s became hundreds, working as porters up and down the Shire, or as seasonal plantation labour. The Maseko had begun to lose their credibility,22 not only in the eyes of the Yao but, more insidiously, in the sight of their own Chewa bondsmen.
Chifisi was succeeded by his eldest son, Pasekupe, known as Kachindamoto, who was then barely fifteen years old, while an equally youthful Gomani was established as paramount. An attack by Gomani on Kachindamoto was repulsed on a hill at Masasa’s along the Ntcheu-Dedza road, called Mwala-wa-Nkhondo, but later in the year Kachindamoto’s main village, Muchokozwa was successfully sacked.23 Both chiefs had an immediate need to prove their capabilities in warfare before their people.
By the end of October 1891 British punitive expeditions had made Mponda limit his activities. The two branches of the Maseko now turned their attention to the next most likely allies in the region, the British with their Sikh and Tonga mercenaries. Gomani began to angle for an alliance with the British in early 1892 but it was ultimately Kachindamoto’s men who were enlisted in Johnston’s campaign against Zarafi. ‘These men came down in hundreds to assist us in fighting Zarafi’, Johnston wrote and, with his enthusiasm for the Ngoni abating somewhat, added that they did not turn out to be so brave as they looked.24
One advantage for the Maseko of the continuing warfare against the Yao, and even the civil war, was that their regiments were kept active and trained in combat. The heart of Ngoni society, the army, was kept ticking over, not with impressive victories, captives and rich herds as of old, but at least enough to keep up morale. There was no other alternative once the Kirk Range began o ‘dry up’ and raids became increasingly more difficult and less profitable. It was already a losing battle as more and more Chewa `Ngoni’ began slipping away in the Yao and European economies. Finding Ngoni society anything but invincible many people were looking to other centres of power and prestige.
Mponda’s supernumerary gardens, part of the economics of slavery, used o provide food for caravans en route for the coast, claimed a certain number. A report by Nicholl, the Collector for Central Angoniland, gives a little evidence as to the importance of the Yao economy: ‘A large party of Ngoni, numbering about a hundred people were met, each carrying a load of grain— (the pay it was said for ten days work). It is well known that numbers of Angoni hoed for Mponda’s Yao and their Swahili guests, even when their friends and relations were fighting Mponda’s people’.25
The pull of the European economy was certainly greater. According to the editor of the B.C.A. Gazette: ‘The help which is afforded this country by the Spring rush of the Ngoni, who after the crops are finished come down here for three to four months’ work, was well demonstated in 1893.26 The influx of Ngoni labour had, in fact, become essential to the coffee and tobacco planters; with wages at five to six shillings the Ngoni provided a pool of cheap labour for crops yielding a small margin of profit.
The drain of manpower from the Maseko army must have been unsettling for Gomani. As a greater percentage of young men left the villages for long periods, working Mponda’s fields and then as porters in the Blantyre and Chikwawa areas, returning with salt, grain and maybe twenty to thirty shillings, Ngoni society with its traditional ‘martial way of life’ risked being undermined. Travellers through the Dedza district began reporting widespread mwabvi ordeals imposed by Gomani, a typical symptom in Bantu society of rapid social change. And it is perhaps in this light that the renewal of widespread hostilities between Gomani and Kachindamoto in 1894 should be seen ; as an attempt to pull their regiments together again, reassert the traditional values, and stop the flow of men to the British and Yao. If this is a correct analysis then Gomani’s tactics succeeded; strong complaints were made by the planters in the Blantyre area as the flow of men coming across the Shire on the Tonga ferries dropped virtually to zero in 1894.27
In January 1894 Kachindamoto attacked Gomani a second time and was pushed back to Dedza. Mponda, acting as usual as a weather-vane for forces around the lake, changed sides and aided Gomani in a successful attack on Kachindamoto at Mlomo-wa-Nkhukhu (the chicken’s beak), a hill near Dedza. Kachindamoto was heavily defeated and sent fleeing to Mlunduni, and from there to Tambala’s. Mponda, working on the principle of ‘divide and rule’, favoured by Johnston in a similar position of manpower shortage, predictably refused to goad Kachindamoto into attacking him, and retired from the fray. He had done remarkably well from the Ngoni civil war. When his stockade was finally taken by the British in the following year it was found that of his 378 slaves, 27 were Ngoni and 128 were Chipeta from the Dedza/Domwe district, Gomani’s preserve.28
Lacking Mponda’s guns to destroy Kachindamoto, Gomani allied with the Mangoche Yao of Cape Rifu, Tambala and Mpemba. Kachindamoto was forced to retreat again into the area of Chimbulanga, a minor chief of Ndindi. Possibly as repayment for favours rendered by Chifisi at an earlier date, Chimbulanga moved one of his villages, N’goma’s, so that Kachindamoto could settle by the lake between the Nadzipulu and Ngodzi streams.29
At this point, in desperation, Kachindamoto sent messengers to Fort Johnston to request British assistance. He had been forced out of the Dedza district in January before the harvest, and had failed to get any food at Tambala’s. Many of his women and children had begun to die of the foul water by the lake. When Major Edwards arrived at Kachindamoto’s in early October 1894 he found a very frightened eighteen-year-old limping around with bullet wounds in his legs from his old friend Mponda’s Enfields. Surrounding him were an armed bodyguard of over one hundred men carrying ancient flintlock rifles. His available strength could hardly have exceeded 1,300 men including some men from Chimbulanga’s, under the direction of his surviving indunas, Kanyesi, Chakachadza, Chantulo, Ngundadzuwa and Gwaza.30 Ranged against him at Kanjobvu on the other side of the mountains was Gomani with an estimated force of 5,000 men.31
The presence of the British saved Kachindamoto. Mpemba who had been in pursuit held off and on 31 October Ndindi came in apologetically to explain that he had fought only through fear of Tambala. Not surprisingly Kachindamoto pressed for a fort to be built in his new villages at Ntakataka, and for Edwards to negotiate a ceasefire. After a visit to Gomani, 22 November was set as the date for a meeting and a reluctant and disbelieving Kachindamoto limped across the mountain to Masasa’s in the Dedza plain with his remaining warriors. There a scene of colonial high force was enacted as the two young chiefs were obliged to shake hands in front of a crowd of over 6,000 warriors, and under the approving gaze of the Revs. Robertson and Murray of the Dutch Reformed Church.
The missionaries were far from being mere onlookers at the colonial spectacle. Mission stations had multiplied in Central Angoniland, with Europeans at Livlezi, Mvera, Goa, Ntonda, Chioli and Pantumba. Many of Gomani’s villages were beginning to slip into the orbit of the missions. The Europeans presence meant a serious curtailment of further raiding and recruitment into the army.
Equally challenging for Gomani, the efficiency and extent of B.C.A. government tax collecting was improving throughout Nyasaland. The £790 collected as but tax in 1892 had risen to £4,696 by the end of 1895.32 At a rate of three shillings per hut this represented more than 6oo medium-sized villages under British control; the tax, levied on many villages that had been under Ngoni jurisdiction for twenty-five years, could only be considered an improper tribute paid to the British.
Towards the end of 1895 reports were reaching Zomba that Gomani had been buying guns and gunpowder from Zambezi traders and harassing villages paying but tax. After an attempt by Gomani to enlist the support of Chiwere, a neighbouring Ngoni chief to the north-east, had failed owing to pressure from Dutch Reformed missionaries, the attacks came on 6 October 1896 and were centred predictably on mission stations and villages that had been paying hut tax. In the words of Chief Ganya of Kandeu : ‘Chief Gomani was angry that the women who lived at the Goa mission wore “luvi” feathers in their hats. He went to the mission to tell them to take them off.’33 If it is recalled that `luvi’ feathers in the head-dress were a symbol of the paramount’s power, this account of events becomes delightfully analytic. Villages paying hut tax under mission influence were flaunting Gomani’s authority. The two ladies at Gowa were, indeed, a challenge.
‘The first reports that 600 Ngoni had been killing mission natives and asking for calico, sent in by Mr Barclay from the Zambezi Industrial Mission at Ntonda, reached a somewhat jittery government: ‘In view of the events in Mashonaland it would be a dangerous course for me to delay any operations against Chikusi’ wrote Sharpe.34 Although Zomba had been genuinely shaken by the news of the Mashonaland risings, this was partly humbug. No European had been touched during the raids. With the Yao subdued, the Fort Jameson and Dedza Ngoni came into the front line of British pacification efforts. Johnston’s vain hope in 1893 that Gomani would come to heel had been dissipated long ago, and some campaign was doubtless already in the offing.35
Given such an excellent excuse Sharpe did not waste any time. On 12 October, Captain Stewart left Zomba for Fort Liwonde and Dedza while Manning came down the lake from Tambala’s in a gunboat. By 23 October, what meagre resistance there had been was crushed and Gomani was in hiding. Approached by the acting vice-consul at Blantyre, Mr Greville, Gomani explained that all captives from the raids belonged to him and that he saw no reason for handing them over to the British. On 27 October, Gomani, tricked into laying down his arms, was shot, raising a few complaints from the Church of Scotland.36
From the insignificant resistance put up by the Maseko, and Gomani’s naïve insistence on his ownership of the people over which he had had traditional jurisdiction, it can only be inferred that the British assault came as a surprise. The attacks on the mission villages seem to have been a gesture by Gomani to his people and older indunas to show that the position of the Ngoni aristocracy over their conquered territory had not changed. This was, of course, not the case. A number of reports from the missions mentioned the discovery of such things as dummies with spears through them and magic gates after the attacks, further proof that Chewa influence on Ngoni society had extended to the practice of preventive magic in warfare.
With the paramount dead, many of the Maseko fled south and eastwards. Mandala, as elder brother of Gomani who was formerly rejected as paramount by the people on grounds of bad character, became chief in the Domwe area. The legitimate heir, Philip Gomani, still a baby, was brought with his mother Namagagula to the principal village of the Ndau clan, Maganga, where he found refuge.37 Mandala, living up to his reputation, was seizing women and children from the villages of his sub-chiefs, Nkwaila and Njobvuyalema within two years of taking over. The captives were sold to a chief in P.E.A., Chemsinga, who was trading in slaves along the Zambezi.38
In April 1898 Msekandiwana, who lived on Domwe mountain itself, thirty miles to the north of Mandala, gathered together over 6,000 men and called on Mandala’s assistance in what was to be the last desperate attempt of the Maseko to keep alive their former way of life. Mandala was unavailable, embroiled in a battle with Njobvualema and Nkwaila who had rebelled at the repeated abductions from their villages. Two companies of Tonga and Sikh troops converged on Domwe under the leadership of Pearce and Brogden, and, after meeting stiff resistance, put down the rising. From Lieutenant Brogden’s fulsome report it is clear that the Maseko had, at last, learnt the value of heavy fire-power. ‘They were armed almost entirely with guns and attacked up vigorously, advancing to within 20-30 yards and opening fire on us.’39 But they missed their chance. The last resistance of the Maseko as an organized army ended when Msekandiwana shot himself through the chest to avoid Gomani’s ignominious death by execution.
The other branch of the Maseko, by necessity rather than design, were already dependent on the British. In August 1896, Robert Codrington, the Collector, was ‘most cordially received at Kachindamoto’s and found him `much inclined to European ways’.40 In case the point had been missed, the young chief asked for, and was promptly dispatched, a red ensign. Two years later his policy of collaboration was clearly paying off: ‘His villages appear to be increasing in size and the population has a well-fed look about them.’44
However, with an end to raiding came an end to the periodic influx of cattle into the chief’s kraal. Like Mandala, Kachindamoto found himself without the old advantages of leadership in a martial society. He also resorted to the solution of selling off recalcitrant members of his villages to replace the booty of war. Makanjila, who continued slaving into the twentieth century, was a willing buyer.
`The dhows would come after dark. The Arabs had yokes put on the captives. I saw them talking round the fire with Chief Kachindamoto. They would put out into the lake and land further down the coast from where they went on foot. The captives would be terrified and think that they were on the other side of the lake.’42
By 1899 Kachindamoto had an impressive list of murders to his name including his chief induna, Gwaza, his grandmother hacked to death with an axe, and one of his wives, Nantini. His younger brother, Ndindi, who wanted to take over the chieftainship informed the Boma at Dowa. In September soldiers were sent to arrest Kachindamoto and he fled into the hills. Captured and pushed into a wicker cage on the pretext that he was insane, he refused to go to Zomba for trial and committed suicide with a bayonet.43 In the subsequent succession dispute Ndindi was rejected in favour of an elder sister, Nyathei, who after suffering torture at Ndindi’s hands, fled with the legitimate heir, Abraham Kachindamoto. Nyathei was shortly afterwards to become regent until 1912.44
And so with this wave of suicides, risings and executions the Maseko Ngoni passed from history as a martial society. No single factor was the cause of this rapid decline. Perhaps the most important had been the pressures from the Yao and European economies with their slavery and wage labour. Behind the economies had been their techniques of warfare. Although the Ngoni appear to have known how to make crude muzzle-loaders,45 and traded and captured a considerable number in the 1890s, it was only by about 1898 that they had learnt to use them efficiently. It is hard to know whether this was merely another instance of military crassness, a quality one might reasonably suppose to be universal, or a product of the essential conservatism of Ngoni society. This conservatism was most likely to be apparent in the army, the basis of the maseko social system.
On the other hand, the Ngoni aristocracy were undoubtedly threatened by the grass-roots disruption associated with the assimilation of large numbers of Chewa captives. The influence of Chewa wives, with strong and fixed ideas on child rearing and family structure46 had from 1870 a whole generation to take effect. A large percentage of young men fighting in the 1890s would have had Chewa mothers. This clash of matrilineal Chewa with the patrilineal Ngoni must have generated more tensions within society than the assimilation of the patrilineal northern Tumbuka by the Mbelwa Ngoni in the north of Malawi. Ngoni aristocracy therefore had very good reasons for reacting conservatively. While the fragmented remains of the Maravi confederation presented no political and military threat—there were no risings as in the north—the aristocracy faced a far more insidious erosion of Ngoni society, culture and language. By 1898 Chingoni was rare in the Central Region.47 Read’s comparative study of Gomani’s and Mbelwa’s Ngoni provides impressive evidence of the degree to which the Chewa were successful in imposing their cultural patterns while remaining a ‘conquered’ people. An attitude of conservatism amongst the indunas was therefore entirely rational. It only became catastrophie when it was extended, as it was bound to be, to include military tactics.
The importance of the war divisions in resisting changes in Ngoni society cannot be underestimated. The last revolt of the Maseko was significantly led by the survivors of the Phungwako clan, the keepers of the war medicines, and Kachere and Msekandiwana played an important ritual role in warfare before 1898. Oral traditions seem to suggest that there were two forces at work in Ngoni society towards the end of the nineteenth century, an element that was willing to come to terms with reality and one that was fixed in a traditional mould. The use of Yao mercenaries may have represented a compromise between those who thought the pattern of warfare should change and those who would never agree to the use of rifles by Ngoni warriors.48
In oral traditions the choice between peace and continued warfare was presented as a choice between remaining Ngoni or becoming Chewa. The Maseko defeat at Songea was attributed to Mlangeni’s decision to settle peacefully amongst the Chewa near Ncheu in the 1840s. The Chewa correlate of this theme is the often heard statement ‘we defeated them with our women’. There seems to be little doubt that the last of the Karonga, Sosola, did Accompany Chidiaonga to Songea and the gist of almost all oral traditions is how the Chewa repeatedly hoodwinked the Ngoni, firstly in alliances of convenience and then in vassalage. The conclusion that the leaders of the major Maseko war divisions saw continued warfare as a defence against Chewa-ization of their society is hard to escape.
If the comparison between the Mbelwa and Maseko Ngoni is instructive, comparison of the two branches of the Maseko is more so. When Kachindamoto’s chief induna was murdered he lost the son of a captive taken around the south-west corner of Lake Malawi c.1845..49 If Gwaza was typical of Kachindamoto’s indunas his villages must have had next to no Swazi clan survivors. Gomani certainly had more. In 1902 Kachindamoto was living in massive village of over 10,000 people with his other villages close-by,50 a degree of centralization imposed by a shortage of ‘pure’ Ngoni. While Gomani was strong enough in the 1930s to crush the nyau cult in his area, Kachindamoto despite the help of powerful and persistent Catholic missionaries, failed. He lived in constant dread of poisoning and was barely holding on to his more distant villages..51
The importance of Chewa religion, nyau and rain cults together with sorcery, in contributing to the Ngoni decline can only be guessed. The Nyau cult with its hierarchy of officials outside the jurisdiction of traditional village leaders, with a secret society initiation and code, has obvious subversive potential. Whether it in fact sustained Chewa culture in the face of Ngoni demands is hard to say.52 The role of the sorcerer is equally difficult to ascertain, though the use of preventive magic during the 1896 rising would indicate some influence on the Ngoni aristocracy.53
Finally there comes the element of bluff. Just as the British, so the Ngoni succeeded in subduing a very large number of people with a minimum of direct rule. This depended to a large degree on a myth of invincibility. Once this myth was seen through, and here the Yao seem to have beaten the British by several years, the Ngoni faced what today might be called a ‘credibility gap’. Add to this the temptation for indunas to deal privately with the Yao, the weakness of the regency, the proximity of the European and Yao economies, the divisive and debilitating civil war, and the rapid decline of the Maseko Ngoni after 1885 becomes almost inevitable.
This is not to say, though, that the Maseko disintegrated as a people as they entered the twentieth century. Before 1929 the heirs to the leaders of the previous century, Philip Gomani and Abraham Kachindamoto, had been converted to Christianity. Judicious support of missionaries and government officials allowed them to retain much of their former power. Nonetheless the years 1870-1900 demonstrate clearly how a combination of factors was able to destroy the way of life of a society that was, in the final analysis, more adapted to the rigours of the Mfecane, than to the problems of settlement close to the British and Yao guns and economies.
FOOTNOTES

 

1.All foreign office references have been taken from the microfilm collection, Chancellor College Library, University of Malawi. Oral testimonies were taken down as notes during field work in the Dedza and Mchinji districts 1967-69. I am indebted to Mr J. K. Rennie for his scholarly criticisms of; in earlier draft of this MS. Mission references are translated from the French.
2. M. Read, The Ngoni of Nyasaland, (London 1956), 97.
3. Oral Testimony from Nyathei, regentess at Ntakataka 1899-1911 in Manser-Bartlett papers, Chancellor College Library, University of Malawi.
4. Personal communication from Rev. J. Saffroy, W.F.
5. W. H. J. Rangeley, ‘The Makololo of Dr Livingstone’, Nyasa. J. 12 (I), 1959, 59.
6. E. D. Young, Nyassa (London 1877), 61.
7. Rangeley, ‘The Makololo’, 59.
8. A. C. Ross, ‘Origins and Development of the Church of Scotland Mission at Blantyre, Nyasaland 1875-1926’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh (1968), 124.
9. As judged by the differences between Hawes to Roseberry, a description in 1886: F.O. 541/50 Hawes to Roseberry, 7 July 1886 and reports from Machinga Yao returning from raids: Mponda Mission Diary, 11 May 1891.
10. Hawes to Roseberry, 7 July 1886.
11. J. Omer-Cooper, ‘Aspects of political change in the nineteenth-century Mfecane’, L. Thompson (ed.), African Societies in southern Africa, (London 1969), 224.
12. The Maseko were defeated at Songea by the sons of Zulu, Hawai and Chipeta in alliance with the Bena, Nindi, Pangwa and other subject tribes. I. Linden, ‘Some oral traditions of the Maseko Ngoni‘, forthcoming publication.
13. W. H. J. Rangeley, ‘The Amacinga Yao’, Nyasa. f., 1962, 54.
14. Hawes to Roseberry, 7 July 1886.
15. Msano was the name given to the mother of the chief, who in the matrilineal Yao had considerable power.
16. Mponda Mission Diary, 22 January 1891. Bishop’s Archives, Lilongwe.
17. Mponda Mission Diary, 1 May 1891.
18. Mponda Mission Diary, 25 March 1891.
19. F.O. 84/2052, Johnston to Salisbury, 10 June 1890.
20. Hawes to Roseberry, 7 July 1886.
21. F.O. 2/54, Johnston to Anderson, 21 January 1893.
22. I am indebted to Rev. Tom Price who when asked his opinion on the decline of the Maseko replied much to the point: `Och, they just lost their credibility’.
23. Nyathei, Manser-Bartlett papers.
24. H. H. Johnston, British Central Africa (London 1897), 106.
25. B.C.A.G 20 February 1894, Nicholl.
26. B.C.A.G. 15 July 1895 Editorial.
27. B.C.A.G. 15 July 1895, Editorial.
28. B.C.A.G. 1 December 1895.
29. Oral Testimonies. Chief Mpemba and Ndindi. Manser-Bartlett papers.
30. Oral Testimony. Samson Kachindamoto. Ntaka-taka, May 1969.
31. F.O. 2/68. Edwards to Acting Consul 31 October 1894.
32. B.C.A.G. 7 March 1894 and B.C.A.G. 1 June 1896.
33. I am indebted to Rev. H. Vernooy W.F. Kandeu Mission for this story.
34. F.O. 2/108 Sharpe to Salisbury 18 October 1896.
35 J. K. Rennie, ‘The Ngoni States and European Intrusion’, E. Stokes and R. Brown (eds.) The Zambesian Past, (Manchester 1966), 321.
36. B.C.A.G. 15 October 1896, B.C.A.G. 1 November 1896, Genthe.
37. Read, The Ngoni, 106.
38. F.O. 2/147 Manning to Salisbury 22 April 1898.
39. F.O. 2/147 Pearce to Manning 15 May 1898, Brogden to Manning 17 May 1898.
40. B.C.A.G. 15 September 1896.
41. B.C.A.G. 12 November 1898.
42. Oral Testimony. Pio Kupempha. Nyanja, Ntakataka, Jakobi Mbalule, Ntumba, Gwaza’s Bembeke. May 1969.
43. Oral Testimony. Jakobi Mbalule. Eye witness. May 1969.
44. Mua Mission Diary 1902-1911.
45. Oral Testimony. T. Kabanga-Ndau. Chief Induna at Makwangwala’s, Dzunje. October 1968.
46. M. Read, Children of their Fathers, (London 1959), 63.
48. I am indebted to Dr Andrew Roberts for this suggestion.
49. Kautsiri, Nyathei’s husband. Manser-Bartlett papers.
50. Mua Mission Diary 14 September 1902.
51. Mua Mission Diary 1930-45.
52. J. M. Schoffeleers and I. Linden, ‘The resistance of the Nyau cult to the Catholic missions in Malawi’, Dar es Salaam Conf. June 1970.
53. W. E. Rau, ‘The Ngoni diaspora and religious interaction in East and Central Africa’. Seminar paper, U.C.L.A.
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