Interesting Oral History of The Maseko Ngoni Under Mputa

By William Perceval Johnson, Archdeacon of the Universities Mission to Central Africa

Note from The moderator: I am of the opinion that the Zulu in paragraph 5 onwards was not the successor of Zwangendaba but rather broke away from the Zwangendaba’s ngoni after his death. There are also other areas besides this where the author differs from the position of other historians. I guess it is all because all these are oral histories, It is therefore difficult to tell who is right or wrong.

The Angoni were the first aggressors. They came up from the south with another clan, allied or akin, which was under a famous chief called Mputa, i.e. the Smiter, and the two parties separated near what is now Bulawayo. Mputa crossed the Zambesi low down — this is the Angoni account of him — and wandered about, going up to Mtonya and on to the Rovuma river and finally to the north end of the Lake, where he seems to have settled not far from Songea.

As he went he brought desolation to the Lake side. The old men in various villages can remember this time of terror, and bring before us how the news flew from village to village that the Smiter was coming and how each village waited its turn in trembling. ‘At Chilowelo,’ said one man, ‘ we were well out of the way; not many of his people came down here.’ An old man of Losefa said : ‘ When Mputa came we had heard that the Angoni cannot bear water and that if you are in the water,even up to your knees, they will not touch you. This was true, for we went in and Mputa passed us in the water ; but he burnt our village.’ A headman of Mtengula told us : ‘He took my mother as a slave, but I was a mere child.’

Where there were no stockades built, the people could only escape to the reed-beds or to the rocks in the Lake. The village of Msumba, which had reeds and a marsh at the back, made a good stand. Mputa stayed some time near it, this gave the Nyasas time to gather, and after a battle or so he moved away. An old Ngoo man, still alive, is proud of having killed an Angoni on this occasion, and tells how he took his shield, his feathers, and his name, and Maendaenda of Pachia has the scar of a wound as a memento of the fight.

It is certain that Mputa brought a rude awakening to the villages in the hills as well as to those on the Lake. Several old men tell of the good old days in the hills before he came to afflict them : ‘We lived in our own villages quietly; each had its own burial ground and its own place for burning witches,’ — and now their security was gone. Mputa, terrible as he was, did not stay long; he passed through the land like a comet. In judging of the resistance that the people of the Lake made to him, we must remember that they had no weapons but bows, while the Smiter had spears. Their archery was good — witness the fact that a man at Msumba had the reputation of having killed three Angoni with one arrow in the old days — but they were outmatched in arms.1

Meanwhile the party of Angoni with whom Mputa had started on his travels had been going up the west side of the Lake and round the north end. On the west side their chief died and was succeeded by another called Zulu. Their progress was marked by destruction. ‘We came by Waya to Sukuma, where we found people whom they call the Wa-Mapangwa continually playing the bamboo vilumbo (a musical instrument), said our Angoni authority. The Angoni soon put an end to this peaceful playing of the vilumbo.

They settled near Mputa, at a place afterwards called Songea or Songela on the bend of the Rovuma river ; the place chosen later on by the Germans for their headquarters and now occupied by our Government. The hill Ngolo’olo, where the Adonde (or Adendauli) seem to have lived before their coming, figures in any account they give of their country. Finding themselves near Mputa, they submitted to him.

These Angoni were akin to Mputa, as we have said, but they were not of the same family. It is a custom among the Angoni to cry out some family name after sneezing or when they are excited, after drinking for instance. Zulu’s people at such times shouted the name Gama (and the women Zinjama); Mputa’s shouted Jere, both names of ancestors.2

Mputa’s Funeral

Mputa treated the Angoni with great severity and feeling against him grew. Nevertheless they went to raid with him near the river Lihuhu, by the place which is now called Wiethaven. The inhabitants drove them back and Mputa was killed.

His funeral seems to have been the last united act of his people and the Angoni. It must have been impressive. They blocked the water of the upper Lihuhu with stones, put the body of the chief in the skin of a newly killed bull, and burnt it in the dry bed of the river. The Angoni stood in crowds on the banks, all silent till the heat of the fire made the bones of the corpse crack ; then together they beat their shields with their spears.

A new chief was chosen. The candidate, apparently Mputa’s next of kin, had to go through the ordeal of standing on one leg with his spear poised over his head from sunrise till the sun went down. (This is the only instance in which I have heard of this ordeal.) But the patience of Zulu’s people was exhausted and they drove Mputa’s people south to the hill Ngango, near the Rovuma river.

There had been a little respite by the Lake, but now the raiders returned, driven south by the Angoni, Their leader was again named Mputa, and the Lake people believed him to be the same Mputa as before and assumed that he had met with a reverse, which was indeed the case.

With this second Smiter, or following close behind, came Kaindi and other headmen. Kaindi made himself a name. He seems to have crossed the Lujenda river and to have attacked the clans on the river Meto, nearer the coast ; these Meto people had probably got gun-powder up from the coast,and Kaindi came back from the Meto with the name of ‘Powder Eater’. He did not go away after raiding as the first Mputa did ; he lingered in the hills by the Lake, now here, now there, and everywhere he raided. ‘We were after the time of Mputa,’ said a man at Mbamba, ‘but Kaindi caught me when I was keeping the herds, and killed my mother.’ ‘He meets, he kills,’ it was said of him. At last he settled at Chisindo, the hill straight inland from Msumba, and made the Lakeside people pay tribute to him to escape being murdered by his men as they worked in their fields. The present chief at Chiwanga remembers carrying up food to him.

Notes

1. The archery deteriorated; it was very feeble when we came to the
Lake.

2. The custom has spread to other tribes who have come under Angoni influence and extends south into Msumba and other villages where men from the north have married. It varies in different places, all who come from the west by the north using, apparently, only one name, while others say : ‘Son of so and so, grandson of so and so’. Sometimes, as above, the name of one ancestor is uttered (the Chiongwe or Chiongo), sometimes the family name of the father or the maternal grandfather (the Chilawa). The natives from the south and east, who trace through the female line, lay most stress on a man’s maternal male relatives. There is not infrequently one Chilawa for the men of a family and another for the women.

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