Author(s): Margaret Read
Source: Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Oct., 1936), pp.453-484 Published by: Edinburgh University Press
Before I made my first camp in an Ngoni village, many Europeans had said to me, ‘There are practically no Ngoni left to-day. They are all hopelessly mixed with other tribes. None of them keep to the Ngoni customs any longer. Their chiefs are no good.’ From the doorway of my hut I saw people coming all day long to the Paramount Chief, behaving towards him with profound respect, bringing him presents, working for him. His children formed a special group in the village, easily recognizable by their bearing and their manners. Old indunas came to instruct me, as they had instructed chiefs in their day, on the duties of a ruler, and the code of Ngoni laws. Old warriors in war dress came and danced by the cattle kraal and sang praise songs. Courts were held with scrupulous regard for order and justice. Other chiefs came visiting from distant parts with their retinues, and were received ceremonially. It soon became apparent that here was the centre of a political state, whose head was invested with prestige and authority over a wide area, and where behaviour to the Paramount and to every one else was strictly regulated by custom, and as strictly observed. These were Ngoni, and they and their fellow Ngoni in other areas1 for the next ten months introduced me to the Ngoni people. The European asser- tion, that they no longer existed as a people, they laughed at, and proceeded to demonstrate that the contrary was true.
The Ngoni are found to-day scattered over four East African territories. The largest groups are in Nyasaland in the districts of Mzimba, Dowa, Fort Manning, Dedza, and Ncheu. In Northern Rhodesia they are in the Fort Jameson and Lundazi districts bordering on Nyasaland. Another section is in Portuguese East Africa on the South-West border of Nyasaland. Under other names there are Ngoni settlements in Tanganyika Territory. The present divisions of the Ngoni are due partly to European frontiers, partly to the fact that more than one party of them came up from the south, and partly to divisions among the Ngoni during the period of settlement.
About 115 years ago the ancestors of these Ngoni left their homes in the present Zululand and Swaziland for their long trek north. The immediate cause of their departure was the defeat of Zwidi, chief of the Ndwandwe people, by Chaka, the history of whose military career in Zululand is well known and needs no repetition here. As part of Zwidi’s people, the Ngoni did not want to stay under Chaka, and the same impetus and military skill which set up Chaka as the Zulu Napoleon drove the Ngoni northward as far as Lake Tanganyika, a conquering military horde amassing followers on the way. To-day they are found in three large groups and several smaller ones, the large groups known as the ‘ countries’ of Mpezeni, Mwambera, and Gomani, who are the Ngoni Paramount Chiefs.2
These groups of people with their southern origin, settled among people who had a totally different language and social structure, pre- sent to the anthropologist a highly complex situation to investigate. He must at the outset ask the questions,’ Who are these Ngoni ? Have they a separate identity as a people, marked by distinctive social and political institutions ?’ After living among them for nearly a year I am convinced that it is correct to speak of the Ngoni as a distinctive group; that they themselves are very conscious of their separate iden- tity as a people, and that they can point to certain of their institutions, notably their language and political, territorial, and kinship groupings, which are definitely Ngoni, that is, of southern origin, and which distinguish them from the people among whom they settled. The complexities of this situation involve the analysing of the ethnic elements included in this term ‘Ngoni’ and the determining of the sense in which it is to be used. They involve also an explanation of what is meant by the expression ‘a distinctive Ngoni culture’, or ‘distinctive Ngoni institutions ‘. The anthropologist who is interested in culture contact must go further and indicate the nature of the double contact caused first by the intermingling of the Ngoni with other tribes, and then by the advent of the Europeans. It is not possible in this article to do justice to all these aspects of an intricate problem. Stated very briefly, the problem is this: an Ngoni aristocratic minority created an Ngoni ‘state’ of mixed ethnic units, imposed a national identity on all who formed part of it, and inspired a real ‘national feeling’ among those who were assimilated. In this article I propose to look at this problem as it exists to-day in the light of white contact, and more particularly as a prelude to Indirect Rule. My thesis is that Ngoni ‘ national feeling ‘ is based on the traditions of their past-on the story of their southern origin, their trek from the south, and their settlement in their present areas. I shall show how the continued preservation of their distinctive institutions, together with their strong historical sense, gave them a dominant position in the country, which was enforced through their military and political supremacy. This supremacy was first challenged and then overthrown by the arrival of the Europeans and the defeat of the Ngoni military power. The situation thus created is the key to the Ngoni attitude towards white contact to-day.
The plan of work which I adopted at the beginning had as its aim the establishing of certain essential data-namely, to determine the principles of local or territorial settlement in relation to the political organization and the ethnic constitution of the area. This involved making maps of the Paramount Chief’s ‘ country ‘ and of the ‘ countries’ of his subordinate chiefs, showing the areas over which individuals exercised authority and their relation to those above and below them in the political hierarchy. It also involved making a number of village plans, showing the alignment of houses on the village site, the names and clans of the inhabitants and their mutual relations in terms of kinship groups and village organization.’ In villages called Ngoni villages, that is, where the ‘owner’ of the village was of a recognized Ngoni clan and where there was a nucleus of Ngoni clans- men, the individuals in Ngoni clans numbered from 25-75 per cent. of the total inhabitants, the average being about 45 per cent. In a number of the villages where no Ngoni clans were represented, the villagers nevertheless asserted, ‘We are Ngoni, because we are the people of Mpezeni ‘. When questioned, they acknowledged their local origin as Nsenga or Chewa by kinship and clan, but claimed the name Ngoni in terms of their political allegiance. It is worth while mention- ing here that this claim to be Ngoni is made with even more force when men are away from home on the mines or at other work. I found men on the Northern Rhodesian Copper Belt and in Johannesburg assert emphatically that they were Ngoni because they were the people of Mpezeni or Gomani, at the same time giving their clan names with a grin because they knew it would reveal their Chewa or Nsenga origin. It is ‘ the thing’ to pass as Ngoni if you can carry it off and in strange places-where the acid test of the clan name is not known-it is easy to do this. A group of Nyasaland men newly arrived on the Crown Mines in Johannesburg told me confidentially, ‘Here we say only, ” We are all Ngoni “. You know that our clan names are Chewa or Tumbuka, but we are the people of Gomani or of Mwambera, and so we say we are Ngoni. And then people are respecting us.’ The prestige in the name Ngoni is a matter of pride, not only in their own country, but far and wide in Africa.
The chiefs and other important men among the Ngoni recognize that they are a very mixed group ethnically. When asked, ‘What is the meaning of a clan ?’ they reply, ‘ It shows a man’s tribe that we may know how to respect him.’ It is hardly correct, therefore, to speak of the Ngoni as a tribe, for from Natal to Tanganyika men of many ‘tribes’ joined, or were captured and forcibly assimilated by, the original nucleus of Zulu and Swazi warriors, to be welded by their political and military organization into an effective group. What meaning, therefore, can we give to the term ‘ Ngoni ‘, and how can this group which calls itself Ngoni be analysed into its component parts?
The references made hitherto show that the term ‘ Ngoni’ is used in several different con- notations. It is, strictly speaking, an historical linguistic term, and referred originally to that group of clans described as ‘ Nguni ‘ because they spoke a language classified to-day as the Nguni dialects.’ Some- where on the march north the Ngoni changed the u to an o, and arrived in their present areas saying ‘We are Ngoni’. They assert emphatically that it was on the march they began to say ‘We are Ngoni ‘, and they suggest that it was important to have some general term to cover individuals from many mixed groups.
The name Ngoni having been assumed on the march north, it obviously at first only covered those clans which were of true southern origin, or as we should say to-day, of Zulu or Swazi stock. This is the meaning which Ngoni still has when used in its narrow or strict sense to-day. In collecting the clan names in a village, for example, the headman says ‘Those are Ngoni, those are Makalanga, those are Nsenga’, and so on. The true Ngoni clans are those most highly honoured, the real aristocrats, and a little experience teaches the field worker to recognize their bearing as they walk about among the rest. In a village containing several clans, the houses of the Ngoni clans occupy the most honourable places in the middle of the horse-shoe formation surrounding the cattle kraal. In any meeting at a chief’s village the men and women of Ngoni clans sit nearest to the chief and drink beer before the rest. This ranking by clans, however, does not stop at the true Ngoni. They lead the hierarchy, but other clans also claim precedence in a rough geographical order of the tribes absorbed from south to north. The true Ngoni illustrate this by saying, ‘In old days the only men who were made indunas were those of the Swazi, Zulu, Suto, and Tonga clans. After we settled here, indunas were made from the Makalanga, Nsenga, and Sukuma clans’. There is therefore a hierarchy of rank expressed in the clan names, and this rank is evident in the position of houses on a village site, and the degree of authority exercised by the clans and the respect’ accorded to them. In effect, all those whose ancestors were absorbed before the final break up of the main Ngoni group are recognized as having some claim to the name Ngoni. The rest, that is the clans found in the areas where the Ngoni finally settled are, or rather were, regarded as conquered or slave people.
We have seen, however, that there is a much wider sense in which the term Ngoni is used-that is, by all who live under the rule of the Paramount Chief. This extended usage is due to the prestige and honour in which the stricter meaning of Ngoni is held. It was illus- trated in the instance of the Nyasaland men in Johannesburg, who all claimed to be Ngoni because they had discovered at once that the name commanded respect among the mixture of tribes to be found on the mines. Indunas and other leading men sometimes make use of this wider connotation when boasting about the large numbers of people owning allegiance to the Ngoni Paramount Chief, compared with the other petty chieftainships. ‘All those in the country of Mpezeni are Ngoni. All are his people.’ At the same time they make it clear that there is a distinction between the real Ngoni and the other subjects of the Paramount-a distinction which formerly was much sharper than it is to-day. All are the people of the Paramount, it is true, but in old days the majority of the non-Ngoni were called slaves. To this day the Ngoni when angry may call out to some one, ‘ Chewa, Chewa ‘, implying ‘ Slave, slave’, and be hauled to the chief’s court for insulting language. There the chief will take pains to point out that there are no slaves to-day, and that no Ngoni must ‘spoil the country’ by insulting the people of the Paramount.
It is, I think, clear that there is a connotation in which the term Ngoni can be used with some degree of scientific accuracy-that is, to cover all those clans which are not belonging to the local tribes, or, in an even stricter sense, the clans of indubitably southern origin. We have also to recognize that the wider connotation of the word is in constant use to-day, and it will be apparent in the course of this article that those who like to be thought Ngoni but have no real claim to the name, find ways in which to identify themselves with the real Ngoni, and to impress upon outsiders that they share the distinction of that name.
It is evident that the field worker who tries to describe and analyse the society which is found in the Ngoni areas to-day has some difficulty in establishing appropriate and correct terms. Here is a society which is a compound of ethnic units, subdivided into clans according to kinship, stratified into ranks, held together by a ruling aristocracy and a strong cen- tralized political organization. This society differs radically from that of a homogeneous community where the sociological structure has gone through a long process of integration or disintegration, or has remained static over a period of time. The Ngoni created their ‘state ‘, that is, their present political and social units, within a relatively short period by a series of deliberate acts. They brought with them a pattern of society from the south; they modified’ it during their forty odd years of wandering and warfare; and they moulded it finally when they settled in their present areas. Within this deliberately created social structure the principles of centralization and rank were domi- nant. Based on these two principles the Ngoni set up, in an alien milieu, the institutions of chieftainship,2 of military training, of systematized law courts, of recognized ranks in society, of patrilineal succession and inheritance, speaking among themselves a language foreign to the country. The resultant society, a compound of the Ngoni ruling aristocracy and the conquered indigenous people, formed the Ngoni state. So conscious was all this social engineering that old men to-day can give detailed accounts of the various processes, poli- tical, legal, military, by which the conquerors and conquered were brought under one rule.3 Borrowing a term from European history, it might almost be called nation-building. And when you have heard the Ngoni Paramount discuss the position of minorities in his country, and his claim to territories no longer under his rule, you could almost imagine you were in the corridors of the League Secretariat at Geneva.
The Ngoni state, however, to-day is not only a political structure, a framework for political and social life. Within that structure, form- ing parts of it, are institutions embodying those social, political, economic, and ethical values which are peculiarly Ngoni. The Ngoni, that is to say, when they absorbed other peoples into their state, imposed upon them a new social order together with the values in- herent in that order. Patrilineal succession and inheritance, for example, introduced by the Ngoni, was bound up with the relations of father to son, the acquiring and distribution of cattle, the worship of clan and family ancestors. Each institution had its clearly related rules and values, and these are made explicit by the Ngoni when they describe them. The casual European observer in the country sees only the Paramount Chief and his subordinate chiefs ruling over a welter of tribes with a confusing mixture of social behaviour. To the Ngoni, however, and to the anthropologist who follows their lead, the pattern of society which they set up is clear and definite; it has a cultural reality of its own. The seeming welter of tribes is in reality an ordered relationship. Each group, tribe, or clan, has its recognized place vis-a-vis other groups. Within that ordered relationship the different groups have pursued a process of preserving some customs and adopting others, and they can give a coherent account of what they have retained and what they have borrowed. The real Ngoni do not admit to borrowing much. They like to think of their society as very distinctive as well as being well integrated. Yet the degree of modification in Ngoni society needs very close investigation because it shows much variety in different localities.
When they entered their present areas the Ngoni were very inferior in numbers to the indigenous people. How was it then that they were able to subdue them? And having subdued them, how did they preserve their own culture, so that they were not submerged in the very different cultures round them? The Ngoni themselves give the answer to this first question, saying, ‘We fought with spears and shields; those others had only bows and arrows and sometimes guns.’ The making of these shields, which formerly gave courage and protection to the warriors, is to this day almost a ritual. To watch a chief working at one on the threshold of his hut, or a village headman and his friends cutting and shaping one in the kraal, is to realize the value put on them by the Ngoni. They refuse to make them for sale as curiosities, and several Europeans have told me that they have tried in vain to get one.
Having conquered by the shield and spear, the Ngoni maintained their prestige by their highly developed political organization. All around them were small chieftains owning a few villages with no integration in any large political unit.2 The Ngoni state was focussed in the inkosi, the Paramount Chief, who was at once the ‘owner ‘3 of the land, the ‘head ‘3 of the state, and the ‘father ‘3 of his people. The Ngoni, as we have seen, are always ready to indicate those institu- tions and related traditions which mark them off from the surrounding tribes, and which give their state a cultural reality of its own. They point first to their language and their traditions of Dingiswayo, Zwidi, and Chaka as proving their southern origin. Other neighbouring peoples have vague traditions of wandering from north to south, or west to east, but the Ngoni know exactly where they came from and by what route. Their language is almost identical with old Zulu. I was told by many Europeans that it hardly existed any longer, and I was therefore surprised to find to what an extent it is still spoken and used. Most of the true Ngoni to-day are bilingual4; with the ex- ception of a few very old Ngoni people, everyone to-day speaks one of the local vernaculars, Nsenga, Tumbuka, or Chewa.5 Ngoni is the language of the aristocrats, and a large proportion of the true Ngoni understand and speak it. It is in fact one of the distinguishing marks between the true Ngoni and the rest. It is convenient for a chief to be able to exchange a few remarks with a relative or an im- portant visitor in a language which the onlookers cannot follow, and I have also heard a chief do the same with one of his indunas during a case in court. When I played Zulu records on my gramophone the aristocrats and old warriors drew near to listen, while the nobodies who could not understand fell back naturally. It is interesting to see how this language test brings out the social distinctions based on family and rank, and produces generally an inferiority reaction among the non-Ngoni.
As other distinguishing institutions the Ngoni point out their dances’ and songs; their former military organization with its related system of age grades; their political organization under the Paramount Chief with his hierarchy of amakosana, abalumuzana, izinduna, amanxusa,& c.; the system of courts, again a hierarchy, with the laws administered in them; their village organization which still preserves the division into izigawa or hamlets, characteristic of the very big Ngoni villages of old days; the Ngoni code of ethics, differing radically from the code of the neighbouring tribes, with its insistence on truth, chastity, and personal discipline; and their patrilineal descent in clans and inheritance of property. This last, superimposed upon the local matrilineal and matrilocal tribes, has created a variety of forms of marriage and inheritance which is almost the despair of the field worker. The Ngoni say proudly,’ We taught them to honour their sons ‘ when pointing out how nephew succession has to a large extent given way before filial succession. The values inherent in certain Ngoni institu- tions have spread beyond their own areas, for one Chewa Paramount Chief told me he had for long admired the Ngoni system of filial succession and inheritance, and was now trying, in the teeth of much opposition, to introduce it into his country.
After I had been a little while among the Ngoni, and their chiefs and leading men had begun to realize my aim in field work, I was surprised by the help they gave me and the amount of co-operation they showed in my enquiries. Then one day an old induna revealed the reason for this enthusiasm about being ‘ written up ‘. ‘At last’, he said, ‘someone will know about us.’ He went on to speak with regret about the old days when one or two missionaries and others really knew about the Ngoni and could speak their language. He then spoke with bitterness about the present, lamenting that the Ngoni were no longer regarded as a great people. Gradually it became evident that the Ngoni, being very conscious themselves of their distinctive cultural identity, and of their positive achievements in setting up the Ngoni state, expect other people to recognize this too. They keep constantly before them memories of their past greatness, and they dwell gloomily on the coming of the Europeans which marked the end of their ascendancy.
From the beginning of my stay among the Ngoni the chiefs and leading men impressed on me the importance of knowing about their past. In each area the Paramount Chief arranged that’ historians ‘, that is, old men accredited by him as having correct information, should come to dictate Ngoni history to me. At first this relating of history took place in public before any who liked to listen. The old historians, however, grizzled warriors of many fights, trembled and stammered in giving their accounts, because the Paramount Chief so impressed on them the importance of the occasion, and pulled them up sharply when they hesitated over names or events. At the subsequent private sittings, where the old men could argue fiercely with each other without any fear of causing shame before an audience, the accounts were much more coherent, and, as the Paramount Chief assured me, correct. After one such taking down of history in the Paramount’s village, I went to stay in the village of one of these ‘ historians ‘, a very much respected mulumuzana and one of the ‘ best families ‘. He gently but firmly put aside my scheme of studying village organization and economic life, saying, ‘First you ought to know about our begin- nings ‘. After giving me still more detailed accounts of Ngoni history, he explained that though much of their social life was mixed up to-day with that of other tribes, their history and traditions were distinct and belonged to them alone. Hence I ought to have it written down fully and correctly. When I arrived in Chief Gomani’s country, after having stayed in the other two Ngoni areas, the chiefs and leading men whom he called to see me asked at once, ‘What did the other Ngoni do to show you they were Ngoni? We want you first to hear the story of our people.’ If I said to any older man of good standing, that is of a true Ngoni clan, ‘Tell me about the Ngoni’, he invariably began with the traditions of the south and their trek north.
I have some fifteen long texts’ of Ngoni history, most of which begin with the stories of Dingiswayo and Zwidi, leading on to the rise of Chaka and the Ngoni exodus from the south. These texts not only show a measure of agreement with each other, but they also are verifiable by established history as recorded by Europeans. Those texts which came from Gomani’s country contain different material after the exodus from the south. For the Ngoni under the leadership of the Maseko clan came north with Mzilikazi and the Matabele, and crossing the Zambesi alone, went east of Lake Nyasa into Tanganyika.2 The main Ngoni group under the Jere clan went west of Lake Nyasa into Tanganyika, and remained a united group until the death of Zwange- ndaba in 1848. A disputed succession followed and the Ngoni split up under two rival Paramounts, Mpezeni and Mwambera. The history of those years, as related to-day, is largely concerned with proving in each area that their Paramount is the only rightful one, the only one to whom the royal salute Bayete should be given. Mpezeni’s historians say, ‘ Mwambera snatched Bayete ‘-and vice versa. In spite of these divergences in later history, however, the Ngoni point to their earlier history and say,’ You see we are all one people ‘. They are conscious of, and troubled about, their present divisions and inclined to attribute them to our premature arrival in the country. ‘You came too soon. We would have fought until there was only one inkosi.’
The detailed knowledge of Ngoni history is regarded as the province of a specialist. ‘How can a man of no wisdom remember all those names?’ From time to time ‘ historians ‘ tell episodes of this traditional history in the villages of the Paramount or of other important chiefs. The Paramounts have told me that occasionally at their biannual ‘ meeting of chiefs ‘ and indunas, some recital of history is made, especially if they want to quote a precedent or examine an old custom with a view to change. This historical tradition therefore is alive and has a recognized function in regulating Ngoni life. In one area part of it has been written in the vernacular and is used as a school history book.’ In the other areas the Paramounts have spoken of the need for something of the same kind, as they recognize that with the coming of modern education it is an effective way of training the young in the traditions of the Ngoni past.
In addition to recitals of tradition by ‘historians ‘ there are many other reminders of the Ngoni past which are constantly before the people. An adequate examination of Ngoni history as it is expressed in their institutions and standardized behaviour would need an article to itself. I shall only mention here some ways and occasions through which tradition and old Ngoni institutions are brought before the people.
1.The praise songs of chiefs, war songs, regimental songs, names of famous regiments, and prayers for rain. These contain references, often rather obscure, to events and persons in the past. The praise songs are sung, or rather shouted, on special occasions, as when thanking the chief for beer, by members of important clans who alone know the words. The war songs and regimental songs recall the great days of conquest, and are sung and danced in war dress at big gatherings at the Paramount’s village or at other chief’s villages. The prayers for rain invoke the names of great chiefs in old days, but are now only a memory as they are no longer used in ceremonies-at least in none that I have found so far.
2. The names of prominent landmarks, such as hills and rivers where great chiefs built their villages and fights took place. Herd boys will point out a river and say,’ That is where Mtwalo built when he came from Choma ‘, or’ That hill is where Singu hid in the Azungu war ‘. The historical events attached to these places are widely known and constantly before people’s eyes in the diversified landscape of hills and valleys.
3. Important village names. During the trek north, the names of the villages of certain chiefs in the south were preserved.’ In Mwa- mbera’s country there are the names of villages belonging to nine generations of Jere chiefs, and in Gomani’s country for seven generations of Maseko chiefs. Villages holding these historic names are in charge of an individual of high rank who is never called the ‘ owner ‘ of that village but ‘the one who takes care ‘. I realized how clear to the people is the historical significance of these village names, when I asked a question and they exclaimed, ‘What? You do not know about Elangeni being the village of Hlachwayo ? But all Ngoni people can know that.’2
4. Clan names. The clan names, as the Ngoni say, denote a person’s ‘tribe ‘ and the respect due to him. With the prefix, e, a, na (according to the area) the clan name is used as a respectful form of address, and always when thanking for a gift or favour. The tone of reverence with which the great clan names are thus mentioned is itself an indication of the rank and honour of a person.
5. Village descent. In old days Ngoni villages were very much larger than to-day. The headman of a village on your first visit will always give you the genealogy of his village, how it split off from A, which split off from B, which was the chigawa under induna X of the big village of chief Y. Reciting these village genealogies generally leads to some recalling of the past, and the village notables, the ama- doda, gather round to corroborate or correct the headman’s recital.
It takes very little to stimulate the Ngoni to historical conversa- tions. I have heard them originate in the return of a villager from Johannesburg, where he met Zulu and Swazi men and found they could speak together and had common traditions; in a sermon preached by an Ngoni minister in which he used illustrations from Ngoni warfare; in a rebuke from the Boma to a headman for trying to move his village from worn out land to a site outside the Reserve on an empty farm. And it is not only the aristocrats who take part in such conversations. Sometimes it is evident that men and boys whose fathers had been slaves are anxious to show their knowledge of Ngoni history in order to prove their unity with the true Ngoni. It is never- theless recognized that the aristocrats, through their kinship links with the past, have the best knowledge; the rest listen and defer to them. For matters relating to history are no antiquarian interest to the Ngoni. It is probable that recalling history and dwelling on the great days of the past is to some extent a compensation for what the Ngoni con- sider the indignities of their position to-day. Yet it is also a stimulus to them to maintain their separate identity and to revere their institu- tions. Tradition supports rank, by recognizing the historical im- portance of certain clans; and rank preserves tradition because intimate knowledge is the proud monopoly of certain families.
To the anthro pologist who examines the part played by tradition and legend in the culture of a people, Professor Malinowski has given an invaluable lead. He suggests that myths are the charter and documentation for traditional tribal life, ‘ statements of reality which live in the institu- tions and pursuits of the people’;’ and that legend is re-interpreted history. All peoples of whatever level of civilization interpret history in the light of their beliefs about themselves, their achievements, and their destiny. The Ngoni are no exception to this. Sometimes they relate factual history which is verifiable and accurate. At other times it is probably part fact, part fiction. Yet at all times the emphasis in, and interpretation of, tradition, has a definite purpose, and it is possible to see how a standardized form of a narrative has come to be accepted and believed in. The version of a narrative at one time was inter- preted or moulded to serve a purpose. Having been established, it then moulds the thinking of the people on that particular issue. The vexed question of the supremacy of the two Paramounts, Mpezeni and Mwambera2 is a case in point. The basis of the story of the original dispute is the same, but the versions as told in each ‘ country’ differ in a succession of minute details, whose arrangement and emphasis prove the point in each case. Mpezeni’s historians have arranged the details to prove that he is the rightful inkosi; Mwambera’s historians do the same. And in each area the versions as recited convince the people that their inkosi is supreme. The main purpose of the tradition was to show that there cannot be more than one rightful inkosi of the Ngoni. The present day interpretations serve the same purpose and exalt one of the two claimants at the expense of the other.
The traditions centring round the person of Zwangendaba are numerous. Some of these are concerned to show that he was an important chief in the south under Zwidi, and that the Jere clan of which he was head was a leading one. Other accounts do not disguise that he was an upstart, but lay stress on his success as leader of the Ngoni in their trek north. All these traditions about Zwangendaba are told as documentation for the importance of the inkosi, and centre round the Ngoni belief that their state must have one head in whom authority is centralized. It is easy to see that the circumstances under which the Ngoni state was created demanded a strong autocratic ruler. The traditions gathered round this first ruler of their state now serve to perpetuate the beliefs about the office of Paramount Chief, beliefs which modern ideas and western education have hardly modi- fied at all.
Ngoni history divides into three periods, and the traditions in each period, as they are told, form the people’s thinking about that section of their past. The traditions of the earliest period, that is, of their life in the south and their trek north, are the charter for their pride as a distinctive people. The traditions of the middle period, of their con- quests and settlements, document their superiority over the surround- ing peoples. The traditions of the last period, that of the arrival of the European, determine their attitude towards white contact. Their interpretation of their history, therefore, reflected in the established legends and tradition, influences profoundly their thinking about themselves, about their neighbours, and about the Europeans.
This second period of Ngoni history includes the events from the crossing of the Zambezi to the coming of the Europeans, roughly the years 1835-I885. During these fifty years the original Ngoni horde, with additions to it from the tribes south of the Zambezi, explored the country in which they were finally to settle, went farther north into Tanganyika, and finally returned between the years I855-I865, to settle in their present habitat. The earlier part of the period was one of exploring and of conquest. The later part was the time of settlement and consolidation, during which the Ngoni ‘ states ‘ emerged in the form in which they were found, when the Europeans first arrived.
The Ngoni in Mpezeni’s country, when speaking of this time, call it chamtendere (the time of peace). Any white travellers’ tales referring to these years lay stress on the constant raids carried out by the Ngoni, the fierceness of their warriors, and their ravaging of the countryside for slaves and cattle. It was obviously a time of frequent wars. Why then do the Ngoni call it a time of peace ? I have asked this question of many men of rank and standing and they give one invariable reply, ‘We call it chamtendere because the Azungu (Europeans) were not there to trouble us ‘. This statement is in effect the key to Ngoni thinking about the days of pre-white contact, and also about the advent of the Europeans. The way in which they speak of chamtendere is itself significant. I first heard it during a long recital of Ngoni history, and stopped the narrator to ask the meaning of the word. There was instantly an embarrassed silence and self-conscious grins in the group. The word had evidently slipped out unawares, for later on they told me that it was a word they only used among themselves. Having once been used, however, it appeared frequently in conversa- tions with me, and proved a useful starting-point for accounts of the organization of their own state and the effects on it of the European advent. ‘ Ah, chamtendere ‘, they say, with a deep sigh, ‘then we were people ‘. It proved also to be a pass-word to their confidence, for when- ever I mentioned chamtendere to a village headman, he and his notables nudged each other, and laughed and said,’ She can know about us ‘. When pressed to be more specific about this ‘troubling’ by the Azungu they spoke of taxes, of the ban upon raiding and warfare, of young men being called away to work, of their land being taken for European farms. These restrictions and disabilities caused by white contact they regarded as warfare, that is, as troubled times, because the Europeans forcibly prevented them from doing as they liked, just as they had done in their day to the surrounding tribes. The con- quered tribes, on the other hand, naturally hailed the advent of the Europeans as a time of peace and security. Therein lies the chief difference to-day between the attitude of the Ngoni to the Europeans and that of the Chewa, for example. In the vernacular expression the Ngoni say, ‘The Europeans spoiled our country’; the Chewa say, ‘The Europeans saved us’.
Chamtendere, then, was the period of Ngoni supremacy, when they established by force of arms their right to rule over the country and its indigenous inhabitants. There was, however, some difference between the political organization of the Ngoni as a conquering horde on the march, and their organization when they finally settled in their present areas. At both times the focus of their organization was warfare-they were a nation under arms. But once settled on land which they had chosen they began to spread a network of political organization over the country, and to plan in terms of ‘countries’23 instead of mobile villages. To-day when they discuss the advent of the Europeans and the consequent’ spoiling ‘ of their country, they recall the days when extensive tribute was paid to their Paramount Chief, chiefs were free to choose good sites for their very big villages, the outlying areas were ruled by indunas and lesser chiefs. It was the partial breaking up of this centralized political organization which they regarded as ‘spoiling their country ‘, as well as the economic restrictions with regard to land and the prohibition of raiding for new supplies of cattle.
During this time of Ngoni supremacy Ngoni institutions flourished -those institutions which they had brought with them from the south and preserved through their wanderings. When they are telling to-day about these years they speak fervently and reverently of the part played by the Paramount Chief in every side of life, the training for warfare of all the young men, the instruction and supervision of young chiefs by old indunas, Ngoni marriage and initiation cere- monies. It was during this time in Mpezeni’s country that the Inqwala or first fruits ceremony was regularly observed at Mtenguleni, the village of the mother of old Mpezeni.24 At this ceremony the Paramount Chief ‘opened’ the new food season by the ritual eating of new fruits, especially young maize and pumpkins. It was also the occasion on which he made known any new laws before the assembled leaders of his country. The ceremony was marked by special songs and dances performed only at that time. It was an occasion on which economics, religion, politics, social life and recreation were brought together in a dramatic form in the part played by the Paramount Chief vis-a-vis his people. When speaking of these ‘good old days’ the Ngoni always refer to the Inqwala, for it was to them symbolic of the greatness of their Inkosi, and of how ‘they lived well’ before the Azungu came as despoilers.
On the subject of warfare and of training for war the Ngoni will talk for hours. Among the many things which they mourn in the passing of the old order, they regret most the military training of youths and men, and the age-grade system which was part of it. They point out how a youth had his appointed companions to whom he stood in a recognized relationship of mutual obligation and assistance, and with these companions he went through the grades of calf-herding and cattle-herding until he graduated into a regiment. The field worker can observe how much Ngoni ‘ national feeling ‘ was bound up with memories of war days, when to-day they put on their war dress and dance war dances at a chief’s village. I have seen Chewa men and women huddle together during these war dances, and mutter, ‘ Too many Ngoni are here ‘, as if they were still in the days of fighting and raids, while the Ngoni warriors swagger about, swishing their kilts of skins and brandishing their shields and spears with every appearance of reality. I have heard accounts of Ngoni raids for cattle going as far as the Kafue River, into the Mashukulumbwe country, given with such details of the places on the march that I think they must be substantially correct. Even if it is legendary, the recital of such raids still fosters Ngoni pride and distinction, and I have heard an old man who took part in such a raid compare it scornfully with young men going nowadays to Broken Hill and the Copper Belt. ‘They go only for money’, he said, ‘ We went for our izidlodlo25 and for cattle to honour the inkosi’.
The Ngoni are realists and they admit that while they planted their institutions in the country and maintained most of them, at the same time a measure of adjustment was going on to the local cultures. For this they put the blame on the women. They point out that while they were on the march the local women they picked up, with their different language and customs, had not a great deal of influence on the community. Once they were settled, however, and married local women, those women went visiting to their own homes and took their children with them, and gradually a pronounced alien element and another language penetrated into Ngoni society. This is illustrated very well in the girls’ initiation ceremonies, which differ very much in Ngoni and Chewa society. Ngoni men and women tell you with disgust how the chinamwali, the Chewa ceremony, began to be practised in Ngoni villages in place of the umsindo or umgonxo of the Ngoni. It was the only occasion on which I have heard them commend the action of the missionaries in putting down a custom, for they really despised the ceremonial and associations of the chinamwali, and rather than have it among them, they preferred outside help in putting it down.
The Ngoni dislike very much being asked point blank what cultural adjustments they made due to Chewa and other local customs. They admit reluctantly one or two minor adaptations, and proceed immediately to tell the major changes which they forced on the Chewa and others living under their rule. The chief adjustment by the Ngoni has undoubtedly been the adoption of the local language, as being the language of the women. Ngoni women of good family still speak Ngoni, but I have not found any instances of local women married to Ngoni men who have learned it. One of the perennial topics among the elders in an Ngoni village is the ‘bad’ influence of the women on the children. When pressed to explain the nature of this ‘ bad ‘influence, they say,’ The children are learning only the customs of the women. They cannot know about the Ngoni ‘. They lament the vanishing of the age-grades as the natural channels for instruction of young men in Ngoni customs, though they say with their charac- teristic realism,’ What is the good of having age grades and regiments when there is no war?’
If we were to attempt to reconstruct old Ngoni society as it was in the days before white contact, it is to this period, chamtendere, we should turn. There we can find the structure of Ngoni society, the distinctive Ngoni institutions, and Ngoni supremacy over the sur- rounding tribes as a reality. When the first white people arrived, as traders and missionaries and officials, they were all impressed with the power of the Ngoni Paramount Chief and the impossibility of getting any footing in the country without his consent and aid. ‘Mpezeni26
I is a very powerful chief… and shows the greatest dislike to any interference with his governing powers. He has formed a powerful kingdom where his subjects are mainly Chewa, Chipeta and Senga stock, but his power is consolidated by a Zulu and half-Zulu aristocracy.’ Such was the official view of the Ngoni state under old Mpezeni expressed by Sir Harry Johnston, and similar impressions are recorded of the Ngoni states in Nyasaland. If this was the Euro- pean impression of Ngoni supremacy it is easy to picture the feelings of the Ngoni themselves with all their pride of race and of achieve- ments in nation-holding, when for the first time a superior power loomed on their horizon.
I have up to the present referred to the three Ngoni areas as if they formed one cultural unit. This is true of their earliest days, and to a large extent of the time called chamtendere. In spite of certain minor differences there was then a form of society and of political organization which was the same in all three areas, and they all possessed the same language, traditions, and aristo- cratic hierarchy. After the advent of the Europeans, however, it becomes impossible to generalize, as both the manner and the results of white penetration varied so much in the three areas. As a study in culture contact where eye-witnesses, both white and black, are still available as informants, it is most illuminating to compare the effects of white contact in Mpezeni’s and Mwambera’s countries. In Mpezeni’s the first contact was commercial, in Mwambera’s, missionary. The contrast between Ngoni society in those two districts to-day is startling, and is commented on frequently by the Ngoni themselves. ‘See’, say Mpezeni’s people,’ the Charterland Company came to us. To Mwambera’s country it was Dr. Laws. And Dr. Laws’s men can speak English to-day and we cannot. Our cattle were taken by the Europeans; Mwambera’s were not. That is why they lubola their wives to-day with many cattle, and we have only a few cattle.’ They often referred to these differences as soon as they knew I was going from one Ngoni area to another, and it is evident that they are well aware that they met with different kinds of white contact. A frequent topic of discussion in villages is the differences between the administration of N. Rhodesia and of Nyasaland, as well as the policy and attitudes of the different missions.
There is, however, one common factor in the situation called culture contact, existing wherever the Ngoni meet any Europeans. Like the Zulu, the Ngoni do not necessarily take kindly to white ways nor desire to make an extensive imitation of white culture. Their racial and cultural pride makes them cling to their own institutions and resent the assertion of white superiority in every sphere of life. This is evident in material culture as well as in the realm of political and social values. The Ngoni are well known for their skill in house- building, yet they prefer their own of poles and mud, and are slow to take to brick houses. Their houses, both in the villages and on the copper mines, were noticeably bare of’ store goods ‘, and their expen- diture on clothes and ‘trash’ is low in comparison with the wages earned. Their standards of hospitality, of courtesy, and of mutual assistance they believe to be much superior to the Europeans. They carried on their own system of courts by themselves until it was recognized by the Native Courts Ordinance a few years ago, and they speak with scorn of the chief who cannot decide his own cases and has to have recourse to the Boma. Several times in the villages, when describing their agricultural methods, or hygiene for young men, or moral training of children, they have said to me, ‘Write that we knew this before the Azungu came’.
On one count they do concede superiority to the Europeans. ‘Only in war the Azungu knew better ‘, and that to the Ngoni was the acid test. In Mpezeni’s and Gomani’s countries, where they were conquered by force of arms, they knew they had to yield as they had made others yield in their day. Yet even here they find a cause for pride. ‘No one ever conquered us until the Azungu came, and no one will conquer us again until they first conquer the Azungu.’ This I have had said to me many times by men when speaking of their experiences as carriers and as askari in the East African campaign. They add as explanation, ‘ We went to the war of the Germans because the Boma said we should go. But we wanted also to see if the English would conquer the Germans as they conquered us.’ The Ngoni are by no means unaware of white political antagonism and questioned me closely about present day relations between English and Germans, and between English and Dutch in South Africa. Though they have seen from their own observation that modern warfare as practised by Europeans is entirely different from warfare as they knew it, they are nevertheless interested in war to-day as an ‘instrument of national policy’.
It is from this angle that the Ngoni in Mpezeni’s country regard the ‘war’ between them and the British in 1898. It was a trial of strength; they were defeated by superior power.27 When the Ngoni tell the story of this war they make it clear that just as they had defeated the other tribes with their superior weapons, so it was British superiority in weapons which won the day, because their machine- guns were used with deadly force on the Ngoni warriors. The version of the fighting current in the villages was told me many times, always with a note of awe and horror at the unexpected and overwhelming catastrophe. When the British punitive force camped outside Mpezeni’s kraal, the Ngoni war induna sent to ask if they were ready to fight. The reply was, ‘Wait, the Azungu are eating’. Another later messenger brought back word that the Azungu had finished breakfast and were ready, and the companies sallied out, and the machine-guns were arranged facing the kraal exit. Then the Ngoni warriors sprang out, holding their shields before them, and were met by a hail of fire from the machine-guns. To their horror they found their invincible shields were no longer a protection. Many fell, the rest fled, and the huge village28 was looted and burned. ‘The Azungu war was too strong’, is the way they invariably end this often repeated tale.
Overwhelming though this military catastrophe was, to the Ngoni it is the events preceding and following the ‘war’ on which they dwell, when in the villages they speak of this period of white contact. ‘We are not ashamed for the war’, they say, ‘We are ashamed for losing our cattle and our land’. They tell to this day how a certain Carl Weise, a German, came up from Portuguese East Africa trading,29 made friends with old Mpezeni and finally made Luangeni, Mpezeni’s head village, his head-quarters. He obtained mining rights in the land from Mpezeni, by word of mouth, but Mpezeni signed no deed of gift or transfer. This legal point which subsequently became one of the major points at issue in the North Charterland Company case has been emphasized again and again to me in the villages.’ Mpezeni was writing nothing. He was only giving presents to Weise, and Weise gave presents to him, and Mpezeni was saying, “You may travel in my country and dig for gold. You are my friend.”‘ They add further, ‘ Mpezeni did not want to make friends with the British because he had heard from the Matabele and from Nyasaland what they were doing. Weise said ” I am not from the British “, and so Mpezeni was making promises with him.’ So deeply is this tradition of friendship between Mpezeni and Weise, with its consequences of betrayal and disaster, embedded in the Ngoni thinking, that when I stayed in the Paramount Chief’s village and exchanged presents with him, many old people shook their heads and warned the young people, ‘The Azungu war will come again. This is how that other war was beginning.’
Weise failed to establish his claim to mining rights in Mpezeni’s territory with Sir Harry Johnston, then Commissioner for all British territories north of the Zambezi. Meantime the British South Africa Company obtained a new charter to extend its field north of the Zambezi, and sent an emissary to Mpezeni’s kraal to make a treaty with him. Mpezeni refused. He also refused Sir Harry Johnston’s emissary who met Weise at Mpezeni’s kraal with a view to getting Mpezeni to make a treaty direct with the British Crown. The mining rights in Mpezeni’s country were potentially valuable, and on Mpezeni’s refusal to grant them were claimed by the British South Africa Company30 on the ground of treaties made with the conquered Chewa people, whom Mpezeni had dispossessed.31 Weise was at this time at Mpezeni’s with one or two Portuguese traders and officials, making hay while the sun shone.
In 1895 the North Charterland Company was formed, distinct from and yet allied with the British South Africa Company,’ with mining and trading rights over io,ooo square miles, most of which lay in Mpezeni’s territory. The legal right to this concession was based on the British South Africa Company’s treaties with ‘dispossessed chiefs ‘. At the same time the North Charterland Company recognized that Mpezeni still held the effective sovereignty over the area, and that the success and safety of any mining or trading expedition sent to the territory depended on good relations being established with Mpezeni. They therefore persuaded Weise to join their staff in order to get Mpezeni’s consent to the venture. They gained a foothold and did some prospecting, and then tried to impose a hut tax, and to exercise administrative powers through their own uniformed police of the Tonga tribe from Lake Nyasa-a tribe despised by the Ngoni. Two memoranda by Sir Harry Johnston to the Foreign Office set out the chain of events which led to the use of armed force against Mpezeni in January I898, the pretext being the alleged danger of two white men in his country. Sir Harry Johnston wrote, ‘Mpezeni is a very powerful Zulu chief and intimately allied with the Matabele. He offers no great objection to mining for gold but shows the greatest dislike to any interference with his independence or governing powers. The latter is the cause of his quarrel with Colonel Warton on the matter of a British flag and taxation.’ He concludes the second memo- randum with the remarks, ‘ Mpezeni is an intrusive Zulu robber who must sooner or later be dethroned and subdued. He is very powerful and is the only avowedly recalcitrant chief in all British Central Africa. When his hour comes he can be dealt with by the present Protectorate forces.’ Following the last memoranda on the situation in Mpezeni’s country the Foreign Office wrote to the British South Africa Company in April I897, ‘Lord Salisbury gathers that the North Charterland Company have maintained friendly relations with Mpezeni by with- holding from his knowledge their connexion with the British South Africa Company and their British nationality. It is stated that the representative of the North Charterland Company has passed himself off to Mpezeni as brother to Weise.’
Lord Salisbury was well informed.
When the Ngoni tell this story in the villages to-day, they do it by going over and over the events of those fateful years I885-I898, from the first arrival of Weise up to the Ngoni war, in the vain hope of finding a satisfactory explanation of the connexion between Weise, the British South Africa Company, the North Charterland Company, and the British Crown. They give correct and precise details of the various Europeans who came to old Mpezeni’s kraal seeking concessions, and finding the old chief adamant about signing away any concessions. ‘Weise was his friend. Then came Weise’s brother. He began to take money for our huts. Then Singu (Mpezeni’s heir) became angry. Then they said, “We are Charterland” and Mpezeni refused: ” I have given no promise to Charterland.” Then came the Azzungu war.’
I have given the foregoing events in detail because they are facts of history both to the Ngoni and the British, and necessary for understanding the present attitude of the Ngoni to white people. The Ngoni have given me their version again and again, always the same in substance, and always with the same emphasis, first on the refusal of Sir Harry Johnston and the British South Africa Company to recognize Mpezeni as the rightful chief in the land, and secondly on the treachery of Weise which delivered them into the hands of the North Charterland Company. Nor was the defeat in war their final humiliation. Singu, Mpezeni’s heir, was taken and shot together with his wives; half the cattle of the Ngoni were taken as ‘rightful loot’; and the North Charterland Company began assigning farms to Euro- peans in their tract. Six years later old Mpezeni died, leaving his grandson, a comparatively young boy, as his successor. On the old indunas and other sons of old Mpezeni fell the burden of guiding the young inkosi and carrying on the political and legal machinery subject to European administration.’ At the same time fundamental economic changes were taking place. Settlers were arriving to acquire land and demand labour. The country was gradually parcelled out into Euro- pean farms and native reserves, not without prolonged ill-feeling on both sides.2 With the opportunity to work for wages came a demand for taxes to cover the costs of administration, and this demand in its turn made many men go out of the territory in search of better paid work in Southern Rhodesia and the Union. This exodus to the south in its turn brought the Ngoni into touch once more with the Matabele, the Zulu, and the Swazi, and reawakened their consciousness of their southern origin. It is significant that just at the point when their power in their own country received a crushing blow, they came into contact once more in the south with the stock from which they had sprung and to whom they could still speak in their own language. The anthropologist who looks for the reason why the distinctive Ngoni culture did not die out entirely after their military defeat and the advent of the whites, can see at least part of the reason supplied by the results of this economic exodus to work in the south. When the other tribes in the neighbourhood were, in the Ngoni phrase, ‘running always to the Boma’ and incidentally picking up fragments of European customs, the Ngoni remained, according to their own account, to a great extent aloof and were strengthened in this aloofness by their renewed southern connexions.
Ngoni supremacy over the country was at an end. The Europeans were the overlords of all the tribes, not the Ngoni. Instead of one big chief in the country, many small ones were now recognized who dared to give themselves airs because they knew the Ngoni could not compel allegiance to their Paramount. Chewa people living under Ngoni chiefs could no longer be forced to stay there, therefore a different attitude towards them was necessary. ‘ Chewa could no longer be synonymous with ‘slave’. I have heard Ngoni chiefs in court address their indunas and headmen many times on behaving well to people of other tribes ‘ Or they will leave us and to-day we cannot make them return ‘. A recent case in which a young chief, but a very important one, was summoned to the Paramount’s court for insulting a Chewa woman, was made the occasion by the Paramount for a long public discourse on the present relations between Ngoni and Chewa, pointing out that an Ngoni chief whose Chewa subjects left him would ‘spoil his country’ and ‘all his people would be ashamed’. Ngoni prestige, in fact, having lost the support of military power, had to rely on other sanctions. In their own eyes, their prestige was still due to their southern origin, their success in creating the Ngoni state in an alien milieu, and those distinctive institutions which they had retained. To the surrounding people, to the Chewa and other tribes, Ngoni prestige depended partly on the very effective justice meted out in the courts,I and also on the unquestioning allegiance of all subordinate authorities to the Paramount Chief. A Chewa Paramount Chief told me that he envied the power and prestige of the Ngoni Paramount, ‘ because all his chiefs obey him ‘, and there is undoubtedly a widespread admiration among the less united local tribes for the centralized political organization of Ngoni, and the fact that they can hold a large area and many people together as an effective unit.
The Ngoni, therefore, in the course of the last thirty-five years have to a large extent made the adjustments necessary to their changed relations with the local peoples. They have accepted the new situation de facto, though they do not necessarily acquiesce in heart. They still think they are due a unique position among the tribes, and for this reason they dwell continually on the glories of chamtendere. Nor does the adoption of some measure of European ways reconcile them to a different attitude. Even educated Ngoni teachers and ministers have said to me with deep regret, ‘ We are ashamed because we are being ignored to-day by other tribes ‘.
Their attitude towards Europeans is also partly based on the European failure to accord them a unique position among the tribes, or at least to acknowledge their former unique position. This, to them, is a cause for feeling ashamed. They are ashamed too because the land, except in the Reserves, is no longer theirs, and they have to submit to taxation. ‘ To pay taxes, that is our war to-day ‘, and some- thing of the old martial spirit is evident in the young men who success- fully evade the tax collectors, where the tax is collected directly by the Government, as in Mpezeni’s country. In Gomani’s country, on the other hand, where taxes are collected through the chiefs and headmen, though the men groan at having to find the money, they do not attempt to evade it, first because it would be useless, and secondly because they acknowledge the right of the chiefs to collect dues from them.
Any generalization about the Ngoni attitude to white people would be inaccurate without much detailed explanation, for which there is no space here. It is true though, I think, that at least in Mpezeni’s country and possibly in the others, too, the Ngoni have not yet willingly made the mental adjustments necessary to white contact. They still resent white intrusion and its results, economic, administrative, and missionary. At the same time many of them earnestly wish for a solution of the present tension, but towards such a solution there is no easy short cut.
Conclusions reached after the first period of field work are generally given with a certain reserve, especially in a complex field such as the Ngoni present. I think, however, that the conclusions in this paper can be stated with some certainty, and as dogmatic statements they form a basis for further field work. For they set the main problems for the detailed study of the Ngoni, and also of the Ngoni as a field for observing culture contact. In this article I hope that the three chief elements in the study have emerged, namely, the problem of Ngoni society as a cultural and political unit; the culture contact problems due to the contact, and part fusion, with local tribes; and the modern culture contact problems due to European penetration.
1. The Ngoni as a group must be regarded from two points of view: those who ethnically have a right to be called Ngoni, who are members of recognized Ngoni clans, with an acknowledged southern origin; and all those who live in the territory of the Ngoni Paramount Chief, and call themselves his people. These last were incorporated into the Ngoni state by the first group, who are still the ruling aristocracy, but the incorporated people now share in Ngoni ‘national sentiment’ and have made certain sociological changes in order to conform to Ngoni culture. It is their southern origin and their well remembered traditions of the past which confer distinctiveness on the true Ngoni, and on the state which they built. It is to their past they also turn for the charter for those institutions which are recognized as distinctively Ngoni, such as the Paramount Chieftainship, the hierarchy of rank, and patrilineal succession. Their historical origin and military achievements form also the charter for their former position as rulers of the country which they held before the advent of the Europeans.
2. The Europeans in two of the Ngoni areas destroyed the unique position of the Ngoni by defeating their armies. These armies had hitherto been the chief sanction for Ngoni supremacy. With their invincibility gone, the regiments broke up and the Ngoni military prestige was at an end. At the same time the direction of political affairs and the relations between the different tribes was assumed by a superior power. Ngoni political ascendancy and their control of economic organization was also at an end. The subject races of the Ngoni who had hitherto either been conquered or submitted volun- tarily to the Ngoni had now an ally who was stronger than their former masters.
3. The new situation forced the Ngoni to make drastic readjustments. They had to readjust themselves to new relations with other tribes, and at the same time to the Europeans. In their contact with the Chewa and other subject tribes they could no longer maintain the social exclusiveness which had marked the distinction between Ngoni and slaves. There was therefore less actual resistance to culture fusion, though the dislike of adopting alien customs persisted. This dislike of alien customs was evident to some extent also in white contacts. The missionaries brought a new religion, western education, and western medicine. Other Europeans introduced land reserves, taxa- tion, and working for wages. To the local tribes the European repre- sented security as well as certain material benefits. To the Ngoni these material benefits appeared less welcome in the face of their defeat. There was therefore a psychological conflict set up among the Ngoni -a malaise due to their military and political downfall, together with their determination to preserve certain elements in their own culture. That psychological conflict is evident everywhere to-day, and finds expression in all conversations which turn on the relations of the Ngoni to other tribes or to Europeans. To the persistence of that conflict is due the strength of Ngoni ‘national feeling’, which has directed the selective process by which some of their political, legal, and social institutions have survived the results of culture contact.
4. Conditions all over Africa are changing and new forms of social and political organization are emerging due to the contact of the Africans with European civilization. What place has the Ngoni state in this emergent African society? Are there still cultural realities in Ngoni society which should be preserved, and can the Ngoni political structure be galvanized into new life through the medium of Indirect Rule? There might have been a time, before the Ngoni wars, when treaties could have been made with the Ngoni Paramount Chiefs, and the Ngoni state have evolved without defeat. Policy, however, was different in those days, and strong chiefs were crushed. The demand now is for strong tribal organization which can carry on its own administration with the minimum of European interference and direc- tion. The vital question is: has that moment gone for the Ngoni? Has their defeat, not only military, but economic and political, so taken the heart out of them, that they can no longer rebuild their tribal organization and make a success of Indirect Rule ?
The answer to that question has two desiderata. One is a thorough intensive study of Ngoni society and Ngoni institutions as they exist to-day, and of the relation of the true Ngoni to those who call them- selves Ngoni. The other is the willingness of Europeans, officials, missionaries, and settlers, to show some recognition of Ngoni pride in their past. The Ngoni are not children. They do not want a toy called Indirect Rule handed out to them to play with. If their political aspirations were appreciated and their racial pride acknowledged, they could make a successful synthesis between Ngoni institutions and modern administration with its concomitants of modern education and modern economic methods. They themselves discuss frequently in the men’s talking places in the villages such a synthesis of Ngoni and western culture. The attempt in one area in Nyasaland to work out such a synthesis is a sign that it is not impossible. With fuller knowledge and co-operation on both sides the strength of Ngoni national sentiment might be used to make a success of the policy of Indirect Rule
1.According to the census returns there are about 80,000 Ngoni in Northern Rhodesia and nearly 250,000 in Nyasaland, with other groups in Tanganyika Territory and Portuguese East Africa.
2.It is said that it is useless to bribe Ngoni chiefs and councillors.
3.For the purposes of this article these are the only groups which will be con- sidered.3.
4.This collecting of village plans was viewed with some suspicion at first as a new way of helping the Government to catch tax defaulters. However, when I promised the Paramount Chief that no one in the locality should see the village plans, he sent out word that I was to be given all the information I needed, and no one need fear the consequences.
5. I avoid using vernacular terms in this article because usually the Ngoni, Chewa, Nsenga, and Tumbuka terms are all different. The field worker has to make a comparative linguistic table giving equivalent meanings in vernacular terms. Here I use the English word ‘ clan’ to express the unilateral group according to kinship descent. ‘ Tribe’ should be used in a cultural sense, of a group of people possessing a common language and common institutions. The ambiguity with which ‘tribe’ and its vernacular equivalents is used, by Europeans and Africans alike, necessitates an investigation on linguistic and historical lines. The so-called Chewa tribe, for example, rarely, if ever, use the word Chewa, but refer to themselves as Ntumba, Maravi, &c. The Ngoni, speaking of themselves in the south, refer to the Ndwandwe, Ntungwa, &c., and only use the ‘ blanket term ‘ Zulu or Swazi when they think you are ignorant of the finer distinctions. I use the word ‘ tribe ‘ here to express these distinctive groups, but it is impossible to avoid some ambi- guity without long linguistic digressions.
6.See Bantu Studies, Sept. 1934, for classification of the South African languages. Also A. T. Bryant, Olden Times in Zululand and Natal, for list of Nguni clans.
7.This word ‘respect’ is constantly in use among the Ngoni. It implies both ‘honour’ and ‘fear ‘, and they sometimes use one word and sometimes the other. It really means, ‘to give a person his due ‘, that is, to behave towards him (or her) in the manner which his rank requires.One striking modification was the replacing of the village as a small kinship group by villages of hundreds of huts, with an elaborate organization into hamlets.
8. Using chieftainship in the sense of the Ngoni inkosi whose office and powers were very different from those of the surrounding petty chiefs. 3 As one of these processes, the piercing of the ear-lobes became the ‘tribal mark’ of the Ngoni as various forms of tattooing were of other tribes. Ear- piercing was sometimes forced (i.e. upon captives taken in war), sometimes volun- tary. To-day children of local clans are teased by children of Ngoni clans and called ‘ Chewa’ if they have not had their ears pierced, and they beg their mothers to take them to the ‘ doctor’ to be ‘ made Ngoni
9. The kind of antique guns traded to the Chewa by the Portuguese and Arabs were no match for the Ngoni skill with the long throwing-spear or the short stabbing-assegai, and the bullets were such that the stout cow-hide shields of the Ngoni could withstand them. Hence the consternation of the Ngoni when the machine-gun bullets of the British troops pierced their shields in the Ngoni ‘ war’.
10. With the possible exception of Chikuramayembe, Chief of the Henga.
11. Translations of vernacular terms.
12 Or trilingual if they know English too.
13. The same as Nyanja.
14. One Ngoni Paramount has prohibited any but Ngoni dances to be danced in his country.
15.He used the verb kudauka, which implies root or origin.
16. 8oo-x,ooo words.
17.This is their own account and is confirmed by the Rev. Charles Stuart, formerly at Ekwendeni, but not so far recorded by other Europeans.
18.In Mwambera’s country.
19.I am not clear yet what was the precise sociological process by which the identity of these villages was preserved.
20. An idiomatic use which has the force of a double negative ‘No one cannot know it ‘.
21.B. Malinowski. Article on Culture in Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences.
22. The two Paramounts at present holding these titles are grandsons of the first holders, to whom I refer as old Mpezeni.
23.i.e. chiefs’ areas.
24. The description of this Inqwala given by men and women who took part in it in their youth shows much similarity to the Inqwala of to-day among the Swazi.
25.Head-ring, the sign of a warrior ready to marry.
26.This was the old Mpezeni, son of Zwangendaba.
27.In the Report of Justice Maughan on the North Charterland Inquiry he says, ‘It was a remarkably well-managed little war and the Ngoni accepted their defeat in good spirit like other Bantu races ‘.
28. Over 3 miles across.
29. in I885.
30. ‘Finding Mpezeni obdurate the British South Africa Company concluded treaties with all the surrounding indigenous chiefs whom Mpezeni had dis- possessed. We consequently declined to acknowledge him as ruling chief.’
31. F.O. 6537.
32.See North Charterland Inquiry.
33. Under British South Africa Company till 1924.
34. See North Charterland Inquiry.
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