Monday, 23 November 2020

Some Notes On IsiNgoni v. isiZulu


When the Ngoni left what is now called Zululand there were several dialects that were spoken in that part of South Africa. One of those dialects was the one spoken by the Zulu clan which then was a small clan. The Ngoni and their cousins the Shangaan spoke a dialect found in the Ndwandwe area then under the control of Zwide the archenemy of Shaka Zulu. 

With the defeat of the Ndwandwe, the dialect spoken by Zulu clan gained prominence and the area later came to be known as Zululand too. So that by the time the missionaries came all the dialects and the land had come to be associated with the Zulu clan. So when they heard the language spoken by the Ngoni they called it a form of isiZulu or a dialect of isiZulu. This was definitely not the way things were when the Ngoni left as their language and isiZulu could rightly have both been called dialects of isiNguni.

Last year I had the task of editing and revising an old Ngoni grammar book and Ngoni language translation of the Gospel of Mark and these are my notes on the nuances between the two languages.


One of the things that jump to you when you read the Ngoni translation of the gospel of Mark is in Mark chapter 1:2

Ngoni: bona, ngithuma ithenga lami phambili kwobuso bakho, lona lelo liyakulungisa indlela yakho (Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.KJV)

Zulu: “Bheka, ngiyasithuma isithunywa sami phambi kwakho esiyakulungisa indlela yakho,” (Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.KJV)


Both Ngoni and Zulu use both bona and bheka. They only differ in its employment here and there with the Ngoni preferring bona where the Zulu prefers bheka. You will notice that in the Mzimba Tumbuka language, which is a mismash of Ngoni and Tumbuka, you will stil hear the word Bheka to mean see.


In Ngoni the word for messenger is ithenga while Zulu it is isithunywa. Even among the Tumbuka speaking Ngoni you will still find wide use of ithenga. For example in matters of marriage the one who is sent is called thenga. I am not sure of its origin but I assume that it comes from the old Ndwandwe. I could be wrong as I have failed to find its use in Ndebele another close language to Ngoni.


Here is another major difference between Zulu and Ngoni. Zulu employs the relative clause to represent words like "that" and "who". This time Zulu has used esi- as "who" to represent the isithunywa. Here Ngoni represents this by employment of lona lelo. lona means this for class 5 nouns such as ithenga and lelo means that that for class 5 (ili) nouns. If both Ngoni and Zulu had employed isithunywa to mean messenger the Ngoni would have translated the "who" as sona leso siyakulungisa (who will make straight)


Here there is not much difference as all scholars agree that phambili is a full form of phambi in Nguni languages.


Another difference that you will notice is found in the very first chapter of Mark 1:1

Ukuqala kwelivangeli likaYesu Kristu umtwana kaMkulumqango. (Ngoni) The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;

Ukuqala kwevangeli likaJesu Kristu, iNdodana kaNkulunkulu. (Zulu) The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;

In the use of nouns Ngoni is closer to isiXhosa than Zulu in that it has present the longer forms of the nouns. For example all scholars will tell you that the original word for heaven, sky in Nguni language was ilizulu. For most Ngoni the call heaven, lizulu but the Zulu have shortened it further to izulu. Therefore in the verse above the Ngoni translated the english world gospel, greek evangelo as ivangeli or livangeli where the zulu and even Xhosa have ivangeli. And use of livangeli affects the translation of "of the gospel" as Ngoni as Kwelivangeli (kwa +(i)livangeli) and Zulu has kwevangeli (kwa + ivangeli). When "a" follows "i" in both Zulu and Ngoni it changes to "e".

Before I end on this one there is a famous Ngoni ingoma which as the sentence zinkomo zakwa Ngwazi (cattle of the Ngwazi(conqueror)). Here you can see the use of zinkomo from the full Nguni word izinkomo. Here the Zulu will nowadays use "inkomo" with as stress on the "i" to differentiate it from inkomo (singular). The Ngoni has no such problems as they already use zinkomo.


The Ngoni have various names for God and UMkulumqango is one of those names. The Zulu use nkulunkulu. All these names were solicited by the European and American missionaries as they tried to find a word for God. Both the Ngoni and the Zulu had a faint idea of God. Their old religion focused on praying to ancestors through the use of zifuyo (animals like cattle, goats for the poor). But you can notice both have mkulu or nkulu great

UMNTWANA VERSUS INDODANA: The Ngoni prefer to use umntwana (child) in almost all cases where they want to mention the word child. They usually don't differentiate between male child (son) and indodakazi (daughter). This is not different from other tribes north of Limpopo that use a variation of mwana (Nyanja for child). The Ngoni would certainly understand indodana a dimunition of indoda (man). But the Ngoni are more likely to use indoda to refer to husband. Such as in the song from the Maseko Ngoni, Indoda ilalephi? Ngiyamufuna (where has my husband slept, I am looking for him). Or among the Mbelwa Ngoni as seen in Mark 10:12: Ngati yena yedwa amukise indoda yakhe, athathe eyinye, uyaphinga (And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.). Ngoni uses ngati for uma (isiZulu).


Because of the dominance of Zulu and the similarities in the two languages most people teach Zulu as Ngoni. The same can be said of the Ndebele where they use Zulu grammar books. This was popularized by the early missionaries who thought it convenient to use Zulu grammar books instead of developing another grammar book for the Ngoni and Ndebele dialects. I should, however, acknowledge the work of Elmslie in preparing the introductory Grammar of the Ngoni Language 1890

I respect those that do that but I would prefer to say lona lelo liyakulungisa than eliyakulungisa (who will straighten). I feel that my ancestors would be happy that way. I would also rather say lizulu than izulu or zinkomo than inkomo for the sake of preserving my ancestors' dialect. But that is me. 

I would rather say Yekelani ukuhamba (Do not go) than Musani ukuhamba. By the way, I noticed in our Amasiko abenguni whatsapp group that some northern Maseko clan relative in northern Zululand still use Yekela or Yekelani.  

As to the assertion that Ngoni and Ndebele have been corrupted, I would say all languages including Zulu have changed over the years. Zulu uses borrowed words such as itafula which is from Afrikaans as Ngoni has borrowed words such as nyaze (sea). There is no language that has remained static.

I am at the moment very busy with other things and I wished I had written a more exhaustive article. So expect more to come as soon as I have more free time. Hopefully, it is soon. I am not a scholar by any stretch of the imagination so feel to correct any mistakes I have made.

Correction From Datu Manzolwandle on the paragaph about Zinkomo.

A bit of correction, differentiation and clarification here,

Izinkomo is cattle in IsiZulu that's the correct way of writing it the only difference is that AmaZulu don't pronounce -zi- when they speak ,so inkomo is a single cow

izinkomo is cattle

That's the correct way of writing IsiZulu.

IsiXhosa is the language that tend to use ii- even in plural form

In singular form they use i-.

You posted an informative article keep teaching


Most scholars take the view that marrying wives from other tribes was a major factor. 

While I agree that Nyanja, Senga, etc speaking mothers played a role in the loss of the Ngoni language I have now come to a point where I believe that it is overplayed.  

If that was the major factor how do you explain the fact that the Ndebele who also had assimilated thousands of Karanga Shonas still maintained their language even though they intermarried with the locals?

In fact,  it is the locals who adopted the Ndebele language and not vice-versa. 

How about the Mbelwa Ngoni who also assimilated huge numbers of Chewa, Senga, Tumbukas among them but managed to maintain Ngoni languages well into the early 1900s. 

Even to this day, you will still find pockets of Ngoni speakers in a few villages. My own grandfather even though he spoke Tumbuka most of the time knew the Ngoni language. 

For example, when I asked him for Ngoni names he did not have to read a Zulu book to find names, he gave me unique Ngoni names based on his knowledge of the Ngoni language. (The Ngoni had a slightly different way of naming their children which is a bit different from modern Zulu). 

It would have been different had I contacted my Maseko Ngoni paternal grandfather who passed away some 40 years ago. He was a proud Ngoni who still lamented the loss of lobola system among them but I am sure knew very little if any Ngoni word even though I was too young to know then.

When I was young my mum used to tell me that when she was growing up the elders in her area in Endindeni, Mzimba, used to speak in Ngoni among themselves and as children felt out of place with this "strange" language. 

Having feet in both the Maseko Ngoni and the Zwangendaba Ngoni I can tell you for a fact that if the Ngoni had followed the regimental system of the Ndebele at least in Mzimba Malawi everyone would be speaking Ngoni today. 

The only weakness was that they still kept their language too. So they spoke Ngoni in the military and before the leaders but spoke Tumbuka at home. It was therefore a fight between two languages and identity and sadly Tumbuka prevailed. Actually, it was already winning already in the 1890s when the Scottish and Xhosa missionaries arrived. This was because as Ngoni power waned so did the influence of their language.  

The Ndebele military was however fashioned differently from the Ngoni. Even though Mzilikazi Mzilikazi was born of Nompethu "The maggot" the daughter of Chief Zwide of the Ndwandwe people (tribe) he abandoned Zwide and joined his archenemy Shaka Zulu as a general. 

Because of this, the Ndebele was structured in the style of Shaka Zulus regiments where young people were spread around in barracks away from home. It was a way to indoctrinate them with Shaka Zulu's doctrines and military-style. 

In the case of the Ngoni, barracks were area-based as a result the youth remained with their families. This made it easy for the children to maintain their mothers' language and culture and in some instances made it easy for people to rebel. 

A case in point is the Malawi Tonga and Tumbuka rebellions. These would not have been easy if the children had been spread around in barracks as they would have no time to plot such rebellions. 

Both the Ngoni and the Ndebele insisted on the use of the Ngoni language in the barracks. This worked better for the Shaka Zulu regimental system as the barracks were permanent keeping the children away from their parents. 

In the case of the Ngoni, these children were still in their areas and still were at home with their fathers and mothers. They were only called upon when needed by the indunas for military training and war.

You can imagine that if you are away from your parents and are only allowed one language you are bound to lose your mom's language. And over time even the mothers will be forced to learn the language of the new majority.

In the case of the Maseko Ngoni, it was a numbers game. The Maseko Ngoni returned to Domwe after the defeat and therefore must have been very few in number. They did not leave Songea in peace. In fact, I believe that there are more Maseko Ngoni in Songea now than in Malawi.

That group that came from Songea spoke pure Ngoni as testified by the Xhosa Presbyterian missionary William Koyi who spoke with Nkosini elders around the 1870s near Cape Maclear. Even then the language was confined to the elders as the children he met were speaking to each other in Nyanja according to Dr. Robert Laws. In fact, according to William Koyi, the Maseko elders still had maintained all the Zulu clicks in their language. 

This was not the case up north in Mzimba due to the adoption of the language by the natives who struggled with clicks. However, among the elders in Mzimba, all the Nguni clicks were still being used. 

By the time of the war of the 1890s, even the elders were all speaking in Nyanja among themselves. R. C. F.Maugham who participated in the war and was a Zulu linguist says he tried to speak Zulu to the captured leaders (Indunas) and no one could understand it. He also said he kept his ears open to hear any Zulu or Nguni words but heard none as all he could hear was Nyanja. At the same time, all the Europeans who passed through Mzimba noted that almost anyone including the Tumbuka you met in Mzimba that time knew Ngoni

The influence of Nyanja could be seen in the area names among the Southern Ngoni in Malawi. You will be hard placed to find Tumbuka area names in Mzimba, Malawi.

Even among the royal family, you will see Chewa names in the leaders such as Chidyaonga, Chathanthumba. In the case of the Northern Ngoni, most of the names are Ngoni except for nicknames in the case of Inkosi Chimtunga whose real name was Mbalekelwa. It is his Chewa subjects who gave him the name Chimtunga, the knobkerry.

I wish I could say something about the Mpezeni Ngoni but I have only managed to find very few historical documents about them. I however think that the departure of Mpherembe to join Mbelwa (M'mbelwa) weakened them in terms of Ngoni speakers. I, therefore, believe that it was because of this that the Ngoni language failed to take root in Mpezeni's area as it did in Mbelwa's. 

I could be wrong here and I hope people like Mr. Lastone Richard Tembo can shed more light on this. By the way, every time I hear the surname of Tembo I am always reminded of the most prolific Ngoni songwriter, Mawelera Tembo. My favorite song from him is Israel Buyela, buyela kuYehova. (Israel come back to Jehova).

I, therefore, submit that even though mothers played a role, the real reason for the loss of Ngoni among the Southern Ngoni was a question of numbers. Whereas in the case of the Zwangendaba Ngoni it was because of the way their military was structured. It was based on areas and therefore the captives still maintained links with their families. 

Once again I am not a scholar by any stretch of the imagination so I await your points of view on this.


 A few days ago, I came across an excellent article titled, “Markers of Ethnic Identity and Factors that Contributed to the Death of the Ngoni Language of Zambia”. You can find this article on 

While reading the article I came across the following excerpt which reminded me of the differences between the Ndebele and the Ngoni. 

"It is clear that although the Ngoni dominated militarily, they did not have a policy regarding their own language like the Ndebele of Mzilikazi who changed the names and totems of the Karanga they defeated. Naturally, all the people the Ngoni captured learned to speak the Ngoni language….."

This excerpt shows something that I too have noticed as I have interacted with some Ndebeles here in the UK and also the writings of G. Liesegang.

The fact is that while the Shangaans, Ndebele, and Ngoni leaders were originally under Zwide and have family connections with Zwide’s family, Mzilikazi’s time with Shaka (Tshaka) changed the way he ruled his people. The Ndebele were structured along the lines of the Zulus while the Ngoni maintained the Ndwandwe structure of Zwide.

As I pointed out in an area article on the death of the Ngoni language except for a few villages in Mzimba and I am told in some few villages in Tanzania, the Ngoni military structure was different from the Ndebeles. The Ngoni had what may be called area armies and not purely military barracks villages like the Ndebele and the Zulus did, where children from different areas could form a barracks village so to say.

As a result of this children still lived with their parents in their own areas and therefore maintained their language besides the Ngoni language which was the language used in the military and during royal functions and in courts.

The article above about the Zambia Ngoni mentions the fact that the Ngoni had no language policy and the Ndebelerisation of the captured Karanga as the main difference. While that had some influence I honestly do not think it was the main reason for the demise of Ngoni. 

I now believe that it was the fact that there was no intermixing of the various groups among the Ngoni that led to the demise of the language. The Ngoni social structure had the abenzansi, the Ngoni aristocracy at the top, and the abenhla,  the "people from the upcountry" in the second position and the rest of the people derogaratively referred to as abafo, pronounced as "awafo" at the bottom. 

Abafo (singular, umfo or mufo as the Ngoni pronounce it) in Ngoni is not brothers or strangers as in Zulu but slaves. These are the people that replaced the izinceku (confidential servants of the king and royals while they were in South Africa). These would therefore be the people that cared for the abenzansi, and abenhla's cattle and farming besides taking care of their own farms.

This separation resulted in people living in separate villages with their own kin and people and this, therefore, meant they also kept their language. They were for all intents and purposes speaking two languages, Ngoni and their mother tongue, be it Senga, Chewa, Tumbuka, etc. And therefore, in the end, it is the mother languages that prevailed and eventually, even the people at the top ended up picking these languages.

Another interesting difference pointed out by the authors is the fact that the Ndebele forced the Karanga to change their totems and names to Ndebele names and totems.  That means for example that if your surname were Njobvu, the elephant in Chewa it would be changed to Ndlovu in Ngoni. Mzilikazi was following the example of Shaka Zulu who tried with some success to make his captives Zulu in language and culture with some huge success. He managed to make various clans start to see themselves as Zulus which was a small clan compared to many of the clans then. Though they maintained their totems and names, unlike the captured Karanga.

However, while I think that this had little effect on the language, it is something that the Ngoni should have embraced to make their captives feel part and parcel of the group.

Robert Moffat, a British missionary wrote the following about the Ndebele:

"The Matabele take from the conquered tribes boys and girls, the boys ofcourse acquire the language and the habits and customs of their captors and are reared for soldiers, so that by far the greatest majority of that people are composed of such tribes. At each town of any consequence of these people is generally a Matabele officer, and some soldiers to receive tribute, and to such natives, Mzilikazi, in general, gives over a number of cattle to be taken charge of. In conversing with such I have observed that there is nothing they deplore so much as their children being taken from them just at a time when they become useful to their parents. It is therefore quite common to see a soldier having a boy or youth, whom he calls his servant, whom he has taken int he above manner to rear up for war." - The Matabele Journals of Robert Moffat, 1829-1860 ed., J.P.R. Wallis (London, 1945), vol. 1. p. 319

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Mthimba (Wedding Ceremony) Songs of The Ngoni and Grammar Explanations


The mthimba or marriage ceremony of the Ngoni was a lengthy series of rites of which had its appropriate songs. There were also some general mthimba songs which were interspersed with the special songs for each rite. Many of these general mthimba songs were sung at other times, and often as solos to the igubu. As in the umsindo songs some are historical and seem to bear no reference to marriage.

The first five songs refer to some event in the sequence of marriage rites. The general tone is that of sadness at giving up the girl to another family village, and the next two songs (6 and 7), sung by the bride herself, reflect the same feeling of exile from her family and friends. These songs can be sung to the igubu.

(1)Ngoni: "Ukuconga umntwana" (means childcare but here used in the sense of preparing of the girl before she goes to her husband)

Ngiwunzulane unzulane (I am a stray, a stray)

Yobaba ungidelile ( Yo my father has abandoned me/given me up)

Ngiyakundinda kusebaleni (I shall wander to the wild country)

Yobaba ungidelile (Yo my father has abandoned me/given me up)

This song is sung by the girl herself with her companions joining in. She is still in her own village waiting to go with the gift to give her husband-to-be.


Yobaba: pronounced yoŵaŵa to mean my father though in some cases it can stand for "of the fathers" i.e. ya + obaba (fathers). The Ngoni usually pronounce the "b" as "ŵ". You can still hear the b in words like bheka, see.

Ungidelile: You have abandoned me. Broken down as follows:

U- : Subject concord - you, he/she it. Here it refers to the father (baba).

-ngi-: Object concord me,

-del-: Stem of the verb -dela, abandon; give up; sacrifice

-ile: suffix representing the long form of the present perfect tense

To learn more about the Ngoni past tense visit  How to Express the past in Ngoni.

Ngiyakundinda: I shall wander. Broken down as follows:

Ngi-: Subject concord, I. In real life "ni" has replaced the "ngi" but old Ngoni has "ngi" so I stay with "ngi".

-yaku-: The long form of Ngoni future identifier. The Ngoni language also uses the short forms -zo- and -yo- to signify the future but the long one is more common.

-ndinda: wander about, rove about aimlessly

For more visit the Ngoni future tense.

kusebaleni: in the wilderness. broken down as follows:

ku - : in; at; on; to; from depending on context.

-s-: used as a connecting link between "ku" and ebaleni

ebaleni: in/at/on/to/from (a/the) wilderness. Locative case of ibala, open space. The Ngoni were not a homogeneous group so there are variations in the use of some words. Other Ngoni would say elubaleni instead of ebaleni. Elubaleni being the locative case of ulubala, open country, empty of trees, etc unoccupied by people.

Thus Mark 1:3 is translated as shown below:

3 Izwi lomunye likhala elubaleni, lungisani indlela yeNkosi yenzani izindlela zakhe ziqondile.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

Below is a picture of the mother of Zulu Prince Gatsha Buthelezi, Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu playing the Zulu isigubhu (a stringed bow and a calabash instrument)

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Ngoni Language

The Ngoni language is the language of the Ngoni people found in Tanzania, Zambia, and Malawi. It is part of the Nguni group of languages. Nguni languages include IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, IsiNdebele, and IsiSwati. These languages are mutually intelligible.

Ngoni people left what is now Zululand in the 1820s due to the Shaka Zulu wars. The Ngoni group under Zwangendaba was originally allied to Zwide an arch-enemy of Shaka. They left soon after Zwide's defeat.

Soon after Zwangendaba's death in 1848 at Mapupo, near Ufipa, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) his group split into various groups. They are now found in Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia.

The Maseko Ngoni left Zululand as a separate group and finally settled in southern Malawi where they subdued the peaceful Ntumba people. 

Is the Ngoni language a dialect of isiZulu?

In any language, there are always differences in speech that exist between various groups of people. The difference may be on the use of different sounds and tones and sometimes even words used to express the same thing. 

However, if these groups can still understand one another then these differences are referred to as dialectal differences. As soon as those differences are of a nature that they can no longer communicate then they are speaking different languages.

Ngoni and isiZulu are definitely mutually intelligible languages with so many common words but have differences too. 

Having said this one has to bear in mind that that Ngoni left what is now Zululand there were at least three dialects of what should be correctly rendered as Nguni language. IsiZulu was just one of those dialects.

IsiZulu as dialect came to prominence due to the rise of Shaka Zulu who demanded that his dialect should be the one used at his court. The other people were compelled to adopt this dialect. All this happened after the Ngoni had already left.

Even to this day, there are still dialects that differ from the standardized isiZulu that we see in grammar books.

Some Differences Between IsiZulu and isiNgoni?

One of the obvious differences between isiZulu and isiNgoni is found in the use of  "ŵ" in place of "b" words such as baba (father). The Zwangendaba ngoni will say ŵaŵa (father). They will also emhlaŵeni (in the world) instead of emhlabeni (in the world). Indaŵa in place of indaba (story, affair, matter). You however still hear "b" in words like -biza (call).

If you go to the Maseko Ngoni you are most likely to hear "w" without the accent. Thus the Maseko Ngoni wawa and not ŵaŵa. The Maseko Ngoni live in the area of Malawi where people don't use the accented w. The accented ŵ is used mainly in areas in the north and some districts in the central region of Malawi.

I am not sure whether the ngoni use of w has been with them ever since they left Zululand or if it is because of the influence of tribes that they incorporated in their match upwards. This is something that our scholars may have to study.

Another difference between Zulu and Ngoni is found in "tsh" (which is rendered "ch" in the writing adopted for Nyanja, Bemba and other languages spoken in Malawi). For the purposes of the Ngoni language, we usually adopt the writing system adopted for other Nguni languages down South.

The Ngoni, therefore, say ngitsho, I say, where the Zulu, say ngisho. Where the Zulu say isibaya (fold, cattle kraal) the ngoni say itshiŵaya. 

Zulu noun class "isi-" is therefore rendered itshi- in ngoni. Thus in Ngoni, we say, itshibhamu (gun) instead of isiZulu, isibhamu. Itshandla (hand) instead of isandla. 

The use of itshi where the isiZulu uses isi- could be a dialectal difference as tsh is found in other Nguni languages. I would, therefore, think that we are better off keeping it other than try to change to match it to Zulu.

I made a similar mistake when I was editing the Introductory Grammar of the Ngoni Language as Spoken in Mombera's country. I edited out the itshi and instead replace it with isi-. I also changed the tsh found in ngitsho to ngisho. This was a mistake and I intend to correct it once I find the time.

I believe that we have to be proud of our own language or dialect. Let's treasure the uniqueness of the Ngoni language and promote change where there has been an adoption of non-Nguni languages.

There are other prefixes, such as plural prefix ivi- which is used in most places as the plural for the itshi=isi in Zulu, which is obviously adopted from non-nguni languages.  Thus the Ngoni would say ivibhamu instead of izibhamu. 

The izi- noun class prefix is used in Ngoni but only in a few cases. Ngoni tend to use ivi- more than izi-

Another major difference that you will find is the loss of clicks. This is more a case of the adopted people struggling with clicks and substituting the clicks with various combinations of consonants.

Thus you find the Ngoni pronounce Ngoni names such as Qabaniso as Kabaniso. Thus replacing the q click with k.

As WA Elmslie pointed out in the Introductory Grammar of the Ngoni, only the older Ngoni people in the 1890s used all the clicks that are found in the Zulu language. He observed that "the clicks are not destined to survive among the Ngoni".  

His prediction has really come true as the Ngoni language which is only spoken in a few villages in Mzimba Malawi has lost most of these clicks.

The other difference which is more a result of interaction with other non-Nguni tribes is the adoption of pronouns such as ni (I) in place of ngi-, ti- (we) in place of si-, mwena (you, plural). These are clearly adopted from Tumbuka and Nsenga as the missionaries found that the older Ngoni used the pronouns that are still used in Zululand.

These are just a few of the differences I could think of at this time. 

State of the Ngoni Language Among the Ngoni in Southern Malawi.

The Maseko Ngoni no longer speak the Ngoni language that was spoken among them when the early Church of Scotland missionaries visited them in the early 1870s. They have now adopted the Chewa language of their subjects the Ntumba.

Due to the fact that the Ntumba were a very peaceful people, the Ngoni appear to have left them to their own devices when they controlled the area. Thus the Ngoni state there was more a centralized state with the main body in one place. 

From the documents, I have studied the Ngoni there made no effort to force the Ntumba to adopt the Ngoni language. Therefore there is no evidence that shows that the Ngoni was widely used at any point in their history there.

Even when the Scottish missionaries from Cape Maclear visited the Ngoni in 1870 they found the elders still speaking the Ngoni language but the young men among them were mostly using the Nyanja language. 

William Koyi was however impressed by the Ngoni language spoken there that he remarked that they had maintained all the clicks found in Zululand. This could be because he spoke to the second generation of the Ngoni that had left Zululand and in some cases, ngoni's who were still children when they left Zululand.

By the 1890s Ngoni language appeared to have disappeared even among the indunas as they were more comfortable speaking Chichewa or Nyanja. One of the British army soldiers who fought in the war against the Ngoni is reported to have remarked that among the captured Ngoni leaders he heard no Ngoni language.

It is because of such a poor state of the Ngoni language that made some British missionaries and explorers to suggest that the Ngoni of southern were actually not really Ngoni. This obviously not true and was made by people with only a superficial knowledge of the Ngoni.

Subsequent visits by serious anthropologists such as Margaret Read in the 1930 and 1950s found evidence of Ngoni songs that are clearly Nguni. She also managed to record some Ngoni praises which we still have to this day.

The State of the Ngoni Language Among the Mpezeni Ngoni.

Just like the Maseko Ngoni, the Mpezeni Ngoni also struggled to maintain the Ngoni language. All the historical documents that I have had a chance to read show that the Ngoni language was mainly confined to the older Ngoni. The youth in the war regiments mainly spoke Nsenga. 

There appears to have been little effort to force the subject people to adopt the Ngoni language. It was, therefore, a matter of time before the language was to die out.

I should, however, point out that from my brief visit to Chipata I can state that the Nsenga language spoken there has more Nguni words than the Ngoni spoken in my fatherland, Ntcheu. 

I have a friend who grew up there and she is able to pick up Nguni words such as lala (sleep), dala and others. 

The State of the Ngoni  Language Among the Ngoni in Tanzania.

The Ngoni in Songea, Tanzania speak a language which they call Ngoni but is more of a merging of surrounding peoples' language rather than the old Ngoni language. 

I have a friend from Songea who has a blog in Ngoni and I can honestly say I have struggled to find any Nguni words in their language.

The Ngoni found in Songea are made up of both groups of the Ngoni. You will, therefore, found there clan names such as Maseko and Jele. This is because one splinter group of Zwangendaba's group joined the Maseko Ngoni who were then settled in Songea. Later the Zwangendaba Ngoni rebelled against the Maseko Ngoni and drove them out.

The State of the Ngoni Language Among the Mmbelwa Ngoni

The only group of the Ngoni that managed to have the subject people adopt the Ngoni language is the Mmbelwa Ngoni. This could be because their kingdom was more of a federation run by the sons of Zwangendaba.

There were more spread out and more in control than any control you can ever find among the Mpezeni and Maseko Ngoni.

All the missionaries and British explorers who visited the area before the 1890s reported that almost everyone there spoke the Ngoni language. The only weakness was that the subject people while they spoke the Ngoni language still maintained their own language, Tumbuka.

There was, therefore, a battle of two languages and eventually, the Tumbuka language prevailed such that in the early 1890s even the missionaries could see that Ngoni language was dying out.

The Ngoni language is however still spoken in a few villages in Mpherembe's area and Edingeni (?).

Because of the widespread nature of the Ngoni language before its demise in most parts there, the Tumbuka language spoken there is more a joining together of Tumbuka and Ngoni other than just pure Tumbuka.

My mother comes from there so I know that among all the Ngoni groups the Mmbelwa Ngoni's who no longer speak Ngoni still have more Nguni words in their language than other Ngoni groups.  You can pick Ngoni words in almost every paragraph when they speak.

I would imagine that it would be easy to resurrect the Ngoni language there than in other Ngoni language areas. There have after all a few areas where the Ngoni language is still spoken.

It is just a question of studying the language and taking out some Nsenga and Tumbuka influences that I have already mentioned at the beginning of this article.

Ngoni Language Lessons.

For those interested in learning the Ngoni language below are links to some lessons that will help you on your way to learning it.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Mourning Songs of the Ngoni Plus Grammar Lessons

Ngoni Mourning Songs: Nangu Umthakathi (Here is a witch)

There are no real mourning songs of the Ngoni as singing and dancing were not part of the burial rites except at the death of a chief, though at subsequent funeral rites, some months later, it is customary to dance ingoma.
The one below I heard a woman sing at the burial of her grandmother, and she said her grandmother had taught it to her. - Margaret Read, 

Namuhla ngiyakuloya. Today, I shall bewitch
Nangu umthakathi. Here is the witch.
Wena wafa njani? You, how did you die?
Niyangihleka, hlekani, ngingodingayo mina. You are laughing at me, laugh. I am poor, I.
Ngithuma ubani? Whom do I send.
Lina niyathuma abantwana. You, you are sending children.
Ngindinda nginje ngithuma endlini. I wander about myself. I send to the house.
Ngiyandinda ngelidolo ngihamba ematsheni. I wander about on/with (my) knees. I go on the stones.
Ngingedwa ngithatha izigodo ngingedwa. I am alone, I carry branches, I alone.
Ha ! ngiyakhalela umntwana komama (umntakomama). Ha! I am crying for your child, mother.
Waza wangishiya phalubalala. She has gone and has left me in a lonely place.
Ngihlalela yena. Ngizothini? I stayed for her. What shall I say?

Ngoni Grammar Note:

Ngiyakuloya: I shall bewitch. This is made up of the following parts.

Nangu: Here is. For more on this ngoni demonstrative pronoun please visit and search for pronouns.

Umthakathi : a witch.

Ngi-: Pronoun, I.
-yaku-: Ngoni future tense marker. Other future tense markers are -zaku-, zo, yo, etc.
-loya: bewitch, hypnotise etc.

ngingodingayo: I am poor/needy. Made up of the following parts:

Ngi- I
ngu+o> Ngo: Identifiying prefix, am. when u in ngu meets the o in odingayo (who needs) it becomes ngo.

(o)dingayo: who needs. -dinga is a verb stem that means, need, require.

Lina: you (plural). Ngoni and Ndebele say lina where the Zulu say nina.

Ngindinda: I wander. It is made of Ngi- for pronoun, I, and verb -ndinda, wander about, rove about aimlessly.

Ngingedwa: I am alone. Comprising of ngi- I and -ngedwa, adverb for alone, only, solely, by msyelf, on my own.

Ngithatha: I take. Comprises of Ngi- (I), thatha, verb for take, lay hold of, keep.

endlini: in/at/from the house. Locative of the noun indlu, house, hut.

ngelidolo: with knees. Comprises of nga + ilidolo. ilidolo is ngoni for knee. For use of nga- and na- please visit.

izigodo: short log of wood, tree stump. It can also mean strong hardy person, son in law (umkhwenyana).

Phalubalala: Not sure if this is a Nguni word. It could be a borrowed word.

NOTE FROM MODERATOR: I am not a grammarian by any stretch of the imagination so please let me know of any errors in this article or future articles. I just do this to feel the gap that will be filled in future by able-bodied individuals. In the meantime while waiting let's share what we can and learn our beautiful language. A culture without its own language is a dead culture. We need to reclaim our language to reclaim our culture.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Ngoni War Songs Plus Grammar


This is a war song where the Ngoni are boasting about their origins. Simple song. Unfortunately I only have the text and not the tune.

Uyezwa na? (Do your hear?)
Umngoni uvela enzansi. (The Ngoni comes from the south-east)
Uyezwa na? (Do you hear?)
Uyezwa na? zi (Do you hear zi)

Alternative for line : Lo mngoni owaye enzansi. This Ngoni who was from south east

Grammar Notes:

Enzansi: can mean, downdward, on the lower side, down country, towards the coast but the Ngoni usually use it to mean Natal where they originally came from.

Uyezwa? : Do you hear, Ngoni Present continuous tense. From the root verb -zw-, hear/feel/smell/understand. This is part of the so called verbs "allergic" to -a- verbs because any "a" before them is replaced by "e". Therefore U+ya+zwa becomes uyezwa.

Lo : lo (this) is one of the ngoni demonstratives for class 1 nouns eg umfana, umuntu etc

Owaye: o (who) is the relative prefix for class 1 nouns but waye is one of the Ngoni verb auxiliaries from the verb ukuya, to go.

NGONI WAR SONG: ZEMUKA INKOMO MAGWALA-NDINI (There goes the Cattle you cowards)

This is a war song sung women, deriding the men to do great deeds. They would see herds of cattle being driven away hastily in villages passed on the march, and would sing this song to persuade the army to go after them.

I just found a 1911 Xhosa book with the same title as this song, Zemk'inkomo magwalandini Author: W B Rubusana; B B Mdledle Publisher: London : Butler & Tanner, 1911.

On the 1911 Xhosa book, I found the following on the internet: According to Satyo, based in the Department of Southern African Languages, the original Zemk' Inkomo magwalandini – its name means "There goes your heritage, you cowards" – signified the early start of an intellectual struggle against colonial authority.

Maybe it is high time we investigated the suggestion that Zwangendaba and his group were originally Xhosa before they moved to settle in Zululand. I suspect that the song below was originally Xhosa. I could be wrong. What do you our Nguni brothers from down south mzansi think?

Below is our Ngoni war song sang by Ngoni women. Enjoy!

Zemuka inkomo magwala-ndini (The cattle depart/leave/go away you cowards/ There goes the cattle, you cowards)

Naziya zemuka magwala-ndini (Those yonder; they depart, you cowards)

Inkomana zemuka na? zemuka magwala-ndini(small beasts go away? (they) go away you fools.)

Ubujaha buphelile na? zemuka hi ha o ho (Is your young manhood over)

Nihlala nemijingathi zemuka e he he (You are left with the carriers. They go away (depart))

Hayi nkomo zemuka na zemuka hi ho (No the cattle go away?, they go away hi ho)

Nilibele namabele, zemuka o ho ho5 ( "You are continually with african corn (Chewa, mawele). In other words "You have eyes only for the foodstuffs". Remember it is the ladies taunting the men for letting the cattle be taken away before their eyes.

Grammar Note

Zemuka : zi representing the inkomo (full form is izinkomo) plus ngoni verb emuka, depart, go away, desert, break allegiance; be absorbed ect. In this case the zemuka inkomo(izinkomo) is the cattle have run away/departed. Take note also of this phenomenon in bantu languages where the subject can follow the verb, so zemuka inkomo can also be inkomo zemuka with the same meaning.

Inkomo: This is one of the rare cases where the ngoni departs from using the full plural form izinkomo/zinkomo to shorten it to inkomo. The singular is inkomo but the plural even though it is spelt the same way is prounounced iinkomo with double i to differentiate from singular inkomo.

Naziya: Those yonder: For this and other ngoni pronouns please visit the link below.

Inkomana: small beast (cow, ox, bull). In this case it is not the singular inkomana but shortened form of izinkomana (small beasts).

Magwala-ndini: you are fools from amagwala, cowards and the singular is igwala.

ubujaha: young manhood, from the noun ijaha, young men.

buphelile: bu is the subject concord representing ubujaha and -phelile is a verb that stands for be completed, be done, be finished, have ended etc. Its present tense stem is phela, end, terminate, come to an end.

Nilibele: Ni (you plural) + libele (continually)

Namabele: na (with) (a)mabele african corn but amabele is also breasts depending on context.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Expressing Commands in Ngoni Language

Expressing Simple Commands in Ngoni

The simplest way to express a command in Ngoni language is to use just the plain verb stem. In other words the root plus a.

An Example would be

Verb Root + a

Hamb + a > Hamba! Go!
Ngen + a > Ngena! Enter!
Fund + a > Funda! Learn!
Thand + a> Thanda! Love!

When one or more people is being spoken to then one needs to add the suffix -ni at the end.

The pattern: Verb Root + a + ni


VR + a + ni
Ngen+an+ni > Ngenani! Enter (all of you)
Hamb+a + ni> Hambani! Go (all of you)!
Khulum+a+ni> Khulumani! Speak (all of you)!
Fund + a+ni> Fundani! Learn (all of you)
Thand+a+ni> Thandani! Love (referring to more than one)

There are a few exceptions however especially for single syllable verb roots such as -dla (eat). In this case you add prefix yi to the verb root.

The pattern: Singular: Yi+Verb Root+a
             Plural :  Yi+Verb Root+a+ni


Yi + VR + a 
Yi + dl + a > Yidla! Eat!

Yi + VR +a+ni
Yi + dl +a +ni> Yidlani! Eat! (plural)

Negative Commands.

There are two ways of expressing negative commands in Ngoni. The most common uses Yekela + infinitive form of the verb when speaking to one person and Yekelani + infinitive when speaking to more than one person.


Speaking to one person:

Yekela ukuthanda! Do not love (one person)
Yekelani ukuthanda! Do not love (addressing more than one person)

Yekela ukungena! Do not enter! (to one person)
Yekelani ukungena! Do not enter! (addressing more than one person)

Another way of expressing the commands in the negative is using the following forms:

Mus'+uku + Verb Root + a (infinitive) when speaking to one person
Musani + uku + Verb Root + a when speaking to more than one person


Mus' ukungena! Don't enter!
Musani ukungena! Don't enter! (to more than one person)
Mus' ukubanga umsindo! Don't make a noise!
Musani ukubanga umsindo! Don't make a noise!

Simple Commands with object concords

This when you want to say something like Help him, help them, assist them etc. To do this the pattern to follow is as follows:

Object Concord + Verb Root + e


OC + VR + E
M + siz + e > Msize! Help him!
Ba+ siz +e > Basize! Help them!
Yi+thath+e> Yithathe! Take it (yi refers to a noun in class 9)

When speaking to more than one person being spoken to you add suffix -ni.

The pattern: Object Concord + Verb Root + e + ni
OC+VR + E + NI
Yi+thatha+e+ni> Yithatheni! Take it(all of you)!
M+siz+e+ni> Msizeni! Help her/him (all of you)
M+thand+e+ni> Mthandeni! Love him/her (all of you)

Negative Commands  with Object concords.

In this case you add the object just before the verb root

Pattern:  One person: Yekela + uku + OC+ Verb Root + a
More than one person:Yekelani + uku+ OC+ Verb Root +a

Examples: Yekela ukuyithatha! Don't take it! (yi representing class 9 nouns)
                   Yekelani ukuyithatha! Don't take it !(speaking to more than one person)

Another way is to use the mus' and musani where you add the object concord before the verb root as used in the Yekela and Yekelani examples above.


Musani (u)kungihleka! Don't laugh at me!(addressing more than one person
Mus' (u)kungihleka! Don't laugh at me! (addressing one person)
Mus' ukuyithatha! Don't take it! (when addressing one person)
Musani ukuyithatha! Don't take it! (when addressing more than one person)
Mus' ukumthanda! Don't love him!
Musani ukumthanda! Don't love him

Ngoni Warriors 1895

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Expressing The Past in Ngoni Language

The Present Perfect 

The present perfect denotes an action just completed, or one whose consequences still remain. Hence this form is frequently used in the formation of adjectives such as abantu abayonileyo (sinful people, literally people who have sinned.)

It is expressed by adding the suffix -ile to the root of the verb for the long form and -e for the short form. The short form is used when and object or an adverb follows the verb.

Below are a few verb stems to illustrate what happens.

Stem                          Long Form          Short form
-thuma  send              -thumile (sent     -thume  (sent)                                
-dla eat                        -dlile (eaten)       -dle (eaten
-wa fall                         -wile (fallen)       -we (fallen)
-na rain                         -nile (rained       -ne (rained)                
-ona sin,                       -onile (sinned)   -one (sinned)


Baphuzile. They have drunk or they drank.
Baphuze amanzi. They drank water.
Ngimbonile. I saw him
Ngimbone izolo. I saw him yesterday.
Sihambile. We have left
Sihambe ngo-10.  We left at 10 oclock.

In summary here are the patterns for the present perfect:

Positive: long form: Subject concord + Verb Root + ile
               short form: Subject concord +  Verb Root+e

Negative: a + Subject concord + Root -anga

To show this in full below is a conjugation of the verb ukuthanda into the present perfect (long form).


SC+Verb R+ ile
Ngi+thand +ile > Ngithandile. I have loved.
U  + thand+ ile > Uthandile. You have loved.
U + thand + ile > Uthandile. He has loved.
Si + thand+ ile > Sithandile. We have loved.
Ni+thand+ ile > Nithandile. You have loved.
Ba+thand+ile > Bathandile. They have loved.


As you will notice below the negative of the present perfect is formed almost like the negative of the present tense except that it ends in -anga.

A + SC+ Verb R + anga
A + ngi+ thand + anga > Angithandanga. I have not loved./I did not love.
A + wu + thand + anga > Awuthandanga. You have not loved/You did not love.
A + ka + thand + anga > Akathandanga. He has not loved./He did not love.
A + si + thand + anga > Asithandanga. We have not loved./We did not love.
A + ni + thand + anga > Anithandanga. You have not loved/You did not love.
A + ba + thand + anga > Abathandanga. They have not loved./They did not love.

Before we close this part it is important to note some verbs that are slightly different from the norm.
The first one is the negative form of the verb -sho (say (so)). 

Akashongo he did not say (so)
Angishongo I did not say (so)

Past Indefinite/Remote Past Tense

This tense expresses what was formerly true, but is no longer so. In this it differs from the present perfect. It is usually used to refer to events that happened in the distant and fairly distant past usually from about six months back though this and the perfect usually overlaps in daily usage.

Examples of this tense are sentences like Waqala nini ukufunda isiNgoni. When did you start learning Ngoni.

To create this tense we follow the pattern below:

Positive: Subject Concord  + a + Root + a
Negative: a + Subject Concord + Root + anga

In the positive remote tense the -a- is a long -a- in pronunciation to differentiate from other -a-in the present tense. Please find below a table to show the changes that take place when the vowels of the subject concords combine with the  -a-.

Class            SC + a                    Remote Past Example
1st P.S.         Ngi +a > nga-         ngabona I saw.
1st pp           Si    +a > sa-           sabona We saw.
2nd p.s          u  + a> wa-            wabona You saw.
2nd p.p.        ni  + a>na-              nabona you saw.
um(u)-          u  + a> wa-             wabona she swa.
aba-              ba+ a> ba-               babona they saw.
um(u)-          u + a > wa               wabona it saw.
imi-               i + a > ya                 yabona they saw
i(li)-              li + a > la                  labona it saw
ama-             a  + a > a-                 abona they saw
isi-                si + a> sa                 sabona it saw.
izi-                zi + a> za                zabona they saw.
in-                 i + a > ya                yabona  he saw.
izin-              zi + a>za                 zadla they ate.
u(lu)-            lu + a > lwa             lwawa it fell
ubu-              bu + a> ba              bachitheka it spilled
uku-             ku + a > kwa            kwasha it burned

Below is the conjugation of the negative of the infinitive, ukuthanda, to love/like:

A+ngi+thand+anga > angithandanga I did not love.
A+wu+thand+anga> Awuthandanga You did not love.
A+ka+thand+anga> Akathandanga  He did not love.
A + si+thand+anga > Asithandanga We did not love.
A + ni+thand+anga > Anithandanga You did not love
A + ba+than+anga> Abathandanga They did not love.

Expressing Was/Were in the Ngoni Language

To express sentences such as I was sick, he was asleep or they were in the city etc you use the stem be-

For most of the verbs the pattern to follow is shown below:

Positive:    Be + Subject Concord + Verb Root + a
 Negative: Be +  Subject Concord +nga + Verb Root +i

Examples before we go on could be the following:


Be + SC + VR + a
Be + ngi + gul   +a > Bengigula izolo. I was sick yesterday.


Be + SC + nga + VR + i
Be + ngi + nga + gul +i > Bengingaguli izolo I was not sick yesterday

Below is the conjugation for the 1st 2nd and 3rd persons for the verb ukuthanda, whose root is thand:


1st Person singular: Bengithanda. I was loving.
2nd Person singular: Ubuthanda You were loving
3rd Person singular: Ubethanda/Wabethanda. He was loving.
1st Person plural   :  Besithanda. We were loving.
2nd Person Plural : Benithanda You were loving.
3rd Person Plural : Bebethanda. They were loving


1st Person singular: Bengingathandi. I was not loving
2nd Person singular: Ubungathandi. You were not loving.
3rd Person singular : Ubengathandi/Wabengathandi. He was not loving.
1st Person  plural   : Besingathandi. We were not loving.
2nd Person plural : Beningathandi. You were not loving.
3rd Person plural : Bebengathandi. They were not loving.

Below is the breakdown for 3rd person subject concords:

Class       Subject Concord   Examples
1/1a         ube-                       Ubegula She was sick.
                                              Ubengaguli. She was not sick.
2/2b         bebe-                     Bebekhuluma. They were speaking.
                                              Bebengakhulumi. They were not speaking.
3              bewu -                   Bewuhamba. It was leaving/going.
                                               Bewungahambi. It was not leaving/going.
4              beyi-                       Beyikhula  They ere growing.
                                               Beyingakhuli They were not growing.
5             beli-                        Belina It was raining
                                               Belingani. It was not raining.
6             abe-                         Abehamba. They were going.
                                              Abengahambi They were not going.
7              besi-                       Besikhala. It was crying.
                                               Besingakhali It was not crying.
8              bezi-                       Bezikhula They were growing.
                                               Bezingakhuli They were not growing.
9             beyi-                       Beyihleka It was laughing.
                                               Beyingahleki. It was not laughing.
10           bezi-                        Bezigula They were sick.
                                               Bezingaguli. They were not sick
11           belu-                        Belukhala. It was crying/complaining
                                               Belungakhali. It was not crying/complaining.
14          bebu-                       Bebufika It was arriving.
                                               Bebungafiki. It was not arriving.
15           beku-                      Bekusiza. It was helping
                                              Bekungasizi. It was not helping.

Below is a short video explaining some simple tenses.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Ngoni Future Tense

The future tense expresses an action that will take place at some time in the future.

There are different ways of presenting the Ngoni future tense:

Future (Immediate or emphatic)

One uses this to refer to a time immediately after the moment of speaking and emphasises that the even or action will happen very soon. 

1. The first way is marked by the use of the auxiliary "za" with the contracted infinitive of the principal verb where the first "u" is elided; thus, 'Ngizakuthanda,' I shall love, or I am going to love, or I am about to love, literally, I come to love.

Below is a formula to summarise this way of presenting the future:

Subject Concord + za + infinitive with the "u" elided

Thus ngizakuthanda was formalised as follows:

ngi+za+ukuthanda > ngi+za+kuthanda> ngizakuthanda.

2. Another way of expressing this is by using the shortened form which is common in isiZulu using the following formula:

Subject Concord + zo + verb stem

Ngi+zo+thanda > Ngizothanda I shall love.
Ngi+zo+khuluma>Ngizokhuluma noZuma, I shall/will speak with Zuma.

3. The negative in this form is formed by the following formula where the "za" changes to "zi":

a + Subject Concord + zi + infinitive with "u" elided


A + SC + zi + infinitive with "u" elided
a  +  ngi +zi+kuthanda > angizikuthanda, I will not love.    

One can also use the short form where the tense marker za becomes zu as per the following formula:

a + SC +zu+verb stem


a + SC + zu + verb stem
a + ngi +zu+ hamba > angizuhamba (I will not leave)
a + ngi + zu+ thanda> I will not love

When speaking to other Nguni groups I would urge you to avoid the long forms and go for the short forms, such as ngizohamba (I will leave) and angizuhamba (I will not leave)

Future Indefinite Using ya

The future indefinite is used to refer to future actions that will take place some time in future.

1. The first variety, affirmative, is marked by the use of the auxiliary ya with the infinitive of the principal verb, the initial "u" of the infinitive sign (uku) being elided ; thus,

Subject Concord +ya+Infinitive with "u" elided.

Example: Ngiyakuthanda,' I shall love, literally, I go to love. This is created by from the following parts:

Ngi +ya+kuthanda (ukuthanda, to love, with "u" elided) > Ngiyakuthanda. This form used to be common in old isiZulu which has now resorted to only using shortened forms such as ngiyothanda which ngoni also uses rarely besides the the full forms.

If you have ever sang or read old ngoni songs and praise poems you will agree with me that the full forms are used more frequently than the shorter terms. 

To illustrate my point below is an excerpt of hymn no 32 from Izingoma zobukhristu (Christian Songs) which is used extensively at funerals in northern Malawi.

Liyakhala ilizwi leNkosi yezulu (The voice of the king of heaven is calling. Literally, It is calling the voice of the king of heaven)
Liyabiza abantu abayonileyo (It is calling the people who have sinned)
Bayakuphumula phezulu (They will rest above (in heaven))

As you can see bayakuphumula does not mean they will rest you but they will rest. The ku in bayakuphumula is not standing for you as is normally the case but is part of the infinitive ukuphumula to rest where the first vowel has been elided.

2. One can also use the short form which follows the formula below:

Subject Concord + yo + verb stem


SC+yo+verb stem
I + yo  + thenga > iyothenga as in Indoda yami iyothenga inyama. My man will buy the meat.
Ngi+yo+thanda > Ngiyothanda, I shall love.

3. The negative is formed by changing the final vowel of the auxiliary ya from a to i, and using the negative a before the pronoun nominative, for direct negation; and the negative nga after the pronoun nominative, for indirect or accessory negation; thus,

'Angiyikuthanda,' I shall not love; 'ngingayikuthanda,' (that) I shall not love"

Another negative form is the shortened form which is common in modern isiZulu. To form the negative, the negativiser "a"-occurs, and the tense markers become zu/yu.

a + SC + yu-verb stem
a + si + yu + fa > asiyufa (we will not die)
a + ngi+yu+hamba > I will not leave.

Lastly but not least as is typical in most bantu languages there is a further shortened form. In this case a number of contractions occur resulting in the following:

Si + za + ukusebenza We shall work
Si + zo + kusebenza (a+u > o, coalescence)
Sizosebenza (-ku- deletion)
Sosebenza (-i + z- Deletion) 

Sosebenza kakhulu kusasa ntambama Will work hard tomorrow afternoon.

A similar process also takes place with the -ya- with the same results.

To put in simple terms below is the formula that you can use for this shortened form.

Positive: Subject concord without the last vowel + o + Verb stem


SC + O + Verb stem
S   + o   + suka  > Sosuka, we will leave
Ng + o  + phakamisa > ngophakamisa, I will elevate.
S   + o  + sebenza > We shall work
Ng + o + tshala umumbu > Ngotshala, I will plant maize.

Because of the extreme contractions this form the distinction between -za- and -ya- cannot be made. Therefore the above forms can be used for both the -za- and -ya-. Thus ngotshala umumbu can stand for both ngizotshala umumbu and Ngiyotshala umumbu.

I suspect that in future this is the shortened forms that will dominate even in Ngoni as more and more people learn Zulu to understand Ngoni language.

Future Progressive

The future progressive tense indicates continuing action. It is created by the future of tense of the infinitive of the auxiliary verb, ukuba (to be), plus the present tense of the verb that you want to conjugate.

Below is the pattern for the conjugation of the verb ukuba (to be) which is used in the forming of this tense.

Subject Concord +ya+Infinitive with "u" elided.

Below are the conjugations for the verb ukuthanda, to love.


Ngi+ya+kuba > Ngiyakuba ngithanda. I shall be loving.
U+ya+kuba > Uyakuba uthanda. I shall be loving.
Wa+ya+kuba> Wayakuba ethanda. He shall be loving (Note the use wa and e in the main verb).
Si+ya+kuba> Siyakuba sithanda. We shall be loving.
Ni+ya+kuba> Niyakuba nithanda. You shall be loving.
Ba+ya+kuba>Bayakuba bethanda. They shall be loving.


A + SC + Yi + infinitive with "u" elided

a + SC + yi + Inf
A+ngi+yi +kuba> Angiyikuba ngithanda. I will not be loving
A+ku+yi+kuba > Akuyikuba uthanda You will not be loving.
A+ka+yi+kuba> Akayikuba ethanda. He will not be loving.
A+si+yi+kuba> Asiyikuba sithanda. We will not be loving.
A+ni+yi+kuba> Aniyikuba nithanda. You may not be loving.
A+ba+yi+kuba>Abayikuba bethanda. They will not be loving.

Future Perfect

The future perfect tense refers to a completed action in the future.

The future perfect is created by conjugating the auxilliary verb, ukuba, into the future tense and combining it with the present perfect tense of the verb that you want to use.

Below are the conjugations of the verb, ukuthanda into the future perfect starting with positive forms followed by the negative forms.


Ngi+ya+kuba>Ngiyakuba ngithandile. I shall have loved.
U+ ya+kuba> Uyakuba uthandile. You shall have loved
Wa+ya+kuba>Wayakuba ethandile. He shall have loved.
Si+ya+kuba>Siyakuba Sithandile. We shall have loved.
Ni+ya+kuba>Niyakuba Nithandile. You shall have loved.
Ba+ya+kuba>Bayakuba bathandile. They shall have loved.


a + SC + yi + Inf
A+ngi+yi+kuba > Angiyikuba ngithandile. I will not have loved.
A+ku+yi+kuba > Akuyikuba uthandile. You will not have loved.
A+ka+yi+kuba > Akayikuba ethandile. He will not have loved.
A+si+yi+kuba > Asiyikuba sithandile. We will not have loved.
A+ni+yi+kuba > Aniyikuba nithandile. We will not have loved.
A+ba+yi+kuba > Abayikuba bethandile. They will not have loved.

Ngoni Dance 1895