Lomwe/Nguru tribesmen

Another group of tribesmen for British Central Africa. These miniatures were inspired by a single line in Chris peers Central Africa book where he describes what he calls the battle of Fletcher’s Boma. During this engagement a small British colonial force are attacked by a much larger fore of Yao and allied Nguru tribesmen. My first stop was go to Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston’s book on Central Africa he also mentions the fight “Mr. Sharpe sent a small force of Sikhs and Atonga under Corporal William Fletcher, and an Atonga sergeant named Bandawe, to defend Malemia’s principal village where the Scotch missionaries were. This expedition, which only consisted of six Sikhs and a few Atonga, built a boma to protect themselves against any sudden attack from Kawinga. It was fortunate they did so, because a day or two afterwards he descended on them with 2, 000 men, many of them recruited from amongst the warlike Anguru of the countries east of Lake Chilwa” other than that sir Harry only mentions the Anguru twice more in his book. This kick started my journey down another rabbit hole trying to research an African tribe. My initial google searches weren’t proving very helpful I found a village in Nigeria and a tribe of Australian Aboriginals with similar names neither seemed very likely allies for the Yao. What it highlighted is how tribal names in Africa can be a real headache for researchers. Firstly, some tribes have more than one name the one they gave themselves; ones other Africans gave them and ones the Europeans gave them. Then there are the spellings which aren’t always the same in European sources and can vary depending on weather the source uses prefixes like Wa, A and Ba in front of the name. In the case of the Nguru research was particularly difficult due to some issues with the name in colonial Nyasaland. It took me a long time to finally pin down who the Nguru were so here is a little background on the naming.

The term Nguru (or Anguru) seems to have found use among the Colonial British authorities though I haven’t been able to pin down its exact provenance. In S.S. Murray’s A Handbook of Nyasaland (1922). Murray comments on the vagueness the term ‘Nguru’. The Nguru are, he explains, a number of different peoples loosely allied in the Makua-Lomwe language group but bearing separate designations like Atakwani, Akokola, that refer to different districts of origin in Mozambique. As they migrated into the Shire highlands the local people sometimes referred to them as Akapolo which in the local language meant “slaves”. In 1915 there was an incident called Chilembwe Rising this short but violent raising against British rule in the southern districts of Nyasaland mostly involved people of Nguru origin. After the rising was put down the term Nguru took on very negative connotations and persuade the British to move forward with plans for indirect rule using the Yao chiefs, who hadn’t supported the uprising. The term became so negative that Lewis Mataka Bandawe formed the Lomwe Tribal Society in 1943 which succeeded in stopping the colonial government using the word Nguru in its correspondences and adopt the word Lomwe (or Alomwe) which is the name used today. Interestingly in her 1906 book The Natives of British Central Africa Alice Werner describes the Lomwe, Anguru and Akapolo as being different tribes based on language and tatu patterns.

Once I had finally figured out the naming issue I could research a little more effectively for information and managed to dig up some photos and a bit more history. The Lomwe/Anguru moved, from what is modern day Mozambique, into the area east of and the edges of the Shire Highlands in four major migrations but I’m only really interested in the first two migrations that took place in the 19th century. The first happened in the later 19th century before the arrival of the British and seems to have been driven by drought the Lomwe being an agricultural people searching for better land to farm. The second migration took place in the 1890s, at the same time the British arrived in the area, this second migration seems to have been sparked by increasing Portuguese control of the original Lomwe homelands, including forced labour and heavy taxation, which the Lomwe were keen to avoid. These migrations weren’t on a tribal scale but rather in large family groups. The local Yao and Amang’anja (the southern branch of the Chewa people) welcomed the Lomwe groups into their lands often giving them land to farm this may seem odd but both the Yao and the Amang’anja chiefs were in a power struggle for control of the area before then having to deal with the arrival of the British so the extra man power was useful to them. Secondly the three groups shared some common cultural traits especially matrilineal descent and their languages, while different, were close enough to make communication possible. Despite this it obvious reading British sources the Anguru/Lomwe were still instantly recognisable from the other tribes of the area rather than being absorbed in the local cultures and that although they were subservient to local chiefs whose land they entered they formed their own settlements.

Alice Werner proves helpful with some descriptions on appearance of the Lomwe/Anguru in her 1906 book on British Central African tribes (both the above pictures come from her book). Referring to the picture above she says “we find that he wears his hair fairly long and divided into strands, with beads tied to the ends of them” she also goes on to mention tatus (really more scaring than conventional tattoos) among the natives saying “The Lomwe tribes have various patterns — one a crescent, turned downwards, just between the eyebrows, others a series of from three to six crescents in the same position. The Akapolo have a mark on each side of the chest, consisting of a crescent turned up, and two short, vertical cuts below it.” The wearing of the pelele, a type of upper lip piercing, by women was common to the all the tribes of the area (see the picture above) according to Werner “The Akaplolo women, not content with the pelele, wear a brass nail, two or three inches long, in the lower lip as well.”

Of course as a wargamer my main interest was in the military side of the Lomwe/Anguru and how they fought as allies along side the Yao and here again my research was turning up very little info. Alice Werner has this small snippet in her book “The Lomwe country was for many years harassed by slavers, and its people were continually at war with one another — so much so that, in 1894, the villagers did not know the names of hills more than a day’s journey from their own homes, and travellers could not get guides except to the next village ahead of them. Perhaps this state of things accounts for the comparatively poor physique of the Akapolo”. The main question I couldn’t find an answer to was weather the Lomwe used guns obviously Werner’s picture above shows the young man with a spear and she also mentions hunting was carried out with spears, bows being the hunting weapon of the Amang’anja. Another strike against guns is that if the Lomwe were preyed on by slavers, most notably the Yao and the Makua both who took to using guns, they probably lacked many guns of their own, as it seems common practice for gun armed slavers (either Arab or tribal) to pick on victims without guns. If the Lomwe did lack guns then the assumption has to be spear and shield were used but what did they look like? Werner again has this little snippet when discussing the tribes of the Shire Highlands  “The bow was used as a weapon of war (with or without poisoned arrows) before the Angoni introduced the shield and stabbing spear”. The Ngoni in question are the the Maseko Ngoni. The Maseko were a separate group Zwangendaba Gumbi’s more famous Ngoni, and they migrated from Swaziland, travelling northeast of Lake Nyasa before settling at Songea in present day Tanzania. Sometime in the early 1860s the Maseko met the Gwangwara Ngoni who had migrated North up the western side of lake Nyasa before moving back south, down the eastern side, of lake Nyasa and were defeated by them. This resulted in most of the Maseko Ngoni moving south back into Mozambique through the lands of the Makua, Lomwe and Yao before settling on the southern end of lake Nyasa under king king Cikusi in the1870s. and then annually raiding the Shire highlands and surrounding areas. This would have put the Lomwe/Anguru (along with the other tribes in the area) in a position to have had plenty of interaction with the Ngoni these interactions all across east Africa frequently saw the adoption of Ngoni military equipment by the Ngonis victims and is one of the reasons the Nguni style shield is so iconic.

So at this point I have to admit I was reaching and with a lack of anything concreate on the Lomwe at war I had to just make some best guesses based on what little I did know and so I came up with these miniatures to act as allies/subjects of the Yao army I’m building. In the end I decided to plump for spears and shields because if nothing else they would be a nice counterpoint to all the musket armed Yao during games.

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