The illustrious Ngoni

Sara Drawwater
3 April 2011
The Ngoni people are a tribe with a history so intriguing; it is almost tempting to grab a box of corn as you sit down to hear it.

The Ngoni people are a tribe with a history so intriguing; it is almost tempting to grab a box of corn as you sit down to hear it.

One of the biggest tribal groupings in the area, not only in Zambia but in the entire region, the Ngoni people trace their roots from the Zulu kingdom of South Africa. This was during the reign of the legendary Shaka, King of the Zulu people. The Ngoni people fled Zulu Land during a period of great warfare, escaping the persecution of Shaka. During this procession that lasted many years, the Ngoni lost their language and some of their traditions. They left their wives behind and married from the tribes they conquered along the way.

Eventually, the Ngoni settled in Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. However their journey to Zambia involved crossing the mighty Zambezi River and many women, children and elderly Ngoni were lost to the fierce torrents of the Zambezi. This historic crossing was marked by a solar eclipse, the bright African sky completely swallowed up in darkness as the Ngoni finally made it into Zambia.

Now settled in the Eastern Province of Zambia, the Ngoni have managed to keep some of their ancient traditions alive. One of their most captivating cultures is the Nc’wala traditional ceremony, one of the biggest and distinctive ethnic ceremonies of the Eastern Province. The ceremony is held at Mtenguleni Village and takes place at the end of February each year to celebrate the first fruits of harvest. The first crops from the gardens are presented to the chief to taste. This is called Maswela and is done before the actual ceremony.

The Nc’wala is a royal dance where the Ngoni Impi (troupes) take to the royal war dance with knock berries (clubs with long handles) and animal shields while dressed in animal skins. In 2009 the Nc’wala was attended for the first time ever by South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and also by Zambia’s President Rupiah Banda who had visited the ceremony before as a Minister and Vice President but was returning this time as the official head of state. This year the Nc’wala attendance list was equally impressive with 35 leaders attended Nc’wala ceremony. Modern day leaders are showing their support for the preservation of culture, which we believe is important as culture forms the history and identity of a people.

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