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The Lost Kingdom - The rise and fall of the Kalanga Monarchy

28 Sep 2017 at 11:11hrs | Views
As we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of our republic it may be noted that modern Botswana as a whole, and not just communities in the north-east, has its ancient Ikalanga roots.

They run deep in our soil, having nurtured our growth as a united and proud nation.These roots have, moreover, not simply been grafted on to our nation through the vagaries of colonial boundary making. If one goes back in time to the pre-colonial context, one finds evidence of significant interrelationships between the Bakalanga and Batswana, as well as other neighbouring peoples, to the extent that it is not possible to speak of any southern African community's history in isolation.

The Bakwena royal names "Sechele" and "Sebele", for example, are apparently of Ikalanga origin. Does this mean that the Bakwena royalty were once Bakalanga? In terms of patrilineal lineage at least, absolutely not!But, the convergence of names does suggest more than casual contact, which in local Sekwena tradition can be traced at least as far back as the reign of the mid-18th century reign of Kgosi Motswasele I, who is remembered as a renowned traveller.In the coming weeks we will look at some of the historical traditions of the Bakalanga focusing in particular on the fall of first the Chibundule and subsequent Nichasike dynasties, which together ruled the Bakalanga and neighbouring communities over some four centuries altogether, that is from as far back as c. 1450 until 1842.

The Chibundule dynasty, which was overthrown during the mid-17th century, is associated with the ‘Balilima' branch of Bakalanga, while the Nichasike or Changamire dynasty that usurped them is associated with the ‘Banyayi' branch, which prominently incorporates lineages of the Moyo clan.More broadly, the Bakalanga will in this series be defined to include any and all communities who have historically identified themselves with Ikalanga language and culture.

We will not, therefore, be confined to the traditions of so-called pure or ‘dumbu' lineages.In the past Ikalanga, like Setswana, speaking communities have been distinguished by their ability to peacefully incorporate outsiders into their ranks. In this respect what our immediate past President Festus Mogae memorably referred to as our modern ‘omelette' of multiethnic identity is a product of many centuries of interaction.A prominent example of such multiple past identities is Bakalanga bakaNswazwi. For many, the late She (Kgosi) John Madawo Nswazwi VIII, who died in exile in 1960, has become a post-colonial icon of colonial era Ikalanga self-assertion.

This has been the case notwithstanding the fact that the She's not too distant forefathers were Bapedi. During his reign his followers were thus known to have praised their ancestors in a language that they did not otherwise generally speak.Unfortunately like so much of our indigenous past, the history of the Bakalanga has been relatively neglected. Even where it is cited in passing its cultural identity is often obscured through the use of such external labels as Butwa, Changamire, Rozwi, and Torwa or Tolwa.

As a result there has been little popular recognition of the accomplishments of either the Chibundule or Nichasike dynasties who for nearly half a millennia successively united and expanded the domain of Bukalanga into what was for many generations southern Africa's largest and most sophisticated kingdom. It was a kingdom, moreover, whose power was witnessed and undoubtedly to some extent inspired the young prince Sechele and as well as a generation of Bangwato royals.Of the glory of the Bakalanga kings, who were known by the title ‘Mambo', let us begin with a sample of a praise poem from the era of the Chibundules.

The text below was originally recorded by the late Masola Kumile, with orthography and translation by Professor P.J. Wentzel:"Zwitetembelo zwa Mambo Chibundule":"Inyike yaChibundule wali! Chipwihe lakapwiha hou nenhema; NaZwikono ungapa mbotana; Vunamukuni unoloba nhema ngeganu, Nyati kakuma ngelupa; NaNkami, nkami wedzisina mhulu, Nkami wamapfumba."NdizwakaChibundule wali! Chipwihe lakapwiha hou nenhema. Iye Mangula ngonkaka, vule ina nyungula.

Mayile hou, mhuka yezebe hulu. Mbaki wamakomo asingangin"we ngechita. Iye Chibundule wali! Chipwihe lakapwiha hou nenhema.""Praises of King Chibundule""Indeed it is the country of Chibundule, a refuge which gave shelter to the elephant and rhinoceros, With Zwikono like a calf in comparison. Vunakmakuni strikes the rhinoceros with a big axe and the buffalo he reaches out to strike with is shaft. And Nkami the milker of those without calves, the milker who milks before the calves have sucked""They are the praises of Chibundule, indeed! The refuge which gave shelter to the elephant and rhinoceros. He the one who washes milk, Because of the water having tadpoles in it.

The one who honours the elephant, the animal of the big ears. The builder of hilltop strongholds that cannot be penetrated by the enemy. He, Chibundule indeed! The refuge which gave shelter to the rhinoceros and the elephant."Yet for all of its grandeur the realm of the Mambos was ultimately and completely shattered in the early nineteenth century..


The prehistory of Bakalanga of north-eastern Botswana and south-western Zimbabwe, along with other historically and linguistically associated Vashona groups is contentious.

Most linguists regard Ikalanga as a separate language, as opposed to dialect, from Chishona, which itself has been standardised in modern times from a variety of existing dialects, e.g. Karanga and Zezuru dialects. Other Chishona dialects or languages notably include Korekore, Ndau and Manyika. It has been suggested by a number of linguists that early Ikalanga may have been the root language of Karanga and other Chishona dialects.

Cultural antecedents of various so-called Bantu speaking groups in the region, including those ancestral to Bakalanga, can be linked to the emergence of early iron age civilisation in the region by the second century AD (if not earlier).

One can further trace the emergence of the Bakalanga and other modern groups to the flowering of late Iron Age civilisation in the region, more especially in the Shashe-Limpopo Basin from the tenth century AD, which scholars believe was accompanied by a significant increase in both human and livestock populations. This is prominently evidenced by the survival of stone walled ruins, madzimbabwe, whose settlements were distributed by the thirteenth century as far as the Mozambique coast on the east and Sowa pan on the west.

While the largest and best known of these is the Great Zimbabwe site, which between 1250 and 1450 is estimated to have at any given time housed 11-18,000 people, numerous smaller early madzimbabwe are located throughout north-eastern Botswana.

Most of the early sites in our country are associated with what have broadly classified as "Zhizo" and subsequent "Leopard's Kopje" including "Kalundu" pottery styles. Such sites also incorporate a wealth of additional material evidence including glass beads, cowrie's shells and imported cloth fibres indicating their early connection to the Indian Ocean trade, more especially to the Malay islands we now know as Indonesia.

Here it may be noted that Malay merchant ships of the period were able to sail directly from Southeast Asia to the African coast in about a month using the equatorial trade winds. Beyond the archaeological evidence, the intensity of this early Indonesian connection to the continent is reflected in the Malay colonisation of Madagascar.

The shift from Zhizo to Leopards Kopje ceramics in the Shashe-Limpopo coincides with the emergence of the Mapungubwe Kingdom, which ruled over parts of eastern Botswana, including all of Bobirwa, as well as adjacent areas of Zimbabwe and South Africa. A number of scholars, most notably including the archaeologist Thomas Huffman, have in this context suggested that Mapungubwe can rightfully be considered as the first Bakalanga polity.

Besides importing glass beads, which were accepted at the time as a common currency in the region, Mapungubwe artisans recast glass into larger sphere's for interior trading. Local mines and smiths also produced a variety of iron and gold objects and implements.

The names of Mapungubwe's rulers are unknown, our knowledge about the kingdom being almost entirely based on material evidence rather than oral tradition. It was seemingly at its height of its wealth when much of its population abandoned the area in about 1220 AD, a development which experts attribute to a temporary drying up of the region due to global climate cooling.

It is believed that much of the core of Mapungubwe's population migrated to the northeast, founding the earliest Vakaranga Kingdom (c.1250-1450); whose centre became Great Zimbabwe.

The emergence of modern Bakalanga as a distinctive community can more confidently be traced to the rise of new polities after Great Zimbabwe's abandonment in the mid-15th century, an event that remains a mystery notwithstanding the common scholarly assumption that it resulted from environmental pressure.

Oral evidence supports the view that some of Great Zimbabwe's population moved then north to found the Mutapa state, known to the Portuguese who settled along the Mozambique coast thereafter as the "Monomotapa".

At about the same time a number of Ikalanga traditions trace the formation of the Butwa or Bakalanga Kingdom to the south-west migration of people from Mutapa during a period of strife fuelled by the Portuguese sponsored expansion of ivory, gold and slave trading into eastern Zimbabwe. Translated from Masola Kumile:

"Malambodzibwa, also called Munumutapa- It was him who was found by the Portuguese ruling over the Bakalanga. The name Munumutapa means that before he was conquered by the Portuguese, but that now he met them as a friend. It was then that he was attacking other communities, capturing the male and female children, going with them to the villages of his womenfolk and making them his workers, and also some male ones. Other male ones he was taking to the Portuguese. It is thought that slavery started with them, showing them to the Portuguese in the year of 1441 [it was actually several decades later]. Now Munumutapa raided many tribes. At the time he went out with his army, the Portuguese also having their army and they went to attack Mongase. And they killed the people, capturing the things of the people and their families. He raided many places doing his will, capturing the people and giving them to the Portuguese."


In our previous instalment we noted that traditional Chishona and Ikalanga accounts support the view that the abandonment of the Great Zimbabwe settlement was accompanied by the founding to the north-east of the Mutapa state, known to the Portuguese who settled along the Mozambique coast thereafter as the "Monomotapa".

At about the same time a number of Ikalanga traditions further trace the formation of the Butwa or Bakalanga Kingdom to the south-west migration of people from Mutapa during a period of strife fuelled by the Portuguese sponsored expansion of ivory, gold and slave trading into eastern Zimbabwe.

Amidst this turmoil a legendary leader remembered as Madabhale emerged to lead the Bakalanga to peace and prosperity

"(Translation) It happened the Munamutapa kingdom was torn by internal fighting, civil warfare that destroyed the Bakalanga. It was then that Madabhale broke away with a very big following and went down to the west of the country, into [modern] Matabeleland. He went there to build a kingdom, having left with a very large following. It was a big kingdom and he had his councillors such as Nimale, Hungwe, Zwikono, Vunamakuni, Nkami, Nigwande, Ninhembwe and many others of the tribe.

After his arrival Madabhale found that that country belonged to the Bakwa [Khoe/Basarwa], and so he came and conquered them. Then we ruled and sounded his war horns. That is where the name Chibundule came from [-bundula = roaring of a bull, war trumpet]."

Thereafter the name Chibundule was associated with the rulers of the first Bakalanga Kingdom, which is referred to in Portuguese records as the Torwa or Tolwa state.

While the above construction is compelling in both the detail of the Ikalanga sources and their consistency with other local and Portuguese accounts, it diverges from alternative interpretations arising from archaeological evidence. Whereas the debilitating influence of Portuguese expansion on Mwenemutapa is well documented from the late 16th century, archaeology dates prominent Chibundule associated sites, including the royal ruins at Khami, to least a century earlier, which is the period that also neatly coincides with the abandonment of Great Zimbabwe.

The conclusion on the part of some archaeologists of a material link between the Bakalanga and the 11th century Mapungubwe civilisation calls into further question the notion that Bakalanga state building began with a breakaway from Mwenemutapa. Available evidence rather suggests that although Madabhale is the earliest known Mambo or King of Bukalanga, his lineage may very well have been preceded by any number of other now forgotten dynasties.

The post-16th century legacy of the Chibundule dynasty is at least clearer, being associated with the contemporary Balilima or Bahumbe section of the Bakalanga, which incorporates such modern Botswana based branches as Mosojane, Madandume, Nshakashongwe and Majambubi.

Returning to the dynastic traditions, by the end of Madabhale's reign the boundaries of Chibundule royal authority are described as having extended from western Zimbabwe into the Kgalagadi as far west as Makgadikgadi.

To the south the Kingdom is said to have extended as far as Palapye, at its height including much of the Limpopo valley and Venda country. Its northern boundary was the Zambezi. From an Ikalanga account recorded by Masola Kumile as transcribed by P.J. Wentzel:

"Obusa Bakalanga naBakwa, wakabusa xango sawoku: Wakabe ebvila kuDzimbabwe kanoti kumunya ["at the salt"= Makgadikgadi]; kunta yobuVenda eme ngeHuri [Limpopo]; kunta yoBurwa eme ngePalapye; kunta yoBunanzwa eme ngeZambezi. Kabusa yose odan'wa Chibundule."

It may be further noted that the monumental stonewalled architecture found at the royal ruins at Khami, which are located just to the west of Bulawayo, differs significantly from those at Great Zimbabwe. The walls are elaborately decorated with "check" and "herring bone" patterns.

Well-built houses, presumably belonging to members of social elite, were constructed on the top of stone platforms consisting of layers of retaining walls with rubble fill. The remains of fourteen such platforms can be found at Khami itself, while similar constructions exist throughout north-eastern Botswana as well as western Zimbabwe. Though less massive than Great Zimbabwe, to this author's own subjective eye the aesthetics of the Khami style ruins are more elegant.

Excavations at Khami and other Chibundule era sites further confirm that from 16th century the Bakalanga and their neighbours continued to be connected to extensive international trading networks. Ceramics and glass objects of Dutch, German and Portuguese, as well as Asian including Chinese origin have been unearthed, along with fragments of both imported and locally manufactured cotton cloth, indigenous pottery and objects made of gold, iron and copper. Also common are glass beads, which as we have previously noted for many centuries served as a regional currency.

Traditional manufacturing is reflected in the following text, also recorded by Kumile:

(Translation): "They knew the iron which is in the earth and families collected copper ore, which was taken to the enclosures for extracting and smelting. There the following things were cast: hoes, spears, axes, knives, earrings, bracelets, blades, long needles, hoop irons, pairs of pliers to hold other iron and adzes for carpentry..."


In our previous instalment we noted that excavations at Khami and other Chibundule era sites confirm that from the sixteenth century the Bakalanga and their neighbours were connected to extensive international trading networks. Ceramics and glass objects of Chinese, Dutch, German and Portuguese origin have been unearthed, along with fragments of both imported and locally manufactured cotton cloth, indigenous pottery and objects made of gold, iron and copper.

There was also considerable local manufacturing. Indigenous pride in traditional cottage industries is reflected in the following Ikalanga verses praising their "cleverness" ("Buchenjebvu gwebaKalanga nebunyambi":)

"Bakabe beziba tsipi imumavu. Mhuli imwe neyimwe yakaba iyenda kumangula inosenga mabwe ewavutiwa kuna mixa dzeduma nebutho. Kupfugwa: mapadza, mathumo, maxanhu, mipanga, man"ina, kachi kene majoda, zwinyengo, njunji, hopolo, maboko anobhata imwe tsipiinopisa, mbehwana. Zwidla zwabo zwabodlila noxingila: hali dzobumbiwa ngontapwi, ndili nematuni, nemisi nenjugo kobva mumiti nomumidzi yemiti, selo nezwitundu. Zwifuko zwabo zwabva mumhuka nemuzwipfuwo nentsinga dzinopfuma, dzobva mumhuka nemuzwipfumo. Banhu bose bakabe tama izwezwi zwinhu banodan"wa batama bezwiddla, bengubo nemathumo..."

"(Translation:) They knew the iron which is in the earth and families collected copper ore, which was taken to the enclosures for extracting and smelting. There the following things were cast: hoes, spears, axes, knives, earrings, bracelets, blades, long needles, hoop irons, pairs of pliers to hold other iron and adzes for carpentry. Their eating utensils included pots moulded from clay, plates, mortars and pestles, wooden spoons, winnowing baskets and big baskets for storing things. Their clothing came from wild animals and from livestock, and also from their sinew, which was used for sewing cords. All the people who were making these things were called makers of the eating utensils, of blankets, and of spears...."

The Bakalanga also became renowned for their possession of imported firearms, including cannon. By the nineteenth century they, along with their Vashona cousins had begun to construct guns of local manufacture known by the Chishona name "chigidi" or "zvigidi", as well as make their own gunpowder by combining charcoal with salt-petre extracted from soils found in certain caves.

While the Chibundule state was known to the Portuguese by the names Torwa/Tolwa and Butwa, and archaeologists sometimes speak of "Khami culture", Ikalanga traditions associate the dynasty with the Bawumbe (Bahumbe) sub-group of the Balilima-Bakalanga. In this respect, oral traditions link the Chibundule kings with a number of Botswana based lineages.

One set of traditions speaks of Chibundule's inheritance being fought over by three sons: Misola, Makulukusa and Mpengo. According to these traditions, the eldest of the three sons, Misola, ended up moving to Ramokgwebana, where he was ultimately succeeded by Mosojane. Under Mosojane the group was joined by Mpengo's followers and moved to Maswingwa where they stayed until the early twentieth century when their land came under the control of the Tati Company.

Makulukusa's followers are said to have initially settled at Mabilila on the Nkange River. In his later years he came into conflict with his son Nkuse, whom he called "Madandume" ("you are greedy"). Eventually Nkuse sought the protection of Men'we, a junior descendent of Nichasike (Changamire) who had been sent by his brother the Mambo to administer much of north-eastern Botswana. With Men'we's backing Nkuse was subsequently able to oust his father from the throne. His senior descendants are today based at Tutume, a name which may be derived from "Madandume".

Given that the direct descendants of Misola, Makulakusa and Mpengo are today all found in Botswana, there exact relationship with the mainline of the Chibundule royal lineage is uncertain. It may be that the three brothers were indeed the true heirs of the last of the Chibundule mambo's who initially fled south west into modern Botswana to escape the usurper Nichasike. The latter figure overthrew the Chibundule dynasty c. 1685. The Bawumbe migration is at any rate recorded in the following royal Nichasike era tradition of a time of turmoil:

"...Ngono ibo bali bakaMoyo bakapfuka muna Dalahunde [another member of the Nichasike lineage known, ka Setswana, as "Talaote"], nebakaMakulukusa, nebakaMisole nebaka Nichibombwe; nayibo bamwe bakati ngebaMakulukusa, bamwe neebakaMisole, bamwe ngebakaNichibombwe, ngono bose ibaba bakatuna ntupo un'ompela, bakayi Chibelu bose. Ngono nayibo bali bakapfuka muna Dalahunde. Nakikati Chibwa, ngewaDalahunde, uNyayi. NaboMwayile, naMhange naKwelekwele, nayibo bakanozwixandula Mwayile naMhange bakatuna ntupo un'ompela bakayi Chuma bose; Kwelekwele kayi Gumbo. Ngono bakapfuka muna Ngomane bose, ibabo bakanobuya bova Budeti boti babe Badeti, bamwe babe Bahumbe [Bawumbe]. Abangabagwe bakapela nebakapfukila kuNtswapungu [Tswapong]...."

[Translation:] "....and those of Moyo totem migrated to into Botalaote [country of Dalahunde] and also those of Makulukusa and of Misola and of Nichibombwe; and now all were of one clan name for they were known as Chibelu. And they all also migrated into Botalaote. And also Nikati Chibwa was of Talaote, a Nyayi. And those of Mwayile and Mhange and Kwelekwele, they also all changed their names: Mwayile and Mhange both took the clan name Chuma and Kwelekwele was called Gumbo. These all migrated from under Ngomane, some who came from Boteti said they were Deti and others were Bawumbe. Some went on to Botswapong..."


As noted in passing in our last instalment, in about the year 1685 (the approximate date being confirmed in Portuguese records) the rule of the Chibundule dynasty, which is associated with the Bawumbe branch of the Balilima, over greater Bukalanga was usurped by a ruler from the eastern periphery of the kingdom named Chilisamhulu, who was subsequently remembered by his praise names Nichasike or Changamire.

Nichasike (also rendered Nichisike, Nityisike, Nitjisike etc.) roughly translates as "Lord Cha the creator", while Changamire is a non-Ikalanga derivation, which translates as Cha the king (from Arabic/Kiswahili emir or amir.) The latter name is more commonly found in history texts, while the former appears in Ikalanga traditions. Lord Cha's followers came to known by two names associated with his status as a conqueror - the "Rozwi" which may be translated as "the destroyers" and "Banyayi" or "spies".

According to Ikalanga traditions Chilisamhulu, long coveted Chibundule's thrown, but was initially unable to overcome the power of the Mambo (King's) magic. Plots to poison or otherwise kill the Mambo all failed. The usurper then decided to get at Chibundule by first having him enticed into marrying to his daughter (in some accounts sister) Ninembwe, who is also identified in some traditions as "Bagedze Moyo."

As with the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, it transpired that Chibundule's hair contained the secret of his special power. Upon learning of this vulnerability, by some accounts through the Mwali (Mwari) priests though others put their arrival at a later date; Chilisamhulu summoned Ninembwe and gave her the following instructions:

"Unobona nkololokadzi wangu, chandakupila Chibundule yechi: Ndoxaka ngina muxango yabaKalanga. Ngono ndokon'wa ngegona la Chibundule. Londilemela kwazwo. Ngono ndokuaya kuti uti ngensi waunoyenda uunobhika kuna xe Chibundule, uswike, uunchengete kwazwo, uti ubona akafala, usimule vudzi lili lenongoma, uti paya walisimula, ulibhate, ulisimise uliswingile mupfunga, ukozwigwalisa mwaza, ubve Xe uti:

"'Ndogwala, ngono ndoxakati ndide ndinogwalila kuna tate bangu nekuna bangu.' Ngono ukabuya nalo vudzi laXe, paya ndalibhata vudzi laXe wabaKalanga, ndolebesa ndounkunda Chibundule, angina mixango iye, ayilaula, nawe akupabo ntome kobusa kwangu."

Translation: "You should see my daughter that the reason I am giving you in marriage to Chibundule is this: I want to enter the country of the Kalanga but I have been failing because of Chibundule's magical powers. So I am instructing you that when you are married to King Chibundule you must look after him well and put his mind at ease. You must then pull out some of his hair, and hide it in your skirt. Then you must tell the king that you are sick and wish to be with your father and mother. You can then return with the hair of the king. Once I have the hair of the Kalanga king I am sure to defeat him, Chibundule. I shall enter his country and rule over it, and will give you a share of the spoils.

Ninembwe agreed to do as her father instructed. Thereafter, it came to pass that one night, while Chibundule was sleeping, Ninembwe managed to cut a lock of his hair and subsequently take it to her father. Thus, it is said the Banyayi medicine men had the material they needed to make invincible protective charms against the Balilima Mambo.

The now emboldened Chilisamhulu sent Ninembwe back to Chibundule, but told her that:

"On the day the Banyayi will attack the country of Chibundule you will hear a war trumpet that will indicate that we are approaching from all sides. You must then leave the village of Chibundule and find the Banyayi army. You must then signal the army with a white pure cloth so that the army will know that you are their child given to Chibundule in marriage. They will then protect you. You must do this for the army will surround Chibundule's village and set it on fire."

Ninembwe returned to Chibundule to carry out her father's further instructions.

Shortly thereafter, Chilisamhulu ordered his warriors, the soon to be infamous Rozwi into battle. They attacked Chibundule's followers from all directions. The main force marched northwards from Tuli area along the modern Botswana-Zimbabwe border, which was the site of Chilisamhulu's stronghold known as the Black Hill or Hill of Nyayi (Lutombo gwaba Lutema/Nyayi ).

As was their custom, the Banyayi regiments were accompanied by their women, who carried provisions and cooked for the men. The place of women alongside men on military campaigns sets the Banyayi apart from such sometime pre-colonial adversaries as the Bangwato and Amandebele.

Meanwhile, Chibundule was in a relaxed state at his headquarters at the Matopos or Mountains of the King (Matombo akaMambo), which were then also known as the Mountains of Bhuba (Matombo aBhuba ). There his peace was suddenly interrupted by his chief councillor, She Vunamakuni, "the breaker of logs" (also known as Chombe-Ntulunhulu), who brought news of the enemy's advance. Chibundule immediately reached for his medicine calabash in order to use it to create a great smoke that would conceal his forces and confuse the enemy. But, the medicine had been rendered useless by Ninembwe's betrayal.


Our last instalment ended with Chilisamhulu's Banyayi warriors attacking the mountain stronghold (Matombo akaMambo) of the last of the Balilima mambos or kings of the Chibundule dynasty.On hearing of the enemy's advance, the Mambo is said to have immediately reached for his medicine calabash in order to use it to create a great smoke that would conceal his forces and confuse the enemy.

But, the medicine had been rendered useless by the charms that had been created as a result of his wife Ninembwe's betrayal.The Ikalanga traditions go on to relate that King then gathered his family and principal councillors around him.

These included the Boshe Vunamakuni, Nkami, Zwikono, Nimale and Hungwe. Although their cause looked desperate, each was determined to fight to the death. A great fog is then said to have descended onto the battlefield as the two armies fiercely clashed. The warriors could no longer tell if it was night or day.In the end the Banyayi emerged as the victors.

Thus it was that Chilisamhulu of the Moyo clan replaced Chibundule of the Humbe or Wumbe clan the new supreme ruler, Mambo, of the Bakalanga. It is further recorded that the fate of the last of the Bawumbe paramount rulers is a mystery."Ngono kwakati ngwa yabaNyayi neyabaKalanga dzikagwa, ngono kukakundiwa yabaKalanga, ikatatiwa chose, bakatiha bakalaxa thebe dzabo. Ndipo pakati ngwa yabaNyayi yakunda Chibundule. Ngwenu ngwa yabaNyayi ikawila munkwala waXe wabaKalanga.

Ngono bakaunlonda nkwala wa Chibundule ukanopelela pachulu chemikoxo kuna Hoze."Ngobe bakabexaka kunoumbhata, ngono bakakon'wa, kamilanya kudza kube nhasi. Ngwa yabaNyayi yakadzopoteleka-poteleka, itendeleka ixaka nkwala waChibundule, bakaunxaya chose. Bakadzoxaka muxango yose iyeyino yoBukalanga, bakapelegwa ngobe nkwala wakapelela ipapo pana Hoze kubvila paMatombo akaMambo."Translation: "And so he armies of the Banyayi and Bakalanga (of Bawumbe) fought, and the Bakalanga were defeated, and chased hard so that they fled and threw away their weapons.

It is there where the Banyayi army conquered that of Chibundule. The Banyayi army followed the track of the Bakalanga king. They followed Chibundule's spoor until it ended at an anthill of the mukoxo trees at the Hoze (Muguza) river because they wanted to catch him, but they failed and he disappeared until today."The Banyayi army moved around and around looking for more tracks of Chibundule but they completely failed to find them.

They search the entire Bukalanga country, but finally gave up because the spoor ended at the Hoze River, at the Mountains of Kings."In the decades thereafter it is said that people passing through the Mountains of the King in the Matopos could in the early morning and evening hear the noise of the stamping of pestles and the bellowing of beasts in at the place where Chibundule's spoor ended.

These noises, which came up from the ground, are further supposed to have only became quiet with the arrival a century and a half later of the Amandebele.It was only after his having united all of the Bakalanga that the one who grew up as Chilisamhulu, son of Maluzapi, became known by the praise name, Nichasike, Lord Cha the creator.Following his overthrow of the Chibundule lineage he is further known to have next turned his warriors against the Portuguese slave traders in the east driving them out of the hills of Zimbabwe.

The whites and their allies quickly learned to fear Nichasike. From his throne the new Mambo boasted:"Ndimi Nichasike, waMaluzapi, wa Madlazwegwendo; Imi Nichasike, wakasika nyika; Imi mhulu yobupfuko, Mhulu yoNsikanyka, Isingabakigwe ngelupango gunopfusiwa ngelukonye. "Mhulu yobupfuko inobakigwe ngeluswingo gwamabwe gusingapfusiwe ngelukonye."Translation: "It is I, Nichasike, son of Maluzapi, son of Madlazwegwendo; I Nichasike who created the earth; I the calf that butts its way in, the calf of the Creator of the Earth, for which cannot be built with a pole which is bored by worms.

"The calf is butting its way in, for which is built a wall of stones which cannot be bored by a worm."For their part, the Portuguese records confirm the in June 1684 they suffered defeat by an army of "Rozwi" under a ruler identified as "Changamire Dombo" at Maungwe in what is now eastern Zimbabwe. In the decade that followed Dombo is credited with driving the Portuguese permanently out of the Zimbabwe plateaux, in the process bringing the Mutapa, Manyika, as well as Maungwe kingdoms under the temporary suzerainty to his "Rozwi Empire."In the above context, Dombo has understandably come to be seen as an early national and anti-colonial icon in post-colonial Zimbabwe.

His sudden appearance in north-eastern Zimbabwe as a conquering liberator has, however, tended to obscure Chamgamire's roots and legacy among the Kalanga/Karanga. This is in part due to the challenge of establishing historical continuity in the context of labels whose translation may be debatable as well as situational and evolving.There is, however, little dispute that the warrior-king known to the Portuguese as Changamire is one and the same as the Nichasike in Ikalanga traditions.


In our last instalment, the Banyayi ruler Chilisamhulu had seized the Bakalanga throne from the Balilima or Bawumbe ruler Chibundule, thus establishing himself as the first of the Nichasike line of Mambos.

The Nichasike or Changamire dynasty subsequently ruled over the Bakalanga kingdom for over a century and a half (c.1680-1835), before being overthrown by Nguni invaders during the Difaqane era.Like the previous Chibundule rulers, Mambo Nichasike I established his headquarters in the Matopos hills at a place he called Mabwe Dziba.

This name is sometimes translated as "the stones that protect", which is said refer to the various shrines to the god Mwali that surrounded the site rather than the high stone walls of the royal enclosure (dzimbabwe) itself.After consolidating his rule over the Balilima, Nichasike expanded the boundaries of the old Chibundule (Butwa) state. As a result of his military campaigns in the east the Portuguese slave traders were permanently driven out of the Zimbabwe plateaux.

Thereafter, Nichasike was able to at least temporarily impose his suzerainty over the Mutapa, Manyika, and Maungwe kingdoms.Along with his successors, he also expanded the hegemony of his "Rozwi Empire" to the south and west into modern Botswana as far as Mahalapye and the Venda lands in what is now the Limpopo Province of South Africa. Chilisamhulu Nichasike's personal praise poem thus celebrated his prowess as a conqueror:"Ndakuna, ndabaka, ndayibambula nyika, ndakuna, nadbe Mambo, ngobe ndabaka, ndayibambula nyika yaChibundule.

Ndima ndabe Mambo. Kuti ndabaka, ndayyibambula nyika. Ndayilaula, ndabaka, ndahombela; chowodla nkoma chaha ndiponi."Translation: "I have conquered and I have built, I have extended the country, I have conquered and I am King, for I have extended the country of Chibundule.""It is I who is King. I built and extended the country. I have ruled it and built and reinforced it; that which would destroy the Kingdom from where will it enter?"In what is now north-eastern Botswana, the Mambo's presence was reinforced through the migration of a number of Banyayi groups led by junior members of the royal lineage.

These included the Badalaunde or Batalaote, Bamen'we, Banambia and Batshangate.Dalaunde or Ntalaolte is commonly said to have been a junior son of Nichasike's first house, although oral traditions are not consistent on this point. While he died in Zimbabwe, under his son, Langane, the Batalaote migrated into Botswana settling at a place called Manyalala.The southward expansion of Batalaote brought them to the borders of the emerging Bakwena kingdom under Kgosi Motshodi.At least one early clash resulted from this proximity when Motshodi's senior son and heir, Legojane, led his "Mateane" regiment on a cattle raid into Legane's country.

The expedition resulted in Legojane being killed in battle, while those of his followers who survived returned to Motshodi's kraal empty handed. From Legojane's praise poem:"Lenyora, we! Letsatsi, we! Makalaka lo kaka loa re boela; Lo kaka loa re khutlela Maririma. Kea gapa sepe; Ke gapile podi. Ke gapile podinyana ea sekgwakgwa, Podi tlaa! U bolele diokoko."U ko u bue dilo tsa Bokalaka. U tlo u bue dilo tsa kwa ga Kgabo.

Re tsamaile ra itiketsa thata; Legwape le ena ra mo itiketsa; Ra ba ra lebana le Leganana [Legane]; Leganana ea re go sena pula, Go tlo go fhela go thiba mouwane, Go fhela go thibathiba lerunyana."Translation: "Thirst and heat, Bakalanga you could kill us. I have not captured anything. I only captured a small goat with a scab. Tell this tale of great sadness."Tell us about the Bukalanga incidents. Tell us about the incidents at [the Bakwena baga] Kgabo's.

We went there with care and stealth. We hid away from Legwape. But, then we found ourselves face to face with Legane. With Legane there is no rain, only mist clouds in the air. Then a small cloud hangs around."Later, during the time of Legane's son Sankoloba, the Batalaote became allies of the Bangwato. Sankoloba's, himself, is said to have been killed by the Amandebele.

Thereafter, the Batalaote became divided.Two of Sankoloba's sons, Matsuga and Motsume, along with many of their relatives ultimately fled to Shoshong; where they lived under the Bangwato Kgosi Sekgoma I, father of Khama III.The Batalaote who remained behind at Manyalela were initially reduced to living as vassals of the Amandebele under the authority of an induna named Manyami. Later, they also switched their allegiance to the Bangwato.

In 1863, following their defeat by the Bangwato at Shoshong, the Amandebele under Lobengula attacked the Batalaote for their disloyalty. Many Batalaote were then captured and taken to Zimbabwe. The survivors who remained behind were scattered, with most resettling at Shoshong. This disaster brought a final end to the group's independence. (to be continued)


In our last instalment we focused on the Batalaote or, as they are less commonly known, Badalaunde. This week we turn to another local Bakalanga community- the Banambiya. Today, Banambiya communities can be found in both the Chobe District and the adjacent northwestern tip of Zimbabwe.

The Banambiya are also sometimes still referred to as the Bananzwa.
This term has, however, gone out of favour as being derogatory. It is commonly associated with the verb "to lick" (-nanzwa). Some linguists, however, believe that Bananzwa is an Ikalanga corruption of what was originally a community name derived from the Ila-Tonga language. This is consistent with the following historical reconstruction.

The Banambiya are the followers of the Wange, alternatively Zange or Hwange dynasty. According to oral traditions the original Wange she (or xe) was a younger brother of the Mambo (king). While the court traditions thus link the original Wange to the Banyayi Mambo Nichasike, others suggest that he may have in fact been related to the last of the Balilima kings of the Chibundule dynasty. This interpretation is supported by the use of the monkey, shoko, rather than heart, moyo, as the Banambiya totem.

According to the Balilima traditions Wange fled to the Zambezi valley at the time of Nichasike's overthrow of Chibundule (c.1680, though existing genealogy suggests a later migration). There his followers found and conquered the people they called Bananzwa who were a Batonga or Bathoka community under a local ruler named Ngula. The forenames of the known royal descendents of the first Wange are as follows: Tshilobamagu > Lesumbame > Sebemkhula > Nikatambe > Tshilisa > Nimanaga > Tshipaja.

In 1839 the Banambiya country became a temporary base for a section of Amandebele army of Nkosi Mzilikazi, with the Banambiya accommodating the invaders:

"And the Amandebele went to She Wange and said: 'As for us we do not want to fight you.' We are scouting the country looking for our home people. They lost us and we do not know their whereabouts. So Wange stopped his people from fighting with the army of Mzilikazi and he gave them much food and they ate and drank and were happy."

But, in 1853, the Amandebele attacked the Banambiya. This followed an incident in which they were implicated in abandoning to starvation an Amandebele regiment on an island in the middle of the Zambesi. The force was intending to collect tribute among the Batonga on the other side of the river who were also claimed as vassals by the Makololo.

It is further said that the Banambiya, themselves, subsequently refused to pay tribute to Mzililkazi's tax collector, Luponjwana Nzima. On hearing of the above, Mzilikazi ordered that She Lesumbame Wange be skinned alive for having apparently conspired with Makololo to gain Banambiya freedom from the Amandebele. This event, which is extensively recorded in Ikalanga traditions, coincides with both the death of the great Makololo Kgosi Sebetwane at Linyanti, and the arrival of a party of Europeans, including David Livingston, accompanied by Bakwena in the region.

"And so Luponjwana Nzima arrived at Mzilikazi's court without the tribute of [Lesumbame] Wange. He entered the courtyard without the tribute. So the king asked him: 'what happened that you have returned without anything Nzima?'

"Luponjwana replied: 'Wange is not willing to produce tribute; he has two hearts, his one heart loves the Bakololo, and the other love you my king just a little bit.'

"So Mzilikazi ordered his people: 'Go and kill Wange and skin him nicely and take out his liver and kidneys and lunges and the two hearts spoken of by Luponjwana Nzima and put them on a wooden tray and return with them. Now do not let Luponjwana steal one of the hearts and make it his, lest he also does not obey me as Wange did not obey him, because he had two hearts."

Ikalanga accounts further state that the skin of Lesumbame was used to make shoes for Mzilakazi. This is further alleged to have been the cause of the great Amandebele ruler's death.

"Then King Mzilikazi said: 'Take the skin of Wange and stretch it out so that it can dry.' They took the skin of Lord Wange and stretched it out and when it was dry, they had the pegs pulled out and took it and put it to the King. So King Mzilikazi took the dried skin of She Wange, child of King Nichasike who created the elephant and rhinoceros, and cut it and made shoes, which he put on when walking about his courtyard during the morning and evening. Those who speak say the King died having leprosy because of wearing shoe made from the skin of Wange."

If the above be in part true, the effect was certainly not immediate. The Reverend Robert Moffat did treat Mzilikazi for a chronic leg ailment in 1864, eleven years after Wange's execution and four years before the Amandebele ruler's actual death.

The Amandebele attacked the Banambiya again in 1863, scattering many. Thereafter those who did not flee remained under Sebemkhula Wange who ruled as Mzilikazi's vassal. The name of the Hwange (formerly corrupted as Wankie) Park in Zimbabwe is associated with Sebemkhula.


The last few instalments of this extended series have focused on some of the traditions surrounding those Bakalanga communities in Botswana who identify themselves as belonging to either the Balilima or Banyayi sub-groups. Collectively these two groupings have often been referred to as the "Bakalanga Dumbu" or "original Bakalanga".

It would perhaps be more accurate, however, to understand these so-called dumbu communities in terms of the genealogy of their ruling lineages. As we have seen such historical figures as Mosojane, Makulukusa Wumbe, Dalaunde (Ntalaote), Men'we and Wange are remembered through oral traditions as junior members of either the Chibundule (Balilima) or Nichasike (Banyayi) dynasties.

Wider patterns of patrilineal or paternal, as well as matrilineal or maternal, descent within various modern Bakalanga [and indeed other local ethno-linguistic communities] are undoubtedly much more complex. The longstanding reality of migration, intermarriage and assimilation in the region ultimately renders any rigid notions of ethnic purity implausible.

There are in fact many Ikalanga speakers whose patrilineal descent is of non-Bakalanga, often of either Bapedi or Batswana, origin. Although communities traditionally led by such lineages are sometimes labelled by ethnologists as "assimilated groups", their members generally consider themselves to be true Bakalanga based on their mother language and cultural practice.

Some prominent examples of such groupings include the BakaMathangwane, Nswazwi, Selolwane and Tshizwina (Sebina) lineages. Assimilation across ethno-linguistic boundaries is not an exclusive phenomenon. Many Batswana can trace patrilineal descent to what were once non-Setswana communities.

The fluid nature of ethnic identity in the past as well as the fast moving present underscores the absurdity of those who incite inter-ethnic paranoia through the ethnic and/or geographic labelling of individuals. In this respect it might have been both more accurate and progressive if the Vision 2016 document had put forward as a collective ideal the notion of "Unity in dynamic diversity."

As what some would negatively refer to as tribalism, in this context perceived as the perversion of ethnic pride to diminish others at the expense of national unity, accountability, and equity, one is reminded of the Setswana proverb: Lomao lo lo ntlha pedi lo tlhaba kobo le moroki. Bigotry is always a two edged blade.

Perhaps the most prominent example of a historically Ikalanga group that has to a greater extent been integrated into Setswana society are the Batalaote of the Central District, who as we have previously seen are of royal Banyayi origin.

Another example is said to be the Senape (Chenaba) ward of Serowe, who according to a monumental survey published in 1952 by Isaac Schapera, are also said to be of Banyayi origin. The lineage's founder, Nthele, is said to have settled at Domboshaba after Mambo Nichasike took exception to his desire to marry a certain princess. It was Nthele's great-grandson, Mari the son of the ward's namesake Chenaba, who subsequently fled to the Bangwato. This was during the mid-nineteenth century as a result of Amandebele raids.

One can also find among the traditional wards (dikgotla) of Serowe descendents of such legendary Bakalanga as Wange and Sosoma. The latter figure is said to have been a powerful Banabiya traditional doctor.

Of course exploring such origins can become quite sensitive. One of the larger wards in Molepolole has claimed descent from Bakwena royalty in modern times (certainly justified in matrilineal terms), notwithstanding its nineteenth century founder's identification in a number of sources as a Mokalanga.

The Bakalanga bakaNswazwi community, best known for their defiance of Tshekedi Khama's overrule during the reign of their leader She John Madawo Nswazwi VIII (ruled 1912-60), are a prominent example of an originally Bapedi community that has become integrated into Ikalanga culture.

An exception to the above is a branch of the BakaNswazwi who settled in Mochudi during the reign of Kgosi Linchwe I (ruled 1876-1924). This group had apparently found refuge in Kgatleng after their headman, Ramotswetla, remained loyal to the Bangwato Kgosi Matsheng. In 1872 Khama III ousted Matsheng in a battle at Shoshong with armed Bakwena support.

Such historical complexities make any estimation of the percentage of the population who belong to this or that ethnic group problematic, notwithstanding the listing of people in colonial era censuses according to their supposed tribal affiliation.

The 1946 Bechuanaland Protectorate census, for example, gave total population of Bamangwato Tribal Reserve as 100,987 of whom 22,777 were listed as "Kalaka" and 17,850 as "Ngwato".

A closer examination of the data, however, reveals that the Kalaka count excludes some Ikalanga speaking communities. The BakaNswazwi, recorded as numbering 1014, are listed under "Pedi", while other groups such as the Baseleka of Bukalanga, 1184, and Banabiya, 844, etc. (in other words many non-dumbu communities) are also separately listed.

By the same token its not unlikely that the "Kalaka" count may have included a few folks who did not at the time have Ikalanga as their mother tongue.


At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Banyayi Kingdom under the rule of the Nichasike dynasty remained the largest and probably wealthiest indigenous state in southern Africa. Yet by 1840 it had ceased to exist. Its fall came as a result of a series of invasions by external groups, beginning with various Batswana groups united under the leadership of the Bangwato Kgosi Kgari and culminating in the conquest of the core areas of the kingdom by the Amandebele of Nkosi Mzilakazi.

Ikalanga traditions connect this calamity to the failure of the next to last of the Banyayi kings, Mambo Chilisamhulu II Nichasike, to appropriately appease the protector god Mwali (or Mwari). It is not clear, however, whether the Mambo in fact failed to pay proper homage to the Mwali priests, as alleged, or that the story subsequently emerged to provide a cosmological explanation for the kingdom's fall.

Certain traditions are also suggestive, though by no means conclusive, of the existence of disputes over governing authority between the Mambo and some of his regional overlords, such as the guardian of the south-western frontier, Tumbale, and the Nswazwi leader, Ntsope.If the Mambo's authority was being eroded prior to 1840 it may have also been due to his declining role as a middleman in the movement of gold and other commodities to the trading ports of East Africa. Although incomplete, available statistics make it clear that there was a steady decline in this trade between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Whereas up to 1500 kilograms of gold was annually exported to the Portuguese ports at the time of the first Nichasike (along with up to 160,000 kilograms ivory), in 1806 the recorded figure was only 51 kilograms gold.According to Ikalanga traditions and other evidence Mwali belief among the Bakalanga is a relatively recent phenomenon. The religion is said to have originated among the Venda (Ikalanga: Bavezha), who introduced it to the Banyayi. It was the seventeenth and eighteenth century Banyayi kings who, in turn, promoted the belief throughout much of Zimbabwe and northeastern Botswana.

These accounts differ from some other Chishona traditions that connect belief in Mwali to an earlier supposed migration of the Mbire clan or tribe from east Africa, as well as the Great Zimbabwe civilisation.Ikalanga traditions of Mwali being brought from Venda are, however, consistent with the genealogies of the Lubimba priests of the principal Mwali shrine at Njelele in the Matopos. The following Ikalanga passage records the migration into Bukalanga from the Venda of the Lubimba, along with the related Honyedzepasi and Sabhaswi clans:"Ngono ibabo banhu bakaLubimba bakaswika muno, bebvabo kuBuvezha.

Ndibo bakaha naMwali muxango ino Bukalanga. Ndibo bakaLubimba bakaMwali unkulu- Bavezha. Bakaswika muxango ino bakwana kubusa Mambo Nichasike ali yiye unolaula muna yino nyika yoBukalanga."Ngono bakangina muna Mambo Nichasike, bakalaugwa ndiye- bakabe banhu babe. BakaLubimba baswika kamwe ne bakaHonyedzepasi ne bakaSabhwasi; ndidzo njudzi dzakaha naMwali, njudzi dzakaMwali unkulu. Hosana yabo hulu wakabe ali Sabhaswi. Umwe ali Npininga, batategula baJenje."Ntolo waMwali wamatangwa, wakaha kabakigwa Ntolo uwe padombo linoyi Chizeze likuBhehuba yeZamanyoni. Ntolo webubili ngeweNjelele; webutatu ngeweChibale; dombo likuntha yoBurwa kweZamanyoni."Translation: "Now the people of Lubimba arrived coming from the Venda country. They were the ones who came with Mwali into the Bakalanga country.

They were of Lubimba's of the great Mwali- they were Venda. They arrived in this country and found that King Nichasike ruled over the Bakalanga country."So they entered under King Nichasike and were ruled by him, being his subjects. Those of Lubimba arrived together with those of Honyedzepasi and those of Sabhaswi. They were the clans, which came with Mwali. Their chief priest was Sabhaswi. Another was [according to some sources his son] Npininga, the grandfather of Jenje.

"The first shrine to Mwali after his coming was built at the mountain called Chizeze to the east of Zamanyoni. The second shrine was that of Njelele. The third that of Chibale; a mountain to the south side of Zamanyoni."According to the same traditions Nichasike, who honoured the new god through the annual offering of gifts, built all of the first Mwali shrines. In return Mwali, through his priests, became the King's main advisor:"Nichasike wakabe ehwilila Mwali kwazwo; chimwe nechimwe chinolebwa ndiMwali, Nichasike echihwilila kachiyeta.

Kene etuma banhu babe bakachiyeta kene kuli kunondiwa, bakayenda belibilidza, beziba kuti batumwa ndiMwali."Ngono nayiye Mwali kaunkudzabo kwazwo-kwazwo Mambo Nichasike, kaunpa masimba ogwa kakunda dzimwe njudzi. Nichasike kawana maha hulu kwazwo ngentha yaMwali, kawana phuti, kayitengesegwa ngemaChihu (Putugezi). Ndibo banhu bakabe tendeleka muna yino xango, betengesa zwinhu, kene nhundu dzabo.

Translation: "Nichasike was very obedient to Mwali; everything spoken by Mwali was obeyed and acted upon by Nichasike. When he was sending his people they did as was spoken by Mwali and when they travelled they made haste knowing that Mwali had sent them."But also he, Mwali, honoured King Nichasike very much, giving him the power to fight and conquer other tribes. Nichasike enjoyed great luck due to Mwali; he found a gun, which was sold to him by the Portuguese. They were the people moving about in this country selling things."The Kingdom was thus said to be enjoying peace and prosperity when, c. 1826, Mwali warned Mambo Nichasike of the coming of the Barwa (Batswana) of Kgari.


In our last episode we left off with the Banyayi Kingdom enjoying peace and relative prosperity when, c. 1826, the Mwali priests warned the Nichasike Mambo Chilisamhulu II of a pending invasion of the "Barwa baKari".

To the south-west of Chilisamhulu's court the charismatic Bangwato Kgosi Kgari aKhama aMathiba had, in response to raids by the Bafokeng bagaPatsa or Makololo of Kgosi Sebetwane, assembled under his leadership a formidable coalition of merafe, including the Babirwa of Malema, Bakaa of Lebelwane, Bakwena faction of Segokotlo (regent to Sechele), Baseleka of Kobe, Batalaote of Matsoga, and Batlokwa of Leshage. From their base in the Khutswe hills Kgari's followers had begun to press upon the borders of the Mambo's kingdom.

The Bo-Kgari invasion, which culminated in a decisive battle at Matopos, was an important turning point. Its significance, however, must be placed in the context of the broader history of beneficial and seemingly largely peaceful contact between the Bakalanga and various other communities in the region.

In tracing the history of the pre-colonial Bakalanga kingdoms of the Balilima and Banyayi this series has attempted to establish the interrelationships that have long existed between the ancestors of modern Bakalanga with those of other communities such as Batswana, Bapedi and Bavenda, as well as various linguistically related Vashona groups. Indeed, as we have seen, members of various modern ethno-linguistic communities often share ancestors, whose common genealogies can still be traced.

Besides blood ties there is a long history of trade, cross-migration and shared culture. In this respect it is notable that the battle between the followers of Kgari and Chilisamhulu is one of the few known examples of pre-colonial era armed conflict between Bakalanga and Batswana. By contrast both Setswana and Ikalanga traditions recall numerous internal conflicts.

Finally, it is notable that the conflict between Kgosi Kgari and Mambo Chilisamhulu is remembered as a mutual tragedy rather than a triumph for its victor.
For generations the Bangwato mourned the passing Kgari who, in the 1871 words of John Mackenzie was remembered as: "The chief whose name is most cherished among the Bamangwato. Brave in the field, wise in the council, kind to his vassals, Khari was all that the Bechuanas desire their chief to be."

In Ikalanga accounts of the Royal House the battle of the Matopos is remembered as the beginning of the end. For in the battles wake Chilisamhulu and his lieutenant, Tombale offended their protector Mwali. As a result the kingdom was left vulnerable. The story as recorded by Kumile, begins:

"Ngobe Barwa baKari bakabebva bakatasela muxango yabaNyayi begwa nabo. Bakatapa n'ombe dzabaNyayi, bakayrnda nadzo kuxango yabo. Ngono bakati bebona kuti batapa n'ombe dzaMambo, bakadzixanganya nedzabo,bakabe dzihisa bakadzibakila pedlo neChibale, muxango yaMambo Nichasike. Bakazwikanya bamasimba beti: "Akuna ungadzitapa tilipo iswi beni badzo.

"Ngono Barwa bakati bachakalingadla maxwe, kukati Mwali kakubona ikoku kukaunhwisa zwogwadza chose, katuma hosan dzidze, kati: 'Indani, munobudza Chilisamhulu.'

"Ngono hosanna dzaMwali dzikayenda kunoleba kuna Mambo kuti: 'Barwa bawobakila n'ombe dzabo muxango iyo. Oku wuti, bakazwimisila paladza xango iyo. Ngono dusa ngwa inobhayana nabo, Barwa baKari, inodzitapa n'ombe dzabo dzose, itapilanye nedzedu dzabakadla. Ngono ngwa yaBanyayi inoti yadzitapa yabuya nadzo, iwe Chilisamhulu udzitole uwodzilesi kundili, ndowoha nkikukobela dzibe dzidzo, imi nditola dzangu dzabake badla. Iwe, ndokupa masimba unowobakunda ukadzidla dzose n'ombe dzabo, nedzedu dzabakadla; dzowobuya dzose dzedu nedzabo."

Translation: "Kgari's followers came to raid in the Banyayi country, fighting with them. They captured Banyayi cattle and went with them to their own country. When the saw that they had raided the cattle of the King (Mambo), they mixed them with their own and brought them and built kraals for them at Chibale, in the country of King Nichasike. They were self-confident, saying: "No one can raid them with us their owners present.

"Mwali saw the Kgari's followers keeping watch and eating madila. This hurt him very much so he sent for his priests and said: 'Go tell Chilisamhulu.

"Then Mwali's priests went to tell the King: "Kgari's people have built for their cattle in your country. This means they are determined to destroy you country. So you must raise up an army and go and fight with them, so that it can raid all their cattle together with those of ours that have been raided.

"Then after the Banyayi army has raided them and returned with them, you, Chilisamhulu, must take them and bring them to me (Mwali) and I shall come to share out yours to you, taking mine that were driven away by them. You, I give you strength to go and conquer them and drive away all their cattle....

"So then the King, when he heard this, that Kgari's people had come to build for their cattle in his country, he sent out an army led by Tombale, the hero of heroes."


In our last instalment we left off where a coalition of merafe, led by the charismatic Bangwato Kgosi Kgari, had encroached on the southwestern borderlands of the Banyayi Kingdom. In response, Mambo Chilisamhulu II Nichasike dispatched two forces to intercept the invaders.

Along the border region, the Banyayi were mobilised under the command of Tombale, the monarch's proconsul in the south, while the Mambo also sent his royal guard under the leadership of a certain Ninjigwe. The latter force included the Mambo's elite gun men, who in the European parlance of the time were quite literally musketeers.

According to Ikalanga sources, Tombale's men ambushed and defeated Kgari's force at Matopos prior to the arrival of Ninjigwe's reinforcements. All sources are in agreement that the battle was a disaster for Kgari's followers, with the Bangwato Kgosi numbering among the fallen.

In addition to surviving Ikalanga and Setswana traditions, at least two eyewitness accounts of the campaign, both by Batswana, have been recorded. One account was related by Sechele's brother Kgosidintsi to the missionary Willoughby in 1902, shortly before his death. The other by Senang Ditsela, a Mokaa who died in 1945, is of special interest insofar as his participation in Kgari's ill-fated invasion, which took place no later than 1828, supports claims that he was one of the longest living humans ever on record. By the 1930s Senang's longevity had begun to attract worldwide attention, resulting in his being interviewed for national radio broadcasts on five continents, as well as numerous newspaper profiles.

Returning to our story, Tombale's victory, and the resulting praise, was apparently resented by both Chilisamhulu and Ninjigwe. As has been previously noted, it used to be the custom of the Bakalanga to have their women go with them on military campaigns. They helped carry supplies and cook food. It is also said that because of the presence their wives the Bakalanga men dared not put up a half-hearted fight! This fact provides a context for the following passage, which is translated from the late Masola Kumile's collected Ikalanga texts:

"It happened that the women, who went with the army of Tombale, were following a straight line behind the cattle that had been captured by Tombale and his army. With the great drum sounding, they sang:

"Gono ndiTombale, ndiya gomo Dlamaxango. E! gono ndiTombale, Ndiye Tombale, Oh! Ndiye gono Dlamaxango, E! Dzene asiye Tombale. E! Ba Nhaba bowotswa mumoto! - That is the male one is Tombale; it is he the male one, the eater of the country. Yes! The male one is Tombale; it is he Tombale, Oh! It is he the male one the eater of countries. Yes is it not he, Tombale. Yes! Of Nhaba, he is going to be burned by the fire!"

Meanwhile the army of the Mambo that was led by the chief councillor Ninjigwe was following at the rear, being very quiet. Their strength drained, it is said that they had nothing to say with their gaping mouths. The women of the army of Tombale continued singing until they arrived back at the villages, holding their hands at their mouths, ululating, and praising Tombale more than the Mambo Nichasike.

All this reached the ears of the Mambo, it being said: "The army of the Mambo did not even reach the battlefield where the fight occurred between the army of Tombale and that of the Barwa.

The Mambo heard all of this, that the army that defeated the Barwa was that of Tombale, while that of Ninjigwe had turned back on the way without getting into the fighting. The Mambo is further said to have felt pain upon hearing that the women came back praising Tombale, saying: "The country was defended by Tombale, the child of Nisasi, the son of Ninhembwe."

Kumile's account goes further to state that, when the captured cattle arrived at the royal kraal, the Mambo had them divided giving some to Tombale, but keeping most for himself. But, perhaps in his jealous desire to assert his authority, it is said that the Mambo forgot about his debt to Mwali priestess who had warned of the invasion and provided for divine intervention to assure victory.

In these accounts it is noted that the Mambo expressed his embarrassment about taking the cattle to Mwali, fearing the latter would join the people in praising Tombale. Perhaps Chilisamhulu then suspected that the principal Mwali priestess would support the war hero Tombale's elevation over him.

As it was when Mwali saw how Chilisamhulu behaved, the priestess is said to have voiced the following curse:

"Chilisamhulu wanditila bupitipiti. Ngono ndolebesa ayitobakwa iyeyi nyika, yali! chipwihe lakapwiha hou nenhema, ngentha yendandala dzidze, Chilisamhulu, inowopalala nyika, ayitobakwe."

"Chilisamhulu has cheated me. So I am certain that the country will not be developed, indeed the country which is the refuge which gave shelter to the elephant and the rhinoceros [i.e. royal Banyayi], because of Chilisamhulu's jealousy the country will perish."


We left off with the Mwali priestess predicting that: "because of Chilisamhulu's jealousy the country will surely perish." One of the Chilisamhulu's sons, Ntinima, pleaded with his father to placate Mwali. But his words fell on deaf ears.

Ntinima also went to Tombale, calling on him to also offer cattle to Mwali. But, Tombale, having grown arrogant with the praises that had been bestowed upon him, also rejected Ntinima's pleas, saying:

"Mine are with Chigeledeka, I shall never agree to give them to that Mwali, the tall old woman who watches, being in the cave into which one cannot see. If she is so strong, why did she herself not go out and fight with those of Kgari?"

Ntinima then took his own cattle to make a personal offering Mwali. But, Priestess was not placated, asking Ntinima why he was bringing cattle when the owners of the country were still refusing? Adding that both Chilisamhulu and Tombale had become hallow like pumpkins, which she would soon pick holes in.

Ntinima relayed Mwali's threats back to the pair but neither would listen, saying that Mwali was a useless old woman. The Mambo added: "The one who stays in the cave is the one who will die in the cave."

At that moment, it is said that the voice of Mwali was heard out of nowhere cursing the Mambo, speaking first from a house and then from a tree. The Mambo had the house burned down and the tree chopped and burned, but the voice remained, cursing through the wind.

Thereafter, a new group of invaders arrived from the south bearing long stripped shields - the Amangoni followed by the Amandebele.

Most of the first wave of invaders did not stay. An exception was a small but disciplined group led by the female warlord called Nyamazana, who had broken away from the long march of the Jere-Ngoni Nkosi Zwagendaba in order to settle in the heart of Bukalanga. Thereafter, she succeeded where both Zwagendaba and Kgari had failed by defeating Tombale's forces. Deserted on the battlefield, it is said that Tombale committed suicide by poison.

Nyamazana then pressed her advantage by moving rapidly against the now isolated Chilisamhulu. According to some sources, the king and his retainers also committed suicide to avoid capture after being cornered at Manyanga.

The death of the Mambo did not put an immediate end the struggle. One of his sons, Chigadzike, was proclaimed as the new Mambo with the support of the royal guard, including the gunmen still under Ninjigwe.

Yet, despite the demise of both Chilisamhulu and Tombale, it is said that the Mwali still chose to feed on Banyayi misfortune. In 1839 Nyamazana's warriors were reinforced by the much greater Amandebele horde of Nkosi Mzilakazi who had migrated through eastern Botswana following their defeat by the Voortrekkers and allied Batswana. The two groups united, with Nyamazana becoming one of Mzilakazi's Queens.

The expanded Amandebele decisively defeated Chigadzike's Banyayi at a place called Dzimbabwana. Initially, the Banyayi had the advantage of possessing guns and control of the high ground, but Mwali was not with them:

"And the Banyayi had the royal guns with them, which were kept by Ninjigwe, the one who used them...Then they saw that the Amandebele had climbed the mountain on which they were. They then told Ninjigwe: Aim at them with the guns! Aim at them! But when Ninjigwe was shooting with his gun, he found that only smoke and water came from it and that it was no more making a sound."

Soon thereafter there was seen from the mountain a rainbow stretching across the middle of the mountains where the Banyayi army was. And then the voice of Mwali was heard say:

"Amandebele! Sons of the sky! I have got hold of the gun that shoots. I have got a hold of it and it won't shoot anymore. So bring the Banyayi down and kill them. Those who remain must be chased to the Zambezi. I once told Chilisamhulu, when he did not want to obey me, that we would meet again. Today is the final day I spoke of.' The Banyayi then saw that they were defeated."

A secular interpretation of the above is that it must have rained during the battle, in which case Ninjigwe's muzzle-loading muskets would indeed have been rendered useless by the dampening of gunpowder.

With the defeat of Chigadzike and Ninjigwe, the remnant of the Banyayi royal holdouts turned to Chilisamhula's surviving son Ntinima who is said to have retained the affection of Mwali. For some time they held out from his hilltop stronghold at Buxwa before fleeing to the north-east where merged among the Vazezeru.

Still other holdouts rallied around a local ruler named Chilagwane, who were ultimately surrounded in a number of nearby mountains, with the main body of defenders at a place called Dokonobe. Unable to initially take the high ground by force, the Amandebele besieged the defenders who ran out of food and water. Some escaped into Botswana, while others perished or were forced to submit. With the fall of Dokonobe and flight of Ntinima the era of the Bakalanga kings was over.

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