The Ngoni arrived in our region in 1835, after crossing the Zambezi River near Zumbo.  We know this because of an eclipse of the sun which happened at the time of the crossing, the story which had been passed down and could be dated exactly. 

Their chief was Zwangendaba and it was he who had taken about 1,000 people away from Shaka Zulu’s war machine in the south.  They had travelled steadily northwards for 15 years, raiding as they went, swelling their numbers.  They were very similar in society to the Zulus, with boys being trained from an early age into regiments of the army.  Raiding neighbouring villages to steal food, cattle and people was their way of life.  Zwangendaba had met up with Mzilikazi’s Matabele at some point.  They fought, Zwangendaba losing, which may have forced him to continue journeying northwards and to the Zambezi River.

After crossing the Zambezi they settled for four years in Nsengaland.   We are told that Zwangendaba was particularly impressed by the skills of Nsenga witchdoctors and, on leaving Nsengaland, he took some with him.  We do not know why Zwangendaba decided to move again, probably it was a case of finding food.  One section of his community had already left, going eastwards and settling along Lake Malawi (Nyasa).  Zwangendaba took his horde of people northwards, settling for a time in Tumbukaland.  And then they moved northwards once more, reaching the east of Lake Tanganyika, in present-day Tanzania.  It was here that Zwangendaba died in 1845, 10 years after crossing the Zambezi River. 

Photograph from Harry Johnson’s Memoirs

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