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The Lost Kingdom (Part 12) – Mwali’s Curse

We last left off c.1827 with Banyayi forces having mobilised against the Bangwato Kgosi Kgari’s invaders.

The local Ikalanga commander was the Basenete She Tombale, who was to receive reinforcements, including royal gunmen under the leadership of Ninjigwe.

According to Masola Kumile’s Ikalanga texts, Tombale’s men ambushed and defeated Kgari’s force at Matopos prior to the arrival of Ninjigwe’s reinforcements. All sources are in agreement that the battle was a disaster for Kgari’s followers, with the Phuti numbering amongst the fallen.

In addition to surviving Ikalanga and Setswana traditions, at least two eyewitness accounts of the campaign, both by Batswana, have been recorded. One account was related by Sechele’s brother Kgosidintsi to the missionary Willoughby in 1902, shortly before his death. The other by Senang Ditsela, a Mokaa who died in 1945, is of special interest insofar as his participation in Kgari’s ill-fated invasion, which took place no later than 1828, supports claims that he was one of the longest living humans ever on record. By the 1930s Senang’s longevity had begun to attract worldwide attention, resulting in his being interviewed for national radio broadcasts on five continents, as well as newspaper profiles.

Returning to our story, Tombale’s victory, and the resulting praise, was apparently resented by both by the Mambo Chilisamhulu Nichasike and his lieutenant Ninjigwe. As has been previously noted, it used to be the custom of the Bakalanga to have their women go with them on military campaigns. They helped carry supplies and cook food. It is also said that because of the presence their wives the Bakalanga men dared not put up a half-hearted fight! This circumstance provides a context for the following passage, from Kumile’s texts:

“It happened that the women, who went with the army of Tombale, were following a straight line behind the cattle that had been captured by Tombale and his army. With the great drum sounding, they sang: “Gono ndiTombale, ndiya gomo Dlamaxango. E! gono ndiTombale, Ndiye Tombale, Oh! Ndiye gono Dlamaxango, E! Dzene asiye Tombale. E! Ba Nhaba bowotswa mumoto! – That is the male one is Tombale; it is he the male one, the eater of the country. Yes! The male one is Tombale; it is he Tombale, Oh! It is he the male one the eater of countries. Yes is it not he, Tombale. Yes! Of Nhaba, he is going to be burned by the fire!”

Meanwhile the army of the Mambo that was led by Ninjigwe was following at the rear, being very quiet. Their strength drained, it is said that they had nothing to say with their gaping mouths. The women of the army of

Tombale continued singing until they arrived back at the villages, holding their hands at their mouths, ululating, and praising Tombale more than their Mambo.

All this reached the ears of the Mambo, it being said: “The army of the Mambo did not even reach the battlefield where the fight occurred between the army of Tombale and that of the Barwa [Bangwato and allies].”

The Mambo heard all of this, that the army that defeated the Barwa was that of Tombale, while that of Ninjigwe had turned back on the way without getting into the fighting. The Mambo is further said to have felt pain upon hearing that the women came back praising Tombale, saying: “The country was defended by Tombale, the child of Nisasi, the son of Ninhembwe.”

Kumile’s account goes further to state that, when the captured cattle arrived at the royal kraal, the Mambo had them divided giving some to Tombale, but keeping most for himself. But, perhaps in his jealous desire to assert his authority, it is said that the Mambo forgot about his debt to Mwali priestess who had warned of the invasion and provided for divine intervention to assure victory.

In these accounts, it is noted that the Mambo expressed his embarrassment about taking the cattle to Mwali, fearing the latter would join the people in praising Tombale. Perhaps Chilisamhulu then suspected that the principal Mwali priestess would support the war hero Tombale’s elevation over him.

As it was when Mwali saw how Chilisamhulu behaved, the priestess is said to have voiced the following curse: “Chilisamhulu wanditila bupitipiti. Ngono ndolebesa ayitobakwa iyeyi nyika, yali! chipwihe lakapwiha hou nenhema, ngentha yendandala dzidze, Chilisamhulu, inowopalala nyika, ayitobakwe.” [“Chilisamhulu has cheated me. So I am certain that the country will not be developed, indeed the country which is the refuge which gave shelter to the elephant and the rhinoceros [i.e. royal Banyayi], because of Chilisamhulu’s jealousy the country will perish.”]

One of the Chilisamhulu’s sons, Ntinima, pleaded with his father to placate Mwali. But his words fell on deaf ears. Ntinima also went to Tombale, calling on him to also offer cattle to Mwali. But, Tombale, having grown arrogant with the praises that had been bestowed upon him, also rejected Ntinima’s pleas, saying: “Mine are with Chigeledeka, I shall never agree to give them to that Mwali, the tall old woman who watches, being in the cave into which one cannot see. If she is so strong, why did she herself not go out and fight with those of Kgari?”

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