The ancient history of the Nguni people is wrapped up in their oral history. According to legend they were a people who migrated from the north to the Great Lakes region of subequatorial Central/Southeast Africa. They migrated southwards over many centuries, with large herds of Nguni cattle probably entering what is now South Africa around 2,000 years ago in sporadic settlement, followed by larger waves of migration around 1400 CE. Nguni peoples are pastoralist groups, part of the greater Bantu group occupying much of the East and Southern parts of Africa.
Some groups split off and settled along the way, while others kept going. Thus, the following settlement pattern formed: the Swazi in the north, the Zulu towards the east and the Xhosa in the south. Owing to the fact that these people had a common origin, their languages and cultures show marked similarities.
The Nguni (Ndebele, Swazi, Xhosa and Zulu tribes) diverged from the Sotho-Tswana and Tsonga within the past 1,000-2,000 years (Jorde et al. 1995). At some point along their southward journey, they came in contact with San hunters, which is why they now produce the "click" sounds that characterize their languages today.
Within the Nguni nations, the clan — based on male ancestry — formed the highest social unit. Each clan was led by a chieftain. Influential men tried to achieve independence by creating their own clan. The power of a chieftain often depended on how well he could hold his clan together.
From about 1800, the rise of the Zulu clan of the Nguni and the consequent mfecane that accompanied the expansion of the Zulus under Shaka, helped to drive a process of alliance between and consolidation among many of the smaller clans.
Many tribes and clans are said to have been forcibly united under Shaka Zulu. Shaka Zulu's political organisation was efficient in integrating "conquered" tribes, partly by the age regiments, where men from different villages bonded with each other.
Many versions in the historiography of Southern Africa state that during the southern African migrations known as Mfecane, the Nguni peoples spread across a large part of southern Africa, absorbing, conquering or displacing many other peoples. However, the notion of the mfecane/difaqane has been disputed by some scholars, notably, Julian Cobbing.
Within the Nguni nations, the clan, based on male ancestry, formed the highest social unit. Each clan was led by a chieftain. Influential men tried to achieve independence by creating their own clan. The power of a chieftain often depended on how well he could hold his clan together. From about 1800, the rise of the Zulu clan of the Nguni and the consequent mfecane that accompanied the expansion of the Zulus under Shaka, helped to drive a process of alliance between and consolidation among many of the smaller clans.
For example, the kingdom of Swaziland was formed in the early nineteenth century by different Nguni groups allying with the Dlamini clan against the threat of external attack. Today, the kingdom encompasses many different clans who speak a Nguni language called Swati and are loyal to the king of Swaziland, who is also the head of the Dlamini clan.
"Dlamini" is a very common clan name among all documented Nguni languages (including Swati and Phuthi), associated with AbaMbo cultural identity.
Ngunis may be Christians (whether Catholics or Protestants), practitioners of African traditional religions or members of forms of Christianity modified with traditional African values (such as the Shembe Church of Nazarites).
The following peoples are Nguni:
|Swazi||Swazi||2,258,000||Swaziland, but also in South Africa around the Swazi border. Their homeland was KaNgwane.|
|Phuthi||Phuthi||49,000||Near the Lesotho-South Africa border in the Transkei region.|
|Lala||Lala||Kranskop, Harding, KwaZulu-Natal, INanda, UMngeni Reserve, IZingolweni, KwaNhlalwane, and UMzinto.|
|Bhaca||Bhaca||Northeastern part of the Eastern Cape|
|Northern (Transvaal) Ndebele||Sumayela Ndebele||Primarily in Mokopane, but also in Hammanskraal and around Polokwane|
|Hlubi||Hlubi||KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and North West provinces, with an original settlement on the Buffalo River|
|Zulu||Zulu||10,964,000||Originally Zululand, but Blacks now identify themselves as Zulus all over Natal and as a minority in Eastern Transvaal and Gauteng. Their homeland was KwaZulu.|
|Xhosa||Xhosa||8,478,000||Xhosaland. Their homeland was the Ciskei and the Transkei.|
|Thembu[n 1]||Xhosa||750,000||Thembuland. Their homeland was in the Transkei (they are often considered a Xhosa sub-group)|
|Pondo[n 1]||Xhosa||Pondoland. Their homeland was in the Transkei (they are often considered a Xhosa sub-group)|
|Southern Ndebele||Southern Ndebele||659,000||Central Transvaal|
|Zunda 2nd generation[n 2]|
|Northern Ndebele (Matabele)||Northern Ndebele||1,599,000||Matabeleland Zimbabwe|
|Ngoni||They do not have a language of their own but speak Tumbuka, Chewa, or Zulu.||2,044,000||Malawi Zambia|
- They are often amalgamated with the Xhosas since their language is Xhosa as well.
- That is not the original Zunda-speaking groups, but those thought to have been formed by fleeing populations after and during the Mfecane.
Ngoni people by ethnicity are found in Malawi (under paramount Chief Mbelwa and Maseko Paramouncy), Zambia (under paramount chief Mpezeni), Mozambique and Tanzania. In Malawi and Zambia, they speak a mixture of languages of the people they conquered such as Chewa, Nsenga and Tumbuka and their original language, Zulu.
- "The Mfecane as Alibi: Thoughts on Dithakong and Mbolompo" (PDF). The Journal of African History, Volume 29, Issue 3, Cambridge University Press. 1988. Retrieved 2015-09-16.
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