The Umtheto cultural Festival
Malawi: Ngoni cultural festival uniting East and Southern Africa
They came from different parts of Africa to witness the occasion in Malawi in August 2019. Some came from South Africa in Durban, some from Zimbabwe in Ndebele land, Some from Southern Tanzania, others in Eastern Zambia and others in Mozambique. The festival was also waiting some to come as far as Kenya and Rwanda as well as Botswana.
This occasion in Malawi is called the Umtheto cultural Festival. It is takes place in Northern Malawi in Mzimba district. The festival is aimed at revamping the traditional values of the Ngoni people which is now being extinct because of the western culture as well as inter-marriages between tribes.
This gathering is also important because it also show cases their traditional dances. The ceremony also helps to know people from other countries. All the Ngoni people from various countries dance the same type of dance called Ingoma which is a war dance. It was a dance that their fathers danced when they were coming from victorious raids. Because both have the same type of dance, it binds them together as one people.
The Ngoni of Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho and some parts of Botswana have the same origins. The Ngonis from Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania are descendants of Zwangedaba, who run away from Tchaka in the present day South Africa (Stokes, Brown,1966pp 302-305). They are found in these countries because of Mfecane. This was a period of wars that erupted in Southern Africa as a result of ambitions of Tchaka King of the Zulus. During this period ethnic communities as well as tribes in southern Africa started moving north wards running away from such wars.
After Zwangendaba’s death in Ufipaland in Tanzania, his group divided up. Some went to Zambia; others remained in Tanzania and others went to Malawi. However, during the celebrations the three countries do it together. In Malawi, they have called it Umtheto (Nkhata, 2012). The same ceremony is called Nc'wala in Zambia (Chanda, 2014) while in Tanzania it is called Maji-Maji. They remember their kinsmen that died in the hands of the Germans during the 1905 rebellion. In South Africa it is called Umkhosi woMhlanga.
The kings of Kings (Inkosi ya Makosi) in each country mentioned sends a delegation and in most instances joins the delegation to celebrate with his fellow Amakhosi (Chiefs)
The Ngoni people of Malawi, Zambia, and Tanzania share some characteristics with some tribes in Southern Africa. They share the same linguistics features with the Swati of Swaziland, The Zulu of South Africa, the Xhosa of South Africa, and the Ndebele of Zimbabwe (Mithi, 1996 in Phiri and Ebner 1955 et. al). A combination of the Ngoni in all these countries mentioned makes them a great tribe.
The Umtheto ceremony has various themes each year. In 2016 the theme was fighting harmful practices which has contributed to climatic change as evidenced by the drying of rivers. These harmful practices include shifting cultivation, cutting down of trees for charcoal as well as cultivation along river banks.
Plans are underway for the respective countries to teach this Ngoni/Zulu language as well as their culture so that young people who will be born in the future should know where their forefathers came from.
Now that various countries are coming together, clans have started looking for their kinsmen that were separated from them during the Mfecane. These include the Ziba-Sambiri clan .They claim that a younger brother to their ancestor refused to come back and his descendants are found in Tanzania and Uganda , while part of their clan are in Zambia, Zimbabwe as well as South Africa(Mpumalanga).