E-Learning and Teacher Education




Ngoni in East Africa
Ngoni from South Africa
Learners' activities



Who were the Ngoni?

The Ngoni were Bantu-Nguni speaking people of Northern Zululand in South East Africa. They were originally Ndwandwe people under Zwides leadership. But when Shaka defeated Zwide, one part of his group, the Ngoni moved to East Africa under Zwangendaba.

In origin, the Ngoni, were close relatives of the Zulu. They were full- time warriors and cattle plunderers hence disliked by other tribes, so they forced them away. They were pushed further north and eventually reached southern Tanzania.

They were forced out of South Africa by the “Mfecane” wars led by Shaka the Zulu. They came to be known as the Ngoni having absorbed the Thonga, Shona and Cewa on their way to East Africa.

The Ngoni migration began among the Bantu peoples of South Africa, who entered into E. Africa in the 1840’s. They were the last Bantu migrants to come to East Africa. They migrated into two largest groups of the Maseko and Tuta Ngoni.

The Ngoni broke the Monomotapa Kingdom, settling respectively on the eastern side of Lake Nyasa  (Malawi) at Songea, and on Ufipa plateau.

They moved to Tanzania from Natal and Swaziland between 1820 and 1840 due to the Mfecane (time of trouble).  They are direct descendants of the Zulu.  They are currently settled in South West Tanzania around Songea town.   

The Ngoni invasion illustrates the influence of external forces on the lives of the indigenous people.   The Ngoni brought innovation and changes such as military techniques, skill and weapons.  A study of the Ngoni would enable students appreciate the current settlement patterns and way of the life of the people of Southern Tanzania.


The end of the topic students should be able to:

  1. Describe who the Ngoni were and identify the area where they came from

  2. Explain the reasons why they migrated

  3. Describe the course of their movement and settlement

  4. State why they were able to defeat the inhabitant of Southern Tanzania

  5. Explain the effects of their migration on the people of East Africa.


Reasons for the Ngoni migration

  1. It was due to fear of being absorbed into the empire of tyrant Shaka.

    The Ngoni migrated due to the tyrannical and dictatorial rule of Shaka, the Zulu ruler who was everything in his kingdom. His cruelty was shown when he lost his mother, and put people under severe signs of mourning. Those who refused to cry for his mother’s death were killed,so they decided to seek refuge by migrating to other areas.
  1. They moved because of external pressure from the British and the Boers in the South who were moving northwards occupying their land.

  1. It was due to over population, which was caused by the fertility of soils and reliability of rainfall between Drakensberg Mountains and the Indian Ocean.

  1. Due to overpopulation there was land shortage hence land disputes, which led to forcing them to migrate to other areas.

  1. Some owned large herds of cattle hence moved northwards looking for pasture and water for their animals. So, they wanted to look for more fertile land for grazing their cattle.

  1. It was also due to epidemic diseases such as smallpox and sleeping sickness that affected them.

  1. They could have moved because of famine and drought that led to lack of food and water.

  1. It was because of influence of men like Zwangendaba, Maputo and Zulugama who provided good leadership. This encouraged them to move on wards.

  1. They migrated because of the spirit for Adventure.(Need to see what was beyond them).

  1. The leaders wanted to take over power in the areas they defeated, which was not acceptable to Shaka forcing some groups to migrate to other areas.

  1. They were fed up with the old traditional political system, which encouraged dictatorship and therefore wanted change, which could be achieved through migration.

  1. It could also have been due to overstocking of their animals. They migrated due to their spirit of cattle rustling, i.e they had great desire to steal other people’s cattle. For example, they went on driving away and confiscating other people’s cattle during their conquest and expansionist wars.

  1. They migrated due to the increased knowledge of military tactics by the age regiments. These were powerful military forces and dedicated to professional war, which was their livelihood.  They believed that they could other territories through migration.



Teachers' Notes

Scheme of work

Lesson plan

Learners' activities

Introduction to migration answer


Introduction to migration

The Ngoni and the Zulu

Zulu and the Mfecane

Useful web links
Ngoni fighting methods
The Mfekane (Wikipedia)

N.T.Nwaezeigwe (1997) "Ngoni", Rosen