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ABENGUNI: SOUTHERN AFRICA AND THE DESCENDANTS OF “MNGUNI”
PROFESSOR HERBERT VILAKAZI
(Lecture at Midrand Fire Station, 13 May 2010)
I very much hope that this shall be the first of many lectures, workshops, seminars, or symposia, in this country, aimed at correcting and reorienting the mind of Africans throughout the Continent of Africa, and, indeed, throughout the world.
We must begin, of course, at home, as with everything else; that is, we must begin with Africans in our own country. Going way back, Africans took it for granted that `no person, and no region of the world, is an island, and complete, by itself.’ Africans took the universality of the human being for granted. Indeed, Africans took it for granted that there is only one race, the human race, in Robert Sobukwe’s words. We also know, now, that human beings first emerged in this world here in the Continent of Africa. Africa is, indeed, the Mother of Humankind. Humankind first learned language, music, dance, philosophy, religion, art and the rest of culture, from Mother Africa.
It is from there, less than 100,000 years ago, that some of the children of Mother Africa began to leave her, to move to other regions of the world; as they moved, over thousands years, they changed skin colour, shapes of noses and lips, and texture of hair –and also developed variations of culture, and of language, and of rhythm to music. Underneath our skin colours, as some scientists have written, `we are all Africans.’
Tens of thousands of years later, some of Mother Africa’s children, from some regions of the world, having forgotten their original relationship with Mother Africa, came back and abused their own fellow brothers and sisters in Africa, and carried millions to be slaves in other regions of the world. Africans, Arabs, Indians, Asians, Europeans, Jews, the peoples of the Americas, Latin America, the Pacific Islands, and the Caribbean, are all brothers and sisters long lost to one another emotionally and mentally. Is there any drama and pathos in the world, in literature and art, which surpasses this drama and pathos, the drama and pathos in the Story of Africa? I assert there is absolutely none..
The Story of Africa is yet untold. It requires the depth, breadth, and height of genius and pathos far surpassing the genius and pathos of the greatest poets, artists, and dramatists known to the world so far. This is the greatest challenge facing us as African artists, dramatists, poets, historians and students of culture –to tell The Story of Africa. The greatest challenge facing all of us in the world, as human beings, is to restore the original relationship which existed between Africans and all the peoples of the world. That is the greatest challenge of Humanism in our time.
Let us begin at home, in our region of Africa. Here is my argument, which is a tiny, tiny part of the yet untold Story of Africa.
A large segment of the peoples of Southern Africa are descendants of the Primeval Father called “Mnguni”, much as most people in the Old Testament are descendants of the Primeval Father called “Abraham”. The argument in this address is that most of these peoples of Southern Africa, definitely those of South Africa, are actually close brothers and sisters, related by blood and culture. One of the most powerful evidence of original blood, or family, relationship, in the history of villages, nations, and civilizations, is language and culture. Here is a crucially important law in human history: “If genetic relationship among a number of languages can be demonstrated, it constitutes prima facie evidence that the ancestors of the speakers of those languages shared a common location at some time in the past.” (Reconstructing African Culture History, edited by C. Gabel and N. R. Bennett, 1967, p. 31)
The languages of the peoples of South Africa are genetically related, pointing to a distant common ancestry and home. AmaZulu, AmaXhosa, AmaSwazi, AmaNdebele, AbeSuthu, AbaTswana, AmaPedi, AmaVenda, AmaShangane, AmaTsonga, are all close brothers and sisters, with a common historical father, the Primeval Father “Mnguni”. What must be stressed is that this close “family” relationship of the African people of South Africa extends to the entire SADDC region, indeed, to most of Africa.
Let me stress that our Primeval Father also had brothers and sisters, and the elders of the family, and ancestors, some of whom moved and migrated to different parts of the Continent, West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa; Mnguni also had wives from certain families: all this provides a network of close blood ties with all of us. (a part of Nigeria, and DNA studies).
Here is an important point: when we speak of the Primeval Father, or Primeval Mother, we are sure of only one thing: that person did live; the actual details of his or her life are vague; myth and legend surround that person: but there are grains of truth in every historical myth or legend. ABRAHAM did live; HOMER did live; MNGUNI did live; however, the details of their life, i. e., year of birth, address, body size, etc., are vague. However, history is not guesswork: facts are needed to reach the conclusion that such and such a person lived, and such an event occurred. The test for the truth is this: there must be corroborative evidence around that person or that event, which leads us to the conclusion that such a person lived, or that event occurred. What corroborative evidence do we have in mind? Witnesses, near or far; the evidence of language/s and culture; skeletal, or bone remains; botanical, archeological, photographic evidence, etc.
Let me begin with the so-called “Nguni” people in South Africa –i. e., with AmaXhosa, AmaZulu, AmaSwazi, AmaNdebele. If you listen to the languages spoken by these people, and you think over the matter carefully, it becomes clear that these languages have a common parentage. I shall repeat the principle from linguistics I quoted above: “If genetic relationship among a number of languages can be demonstrated, it constitutes prima facie evidence that the ancestors of the speakers of those languages shared a common location at some time in the past.” (Reconstructing African Culture History, edited by C. Gabel and N. R. Bennett, 1967, p. 31)
Since the African Slave Trade and Colonialism, it has been taken for granted that Africa and Africans have no history, except the history of Europeans in Africa; except the history of interaction between Europeans and Africans at the start of modern history, and during Colonialism; except the interaction between Arabs and Africans; but very importantly, except the history of Africa as written by Europeans. The evidence used by Europeans in writing this history has largely been evidence they got from Archives, i. e., written memoirs, articles, and books written by Europeans who encountered Africans at the particular time. This is the evidence African history students, taught by Europeans, in universities using the European method, used as they studied for their history degrees.
A highly acclaimed European historian, the Oxford University Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper, wrote just before he died:
“Perhaps, in the future, there will be some African history to teach. But at present, there is none, or very little; there is only the history of the Europeans in Africa. The rest is largely darkness, like the history of pre-European, pre-Columbian America. And darkness is not a subject for history.” (Trevor-Roper, Hugh, The Rise of Christian Europe, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, London, 1965, p. 9)
We can dismiss this view as racist rubbish, astonishing that it is expressed in such a stark, uncompromising manner by one of the leading princes of European historical scholarship, housed at the leading European university, the pride of Western civilization, Oxford University. This is a measure of how far removed this scholarship, and practitioners, are from Humanism and from the truth.
There are no societies, no communities, and no families, without history. Writing is simply one of the means of communication, and of preserving knowledge. Societies, communities, and families without writing used other means, primarily what is called Oral History. History is stored in poetry, in drama, in music, in art, in memory, and in narration told from generation to generation. There were specialist historians who preserved historical knowledge.
AmaZulu, AmaXhosa, AmaSwazi, and AmaNdebele have a common parentage. The oral history still told by our historians up to our time, informs us that these people are historically close relatives. Professor Masilo Lamla, of Walter Sisulu University, in his Ph. D. thesis, confirms that “the original known name of the Xhosa people was Abe-Nguni…The name of chief Xhosa, a descendant of Mnguni, became the tribal name.” (Lamla, Masilo, Present Day Manifestations of Ancestor Worship Among the Southern Nguni, Department of Anthropology, University of Fort Hare, 1999, p. 36) Queen Mkabi, wife to King Shaka’s father, King Senzangakhona, who lived until 1879, recalls her family history thus: “…they continued to call themselves by their name of origin `Base Nguni’…I think most of the people of Zululand also came from the country of the Nguni people long ago, but they have formed new nations” (KwaZulu).
Oral history tells us that Mnguni and his people came down the river from Upper Africa (Behla ngesilulu).
Our preserved historical knowledge informs us that our Primeval Father, Mnguni, had 4 (four) descendants: UXhosa, USwazi, UNdebele, and Luzumane. Xhosa became the founder of AmaXhosa; Swazi became the founder of AmaSwazi; Ndebele became the founder of AmaNdebele; and Luzumane, the direct ancestor of King Zulu, became the founder of AmaZulu.
It is important to mention that Luzumane, who bore Zulu-1, came from UNDLUNKULU, i. e., the wife who bears the successor to the King. Therefore, it was known that the reigning King or Queen comes from that line. It is from this historical and cultural knowledge that the Zulu King sometimes wonders when there is the assertion that there are many Kings in the country; from this history and tradition the Zulu King considers himself to be the only culturally legitimate King.
I must stress, of course, that I am speaking here about the original historical fact; subsequent historical movements and politics have produced new facts. Let me make this clearer through this example: centuries ago, the King or Queen of England was the Ruler of England. That is a historical fact.
However, today, the King or Queen of England is not the Ruler of England. That is also an historical fact.
Each of these descendants of Mnguni moved, migrated, and established the respective communities of AmaXhosa, AmaSwazi, AmaNdebele, and AmaZulu, each one having its own leader. Hence Professor Lamla’s statement: “the original known name of the Xhosa people was Abe-Nguni…The name of chief Xhosa, a descendant of Mnguni, became the tribal name.”
We must stress, too, that linguistic evidence seems to suggest that Southern Sotho- and Northern Sotho-speaking people are most likely descendants of Mnguni. My Lecturer in Sesotho One introduced the course with this significant statement: “The skeleton of Sesotho is Zulu.” The living body, of course, is made up of both bones and flesh. In the history of languages, the flesh consists of similarities and differences that have persisted, changed, and developed in the course of migrations, time, and contact with differing environments and communities. Linguists must follow this line of research. Some of you present here, or reading this document, are enough linguists to follow this line of research; and I urge you to do this work for the sake of our proper self-knowledge as Africans.
The noted American anthropologist, George Peter Murdock wrote: “The nation known as the Nguni represents the southernmost extension of the Bantu.” (Murdock, George Peter, Africa: Its Peoples and their Culture History, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1972, p. 380) He then goes on to list communities throughout Southern Africa, Tanzania, and the Congo, that he considers branches of the Nguni tree. We must note that European and American scholars, in line with the political interests of European and American governments, were, and are still, keen to deny the unity of African people; they then started a scholarly process of differentiating Africans.
In line with the new concept of “Negro”, they then identified what they call “Negro Africa”, distinct from the part of Africa conquered and ruled by Arabs in northern regions of the continent. Above all, Egypt was intellectually detached from Africa, to suite the false and racist thesis that ancient Egyptian civilization was not created by Africans. The next urgent need was to say that Ethiopia was not quite African, because of the decisive significance of ancient Ethiopia in world culture, particularly in the history of `Western religion.’ The remainder consisted of indigenous Africans, those who were below the Sahara, hence the term “Sub-Sahara Africa.”
The indigenous Africans, those who created the yet unsurpassed civilization of Ancient Egypt, are the core population of Africa, who created African civilization. It is this stock of Africans which gave birth to all Humankind:
“Africa was the birthplace of all the various human species to walk this planet.” (Oppenheimer, Stephen, Out of Africa’s Eden: The Peopling of the World, Cape Town, Jonathan Ball, 2003, p. 51)
This was a relatively small group of people who are the ancestors of a population now exceeding 4 billion people:
“In fact, the genetic heritage of modern humans may be derived from a core of 2,000 -10,000 Africans who lived around 190,000 years ago.” (Ibid., p. 46)
Nguni people are a large part of this core African population, a large part of the indigenous Africans, which Western segregationists in scholarship call “Bantu”. This classification arose out of the classification of languages in Africa by Western linguists. Most of the languages spoken by the core African population were said to belong to the `family’ of “Bantu languages”; and these languages are related, i. e., they are genetically related. Remember, again: “If genetic relationship among a number of languages can be demonstrated, it constitutes prima facie evidence that the ancestors of the speakers of those languages shared a common location at some time in the past.” (Reconstructing African Culture History, edited by C. Gabel and N. R. Bennett, 1967, p. 31)
Abenguni are, therefore, genetically related to the South and North Sotho people, and to the indigenous African population at large. They have close relatives throughout the continent.
In spite of the enormous varieties found in Traditional societies and cultures of Africa, there is still a remarkable similarity cutting across this variety of African cultures. (Maquet, Jacques, Africanity: The Cultural Unity of Black Africa, London, Oxford University Press, 1972; Diop, Cheikh Anta)
Africans before the irruption of capitalism on the continent took their Pan-Africanism for granted. A philosophical and psychological premise for Africans was: “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, and “Induku enhle igawulwa ezizweni.” King Shaka instructed one of the Englishmen who had come to his palace as follows: “Go back to you King, and inform him that I say he should unite all the White nations; I shall unite all the Black nations; then we shall unite”.
The last point, all testifying to the original Pan-Africanism of Africans, is the following: What today is the ANC, the African national Congress, was originally not founded as a South African political organization. It was founded as a Pan-African movement, to work for the liberation of the entire continent, and of all African people, from European conquest and European rule. It was founded largely by Kings and Queens of Africa, who sent delegates to Bloemfontein in 1912 –all the African Kings and Queens within South Africa sent delegates; together with the Kings and Queens of Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, the Congo, Malawi, Uganda, and others. The Anthem “Nkosi Sikelela i Africa” became an Anthem for all the peoples of Southern Africa. The ANC originally was, as it were, founded as the AU, the African Union, at the beginning of the 20th century. King Sobhuza’s Grandmother, UNdlunkulu Gwamile, made, perhaps, the greatest contribution in supporting the ANC. Her Royal Highness even had Dr. Pixley ka Seme, and Vilakazi from Ladysmith, to come and work from Swaziland! They became the tutors to the young prince, Sobhuza; and also assisted UNdlunkulu and the young King Sobhuza in working out a strategy for fighting against European colonialism.
This consciousness and feeling should be reawakened and strengthened among all Africans. This, of course, should have immense emotional, behavioral implications, as well as political, economic implications.
The conflicts and massacres occurring in Africa in our time seem to invalidate any talk of African Humanism and Pan Africanism, any talk of Ubuntu.
The present greatest problem in Africa is the absence of a correct strategy for economic and social development. African leaders, including South African leaders, are still not pursuing a correct development strategy. Poverty, unemployment, social decay, and emotional pathologies are on the increase, as a direct result of the failure of development, as a direct result of wrong development policies being followed by African leaders, including our own leaders. Conflicts, xenophobia, sexual abuse, the shocking scale and types of diseases afflicting African people, and all sorts of pathologies, are a direct result of wrong economic and social policies. We need to allocate time and sessions to discuss this issue in depth.