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Nguni people

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Title: Nguni people  
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Subject: Southern Ndebele people, Ngoni people, Zulu language, History of Africa, Animal husbandry in South Africa
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Nguni people

Nguni people speak Nguni languages and currently reside predominantly in Southern Africa.


The ancient history of the Nguni people is wrapped up in their oral history. According to legend they were a people who migrated from the north to the Great Lakes region of sub-equatorial Central/Southeast Africa.[1] They migrated southwards over many centuries, with large herds of Nguni cattle, probably entering what is now South Africa around 2,000 years ago in sporadic settlement, followed by larger waves of migration around 1400 CE. Nguni peoples are pastoralist groups, part of the greater Bantu group occupying much of the East and Southern parts of Africa.

Many tribes and clans were forcibly united under Shaka Zulu. Shaka Zulu's political organisation was efficient in integrating conquered tribes, partly due to the age regiments, where men from different villages bonded with each other. The Nguni tribes kept similar political practises to those used by Shaka Zulu.

During the southern African migrations known as mfecane, the Nguni peoples spread across a large part of southern Africa, absorbing, conquering or displacing many other peoples.

Social organization

Within the Nguni nations, the clan — based on male ancestry — formed the highest social unit. Each clan was led by a chieftain. Influential men tried to achieve independence by creating their own clan. The power of a chieftain often depended on how well he could hold his clan together. From about 1800, the rise of the Zulu clan of the Nguni and the consequent mfecane that accompanied the expansion of the Zulus under Shaka, helped to drive a process of alliance between and consolidation among many of the smaller clans.

For example, the kingdom of Swaziland was formed in the early nineteenth century by different Nguni groups allying with the Dlamini clan against the threat of external attack. Today the kingdom encompasses many different clans who speak an Nguni language called Swati and are loyal to the king of Swaziland, who is also the head of the Dlamini clan.

"Dlamini" is a very common clan name among all documented Nguni languages (including Swati and Phuthi).


Ngunis may be Christians (whether Catholics or Protestants), or practitioners of African traditional religions, or they may practise forms of Christianity modified with traditional African values (such as the Shembe Church of Nazarites).

Constituent peoples

The following peoples are Nguni:
People Language Population Distribution
Swazi Swazi 2,258,000 Swaziland, but also in South Africa around the Swazi border. Their homeland was KaNgwane.
Phuthi Phuthi 49,000 Near the Lesotho-South Africa border in the Transkei region.
Zulu Zulu 10,964,000 Originally Zululand, but Blacks now identify themselves as Zulus all over Natal and as a minority in Eastern Transvaal and Gauteng. Their homeland was KwaZulu.
Xhosa Xhosa 8,478,000 Xhosaland. Their homeland was the Ciskei and the Transkei.
Thembu[n 1] Xhosa 750,000 Thembuland. Their homeland was in the Transkei (they are often considered a Xhosa sub-group)
Pondo[n 1] Xhosa Pondoland. Their homeland was in the Transkei (they are often considered a Xhosa sub-group)
Mfengu[n 1] Xhosa Mfenguland. Their homeland was in the Transkei (they are often considered a Xhosa sub-group)
Southern Ndebele Southern Ndebele 659,000 Central Transvaal
        Zonda 2nd generation[n 2]
Northern Ndebele (Matabele) Northern Ndebele 1,599,000 Matabeleland
Ngoni They do not have a language of their own but speak Tumbuka, Chewa, or Zulu. 2,044,000 Malawi
Total Nguni languages 26,801,000


  1. ^ a b c They are often amalgamated with the Xhosas since their language is Xhosa as well.
  2. ^ That is not the original Zonda tribes, but those formed by fleeing populations after and during the Mfecane.

Ngoni people who are Nguni by ethnicity, are found in Malawi (under paramount Chief Mbelwa and Maseko Paramouncy), Zambia (under paramount chief Mpezeni), Mozambique and Tanzania. In Malawi and Zambia, they speak a mixture of languages of the people they conquered such as Chewa, Nsenga and Tumbuka and their original language, Zulu.


  1. ^
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