E-Learning and Teacher Education




Ngoni in East Africa
Ngoni from South Africa
Learners' activities



  • They began their movement from South – East Africa in Northern Zululand under the leadership of Zwangendaba in 1820.

  • The Ngoni migration took place in the 19th century, and was the last major movement of Bantu people into East Africa.

  • There were 3 groups of the Ngoni in East Africa i.e. the Ngoni Tuta, the Ngoni Gwangara and the Ngoni Maseko.

  • They then crossed River Zambezi and River Limpopo and moved northwards in search of new areas.

  • Later in 1835, they divided into two groups. One group under the leadership of Zwangendaba passed west of Lake Malawi and settled at UFIPA in 1840. They were attracted to this area here because of the many herds of cattle around.

  • Zwagendaba led the biggest Ngoni group that entered East Africa. They crossed the Zambezi River, moved through Malawi and Zambia until they reached the Fipa plateau in around 1840’s. Zwagendaba died here in about 1845, and his followers  splint up into five sections. Three sections returned south to Zambia and Malawi, while the other two, i.e , the Tuta and Gwangara sections remained at Ufipa.

  • Another group under the leadership of Induna Maputo (Maseko Ngoni) passed East of Lake Malawi and settled at Songea.  When Zwangendaba died around 1845, the Ufipa ngoni disagreed and plit in to five groups.

  • Two groups remained in East Africa,i.e Tuta and Gwangara Ngoni

  • Three groups moved out of East Africa that is to say, one group moved to Malawi and the two moved back to Zambia.

  • The Tuta Ngoni, the smallest group left Ufipa, moved northwards fighting and clashing with the Holoholo near Lake Tanganyika. They disrupted the trade route between Tabora and Ujiji.In the 1850s they invaded the Nyamwezi capturing many and incorporating them in their ranks. They finally settled at Kahama South of Lake Victoria.

  • The Gwangara Ngoni under the leadership of Zulugama moved eastwards to
    Songea    where they met the Maseko Ngoni. The two groups fought and the
    Maseko Ngoni were defeated and pushed out of Songea in 1860s.

  • Some of the Maseko moved back to Mozambique while others moved to Kilombero valley where they became known as the Mbunga.

  • Another splinter group moved to Newala, Masasi and Tunduru.

  • From Songea the Ngoni raided widely, finally settling in Southern Tanzania among the Bena, Hehe and Sangu. The Ngoni migration, which started around 1820’s, had ended by the year 1860s.







  • The Ngoni came in big numbers and were strong. On their way they absorbed or fought off the people they encountered, capturing young men for warriors and young women for wives.

  • They had good military organization with age-regiments called “impis”. (strong army)

  • The Ngoni had a large, well-trained and disciplined army. They were grouped in age-regiments which were maintained for long periods. The Ngoni did not cultivate but rather lived by plundering from others. This enabled them to have a standing army always ready for battle.
    They had superior weapons such as the short stabbing spear (Assegai) and big cowhide shields, which only left a soldier’s face exposed to the enemy, protected the warriors. Instead of the long-throwing spears which had to be thrown one by one, the Ngoni adopted short-stabbing spears and clubs known as Assegai, copied from Shaka the Zulu.
    On the other hand their enemies used long –throwing spear. They used these for close hand to hand combat, and the warriors could be protected by large cow-hide shields which left only a warrior’s face exposed to the enemy.

  • They had superior military tactics such as the cow horn method (semi-circle), which was unfamiliar in E. Africa. They fought in organized age-regiments and could attack their enemies using the cow-horn formation. They also chose clear open spaces for fighting and liked attacking their enemies by night.

  • They met small and fragmented societies, which were unable to challenge their military organization. Slave trade had undermined most of the communities of Southern Tanzania.

  • The Ngoni were successful due to their determination. They were determined to conquer and obtain places for settlement. This was due to the fact that they were already being chased away from their homeland, and their only alternative was to get determined and fight any people they came across.

  • The East African people were caught unaware and therefore did not offer much résistance. The Ngoni were successful because the local people whom they were fighting with were so weak and lived in small groups, which could not resist/challenge the sudden and unexpected Ngoni invasions.

  • Disunity among the East African people living in isolated societies, made it easy for the Ngoni to defeat them. The inhabitants were living in isolated societies which made it easy for the Ngoni to defeat them.

  • The Ngoni were fully united under their commanders. They were successful because of their unity and solidarity. They mixed freely with the non-Ngoni speaking people.

  • They had strong military leaders e.g. Zwangendaba, Induna and Maputo who were able to unite and command the Ngoni.

  • Applied the scorched earth policy hence taking people unaware. They burnt and destroyed crops.

  • They used assimilation policy, i.e. they absorbed the people they defeated. They would force the captured men from other tribes to join them and become Ngoni warriors.

  • They also made themselves fearful to their enemies by wearing the skeletons of their victims.


The Ngoni were a small group of people but were able to make their presence and authority fell by the local people because of their leadership, outstanding military efficiency and their capacity to absorb conquered people into their armies.

Militarily the Ngoni were organized in large standing armies and age regiments; People of the same age trained together, which brought unity and efficiency.

They used the short- stabbing spears called assegai rather than the long- throwing spears which meant that the warriors could attack more effectively at a close range.

They used large cowhide shields, which could not be easily penetrated by spears.

They used the cow horn method of surrounding an enemy and attacking from all sides giving the enemy little chance to escape.

They often fought on their feet and in open areas for easy movement.

They moved in large numbers which helped them to outnumber their enemies who were often caught unaware

They used to absorb and assimilate all conquered people.



Positive effects
  • The Ngoni invasion led to the rise of outstanding leaders to prominence. These included Mirambo, Nyungu ya Mawe and Mkwawa, who used the Ngoni military tactics to build their states.

  • Many small Ntemi chiefdoms came together (united) and formed larger political units under strong leaders to fight the Ngoni e.g. Sangu and Hehe. (re-organization)

  • There was formation of new societies (tribes) like the Mbunga.

  • The Hehe under Mkwawa were able to resist the Germans.

  • There was spread of Ngoni customs and culture. e.g Initiation ceremonies where girls were taught sex education and circumcision.

  • It led to formation of a larger Ngoni society in E.Africa as they absorbed many people.

  • It led to formation of some societies by those who used Ngoni tactics e.g. Nyamwezi under Mirambo.

  • It led to introduction of new weapons e.g. Assegai, cowhides and shields.

  • From the Ngoni invasion, people learnt how to get organized from smaller disorganized societies, to well organized bigger political systems. These were to be under the control and leadership of organized, strong and efficient rulers such as the Sangu chief, the Hehe, e.t.c.

  • There were intermarriages between the Ngoni and Nyamwezi,which subsequently led to improved relationships between the invaders and indigenous peoples, and an increase in population.


Negative effects
  • They caused wide spread loss of lives leading to depopulation in some areas where they got warriors this was especially in southern Tanzania. This was due to the killing of people in the expansionist wars, e.g., the Mariti remnants of Rugarugas killed so many people.

  • They introduced military organization and tactics to such an extent that the Ngoni lost their superiority e.g. Holoholo were able to defeat the Tuta Ngoni when they re- attacked them.

  • Their movement led to widespread devastation, depopulation and displacement of people.

  • They destroyed the economy of the people of southern Tanzania when they grabbed their cattle. (The Ngoni were cattle plunderers). The Ngoni invasion led to poverty, i.e., it led to the creation of a class of poor people as their property continued to be destroyed and persistently looted during the wars.

  • The Ngoni led to formation of refugees who lived by plundering and killing i.e. the Mariti and Rugaruga who were later used by ambitious men like Mirambo, Nyunguyamawe to make their empires.

  • The Tuta Ngoni, on their movement northwards, disrupted the trade particularly between Tabora and Ujiji.

  • There was loss of peoples’ language, culture and customs (Detribalisation of people). i.e., The raids caused many people to become homeless and tribe less. This led to people losing their identity. In addition, such groups became terrorists who lived by war, plunder, and hunting for ivory. They included the “ Ruga-ruga” who began hiring their services as mercenaries to any chief willing to pay them.

  • Ngoni disturbance disrupted normal cultivation leading to famine. There was widespread famine due to the scotched-earth policy of fighting. This included destroying crops and houses by burning. Under such circumstances, crops could neither be planted nor harvested, and people were forced to abandon farming.

  • They led to insecurity since the new weapons and military tactics increased warfare and aggression in East Africa.

  • The Ngoni intensified slave trade in East Africa, this was because they displaced people from their homes and so making it easy for slave raiders to get them and sell them.

  • It led to increased war-fare among the African societies, including those areas that had been peaceful before.


At the end of the 19th century, Germany colonised Tanganyika. The Ngoni were one of the groups that fought hard against the Germans. But in 1907 all the Ngoni chiefs were hanged for fighting. Today the Ngoni have married into the tribes they conquered. It is now difficult to know who is Ngoni and who is not. But their traditions and way of life continue.

Sample Questions

1.a) Who are the Ngoni?

   b) Why did they leave their cradle land?

2 a) Describe the Ngoni movement and settlement in East Africa

b) Why were the Ngoni able to defeat the inhabitants of East Africa 

3. What were the effects of the Ngoni settlement on the people of East Africa


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