Home / History / AmaXhosa Kingdom – A History (Part 1)
Xhosa Leaders - AmaRharhabe Queen Noloyiso Sandile, King Maxhob’ayakhawuleza Sandile, AmaGcaleka King Xolilizwe Sigcawu & Queen Nondwe Sigcawu in 1991

AmaXhosa Kingdom – A History (Part 1)

200 000 years ago – Earliest known ancestors of all Africans were living in the Omo River Valley, Ethiopia.
170 000 – 40 000 years ago – Foundations of Culture and first use of Imbola (red-ochre) at Blombos Cave, Mossel Bay. That was where we find the first use of IMBOLA (red-ochre) which still forms part of many African cultures to this day. It is still used as a sacred ointment by amaXhosa, amaHlubi, amaNdebele, Basotho, Maasai, Himba and many other Africans to this day. Hunting is the primary means of survival leading to people moving about up and down the whole continent.
10 000 years ago – Agriculture is born, people are drawn towards the fertile River banks of the Blue & White Nile River and populations increase.

8000 – 6000 years ago – They migrate down the Nile for more fertile land until they reach the end of the Nile River in Kemet. Permanent Settlements begin and elders pass down knowledge from one generation to the next, through various means including initiation (Ulwaluko).

5000 years ago – King Narmer (Menes) unites Upper & Lower Kemet and forms one great Empire and the World’s First Great Civilisation is born. Imhotep lays the foundation of civilisation and becomes the first Architect, Engineer & Physician in History. Merit-Ptah becomes first woman known by name in the history of the field of medicine, and in all of science.

4000 years ago– MontuHotep is King of Kemet and is named after MoNtu (Ntu), the representation (god) of war and bravery. Kemet’s greatest generals & kings called themselves Mighty Bulls, the sons of Montu. It is from this figure that we find the first use of the root word NTU. AbaNtu are likely descendants of this King. MoNtuHotep means, the God Ntu is at peace or pleased, or “Montu is satisfied”. Hotep means “to be at peace” or to be satisfied and pleased. His name is also spelled as MunhuHotep, MenthuHotep, MuntuHotep, etc.
5000 – 2500 years ago – Kemet is the richest and most powerful Empire in the world and enemies emerge from neighbouring smaller civilisations.

3600 years ago – The Hyksos (Asians) invade Kemet leading to some African people leaving the Nile Valley Civilizations of Kemet & Nubia, moving to other parts of the continent. Order is restored when King Ahmose I drives the Hyksos out and the best time in the History of Kemet begins. African people are the richest and most powerful people in the world led by Queen Hatshepsut, King Thutmose III, King Amenhotep III, Queen Tiye, King Akhenaten, King Tutankhamun and King Ramses the Great.
2500 years ago – Persians (Asians) invade Kemet followed by the Greeks (Europeans) and later Romans (Europeans) leading to massive migrations of African people and the beginning of the “African Dark Ages” & “Great Amnesia”.

About 2000 – 1500 years ago – AbaNtu had moved all the way down past the Great Lakes Region and crossed the Limpopo River into the southern parts of Africa.

King MNguni emerges as one of the leaders of these groups of people at some point in the migrations. The story of MNguni begins at a place called Dedesi or Eluhlangeni (Place of the Reeds). Eluhlangeni is regarded as the place of origin by most of AbaMbo and AmaNguni, hence to this day Umkhosi Womhlanga (Reed dance) is still prominent more especially among AmaZulu and amaSwati. “Nguni” seems to have originally meant: People from the North, ebuNguni in isiXhosa and isiZulu, Bokoni in Sotho languages. Much later though, it seems that a leader of one of these groups was named MNguni, who then led his people from Dedesi/ Eluhlangeni.

From Dedesi (Eluhlangeni) MNguni crossed Ukhahlamba Mountains and along the way absorbed other smaller clans. This group of people led by MNguni had by then mastered the making of iron (steel) tools and spears and had skilled blacksmiths.

Upon crossing Ukhahlamba, he suddenly found himself in conflict with other groups who spoke similar languages to his and also with the Khoi, who were also pastoralists. The environment was very hostile but through trade, conquest and intermarriages, he managed to establish himself in the region. The Khoi people referred to this group of people as the Chobona, because of how they greeted, which was “Sawubona” in isiNguni.

MNguni had many wives and had many kids. Among his descendants was Luzumana, the father of Malandela who fathered Qwabe and Zulu. Zulu is the father of Gumede, who is the father of Phunga and Mageba. Mageba is the father of Ndaba and Lufulwenja and others. Ndaba fathered Jama, who is the father of Senzangakhona, the father of Shaka, Dingane and Mpande. Lufulwenja fathered Wushe and Didi, who was also known as Zelemu. AbaZelemu become a big Kingdom and are later led by Madzikane ka Khalimeshe during the reign of Shaka and conflict between the two leads to Madzikane fleeing with his people who become known as amaBhaca.
amaXhosa Kingdom - Xhosa History and Kings

Another one of MNguni’s children was Malangana. While his siblings remained in what is now Northern KwaZulu Natal, Malangana continued moving further down with his people looking for better grazing land for his cattle. As he was moving south crossing rivers such as Uthukela, he encountered the San people (also known as Basarwa) who were hunter-gatherers. This group believed that their God had given them all the animals they wished to hunt and this included the cattle of the “Chobona”. This led to many conflicts between the two groups as the San hunted the herds of domesticated cattle belonging to the “Chobona”. Malangana’s people responded by fighting and crushing the weaker San groups and Khoi groups who then started calling these new tall and dark strangers as the ‘//kosa’ – the angry men. This name stuck to Malangana he was from then known as umXhosa, the angriest of the Chobona.

Malangana and his people would settle along the way for some time and continue moving south as there was plenty of land in the area towards Mzimvubu River. Malangana begot Nkosiyamntu among some of his kids. Nkosiyamntu had among his many children, Cirha (from the Great House), Jwarha (the oldest), Tshawe and Qwambi. When Nkosiyamntu died, his Great-House son, Cirha naturally took over as the leader. Tshawe saw himself as a better leader and through some political and military manoeuvring; he got the support of the neighbouring Mpondomise King Sabe, who sent AmaRhudulu (Ngwevu) to assist him in his battle against his older brothers, Cirha and Jwarha. Tshawe won that battle and became the King of all AmaXhosa, as they had come to be called. He then went on an expansive drive with his new found ally, Tshangisa, the leader of amaRhudulu, and gulped a large number of other Nguni, abaMbo, Sotho and Khoi and San groups in the region. Some joined through military campaigns while some joined voluntarily. Tshawe also offered AmaRhudulu many cattle and land as they had played a pivotal role in his victory, that is how “Mhlatyana” got to be one of iziduko/clan names of amaRhudulu, because of the piece of land they were given. During the battle, AmaRhudulu kept saying “siziinkomo zikaSikhomo”, meaning they are the sons of Sikhomo, who indeed was the father of Rhudulu in Mpondomise Kingdom. AmaRhudulu were very close to Tshawe’s heart for their contribution in his ascension to the throne and he decided to name his grandson after Sikhomo of amaMpondomise.

Tshawe begot Ngcwangu. Ngcwangu begot Sikhomo. Sikhomo begot Togu. During the reign of King Sikhomo, he led his people towards Umzimvubu River. Togu soon took over as the King of AmaXhosa.
Togu had among his many children, Ntinde who found amaNtinde, and Ngconde the heir to the throne. Some of Ngconde’s children were Gando of amaKwayi, Hleke, founder of amaHleke; Mdange (~ 1736) of imiDange; and Tshiwo (~1704) who later became the King of amaXhosa. There is a popular story among amaXhosa that Tshiwo might not have been the biological son of Ngconde, but when his mother who was in the Great-House was pregrant “kwatshiwo ukuba ungunyana kaNgconde”, meaning it was said that he is Ngconde’s son, which is how he got the name, Tshiwo. The heir to Ngconde was Gando and indeed he took over after Ngconde’s death. When Tshiwo came of age, one version of the story says that he wanted the throne but Gando and his younger brothers refused, except for Mdange who sided with Tshiwo. Tshiwo then expelled Gando from royalty “wakwaywa”; from then on his people were called amaKwayi. Another version though is that Gando got intimate with a close relative, which led to him being expelled. Whichever one might be true, but what everyone seems to agree on is that indeed Gando was expelled and was thence known as “Mkwayi”. He fled towards Nciba River and settled close to it. He soon became “ithwasa” and had to undergo initiation at the river, which was later called Mkwayi River in his honour after graduating as “igqirha”. When the European invaders arrived in the Xhosa Kingdom, they wrongly called this River Kei River instead of Mkwayi River.

Tshiwo had among his many children, Phalo the Paramount, followed by Gwali founder of the amaGwali and Thiso. Phalo was the second son of Tshiwo but his older brother Gwali was from a junior wife and Phalo was in line for the throne. Tshiwo died the same year of Phalo’s birth around 1775, so his father’s brother, Mdange took over the reigns as regent. Gwali joined forces with Ntinde, chief of the AmaNtinde clan, to overthrow Phalo but was not successful. “…Another important event in Xhosa history was the invasion of the Ngqosini clan. Gaba their leader, hoisted an elephants tail at the great place and indicated that he viewed himself as chief. Tshiwo was saved only by the intervention of a councillor named Khwane. A widespread oral tradition is that Khwane had been entrusted with witchcraft executions, but that instead of doing his duty, he had hidden those condemned (witches) people in a forest. In their hiding place, they intermarried with local Khoi people and their population increased. At the critical moment when Tshiwo was on the brink of defeat, Khwane led his secret army from hiding into battle and saved the day. Tshiwo rewarded him by appointing him a chief in equal rank to amaTshawe. Khwane’s people became known as the amaGqunukwebe, probably because of the large number of Khoi in their ranks” (Pieres, 1982)

The burial places of past Xhosa Kings also show us the places that they occupied as they were moving south. King Ngcwangu was buried near Umzimvubu River, King Sikhomo was at Cumngce, south-west of Umzimvubu River, near Libode. Togu was buried at Qokama in Ngqeleni district. King Tshiwo was buried at Ngcwanguba, south-west of Mthatha River.
A major event in the history of amaXhosa occurred when King Phalo got married to two women of similar rank and none of their fathers wanted their daughter to be a subordinate wife. To fix this problem an elder from the Jwarha clan advised that the oldest of the girls would be in the Great-House and the youngest would be inducted into the Right-Hand House. This meant that sons born to these women had the right to be King. The Great house though would have to be differed to and the right-hand house son would then migrate to form his own kingdom. This would mean greater expansion of the amaXhosa Kingdom.

Some of the sons of Phalo were Langa, Gcaleka (Great House) and Rharhabe of the right hand house, Lutshaba (1730) and Nukwa. Langa (1705 –1794) was the founder of the amaMbalu sub-group of the Xhosa nation and reigned as chief from 1740 until his death in 1794. Langa is known to have had two sons Nqeno (1759) and Thole. Gcaleka (1730-1792), had amongst his children Khawuta, Velelo and Nqoko. He became King of amaXhosa in 1775 until his death in 1792. Khawuta (1761-1804) was the second King of amaGcaleka, a sub-group of the Xhosa nation. Khawuta was the eldest son and he had among his children, Bhurhu (1785-1857), Hintsa (1789-1835) and Malashe (1799-1834). He became the King of amaXhosa in 1792. Not much else is known about Khawuta other than that peace reigned during his regime. Kwawuta died in 1804 near what is now Centani in the Eastern Cape.
Nqoko was a regent and 3rd King of amaGcaleka. Nqoko was the third son of Gcaleka and took over amaGcaleka when his oldest brother King Khawuta died in 1804 and served until 1820 when his nephew Hintsa took over.

Although Gcaleka was the rightful heir to Phalo’s kingdom, Rharhabe developed a reputation as a fearless warrior and had a large following as a result. King Phalo is remembered as a King who was very humane and loved dearly by his people, to some that appeared as a weakness. Gcaleka, his heir plotted against his father to seize power though Gcaleka was still relatively young. He was favoured by the majority of amaXhosa. King Phalo was supported by his favourite son, Rharhabe, who was much older than Gcaleka and the father-son team won the ensuing battle. After the battle, they decided to leave Gcaleka and cross the Mkwayi (Kei) River and settle on the western side with a significant number of followers. King Phalo left the leadership of that group to his son Rharhabe. The old King died around 1775 and was buried at his old kraal at Thongwana. Rharhabe continued as the King of amaRharhabe. Unfortunately, this region was heavily populated and Rharhabe’s arrival caused quite a bit of turmoil. Smaller clans defeated in battle were forced to settle elsewhere, while some joined the amaRharhabe as the King sought to consolidate his power. Some sources say Bhede, Rharhabe’s daughter was married to Ndaba, the King of abaThembu Kingdom and they had a son named Vusani (Ngubengcuka) who was initially raised at his mother’s place in the land of amaRharhabe. The story goes that Bhede’s mother advised her to escape with the young Ngubengcuka so they can go to Thembuland since the young boy was the heir to the throne. Rharhabe and Mlawu pursued them and Nkosiyani, the abaThembu regent sent an army led by Mvangxeni (Tshatshu) kaXhoba to protect the young heir and his mother. In that ensuing battle it is said that Rharhabe and his son, Mlawu were killed. Other sources though say that Mlawu died in 1782 leaving behing his two young boys, Ngqika and Ntimbo. While Rharhabe died in 1787. It is said that after seizing cattle from chief Mdandala of amaQwathi whom he had felt that too little was paid in dowry (lobola) for his daughter, Ntsusa. On his way back with the seized cattle, amaQwathi attacked and wounded him near Xuka River in the Ngcobo district and died. It’s not yet clear which one is true but what is clear and that the death of King Rharhabe left a void in the amaRharhabe Kingdom as Ngqika was still too young. That is when Rharhabe’s other son, Ndlambe stepped in as regent to fill the void.

Although the clan took Ngqika’s name, he was too young to rule. As with Xhosa tradition, Rharhabe’s other son, Ndlambe, served as ruler until Ngqika matured. As second son, Ndlambe had title, but no real authority–as soon as he was old enough, Ngqika would take over. Nevertheless, he supervised a major expansion in the size and power of amaRharhabe (called amaNgqika at this era). By the late 1700s, this expansion resulted in the inevitable contact with the European invaders in Cape Colony.
Both the Africans and Europeans depended on cattle as the fundamental economic asset. Thus, both groups competed for the prime grazing lands located west of the Great Mkwayi (Kei) River. In addition to fighting over grazing lands, raiding parties from the European invaders stole cattle and other livestock and amaXhosa also retaliated by returning the deed. The number and severity of the conflicts increased rapidly. By 1779, the situation had deteriorated beyond repair. Over the next 25 years from 1779 to 1804, three Xhosa Wars of Resistance broke out. While these were mainly border skirmishes, they did cause more distrust between the Xhosa and Europeans.

One noteworthy development during this period was the short-term alliances between Ndlambe and the Dutch settlers (Boers). In 1793, Ndlambe sought to defeat the remaining Xhosa clans west of the Mkwayi (Kei) River. This would make the Ngqika clan the paramount clan in the region and a major threat to their Gcaleka cousins to the east. This Second War of Resistance popularly known as the 2nd Frontier War was not much of a war at all. The Boers mounted a concerted attack and drove several smaller clans out of the lands west of the Great Fish River. There, Ndlambe waited with his armies and routed his fleeing cousins.

The border situation might have died down, but for the fact that the young Ngqika was now eighteen, and ready to assume the throne. Ndlambe, was not so willing to give up power, so he appealed to the clan. When this didn’t work, he and his followers sought assistance from amaGcaleka, west of the Mkwayi (Kei) River. AmaGcaleka, fearing the new Chief Ngqika would seek to rekindle an old rivalry, decided to support Ndlambe, and sent a small detachment to assist Ndlambe and his followers. In a legendary battle, Ngqika defeated the force and took Ndlambe prisoner.
The plot thickened in 1795, when the British took control of the Cape. Now an undisputed world power, the British colonial empire spread from South America to East India. They viewed their South African possessions the same way they viewed their other possessions–a resource to be mined. When the local population interfered with this endeavour, the population was unseated. They took this attitude to Ngqika with a suggestion that amaXhosa clans west of the Great Fish River must relocate east to help resolve the border disputes. Ngqika happily agreed, knowing full well he had no authority over these groups.

Rharhabe ka Phalo (about 1722-1782) was the founder of amaRharhabe sub-group of amaXhosa nation. Rharhabe was the 2nd son of Phalo. Rharhabe is known to have had at least two wives. He had 9 sons from his first wife, Mlawu, Jalousa, Siko, Sigcawu, Cebo, Hlahla, Nzwane, Mnyaluza and Ntsusa and from his second wife Nojoli kaNdungwana of abaThembu he had two sons Ndlambe and Nukwa. Rharhabe died near present day Dohne in the Eastern Cape Province.

The following years got even more hectic as the European invaders were hungry for the wealth of amaXhosa. They wanted the land of amaXhosa and their cattle and battles between the two groups intensified…

In the next session we will start from these battles of Resistance by amaXhosa and how the European invaders were planning on breaking the backs of amaXhosa… To be continued…



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