Heritage Month | History of the Nkuna Tribe

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The history of the Nkuna tribe. Photo: Supplied
The history of the Nkuna tribe. Photo: Supplied

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In the year 1833 Manukuse (Soshangaan), the leader of the Nguni tribe, announced the launch of a circumcision school at Bileni. All looked well. However, a year later in 1834, he was on the move. He left the area (Bileni), together with the Nkhavelana tribe, the Mabunda tribe and several others and headed to Nkanghala (Rhodesia).

However, the Mabunda tribe, under the leadership of Gulatino Nyongana and his tribe; Nkhavelana and his tribe; as well as Shilubana, leader of the Nkuna tribe, broke rank with him (Manukuse) at Mithi (the Limpopo River) and returned to Bileni – where they came from.

Manukuse proceeded with his journey to Nkanghala (Rhodesia).

As the Nkhavelana and Mabunda tribes were returning to Bileni, they encountered the Mbokota tribe, led by Hosi Khosa, at Mithi. A battle broke out between the two parties. This battle was known as the Abango.

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Manukuse arrived at Nkanghala. When he was still there, he sent word to Hosi Shilubana, leader of the Nkuna tribe, ordering him to take good care of his land and promising to return. These terrible tidings sparked fear in the Nkuna tribe. Their fear of Manukuse was palpable.

They said: “We know him [Manukuse], he is seething with anger, as we broke rank while with him and turned back on the way. He is vindictive and harbours grudges. When he returns, he will kill us one by one until we are all destroyed.”

In order to avert the imminent bloody annihilation, there was no alternative but to fight. They resolved and vowed to fight against him.

Hosi Shilubana went ahead with his people. When they arrived at Vulolwana, he had a dreadful dream. When he awoke, the picture the dream had conjured up in his mind was so terrible as it showed a bleak way forward.

Their fears were realised. The critical moment arrived in the winter of 1836. Manukuse arrived back from Nkanghala, reeling with anger, determined to destroy and kill any belligerent grouping, with his marauding forces. However, the Nkuna, Nkhavelana and Mabunda tribes stood their ground.

After a ferocious battle, the allied forces of the Nkuna, Nkhavelana and Mabunda tribes finally lost heart, disengaged. They fled before the enemy in their multitudes. They were defeated and scattered in all directions.

Hosi Shilubana, the leader of the Nkuna tribe, advised the Mabunda, Khosa and Rikhotso tribes to surrender, retreat and leave.

The Nkhavelana tribe slipped away quietly and migrated to Swaziland.

The Khosa and Rikhotso tribes resolved to stick with Hosi Shilubana and move with him wherever he intended to go, vowing to fight and conquer whatever tribe they encountered on their way and in their wake. But Hosi Shilubana sounded a cautious warning to their thoughts and commitment. He said: “What you are about to do is not good as those that will fall sick along the way will not be able to run if the enemy forces catch up with us.”

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After all the upheavals and deliberations on the way forward and the last death cry had sunk into silence, Hosi Shilubana and his tribe left the Rikhotso area and went to Maakana (eKhoseni).

After a stint at Maakana, he proceeded with his journey, crossed the Nkomati (Komati River), Sabe (Sabi River) and made his way to Nwamba.

Hosi Shilubana went ahead with his people. When they arrived at Vulolwana, he had a dreadful dream. When he awoke, the picture the dream had conjured up in his mind was so terrible as it showed a bleak way forward.

He felt that it was a premonition about the immediate future and the way ahead.

Naturally, he told his group to turn back.

Hosi Shilubana’s dream troubled him. It had been revealed to him that if they proceeded with his journey to Zululand, where they were headed, he would be safe but his people would be scattered and they would forsake him. As they retraced their route and crossed the Nkomati River, fatigue took its toll on Mabunda.

They were never to summit it. If they did, N’wagawana the soothsayer had warned and settled on the summit of the mountain, they would forfeit their Nkuna tribe status

He announced that he was so weary that he could not continue with the journey. He remained encamped by the river, with some of his people. Meanwhile, Hosi Shilubana led his tribe forward, with a few clans of the Mabunda tribe having decided to soldier on with him.

The clans were Nyavana, N’wankon’wana and Mthimkhulu. They retraced their route until they reached Timpukanini, where Muholo or N’wahungana was born.

Muholo or N’wahungana was, as a result, named Impukana. Muholo or N’wahungana was the child of Hosi Shilubana, the grandchild of Shikwambana.

When the Nkuna tribe left Timpukanini, they settled at eBokgaha in 1839. They settled alongside the Bokgaha people, who were under the leadership of a woman, Queen Maale.

Before the Nkuna tribe had left Vutsonga, their soothsayer N’wagawana had told them that, in order for them to have a paradisical future, fortune and wealth in abundance, and to live in harmony, they should move on until they reached a place with mountains (Switlala, Tintshava) on the horizon.

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So, when they reached Bokgaha, they immediately recalled what N’wagawana had said to them, in view of the environs.

N’wagawana had further foretold that they would find a woman leader and that was where they would settle.

The soothsayer had warned them strictly and emphatically against going up the mountain, however verdant green with lush grass or other vegetation or fertile it could look.

They were never to summit it. If they did, N’wagawana the soothsayer had warned and settled on the summit of the mountain, they would forfeit their Nkuna tribe status.”

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