Tonga. Yeye (Nyai?). Makololo. Matabele. Abahunti (Nambya?). Abazungu (Chikunda?).
Born in humble surroundings in 1828. At the age of 7 he started to work as a farm labourer. He acquired many skills while working on the farm – blacksmith, carpentry and bricklaying. He then became inspired by the writings of David Livingstone and trained to be a missionary. London Missionary Society sent him to South Africa at the age of 30.
His assignment was to set up a mission in Matabeleland. The chief at the time was Mzilikaze.
Umzilikazi was very reluctant to permit any white man to proceed from his kraal to the Zambesi. That consent was however given me on 19th June, 1867, when accompanied by fifty-six natives I left Inyati for the nearest point on the Ukwempe, as the natives call the Zambesi.
Inyati was the name of the mission. Ukwembe is also how we get the name Gwembe.
He travelled only about 20 miles before he entered tsetse area and had to abandoned his wagon. From there he travelled on foot. About halfway between Inyati and the Zambezi River:
Forty years ago … the whole country was thickly populated by the Amatongo and the Abayeye tribes; but the Makololo, led by Sebetwane from the north, and the Amandabele, commanded by the terrible Umzilikazi from the south, hemmed them in on either side, and compelled them either to submit to their aggressors or to seek safety in flight. … Of the tens of thousands who formerly inhabited these vast regions, none remain.
The uninhabited land continued until they reached the Zambezi river. One of the guides said that it had been like that since 1855 – 12 years.
On our arrival at the south bank of the Ukwempi, the first person we saw was a young woman who belonged to the Abahunti tribe. Discovering our presence, she seemed paralyzed, and nearly fainting. She trembled, stared, hesitated, turned round, and fled.
The news of our arrival had spread rapidly all over the district, and the whole of the river, for a mile, was now covered with fugitives, their goats, and provisions, in canoes, and moving in a mass towards the opposite bank for safety.
After the people had got to know Morgan Thomas Morgan and his team, the people relaxed and they talked.
The natives of these regions live in small villages. Each village is ruled over by a head man, its citizens being a harmless, simple, industrious people, and their pursuits agriculture, fishing, smithing, boat building, and hunting. Their villages are situated on elevations at irregular distances from each other.
When pleased at anything said, these people clap their hands and exclaim, “Mowa! Mowa!”
Thomas Morgan Thomas wants to cross the river in order to walk to Victoria Falls. He waits to see the chief who lives on an island. The chief is called Mosinangompi, and he eventually agrees to take Thomas Morgan Thomas to the island and then to the north bank.
While engaged in conversation, two short, black, intelligent looking men, carrying a gun each, and slightly clothed, made their appearance at the village gate. Seeing me, however, they immediately set off at full speed. They were Abazungu fore-runners, sent by a large company that would follow with various articles of trade, to announce their approach and tell the Abatonga to bring out their ivory and children intended for sale.
Abazungu was a general term for slave traders. The Abazungu were working for the Portuguese, probably they were Chikunda. The destination of slaves and elephant tusks was Tete.
It is not clear exactly where Thomas Morgan Thomas arrived on the Zambezi River, but I think it is likely that it was Wankie’s. The people were not Tonga but refugees from present-day Zimbabwe. Thomas Morgan Thomas calls them both Abatonga and Abahunti, but if it was Wankie’s, then they would be today’s Nambya.
Thomas Morgan Thomas did not get to see Victoria Falls. The people refused to let him and his party cross the river the following day. Also Thomas Morgan Thomas was ill with malaria and felt that he should return back to his wagon.
As a footnote, Thomas Morgan Thomas had a son named David. David Thomas became a trader, with a trading post on an island in the Zambezi River. While on a visit to Tongaland, he was killed by the Tonga in the 1880s.