Part Ten/Spread of Pastoralism to the Bantu/Nguni

George Peter Murdock
1897 — 1985

Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

Africa. Its Peoples and Their Culture History

New York. McGraw-Hill. 1959. 456 p.

Explore also (a) the SemanticAfrica Peoples Vocabulary
(b) the Nguni mind-mapping diagram

Part Ten
Spread of Pastoralism to the Bantu
— 50 —

The nation known as the Nguni represents the southernmost extension of the Bantu. At the time of the “discovery” of South Africa these people occupied what is now Natal and had penetrated deeply into the Cape of Good Hope. They were still gradually expanding at the expense of the indigenous Bushmen, but it is not true, as certain historians claim, that they were recent arrivals, for they had already held for a century or more all except the frontiers of the country they inhabited when Vasco da Gama arrived. The original invaders almost certainly intermarried extensively with Bushman women, for it would othervise be difficult to account for the fact that all Nguni languages today have adopted some of the clicks, or implosive consonants, so characteristic of the Khoisan languages.
Since their “discovery” the Nguni have expanded northward at the expense of other Bantu peoples, a fact which makes it advisable to separate the contemporary tribes into three clusters.

Ndebele Couple at Home. (Courtesy of Union of South Africa State Information Office.)

Nguni Cluster

This cluster embraces the tribes that still occupy approximately their original habitat. The Pondo, Tembu, and Xhosa are commonly distinguished from the Swazi and Zulu as the ouch Nguni and orth Nguni, respectively.

  1. Pondo (Amapondo, Mpondo). They number nearly 300,000.
  2. Swazi (Amaswazi). They occupy Swaziland and adjacenr portions of the Transvaal, where Zulu conquerors welded indigenous Nguni and Sotho elements into a state in the late eighteenth century. They number about 400,000.
  3. Tembu (Tembo, Thembu), with the Bomvana, Mpondomise, Ngabe, and Qwathi.
  4. Xosa (Amakosa, Amaxosa, Kaffir, Xhosa) Together with the Tembu, they number appreciably more than 2 million.
  5. Zulu (Amazulu), with the Bhaca, Bhele, Fingo, Hlubi, and Zizi. They represent an amalgamation of many original tribes in Natal and number over 2 million.

Ndebele Cluster

This cluster includes three tribes descended from North Nguni emigrants to other parts of South Africa within the historical period. These are the Rhodesian Ndebele, or Ndebele proper, who established a conquest state in Shona territory in 1838, and the Transvaal Ndebele, embracing the Laka and Manala, who settled among the Sotho in the Transvaal about two centuries earlier.

  1. Laka (Black Ndebele, Langa), with the Maune (Letwaba), Motetlane (Sebitiela), and Seleka. Together with the Manala, they number nearly 150,000.
  2. Manala, with the Hwaduba and Ndzundza (Mapoch).
  3. Ndebele (Amandebele, Landeen, Matabele, Tebele). They number about 300,000 and are much mixed with Shona, Sotho, and other alien elements.

Ngoni Cluster

This cluster includes the mixed descendants of Zulu bands that fled from atal around 1820 to escape the rule of King Shaka and raged northward on a career of cattle raiding and pillage, piching up on the way large elements of Sotho, Swazi, Thonga, and other ethnic elements. They passed west of Lake Tyasa and east of Lake Tanganyika and advanced to the vicinity of Lake Victoria, where they turned south and eventually conquered and settled their present territories in southern Tanganyika, Nyasaland, and Northern Rhodesia. Here they intermarried extensively with the indigenous Central Bantu. Their heterogeneous descendants are known collectively as the Ngoni (Angoni, Mangoni, Wangoni). The extent to which the several Ngoni tribes have accepted the cultures of their new neighbors, while retaining elements of their own traditional ways, presents a fascinating problem in acculturation, but one which lies outside the scope of the present work. Although we cannot deal with this subject here, the various tribes are listed below, and the interested reader may pursue their study with the aid of the appended bibliography.

  1. Gomani, with the Chiwere. They inhabit a section of southern Nyasaland and speak the Nyanja language today. They number about 50,000.
  2. Magwangara (Machonde, Mafiti, Mazitu, Watutu). They inhabit a section of southern Tanganyika, and most of them speak either Pangwa or Yao today.
  3. Mombera. They conquered the Tumbuka of northern Nyasaland and welded them into a conquest state. They number about 45,000 and speak the Tumbuka language.
  4. Mpezeni. They settled in the vicinity of Fort Jameson in Northern Rhodesia, where, unlike other Ngoni, they still live a primarily pastoral life. They number about 85,000 and speak the Nsenga language.

Agriculture and animal husbandry play approximately egual roles in the Nguni economy. Maize has everywhere superseded sorghum, the indigenous staple. Subsidiary crops include bananas, beans, earth peas, eleusine, gourds, millet, peanuts, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and watermelons. In addition to cattle, important for prestige and bride-price payments as well as for their milk, the Nguni keep goats, sheep, and dogs, as well as horses, donkeys, pigs, and chickens, which have been introduced since the first European contact. They do little hunting or gathering, and most groups display an almost Cushitic aversion to fish. Since cattle are taboo to women, men do the herding and milking. They also clear land but leave most other agricultural operations to the women.
Despite the importance of pastoral activities, the Nguni are sedentary rather than nomadic. The ruling class among the Ndebele formerly occupied large palisaded towns, but the prevailing pattern of settlement throughout the province consists of neighborhoods of dispersed family homesteads, or kraals. In the Ngoni and Ndebele clusters, cone-cylinder dwellings have replaced the original house type, which still predominates in the Nguni cluster. This is a hut of beehive shape consisting of a circle of bent saplings fastened together at the top, interlaced with horizontal elements, and supported by a central post; the exterior is thatched with grass, or occasionally with mats, and the interior walls are often plastered with a mixture of earth and dung. A number of such huts, arranged in a circle around a cattle corral, form a kraal. The group inhabiting a kraal tends to be a polygynous family among the Ndebele and Xosa, an extended family among the Pondo, Swazi, and Zulu.
Marriage invariably entails the payment of a substantial bride-price (lobola) in cattle. Incest taboos prevent unions with any first cousin, and exogamous rules prohibit marriage with any member of the sib of either parent. Polygyny is general and, except among the Xosa, preferably sororal. Each wife has her own hut within the kraal. A polygynous family is divided into “houses,” among which the husband distributes land and livestock. In South Nguni tribes, the first wife heads a “great house” and the second a “right-hand house,” other wives being assigned alternately to each as “rafters.” The Ndebele and Zulu add a third major division, the “left-hand house” of the third wife. The eldest son of each house inherits the property allocated to it, with the son of the great house as the principal heir. Although not previously mentioned, this form of family organization has a sporadic distribution as far north as the Nilotes of the Luo cluster, from whom it perhaps ultimately derives. The so-called “seedraising” levirate, another Nguni practice, has a somewhat similar distribution. According to this custom a widow lives with, but does not marry, her spouse’s younger brother, and the children she bears by him are ascribed to the deceased husband.
Residence invariably follows the patrilocal rule, and descent, inheritance, and succession conform strictly to the patrilineal principle. Sibs, as well as their segmentary lineage divisions, are exogamous and bear ancestral names. Nguni social structure reveals no apparent survivals of former matrilineal institutions, which can be inferred only from distributional evidence and from the general picture we have presented of the social history of the Bantu as a whole.
Kinship terminology conforms to the Iroquois pattern. Since the Bantu who exhibit this pattern frequently reveal different roots in their terms for cross-cousins, a listing of those that are clearly cognate with the Nguni term and have an identical application may conceivably offer a clue to linguistic affiliations and hence to past migration routes.

Rega of the eastern Equatorial Bantu province
Hunde of the Interlacustrine Bantu province
Bashi and Chiga of the Interlacustrine Bantu province
Ruanda of the Interlacustrine Bantu province
Rundi of the Interlacustrine Bantu province
Kimbu, yamwezi, and Sumbwa of the Tanganyika Bantu province
Bende of the Tanganyika Bantu province
Pimbwe of the Tanganyika Bantu province
Tumbuka of the Central Bantu province
Bemba, Luapula, and Shila of the Central Bantu province
Nsenga of the Central Bantu province
Kunda of the Central Bantu province
Lamba of the Central Bantu province
Lala of the Central Bantu province
Lovedu and Venda of the Sotho province
Kgatla, Pedi, Sotho, and Tlokwa of the Sotho province
Kgatla, Pedi, Sotho, and Tlokwa of the Sotho province
Manala, Pondo, Swazi, and Zulu of the guni province
Xosa of the Nguni province

All the peoples of the province are organized into states of considerable complexity. The political systems of the South Nguni still preserve strong traces of their original kinship basis, with the ruler as the senior representative of the senior sib and the higher administrative offices filled by patrilineal kinsmen appointed by him.

In Natal, however, an energetic paramount chief named Shaka succeeded, about 1818, in organizing a powerful conquest state in which territorial ties largely replaced the bonds of kinship and practically obliterated tribal divisions. Shaka established himself as the personal owner of the land and its inhabitants. In addition to exercising supreme executive and judicial authority, he arrogated to himself the responsibility for performing all religious and magical rites on behalf of the nation, even expelling all private rainmakers from his kingdom. He maintained his absolute power by instituting a standing army consisting of all unmarried men, who were organized into regiments on the basis of age. Warriors were not permitted to marry until the king gave collective permission to the members of a regiment to mate girls of their own age. He stationed these regiments in barracks in various parts of the country, but especially in the vicinity of the capital, where they underwent military training and also tended his herds and tilled his fields. Since he received additional support from gifts, judicial fines, tribute in game, and especially the bulk of all cattle and women captured in war, he was in a position to dispense generous largesse.
The elements of the Zulu political system—conquest, territorial organization, and age-regiments—spread to other North Nguni peoples, notably the Ndebele and Swazi. Associated with it was a social stratification into classes of royalty, hereditary nobility, and commoners. To this the Ndebele added slavery, which the other tribes did not practice, and a class of dependent aliens.

Selected Bibliography


Bienvenue dans mon monde d'exploration et de découverte ! Je suis Ingrid Allain, une voyageuse passionnée avec une curiosité insatiable pour la riche tapisserie de la culture africaine. Pour moi, l'Afrique n'est pas juste une destination ; c'est une fascination de toute une vie et une source d'inspiration. Des rythmes vibrants des cercles de tambours d'Afrique de l'Ouest à la perlerie complexe des artisans Maasaï, chaque coin de ce continent détient un trésor de traditions à découvrir. À travers mes écrits, je vise à partager la beauté, la diversité et la résilience des cultures africaines avec le monde. E-mail: [email protected] / Linkedin
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