Tjilisamhulu’s fall after ridiculing Mwali

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By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

TJILISAMHULU did not take Mwali’s warning seriously.
He, in fact, ridiculed Mwali by saying: “Gonyepa lukadzikulu gunokalakata guli muguwu. Ndigo gunowofila muguwu.”
The English translation of the above is: “She is lying, the thin old woman who screams from inside a cave. She is the one who will die in the cave.”
Oral legend says that at that time Mwali’s shrine was at Mavula Matjena, now called White Waters, and the voice was that of a woman.
We hear that the same voice was heard again, this time in Tjilisamhulu’s palace a year or two later when it sounded as if it was from a big shady tree under which Mambo Tjilisamhulu used to hold national meetings or try cases.
“Tjilisamhulu, hhawutozwidla zwalino gole! Hango yapalala, Tjilisamhulu! Hhandizo kubudza? “(Tjilisamhulu you will not eat this year’s crops. The country is scattered, Tjilisamhulu! Didn’t I tell you?)
Tjilisamhulu ordered his servants to cut down and burn that tree. No sooner had that been done than the same voice was heard, that time coming from inside Tjilisamhulu’s bedroom hut, called gota in TjiKalanga.
The highly respected hut also went up in smoke following Tjilisamhulu’s order to burn it.
After that, the voice came from the air in the empty space over the palace. It went silent later, leaving Tjilisamhulu, his family and immediate entourage utterly flabbergasted.
That happened in about 1832 or 1833, some five or six years after mambo’s army commanded by Tumbale Bhepe routed the Ngwatos of King Kgari in 1827.
After that strange occurrance, a year passed during which Tjilisamhulu’s health experienced more lows that highs, and life was anything but pleasant for him.
In about 1835, a contingent of Swazi warriors invaded mambo’s kingdom. That time, Tjilisamhulu gave the command of his warriors to two men, Mazile and Hambale.
He deliberately spurned Tumbale, lest the nation praised him again through song and dance should he defeat the invaders as it did following his 1827 victory over the Ngwatos.
The Swazi warriors had been seen in the region near where Solusi Mission was later built by the Seventh Day Adventists in the mid-1890s.
It was thither that Mazile, Hambale and mambo’s army headed from Dzimbabgwana (Intaba ZikaMambo in today’s Matabeleland Province)
On arrival in the area where the Swazis had been sighted, the commanders sent a reconnaissance team to locate them.
The team soon returned with the necessary information about the Swazi contingent, that is to say its location and its estimated size.
The commanders decided to attack at the crack of dawn when the unsuspecting Swazis were expected to be under heavy slumber.
When the appropriate time came, mambo’s reconnaissance team could no longer locate the Swazi warriors, and an argument developed about whether or not the team had actually seen the Swazi camp or had made a false report.
So bitter did the argument become that Mazile, who supported the reconnaissance team, and Hambale, who expressed reservations about the team’s report, almost came to blows.
At that emotionally charged moment, Hambale’s bodyguard speared Mazile to death and Mazile’s bodyguard hit back by also spearing Hambale to death.
Mambo’s army was left leaderless and dumbfounded.
Soon after that double tragedy, mambo’s army located the camp of the Swazi warriors.
A messenger was sent post haste to Mambo Tjilisamhulu who dispatched Tumbale immediately, humbly advising him to let by-gones be by-gones.
Tumbale immediately collected his military paraphernalia, jumped on his fastest steer and, accompanied by a couple of old former councillors, headed for the war front.
The Swazi warriors had become aware of what had happened to mambo’s army by the time Tumbale arrived, and were laughing about it.
Tumbale did not waste any time but climbed on an anthill, declared solemnly: “Ndagala ngoma!” and blew a koodoo horn to order mambo’s army to attack.
To say: “Ndagala ngoma” is a TjiKalanga expression which means that there is no surrender in the encounter that will follow. It will be a fight to the finish, to the last person standing.
The battle raged, and men fell to spears and knobkerries, to arrows and to rocks.
Thrice did the BaKalanga warriors retreat, and thrice did they return as someone shouted: “Tumbale wagala ngoma!”
The Kalangas resumed the fight but only to fall to the highly trained and more experienced Swazis.
Eventually, what was left of mambo’s army took hard to its heels into the nearby hills, abandoning Tumbale to his fate on the anthill. Staring stark defeat in the face, Tumbale took some potent poison and died within minutes.
A Swazi warrior found his bloated body and pierced it with a spear.
Word was sent to mambo that his army had lost, but that the Swazi invaders were, in fact, returning to their country and not proceeding into mambo’s kingdom. The Swazi were actually a mere reconaissance group.
Tjilisamhulu called a big national meeting after that battle, briefed the people and asked them to choose a successor to Tumbale.
Many Kalanga oral traditionalists say that it was at that meeting that prince Lukwangwaliba was literally elected but not as a successor to his father, Tjilisamhulu, but to the commander, Tumbale.
There were two contestants for that position, the other being Tjigadzike (Chigadzike), a half-brother of Lukwangwaliba. Lukwangwaliba was assassinated two years later following successive droughts blamed on his name which means ‘drought’ in old TjiKalanga.
Some oral traditionalists say he was assassinated because they felt he would cause civil war following his replacement by Tjigadzike.
That must have been about 1935, give or take a year. No sooner had Tjigadzike become the national commander of mambo’s warriors than a larger Swazi army invaded the country. Incidentally, mambo’s warriors were called to duty only when there was a physical military threat to the kingdom, unlike Nguni military states that maintained regular standing armies.
Tjigadzike fought a few insignificant battles which he lost against the Swazi invaders.
The mambo kingdom was in fact coming to an end, and Tjilisamhulu was painfully aware of it.
He decided that he would have a form of a feast that would lead to his death and that of his wives and children.
He ordered the slaughtering of a number of cattle whose flesh was cooked as Swazi warriors were reportedly advancing against his Dzimbabgwana stronghold.
He said it was better to die on full rather than on empty stomachs. He is said to have declared to his family, servants and neighbours. “Atifeni tadla pana kufa tinahhala” (Let’s die having eaten rather than while we are hungry.)
But as the pots full of meat were on fire, the meat being almost ready to serve, Tjilisamhulu put some poison in each pot. Thereafter, the poisoned meat was served and all who ate it died shortly afterwards.
The Swazi invaders arrived four or five days later to find the whole village full of green flies, vultures, eagles, jackals, hyenas and other types of scavengers devouring the corpses unmolested.
Oral legend has it that a Swazi warrior who entered into a hut in which there was the mambo’s body, pierced it with a harpoon, he could not pull out the weapon from the corpse because of its barbs, and left it in the body.
We will not fail to notice that Mwali’s threat against Tjilisamhulu and Tumbale was fulfilled ndoba pubula semapudzi ( I will pierce them like melons).
The Swazi army then moved southward towards the Matopo Hills to attack Ntinhima, the most prominent surviving son of mambo.
His village was at the foot of Fumubgwe Mountain (later called Intaba Kayikhonjwa).
We will remember that Mwali had on several occasions promised Ntinhima that she would hide him in the roots of a grass stub.
That was when Mwali sent Ntinhima to Tjilisamhulu and Tumbale about her share of the cattle seized as booty by Tumbale from the Ngwatos of King Kgari in 1827.
So, when the Swazi warriors reached Fumubgwe Mountain, they found just one lorn hen that had not been carried away by its owner as Ntinhima, his family, servants and supporters fled eastwards because it was incubating and was hidden from the public.
The Swazis fell on Ntinhima’s trail and after three or four days found him and his people on Tjilala Buwha Mountain (Silalatshani Mountain). They tried for three days in vain to dislodge him.
After running short of food, the Swazi invaders left Ntinhima and went into the nearby countryside to procure provisions which were in the form of sorghum.
By the time they returned to the mountain, Ntinhima and his group had left for the Zvishavane Hills.
The Swazis found them there but were effectively repulsed during another three-day-long skirmish. Once again they ran out of food and had to abandon Ntinhima for the local villages.
During their absence, Mwali said to Ntinhima: “Ibva ipapa, unde kudombo lefulefu linoyi Ntjeka Wakapiyenyika kuhango yebaHera. Hhakuna unowokubhata. Ndowokusumbika mutshinde tjebuwha.”
(Leave this place and go to a long mountain called Ntjeka (the cutter) wakapiye nyika (that securely closes the country) in the land of the BaHera. No one will capture you. I’ll hide you in the roots of some grass).
He headed to the land of the BaHera, and he and his people hid in the mountain mentioned by Mwali, a natural fortress which soon after became the doom of the pursuing Swazi army.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. sgwakuba@gmail.com

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