Nguni people

Nguni people

Nguni people speak Nguni languages.


Nguni peoples are pastoralist groups, ethnically part of the greater Bantu group occupying much of the East and Southern parts of Africa. They migrated southwards over many centuries, with large herds of Nguni cattle, probably entering what is now South Africa around 2000 years ago in sporadic settlement, followed by larger waves of migration around 1400 CE/AD. The following peoples are major groups among the nguni:

  1. the Ndebele
  2. the Swazi
  3. the Xhosa
  4. the Zulu

Many tribes and clans were forcibly united under Shaka Zulu. Shaka Zulu's political organisation was efficient in integrating conquered tribes, partly due to the age regiments, where men from different villages bonded with each other. The nguni tribes kept similar political practises to those used by Shaka Zulu.

During the southern african migrations known as mfecane, the nguni peoples spread across a large part of southern africa, conquering or displacing many other peoples.

Social organisation

Within the Nguni nations, the clan - based on male ancestry - formed the highest social unit. Each clan was led by a chieftain. Influential men tried to achieve independence by creating their own clan. The power of a chieftain often depended on how well he could hold his clan together. From about 1800, the rise of the Zulu clan of the Nguni and the consequent mfecane that accompanied the expansion of the Zulus under Shaka, helped to drive a process of alliance between and consolidation among many of the smaller clans.

For example, the kingdom of Swaziland was formed in the early nineteenth century by different Nguni groups allying with the Dlamini clan against the threat of external attack. Today the kingdom encompasses many different clans who speak an Nguni language called Swati and are loyal to the king of Swaziland, who is also the head of the Dlamini clan.

"Dlamini" is a very common clan name among all documented Nguni languages (including Swati and Phuthi).


Nguni people in Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, may be Christians (whether Catholics or Protestants), or practitioners of African traditional religions, or they may practise forms of Christianity modified with traditional African values (such as the Shembe Church of Nazarites).

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