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Hlubi people

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Hlubi people

The Hlubi (or amaHlubi) are a South African ethnic group. For at least two centuries they have been a part of the Nguni, Mbo or Lala nation. They are found in the Republic of South Africa in the KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and North West provinces, with an original settlement on the Buffalo River.They also have readily traceable descendents in the modern day Kingdom of Swaziland and the Matabeleland Region of The Republic of Zimbabwe. Very little has been documented about this nation but there is a lot of oral literature regarding the history of the amaHlubi nation. The amaHlubi originated further North and migrated southwards with the other Nguni groups of the time.

They settled in the Lubombo mountains, a range that extends from Zululand to the Swaziland-Mozambique border. They migrated southwards to Natal. In the Lubombo mountains they separated from the group now known as the amaSwati. The amaHlubi are closely related to the Basotho, evident both in language and clan names. Traditionally amaHlubi kings preferred to marry Sotho girls as they saw them as their close relatives.

The amaHlubi people maintain that they are a different entity from all other groups in South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and in Africa generally, though there is a section of people closely related them known as Bashubi in Rwanda and Burundi. They are found also in places like Lesotho. They have secret female initiation rituals, and other customs that separate them from the Nguni in general.

The origin of the name "Hlubi" is not known. Some historians speculate that this was the name of a Hlubi princess who was a daughter to King Dlamini. Others argue that this was a name of one of the early Hlubi rulers although the name of this said King does not appear in their list of kings. The word does exist in Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania known as "Shubi".


In the early nineteenth century, the amaHlubi were a powerful nation in Southern central Natal, and many other nations, including Shaka's amaZulu, kept peace treaties with them. Around 1818 the Ngwane chief Matiwane, during his campaign against Dingiswayo and Shaka, petitioned Mthimkhulu, King of the Hlubi group nearest his own kingdom, to protect his herds of cattle. Mthimkhulu agreed, but later refused to return them, as he was a Zulu subject as Shaka had a permanent Hlubi battalion called iziYendane because of their long hair. Many Zulu groups were originally independent, much like the Hlubi, but it cannot be doubted that during Shaka's reign at least those who did not toe the line fled or left the area of Shaka's territorial sphere of influence. For example, the Khumalos and Mthethwas were once the most powerful nations in Southern Africa.

When the Mfecane wars started some of King Bhungane's brothers like those who were also chiefs in the Hlubiland now, in Natal took a section of people under them and fled. Chief Sondezi, who was Bhungane's brother relocated to the Vaal River (eGwa/Lekoa/liGwa). Chief Ngalonkulu, who was a brother to King Mthimkhulu also fled to the Vaal to live near his brother where they could form a strong ally against the people that were already occupying that land. Luzipho was Mthimkhulu's son went to settle in Standerton. Other Hlubi chiefs went to settle in the east of Drakensberg Mountains where Shaka was the prime ruler. Names of those chiefs are as follows: Mananga, Mndebele and Ntambama. Others fled to the East Griqualand (now incorporated to the Eastern Cape province ). Chief Mhlambiso, Magadla and Ludidi went to the transkei homeland and built a very strong Hlubi nation that was never bothered by the Basotho, Xhosa, Mpondomise, Mpondo, and Bhaca peoples that were living in that land prior their arrival. The latter group resided in the Northern part of the Eastern Cape and is the one that is still the area together with the Basotho people they live cohesively and in harmony. This may have been caused because Moshoeshoe I (the founder of the Basotho nation) had a Hlubi great-grandfather.The Mfecane origins of the "Ndebele" people of modern day Zimbabwe is said to be inextricable from the dispersion of Zimbabwe's "Mthimkhulu" (or Donga-Mthimkhulu) clan/family from the Hlubi under King Bhungane.

Although this dispersion explains why there are so many Hlubi chiefs spread disparately throughout Southern Africa, all paying allegiance to King Langalibalele II, who is headquartered in Estcourt, Natal, it is worth noting that the "Mthimkhulu" clan of Zimbabwe does not command a chieftaincy in Matabeleland, although they stand out as a proud, influential and cohesive group with immediate links to their origins in South Africa (and Swaziland).

In the early 1820s the Hlubis (under Mpangazita) and Batlokwa conducted a campaign that ravaged land now in the Free State, mostly fighting Basotho. Over the course of the next few decades, however, Hlubi land was conquered by the British and mostly incorporated into the Colony of Natal.

In the early 1870s the Hlubi King Langalibalele was arrested by the British after his subjects failed to register arms that they got as a form of payment from owners of diamond mines. He did this because those who registered their arms found that they had been tampered with or they were not working at all when they collected them. There was a rumour in Natal that Langalibalele and his men were preparing for a civil war against the British. All this happened because the Hlubi's were prospering as small farmers and their wealth was multiplying at an unprecedented rate and the white farmers in the area felt amaHlubi were being a threat on their income. After a skirmish with British soldiers and some African men who helped the British, King Langalibalele was arrested in 1873 while fleeing to Lesotho and his successors were never officially returned to throne. King Cetshwayo of the allied Zulus visited and pleaded with the Natal government to release King Langalibalele. The British did not comply. Langalibalele died under house arrest in 1879 and received a king's burial at the foothills of the Drankensberg.

Norman Herd[1] wrote that: “History records are inescapably dominated by the dramatic exploits of the Zulu. Yet the amaHlubi, one of the largest perhaps the largest of the eMbo had had their hour of the beginning of the Nineteenth century the Zulus were a tiny insignificant clan and from their social pinnacle the amaHlubi could look down upon them as despised tobacco-sellers.”

King Dingiswayo of the Mthethwa confederation fled to King Bhungane to seek shelter when running away from his father's spear. King Bhungane as a well-known rain-maker and traditionalist passed his skills to Dingiswayo, who later used these skills to reclaim the throne when he returned to his people. This must have been the reason why Shaka, who grew under Dingiswayo's mentorship, never dared to attack amaHlubi though they were just a stone's throw away from his Zulu people. He always kept peace with amaHlubi and sought their advice on several military issues and is known to have asked for the help of their rain-making and traditional war medicine skills when going for a war. It is for this knowledge of traditional medicines and rain-making skills that amaHlubi were renowned as the "Mthimkhulu" clan. The name Mthimkhulu, is a conjugation of two Zulu words: "Umuthi" and "Omkhulu", which when taken collectively, translate to "Profound Medicine Portion(s)".

The British government has returned the royal garments and chairs that it took from the Hlubi upon arresting their king in a big traditional gathering that was held in Ntabamhlophe in Natal.

Along with several other groups, the amaHlubi have lodged a request with the Nhlapho Commission (now known as the Moleketi Commission) to make a claim about the recognition of their king on a national level. They have also been involved on a massive drive to revive their heritage including the revival of their language. Their culture has been largely neglected by national heritage drives, in part because they are often seen as a subgroup of the Xhosa, Sotho and Zulu nations.

Hlubi kings

Below is a traditional estimation of the Hlubi Kings that ruled from 1300 until now.[2] Note that Hlubi history comes mainly from oral sources and the dates below should not be taken as historically accurate.

The current ruler of the nation is Muziwenkosi kaTatazela, who is officially known as King Langalibalele II. The Hlubi royal home is in Mtshezi (Estcourt) in what is today known as KwaZulu Natal. Hlubis are now found throughout South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. There are Hlubi communities in the Eastern Cape (Matatiele, Mt Fletcher, Tsolo, Qumbu, Maclear, Mt Frere, Mount Ayliff, Sterkspruit), Kwazulu Natal (Ixopo, Mzimkhulu, Escourt, Madadeni, Utrech etc.), North West, Swaziland, some settlements in Lesotho and very small pockets in Lupane and Bubi Districts of Zimbabwe (i.e. Ntabazinduna and Fingoe sub-Districts of Bubi).

King Reign
Chibi 1300–1325
Lubelo 1325–1350
Busobengwe (Bhungane I) 1350–1370
Fulathel’ilangjuhja 1370–1390
Bhele 1390–1410
Lufelelwenja 1410–1430
Sidwabasenkomo 1430–1450
Mhuhu 1450–1475
Mpembe 1475–1500
Mhlanga 1500–1525
Musi 1525–1550
Masoka 1550–1575
Ndlovu 1575–1600
Dlamini 1600–1625
Mthimkhulu I 1625–1650
Ncobo and later, Hadebe 1650–1675
Dlomo I 1675–1710
Mashiya 1710–1720
Ntsele 1735–1760
Bhungane II 1760–1800
Mthimkhulu II (Ngwadlazibomvu) 1800–1818
Dlomo II and later, Mthethwa (commonly known as Langalibalele I) 1839–1889
Siyephu (Mandiza) 1897–1910
Tatazela (Mthunzi) 1926–1956
Muziwenkosi (Langalibalelle ll) 1974 –


Main article: Hlubi language

The amaHlubi speak a dialect of or closely related to Swazi, one of the Tekela languages in the Nguni branch of the Niger–Congo language family.

The Hlubi dialect is endangered, and most Hlubi speakers are elderly and illiterate. There are attempts by Hlubi intellectuals to revive the language and make it one of the eleven recognised languages in South Africa.[2] Younger generations tend to speak Xhosa or Zulu.


Umkhosi Wokweshwama

King Langalibalele I continued the age old amaHlubi tradition of Umkhosi wokweshwama (ceremony of tasting the first fruits) that is done annually when he returned to Natal with his people. This ceremony was also practised by King Bhungane who used it to strengthen his powers using traditional medicine, during this ceremony he also gave orders that crops and vegetables like maize could be eaten or traded. Hlubi's from all over S.A that left their traditional home would return for thye festival. There would be a slaughter of many stock for the festives and people would be allowed to have as much food and traditional beer as they like. This time was important for the king to be updated on new developments about several amaHlubi people spread across the entire country. This was a perfect time to resolve disputes and decide on matters relating to royalty.

These days amaHlubi perform this ceremony to get to know each as they also come from different parts of the country. Issues like HIV/AIDS, Moral regeneration, importance of history, visiting the King's grave on the Giant's Castle Game Reserve in NtabaMhlophe are part of the celebrations. This is an important ceremony to all members of this nation as they get to learn more about their nation and appreciate their culture in a formal way. They also wear their traditional dresses and carry traditional Hlubi weaponry.


In the book "Clans of the Hlubi People" published by Henry Masila Ndawo (Iziduko zesizwe samaHlubi, Lovedale Press, 1939), he recorded a minimum of 55 clans that belong to the Hlubi nation. There are many other clans that have joined the Hlubi kingdom since the book was first published.

It was quite common in the early days of African history that weaker ethnic groups would seek protection from the stronger nation/group, or sections of a nation (during internal feuds) would break away and join another. Sometimes the stronger group would in pursuit of wealth attack a weaker/smaller group/clan. Another common practice was when a princess came to marry a king; members of her people, who would often never return home, would accompany her. In all these instances, the incorporated people would pay respect and show allegiance to the supreme ruler.


Further reading

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