Nguni people

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Nguni people speak Nguni languages and currently reside predominantly in Southern Africa.


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.[1] 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.

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.[2]

Social organization[edit]

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).

Constituent peoples[edit]

The following peoples are Nguni:

People Language Population Distribution
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
Total Nguni languages 26,801,000


  1. ^ a b They are often amalgamated with the Xhosas since their language is Xhosa as well.
  2. ^ 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.[citation needed]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "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.