The Ngoni in The Men Who Would Be Kings Rules

Here is my take on an alternative Feild force for using the Ngoni in games of TMWWBKs

The Ngoni were one of several groups of people from southern Africa displaced during the Mfecane of the early 19th century. Following defeat, at the hands of the Zulus, Zwangendaba Gumbi led his Nawandwe followers on a migration that eventually took them west of lake Nyasa and would see them reach the shores of Lake Tanganyika and settle on the Ufipa Plateau. Following Zwangendaba’s death in 1848 the Ngoni split into several groups. Some stayed in and around Ufipa and became known as Mafiti. A second group moved further north reaching Lake Victoria becoming the Tuta. A third group moved, under a chief named Zulu Gama, east and then south down the east side of Lake Nyasa and became known as the Gwangwara. Two other groups both led by sons of Zwangendaba (Mpezeni and Mhlahlo) would head back south around Lake Nyasa settling in the Heng valley and what is now eastern Zambia. 

A second group of Ngoni possibly of Swati (Swazi) origin also headed north in or around the same time as Zwangendaba’s Ngoni led by a Iduna called Ngwane. This group became known as the Maseko Ngoni, and they travelled northwest of Lake Nyasa settling at Songea in present day Tanzania. Sometime in the early 1860s the Maseko met the Gwangwara Ngoni moving back south and were defeated by them. This resulted in most of the Maseko Ngoni moving south into Mozambique and then west to settle near lake Nyasa in the 1870s.

When the Ngoni migrated north, they brought Zulu fighting techniques with them and this gave the Ngoni an advantage over the local peoples they encountered in battle. The early years of the Ngoni migration saw almost constant fighting in which the Ngoni were almost always victorious. The Ngoni would move into an area defeat the locals, enslave the men into their regiments, marry the woman and then raid their neighbours every dry season. Once an area was stripped of resources the Ngoni would move on and start the process somewhere else. This had two effects one was to give the Ngoni a psychological advantage over many of their enemies that lasted right up to the end of the period with many tribes living in abject terror of Ngoni attack. In reality this awe of Ngoni military power was probably not warranted in the closing decades of the 19th century. Certainly, Mpezeni’s Ngoni put up a very poor performance against the central African rifles compared to the resistance the Zulus and Matabele had shown in their wars against British.  The second effect was to spread the Zulu style of warfare to other groups like the Bena, HeHe, Mambwe and Henga to the point where the Zulu style shield and stabbing iklwa could be found all over east and central Africa.

Visually Ngoni warriors looked a lot like Zulus. The classic Zulu shield, stabbing spear called an Iklwa and tufts of a cow’s tail (amashoba) worn below the knee were all in use. There were also differences, as they migrated across Africa the Ngoni incorporated defeated local peoples into their groups. Local women were married off to Ngoni men, the young men were forced to serve in Ngoni regiments and others were turned into agricultural slaves. This resulted in the Ngoni language and traditions being supplemented with local customs and languages. Which gave Ngoni dress a style of their own. Red cloth was popular as wraps, belts or decoration. headdresses made of Zebra skin or black cock feathers were popular and not seen among the Zulus. The head ring (known as an isicoco and part of a man’s hair style) worn by married Zulu warriors seems to have fallen out of favour as the 19th century wore on. The Tuta around Lake Victoria took to fighting naked due to the climate. One interesting snippet in W.A.L. Elmslie book Among the Wild Ngoni is he reports Mhlahlo’s Ngoni daubing their faces with white clay as a sign they had killed a man battle. Throwing spears seem to have been more common among the Ngoni than the Zulus of Shaka’s time.

Ngoni military organization continued to be based on Zulu practices their armies were still called Impi and officers were still called InDuna even when other parts of the Zulu language dropped out of favour. It seems the Ngoni regiments came to be based on local villages rather than the military Kraals that the Zulus used. The Age set system was still used to recruit boys into the Ngoni armies but it’s not clear whether the regiments consisted of married men or unmarried men like the Zulus or just all warriors from the same locale. In at least one battle, against the Arabs, the young men (Amajaha) and the veterans (Amadoda) fought as two distinct groups. Regiments were organised into companies called Libuto by Lake Nyasa Ngoni. The number Libuto in a regiment nor the size of a Libuto seem to have been fixed.

Tactics wise the Ngoni seem to have continued with the time-honoured Zulu horns of the bull formation in open battle seeking to surround the enemy. Against stockaded villages Y.M. Cibambo mentions the Ngoni taking time to prepare an attack including the smoking of hemp and praise dances and not caring if their enemy knew they were there or not before rushing the stockade in the horns of the bull. Later in the century though the Ngoni had become far more cautious W.A.L. Elmslie describes two Ngoni attacks around lake Nyasa towards the end of the century in both cases the Ngoni opted for surprise attacks at night on villages. Elmslie describes an attack on a Nkonde village where Ngoni warriors placed themselves at the entrance to each hut in the dark and called out to the inhabitants. As the men came out, they were speared by the waiting Ngoni while the women were grabbed to be kept as slaves. In the second attack described by Elmslie the Ngoni attacked several villages near his mission station at dusk catching the defenders by surprise and forcing many of them to flee to his mission house for safety.

Guns never became part a major part of the Ngoni way of war. At the end of Mpezeni’s war, in 1898, the British found around 3000 guns in the king’s Kraal unused by the Ngoni against their British enemies despite facing a British army armed with breech loading rifles, machine guns and artillery the Ngoni had continued to fight with spears. Given the success of the Ngoni way of war and the fact many of the tribes they victimized had little access to guns themselves it is understandable they Ngoni didn’t see any need to change their methods. Giacomo Macola in his book the The Gun in Central Africa also argues the gun went against the Ngoni cultural ideal of a warrior.

Whatever the reasons the Ngoni disdain for guns it contributed to their decline as enemies, like the Yao and Bemba, became increasingly gun armed.  The Ngoni could still fight and prevail against gun armed opponents Mpenzeni’s Ngoni, for example, destroyed an Arab caravan of 400 guns in a battle along the Bua River in the late 1880s. However increasingly it seems the Ngoni disliked facing gun armed opponents. In both the attacks described by Elmslie above the victims (or in the case of the Nkonde traders from Karonga) armed with guns gave chase and caught up with Ngoni raiders and in both cases the Ngoni fled as soon as the victims started shooting (sadly Elmslie says not before the Ngoni speared many of their captives) despite heavily outnumbering their gun armed opponents. In 1892 the British at Fort Johnstone mounted an attack on the Yao warlord Zarafi along with a large group of Maseko Ngoni. The Ngoni however fled as soon as the Yao opened fire leaving the British in a very sticky situation. The nomadic Tuta around Lake Victoria were apparently so afraid of guns that they would pack up and leave an area if they saw a caravan flying the red flag of Zanzibar. During Mpenezi’s war with the British his impi failed to stand their ground over several days of confrontation the warriors breaking every time they came under fire certainly this performance doesn’t measure up well to the resistance mounted by the Zulus and Matabele against Colonial forces.

To create a Ngoni Field force in TMWWBKs we are naturally going to be using a lot of tribal infantry units. I’ve decided to split them into Amajaha (young men) and Amadoda (older veterans). On top of that I’ve split them into three time periods to represent the change in quality of the Ngoni as the century wore on and added two special rules to give some flavour.

Ngoni Field Force

1+ units of Amajaha – Tribal infantry 3pts

1+ units of Amadoda – Tribal infantry veteran (+1 Discipline) 4pts

The following options are available (but not compulsory) depending on time period

Migration period 1820 to 1848. (Early Migration from Natal until up until Zwangendaba’s death at Ufipa)

Upgrade any unit to fierce + 1pt

Upgrade Amajaha to veteran +1pt

Upgrade Amadoda to Elite + 1pt

Succession Period 1849 – 1885 (The period after Zwangendaba’s death that resulted in the Ngoni splitting in several groups and the rise of Ngoni kingdoms across central east Africa)

Upgrade Amadoda to Fierce + 1pt

Upgrade Amadoda to Elite +1pt

Downgrade Amajaha to represent conscripted non-Ngoni tribesmen (like Chewa or lake Tonga) to Unenthusiastic -1pt

Colonial Period 1885 to 1905 (The end of the Ngoni hegemony and subjection to the European powers)

Downgrade Amajaha to represent conscripted non-Ngoni tribesmen (like Chewa or lake Tonga) to Unenthusiastic -1pt

Theatre specific rules

Regardless of which time period you are using all Ngoni units are subject to the following rules

Character for Invincible Courage – All opposition Tribal Infantry not upgraded to fierce suffer -1 Discipline if any Ngoni units are on the table.

Fiendish Firesticks – All Ngoni units suffer an extra -1 Discipline whenever the take pinning tests caused by shooting from Irregular infantry or Regular infantry

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