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The Lost Kingdom (Part 6)

We left off c. 1685 with the Banyayi ruler Chilisamhulu having usurped the throne of the last Mambo of the Chibundule dynasty; thus establishing himself as the new supreme ruler over the Bakalanga and neighbouring communities living in what are today north-east Botswana, Southwest Zimbabwe and northern South Africa.

It was only after his having united all of the Bakalanga that the one who grew up as Chilisamhulu, son of Maluzapi, became known by the praise name, Nichasike, Lord Cha the creator.

Following his overthrow of the Chibundule lineage, he is further known to have next turned his warriors against the Portuguese slave traders in the east driving them out of the hills of Zimbabwe. The whites and their allies quickly learned to fear Nichasike, whom they knew as Changamire. From his throne the new Mambo boasted:

“Ndimi Nichasike, waMaluzapi, wa Madlazwegwendo; Imi Nichasike, wakasika nyika; Imi mhulu yobupfuko, Mhulu yoNsikanyika, Isingabakigwe ngelupango gunopfusiwa ngelukonye. “Mhulu yobupfuko inobakigwe ngeluswingo gwamabwe gusingapfusiwe ngelukonye.”

Translation: “It is I, Nichasike, son of Maluzapi, son of Madlazwegwendo; I  Nichasike who created the earth; I the calf that butts its way in, the calf of the Creator of the Earth, for which cannot be built with a pole which is bored by worms. “The calf is butting its way in, for which is built a wall of stones which cannot be bored by a worm.”

For their part, the Portuguese records confirm the in June 1684 they suffered defeat by an army of “Rozwi” under a ruler identified as “Changamire Dombo” at Maungwe in what is now eastern Zimbabwe. In the decade that followed Dombo is credited with driving the Portuguese permanently out of the Zimbabwe plateaux, in the process bringing the Mutapa, Manyika, as well as Maungwe kingdoms under the temporary suzerainty to his “Rozwi Empire.”

In the above context, Dombo has understandably come to be seen as an early national and anti-colonial icon in post-colonial Zimbabwe. His sudden appearance in north-eastern Zimbabwe as a conquering liberator has, however, tended to obscure Changamire’s roots and legacy amongst the Kalanga/Karanga. This is in part due to the challenge of establishing historical continuity in the context of labels whose translation may be debatable as well as situational and evolving. 

There is, however, little dispute that the warrior-king known to the Portuguese as Changamire is one and the same as the Nichasike, more fully Chilisamhulu Nichasike Dombolakonachingwango, of Ikalanga traditions.

The Nichasike or Changamire dynasty ruled over the Bakalanga kingdom for over a century and a half (c.1680-1835), before being overthrown by Nguni invaders during the Difaqane era.

There appear to have been at least two centres of royal authority during the Nichasike era. The razing of Bawumbe capital at Khami was

followed by the construction of the royal enclosures at Danamombe (or Dhlo-dhlo) and Naletale, which are located between Bulawayo and Gweru. While Danamombe and Naletale survive as heritage sites, like similar ruins throughout the region they were ransacked by early European treasure seekers, resulting in an immeasurable damage and loss of historical evidence. In October 1894 one party is reported to have removed 607 ounces of gold artefacts from Danamombe during a single dig. 

Ikalanga traditions further insist that Nichasike also established himself in the Matopos at a place he called Mabwe Dziba. This name, which may be translated as “the stones that protect”, is said refer to the shrines of Mwali/Mlimo (Mwari/Modimo) at the site rather than the decorative stone walls favoured by the Banyayi/Rozwi elite. In this respect a division between secular and spiritual authority evolved under the Mambos focusing on the worship of Mwali. Banyayi sources credit the elevation of Mwali as the supreme God to Nichasike, who is said to have turned to the Lubimbi (Venda) high priest Sabaswi. But, others date Mwali’s status amongst the Bakalanga much earlier to a prophet known as Mbire. What is certain is that under Nichasike rule, Mwali oracles of Venda origin enjoyed superior status as royal advisors. 

After consolidating his rule over the Balilima, Nichasike expanded the boundaries of the old Chibundule (Butwa) state. As a result of his military campaigns in the east, the Portuguese slave traders were permanently driven out of the Zimbabwe plateaux.

Thereafter, Nichasike was able to at least temporarily impose his suzerainty over the Mutapa, Manyika, and Maungwe kingdoms.

Along with his successors, he also expanded the hegemony of his “Rozwi Empire” to the south and west into modern Botswana as far as Mahalapye and the Venda lands in what is now the Limpopo Province of South Africa. Chilisamhulu Nichasike’s personal praise poem thus celebrated his prowess as a conqueror:

“Ndakuna, ndabaka, ndayibambula nyika, ndakuna, ndabe Mambo, ngobe ndabaka, ndayibambula nyika yaChibundule. Ndima ndabe Mambo. Kuti ndabaka, ndayibambula nyika. Ndayilaula, ndabaka, ndahombela; chowodla nkoma chaha ndiponi.”

Translation: “I have conquered and I have built, I have extended the country, I have conquered and I am King, for I have extended the country of Chibundule. It is I who is King. I built and extended the country. I have ruled it and built and reinforced it; that which would destroy the Kingdom from where will it enter?”

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