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The Lost Kingdom (Part 13)– MWALI’S REVENGE

We left off c.1827-28 with the Banyayi Mambo Chilisamhulu’s son Ntinima failing in his efforts to convince either his father or the Basenete She Tombale to offer a share of captured cattle to the Mwali oracle in thanksgiving for their people’s victory over the Bangwato Kgosi Kgari.

Ntinima is then said to have taken some of his own cattle to make a personal offering Mwali. But, the priestess was not placated, asking Ntinima why he was bringing cattle when the owners of the country were still refusing?

She further added that both Chilisamhulu and Tombale had become hallow like pumpkins, which she would soon pick holes in.

Ntinima relayed Mwali’s threats back to the pair but neither would listen, saying that Mwali was a useless old woman.  The Mambo added: “The one who stays in the cave is the one who will die in the cave.”

At that moment, it is said that the voice of Mwali was heard out of nowhere cursing the Mambo, speaking first from a house and then from a tree. The Mambo had the house burned down and the tree chopped and burned, but the voice remained, cursing through the wind. 

Thereafter, a new group of invaders arrived from the south bearing long stripped shields. Locally referred to as Maswazi, they were otherwise known as Amangoni who swept through the Zimbabwe, later followed by the Amandebele. Most of the first wave of invaders did not stay. An exception was a small but disciplined group led by the female warlord called Nyamazana, who had broken away from the long march of the Jere-Ngoni Nkosi Zwagendaba in order to settle in the heart of Bukalanga.

Thereafter, she succeeded where both Zwagendaba and Kgari had failed by defeating Tombale’s forces. Deserted on the battlefield, it is said that Tombale committed suicide by poison.

Nyamazana then pressed her advantage by moving rapidly against the now isolated Chilisamhulu. According to some sources, the king and his retainers also committed suicide to avoid capture after being cornered at Manyanga.

The death of the Mambo did not put an immediate end the struggle. One of his sons, Chigadzike, was proclaimed as the new Mambo with the support of the royal guard, including the gunmen still under Ninjigwe.

Yet, despite the demise of both Chilisamhulu and Tombale, it is said that the Mwali still chose to feed on Banyayi misfortune.

In 1839 Nyamazana’s warriors were reinforced by the much greater Amandebele horde of Nkosi Mzilakazi who had migrated through eastern Botswana following their defeat by the Voortrekkers and allied Batswana. The two groups united, with

Nyamazana becoming one of Mzilakazi’s Queens.

The expanded Amandebele decisively defeated Chigadzike’s Banyayi at a place called Dzimbabwana. Initially, the Banyayi had the advantage of possessing guns and control of the high ground, but Mwali was not with them:

“And the Banyayi had the royal guns with them, which were kept by Ninjigwe, the one who used them...Then they saw that the Amandebele had climbed the mountain on which they were.

They then told Ninjigwe: Aim at them with the guns! Aim at them! But when Ninjigwe was shooting with his gun, he found that only smoke and water came from it and that it was no more making a sound.”

Soon thereafter there was seen from the mountain a rainbow stretching across the middle of the mountains where the Banyayi army was. And then the voice of Mwali was heard say:

“Amandebele! Sons of the sky! I have got hold of the gun that shoots. I have got a hold of it and it won’t shoot anymore. So bring the Banyayi down and kill them.

Those who remain must be chased to the Zambezi. I once told Chilisamhulu, when he did not want to obey me, that we would meet again. Today is the final day I spoke of.’ The Banyayi then saw that they were defeated.”

A secular interpretation of the above is that it must have rained during the battle, in which case Ninjigwe’s muzzle-loading muskets would indeed have been rendered useless by the dampening of gunpowder.

With the defeat of Chigadzike and Ninjigwe, the remnant of the Banyayi royal holdouts turned to Chilisamhula’s surviving son Ntinima who is said to have retained the affection of Mwali. For some time they held out from his hilltop stronghold at Buxwa before fleeing to the north-east where merged among the Vazezeru.  

Still other holdouts rallied around a local ruler named Chilagwane, who were ultimately surrounded in a number of nearby mountains, with the main body of defenders at a place called Dokonobe.  Unable to initially take the high ground by force, the Amandebele besieged the defenders who ran out of food and water. Some escaped into Botswana, while others perished or were forced to submit. With the fall of Dokonobe and flight of Ntinima the era of the Bakalanga kings was over.

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