We last left off in 1826 with Banyayi Kingdom enjoying a sustained period of peace and prosperity when Mwali oracles warned the Mambo (King) Chilisamhulu Nichasike of the coming of the “Barwa” (i.e. Batswana) of Kgari.
To the south-west of Chilisamhulu’s court the charismatic Bangwato Kgosi Kgari aKhama aMathiba had, in response to raids by the Bafokeng bagaPatsa or Makololo of Kgosi Sebetwane, assembled under his leadership a formidable coalition of merafe, including the Babirwa of Malema, Bakaa of Lebelwane, Bakwena faction of Segokotlo (regent to Sechele), Baseleka of Kobe, Batalaote of Matsoga, and Batlokwa of Leshage. From their base in the Khutswe hills Kgari’s followers had begun to press upon the borders of the Mambo’s kingdom.
The Bo-Kgari invasion, which culminated in a decisive battle at Matopos, was an important turning point. Its significance, however, must be placed in the context of the broader history of beneficial and seemingly largely peaceful contact between the Bakalanga and various other communities in the region.
In tracing the history of the pre-colonial Bakalanga kingdoms of the Balilima and Banyayi, this series has alluded to the existence of long standing interrelationships between the ancestors of modern Bakalanga with those of other communities such as Batswana, Bapedi and Bavenda, as well as various linguistically related Vashona groups. Indeed, as we have seen, members of various modern ethno-linguistic communities often share ancestors, whose common genealogies can still be traced.
Besides blood ties there is a long history of trade, cross-migration and shared culture.
In this respect it is notable that the battle between the followers of Kgari and Chilisamhulu is one of the few known examples of pre-colonial era armed conflict between Bakalanga and Batswana. By contrast both Setswana and Ikalanga traditions recall numerous internal conflicts.
Finally, it is notable that the conflict between Kgosi Kgari and Mambo Chilisamhulu is remembered as a mutual tragedy rather than a triumph for its victor.
For generations, the Bangwato mourned the passing Kgari who, in the 1871 words of John Mackenzie was remembered as: “The chief whose name is most cherished among the Bamangwato. Brave in the field, wise in the council, kind to his vassals, Khari was all that the Bechuanas desire their chief to be.”
In Ikalanga accounts of the Royal House by Kumile and others, the battle of the Matopos is remembered as the beginning of the end. For in the battle’s wake Chilisamhulu and his lieutenant, Tombale offended their protector Mwali. As a result the kingdom was left vulnerable.
The story as recorded by Kumile/Wentzel, begins:
“Kgari’s followers came to raid in the Banyayi country, fighting with them. They captured Banyayi cattle and went with them to their own country. When the saw that they had raided the cattle of the King (Mambo), they mixed them with their own and brought them and built kraals for them at Chibale, in the country of King Nichasike. They were self-confident, saying: “No one can raid them with us their owners present.
Mwali saw the Kgari’s followers keeping watch and eating madila. This hurt him very much so he sent for his priests and said: ‘Go tell Chilisamhulu.
“Then Mwali’s priests went to tell the King: “Kgari’s people have built for their cattle in your country. This means they are determined to destroy your country. So you must raise up an army and go and fight with them, so that it can raid all their cattle together with those of ours that have been raided.
Then, after the Banyayi army has raided them and returned with them, you, Chilisamhulu, must take them and bring them to me (Mwali) and I shall come to share out yours to you, taking mine that were driven away by them. You, I give you strength to go and conquer them and drive away all their cattle….So then the King, when he heard this, that Kgari’s people had come to build for their cattle in his country, he sent out an army led by Tombale, the hero of heroes.”
[Ikalanga text] - “Ngobe Barwa baKari bakabebva bakatasela muxango yabaNyayi begwa nabo. Bakatapa n’ombe dzabaNyayi, bakayrnda nadzo kuxango yabo. Ngono bakati bebona kuti batapa n’ombe dzaMambo, bakadzixanganya nedzabo,bakabe dzihisa bakadzibakila pedlo neChibale, muxango yaMambo Nichasike. Bakazwikanya bamasimba beti: “Akuna ungadzitapa tilipo iswi beni badzo. Ngono Barwa bakati bachakalingadla maxwe, kukati Mwali kakubona ikoku kukaunhwisa zwogwadza chose, katuma hosan dzidze, kati: ‘Indani, munobudza Chilisamhulu.’
“Ngono hosanna dzaMwali dzikayenda kunoleba kuna Mambo kuti: ‘Barwa bawobakila n’ombe dzabo muxango iyo. Oku wuti, bakazwimisila paladza xango iyo.
Ngono dusa ngwa inobhayana nabo, Barwa baKari, inodzitapa n’ombe dzabo dzose, itapilanye nedzedu dzabakadla. Ngono ngwa yaBanyayi inoti yadzitapa yabuya nadzo, iwe Chilisamhulu udzitole uwodzilesi kundili, ndowoha nkikukobela dzibe dzidzo, imi nditola dzangu dzabake badla. Iwe, ndokupa masimba unowobakunda ukadzidla dzose n’ombe dzabo, nedzedu dzabakadla; dzowobuya dzose dzedu nedzabo.”
Along the border region, the Banyayi were mobilised under the command of Tombale, the monarch’s proconsul in the south, while the Mambo also sent his royal guard under the leadership of a certain Ninjigwe. The latter force included the Mambo’s elite gun men, who in the European parlance of the time were quite literally musketeers (to be continued).