Chapter 23.

A Happy Reunion.

It was a hopeful nation that moved forward, and for months afterwards the Bechuanaland forests were alive with swarms of Matebele travelling persistently towards the land of promise to found a new Matebeleland.

Before finally settling at Bulawayo, far, far up North the trek bivouacked for several moons on the banks of the Shashi River. There the Matebele erected a wide stockade in the centre of which they built temporary dwellings for their sorrowing King. Within this enclosure, King Mzilikazi resumed his indunas and issued commands from an improvised throne placed at a corner shaded by a row of mopani trees. During the trek northward he had lost much of his surplus flesh and other outward signs of dignity and was the object of much sympathy. The gap created by Umnandi's disappearance, so painfully evident in the domestic life of the nation, seemed to overshadow all other troubles. His warrior sons had fallen on the battle-field. The principal wife had died under mysterious circumstances, and the hopeless efficiency of his surviving consorts left him gloomy. The dances and ululations of the fair maidens of the nation were a dismal affair and their forced gaiety proved ineffective, even for the usually responsive heart of Mzilikazi.

He continued to hold his councils and arbitration courts. Swift runners went South and East and returned to assure the King that there were no enemies in the wake of his trek. His young men, who conducted periodical hunting and raiding expeditions into the unknown jungles of the interior, also carried instructions to inspect the land

page 211
for a suitable location for a permanent settlement. From many of these forays they returned with ivory, the choicest ostrich plumes and furs of every colour. One party went to far away Zimbabye and returned with pack-oxen loaded with ivory, rhinoceri hides, lion skins and hog tusks. They reported finding a people whose women dug the mountain sides for nuggets and brittle stones, which they brought home to boil and produce a beautiful metal from which to mould bangles and ornaments of rare beauty. That was the Matebele's first experience of gold smelting.

One morning an induna came to the King's place and announced the approach of Thipa, a Kwena courier from Chief Sechele. The King received the visitor without delay, and welcomed Thipa by handing him the gourd of corn beer which he held in his hand.

“Drink and slake your thirst, messenger of the sons of Kwena,” said Mzilikazi, handing him the gourd, “and acquaint me with the wishes of Sechele. I knew I had a sterling friend in him but I hardly thought that your chief would remember me in these days of my bitter adversity. What tidings do you bring? Tell me and quench my thirst for news.”

“Hail, Great Lion!” began Thipa, “Monarch of the woods and glades and ruler of the hills and vales! Sechele greets you and says: 'Tell my brother, Mzilikazi, that since his trek to the far north, Sechele's court-yards have been greatly honoured by the unexpected, yet none the less welcome presence of a courtly visitor in the person of Queen Umnandi, the fairest among royal wives. She was eager to follow up the trek of her lord and mine, but I detained her until I could have sufficient provision and ample escort to ensure her safe arrival by the side of Mzilikazi our King! She asks me to intercede on her behalf

page 212
for the King's pardon, since the displeasure and pain occasioned by her disappearance was the work of others. Thus, remembering her bounty and the charm she lent to the King's court at Inzwinyani, where so many of us worshipped her person, I was glad to do this by my trusted messenger, Thipa, who will assure the King on my behalf that Umnandi would gladly be a faggoter and water-carrier for the King's meat pots, without the status of a wife, if that will insure her pardon; for this cause I entreat the great Mzilikazi in the hope that domestic reconciliation will bring commitment to my gallant lord and his brave tribesmen!”

“What woman speak you of, Thipa? Has Sechele sent you here to mock me in my misery?”

At that moment the crowd surged asunder and allowed a passage to a group of travellers … “Umnandi! my long lost wife!” cried the King. “Not dead — not dead!”

His voice was drowned in bursts of rejoicing, as the vast concourse recognized Umnandi and her faithful Barolong maid. The welkin rang with the ponderous shouts of the men and the joyous shrieks of the women. This glorious welcome amazed the returning wanderer. Her fern-draped feet shook with excitement and exultation, for instead of being a suppliant for the King's pardon, she found herself a national heroine, acclaimed as such a people that had been profoundly grieved and perplexed by her disappearance.

Clapping Umnandi's hands to make sure she had returned in reality, Mzilikazi said: “Is it you? Oh, Umnandi, is it you? Or is all this a fleeting dream from which I shall awake to find myself a lonely and disappointed man?”

Crowds hurried from the utmost ends of the scattered

page 213
encampments and rushed to the scene of excitement in answer to ejaculations such as “a great magician has arrived! He makes the dead to walk … He resurrected Queen Umnandi! She is walking and talking like one who never died! All our slain soldiers have arisen and are on their way here! …..”

Many could not get near for the press and had to be content with these rumours and fables.

Young men were dispatched to the cattle-posts to bring sheep and bullocks to the slaughter poles to prepare a magnificent feast and celebrate the return of Umnandi from the mysterious unknown.

But the King ordered that none should partake of the feast. He, too, was not going to touch meat until Umnandi should prepare a meal for him by her own hand; likewise none might taste of beer until the deft hands of his beloved Umnandi had ground moulted grain and prepared for him her familiar and delectable brew. Accordingly, the welcome was postponed for three days during which all the men and women of the tribe were fasting.

Early in the morning of the fourth day chunks of beef and portions of mutton and venison were spread on the hot glowing embers where stacks of dead wood had been burnt to cinders through the night. And as the food sizzled over the fire, King Mzilikazi, surrounded by the heads of a joyful nation, entered the court and proclaimed the home-coming of his Queen. For the first time, the Matebele learnt how she had been cajoled into leaving her home. The clever magician from Zululand, who disappeared as mysteriously as Umnandi herself, had been vainly urged by threats and promises of rewards to poison her. This he would not be persuaded to do; instead he handed her an amulet to give to her husband as a result of

page 214
which she would bear a son and heir to the Matebele kingdom. And so the faithful daughter of Umzinyati had treasured that charm through the years of her enforced exile, and on the day of her home-coming handed it to the King.

When the populace had finished cheering, Queen Umnandi, headed by a procession of fifty young girls, and followed by the same number of singing women, emerged from the royal quarters and entered the enclosure. She was easily recognized by the prominence of her bejewelled costume, rich with beads and ornaments. Her kirtle of foxes and young leopard skins exposed amazing bangles of ivory and wristlets of solid gold while necklaces of rare value added to her barbaric splendour.

There was continuous cheering as she stepped gracefully in the procession to the tinkling of the cymbals and ululations of the dancing girls, reinforced by the ponderous cadences of the drum-like voices of the male section of the gay crowd.

King Mzilikazi joining in the contagious merriment cried: “Sechele, my brother Sechele! what friendship is so strong as yours to dig up the very grave and restore my dead love to me! Have you not brought back the central pillar of the life of Mzilikazi and the Matebele Nation? Hawu, Thipa, your mission is greater than the return of successful hunters and more welcome than the soaking rains that fertilize the sun-scorched fields!”

“Thipa shall drive home to his chief, Sechele, a herd of ten snow-white cows to symbolize the pleasing satisfaction in my heart, so that the Bakwena may also rejoice with us.”

“Now,” concluded the King, “let us feast for three

page 215
days and nights; let us sing and dance and be merry, and invoke the spirts to propitiate the magic of the sullen spirits of our dead ancestors.”

The voice of Mzilikazi starting a brand new tune, and leading the singers by tapping the tim with the handle of his spear against his shield, rang out clear and strong above the others:

    Sing on, sing on! Mzilikazi's a youth to-day,
        For since we left the bewitched valley —
    I never did feel so great before,
        Sing on, sing on!
    I never did feel so young before;
    The pillar of my house is here,
    I never did feel so glad before,
        Cheer on, cheer on!
    Not since we left the vale bewitched
        Inzwinyani, the place of sorcery,
        Dance on, dance on!
    I never did feel so strong before.

And as the crowd of leather-lunged men reiterated the refrain the ground reverberated with the stamping of many feet to the rhythmical sound of tom-toms. The siren-like voice of one Umfazi rang out in thrilling repetition after each verse. “Sing on, women, sing on!” she shouted. “We have suffered only tribulation since Umnandi's flight now let her bring back to us the joys of bygone days. Dance on, women, dance on!”

In due course the Matebele having struck the Shashi camp, established a new capital, named Gu-Bulawayo in the very far north. There a magnificent feast was repeated a year later, for Umnandi had presented the King and nation with her son, the new born prince! In the course of a prosperous life during which the Matebele grew in

page 216
power and influence, Umnandi's son extended the awe-inspiring sway of his government to distant territories of the hinterland; and when at length he succeeded his father as Matebele King, he wielded a yet greater power than that of his renowned father.
page 217

Chapter 23.

A Happy Reunion.

It was a hopeful nation that moved forward, and for months afterwards the Bechuanaland forests were alive with swarms of Matebele travelling persistently towards the land of promise to found a new Matebeleland.

Before finally settling at Bulawayo, far, far up North the trek bivouacked for several moons on the banks of the Shashi River. There the Matebele erected a wide stockade in the centre of which they built temporary dwellings for their sorrowing King. Within this enclosure, King Mzilikazi resumed his indunas and issued commands from an improvised throne placed at a corner shaded by a row of mopani trees. During the trek northward he had lost much of his surplus flesh and other outward signs of dignity and was the object of much sympathy. The gap created by Umnandi's disappearance, so painfully evident in the domestic life of the nation, seemed to overshadow all other troubles. His warrior sons had fallen on the battle-field. The principal wife had died under mysterious circumstances, and the hopeless efficiency of his surviving consorts left him gloomy. The dances and ululations of the fair maidens of the nation were a dismal affair and their forced gaiety proved ineffective, even for the usually responsive heart of Mzilikazi.

He continued to hold his councils and arbitration courts. Swift runners went South and East and returned to assure the King that there were no enemies in the wake of his trek. His young men, who conducted periodical hunting and raiding expeditions into the unknown jungles of the interior, also carried instructions to inspect the land for a suitable location for a permanent settlement. From many of these forays they returned with ivory, the choicest ostrich plumes and furs of every colour. One party went to far away Zimbabye and returned with pack-oxen loaded with ivory, rhinoceri hides, lion skins and hog tusks. They reported finding a people whose women dug the mountain sides for nuggets and brittle stones, which they brought home to boil and produce a beautiful metal from which to mould bangles and ornaments of rare beauty. That was the Matebele's first experience of gold smelting.

One morning an induna came to the King's place and announced the approach of Thipa, a Kwena courier from Chief Sechele. The King received the visitor without delay, and welcomed Thipa by handing him the gourd of corn beer which he held in his hand.

“Drink and slake your thirst, messenger of the sons of Kwena,” said Mzilikazi, handing him the gourd, “and acquaint me with the wishes of Sechele. I knew I had a sterling friend in him but I hardly thought that your chief would remember me in these days of my bitter adversity. What tidings do you bring? Tell me and quench my thirst for news.”

“Hail, Great Lion!” began Thipa, “Monarch of the woods and glades and ruler of the hills and vales! Sechele greets you and says: 'Tell my brother, Mzilikazi, that since his trek to the far north, Sechele's court-yards have been greatly honoured by the unexpected, yet none the less welcome presence of a courtly visitor in the person of Queen Umnandi, the fairest among royal wives. She was eager to follow up the trek of her lord and mine, but I detained her until I could have sufficient provision and ample escort to ensure her safe arrival by the side of Mzilikazi our King! She asks me to intercede on her behalf for the King's pardon, since the displeasure and pain occasioned by her disappearance was the work of others. Thus, remembering her bounty and the charm she lent to the King's court at Inzwinyani, where so many of us worshipped her person, I was glad to do this by my trusted messenger, Thipa, who will assure the King on my behalf that Umnandi would gladly be a faggoter and water-carrier for the King's meat pots, without the status of a wife, if that will insure her pardon; for this cause I entreat the great Mzilikazi in the hope that domestic reconciliation will bring commitment to my gallant lord and his brave tribesmen!”

“What woman speak you of, Thipa? Has Sechele sent you here to mock me in my misery?”

At that moment the crowd surged asunder and allowed a passage to a group of travellers … “Umnandi! my long lost wife!” cried the King. “Not dead — not dead!”

His voice was drowned in bursts of rejoicing, as the vast concourse recognized Umnandi and her faithful Barolong maid. The welkin rang with the ponderous shouts of the men and the joyous shrieks of the women. This glorious welcome amazed the returning wanderer. Her fern-draped feet shook with excitement and exultation, for instead of being a suppliant for the King's pardon, she found herself a national heroine, acclaimed as such a people that had been profoundly grieved and perplexed by her disappearance.

Clapping Umnandi's hands to make sure she had returned in reality, Mzilikazi said: “Is it you? Oh, Umnandi, is it you? Or is all this a fleeting dream from which I shall awake to find myself a lonely and disappointed man?”

Crowds hurried from the utmost ends of the scattered encampments and rushed to the scene of excitement in answer to ejaculations such as “a great magician has arrived! He makes the dead to walk … He resurrected Queen Umnandi! She is walking and talking like one who never died! All our slain soldiers have arisen and are on their way here! …..”

Many could not get near for the press and had to be content with these rumours and fables.

Young men were dispatched to the cattle-posts to bring sheep and bullocks to the slaughter poles to prepare a magnificent feast and celebrate the return of Umnandi from the mysterious unknown.

But the King ordered that none should partake of the feast. He, too, was not going to touch meat until Umnandi should prepare a meal for him by her own hand; likewise none might taste of beer until the deft hands of his beloved Umnandi had ground moulted grain and prepared for him her familiar and delectable brew. Accordingly, the welcome was postponed for three days during which all the men and women of the tribe were fasting.

Early in the morning of the fourth day chunks of beef and portions of mutton and venison were spread on the hot glowing embers where stacks of dead wood had been burnt to cinders through the night. And as the food sizzled over the fire, King Mzilikazi, surrounded by the heads of a joyful nation, entered the court and proclaimed the home-coming of his Queen. For the first time, the Matebele learnt how she had been cajoled into leaving her home. The clever magician from Zululand, who disappeared as mysteriously as Umnandi herself, had been vainly urged by threats and promises of rewards to poison her. This he would not be persuaded to do; instead he handed her an amulet to give to her husband as a result of which she would bear a son and heir to the Matebele kingdom. And so the faithful daughter of Umzinyati had treasured that charm through the years of her enforced exile, and on the day of her home-coming handed it to the King.

When the populace had finished cheering, Queen Umnandi, headed by a procession of fifty young girls, and followed by the same number of singing women, emerged from the royal quarters and entered the enclosure. She was easily recognized by the prominence of her bejewelled costume, rich with beads and ornaments. Her kirtle of foxes and young leopard skins exposed amazing bangles of ivory and wristlets of solid gold while necklaces of rare value added to her barbaric splendour.

There was continuous cheering as she stepped gracefully in the procession to the tinkling of the cymbals and ululations of the dancing girls, reinforced by the ponderous cadences of the drum-like voices of the male section of the gay crowd.

King Mzilikazi joining in the contagious merriment cried: “Sechele, my brother Sechele! what friendship is so strong as yours to dig up the very grave and restore my dead love to me! Have you not brought back the central pillar of the life of Mzilikazi and the Matebele Nation? Hawu, Thipa, your mission is greater than the return of successful hunters and more welcome than the soaking rains that fertilize the sun-scorched fields!”

“Thipa shall drive home to his chief, Sechele, a herd of ten snow-white cows to symbolize the pleasing satisfaction in my heart, so that the Bakwena may also rejoice with us.”

“Now,” concluded the King, “let us feast for three days and nights; let us sing and dance and be merry, and invoke the spirts to propitiate the magic of the sullen spirits of our dead ancestors.”

The voice of Mzilikazi starting a brand new tune, and leading the singers by tapping the tim with the handle of his spear against his shield, rang out clear and strong above the others:

    Sing on, sing on! Mzilikazi's a youth to-day,
        For since we left the bewitched valley —
    I never did feel so great before,
        Sing on, sing on!
    I never did feel so young before;
    The pillar of my house is here,
    I never did feel so glad before,
        Cheer on, cheer on!
    Not since we left the vale bewitched
        Inzwinyani, the place of sorcery,
        Dance on, dance on!
    I never did feel so strong before.

And as the crowd of leather-lunged men reiterated the refrain the ground reverberated with the stamping of many feet to the rhythmical sound of tom-toms. The siren-like voice of one Umfazi rang out in thrilling repetition after each verse. “Sing on, women, sing on!” she shouted. “We have suffered only tribulation since Umnandi's flight now let her bring back to us the joys of bygone days. Dance on, women, dance on!”

In due course the Matebele having struck the Shashi camp, established a new capital, named Gu-Bulawayo in the very far north. There a magnificent feast was repeated a year later, for Umnandi had presented the King and nation with her son, the new born prince! In the course of a prosperous life during which the Matebele grew in power and influence, Umnandi's son extended the awe-inspiring sway of his government to distant territories of the hinterland; and when at length he succeeded his father as Matebele King, he wielded a yet greater power than that of his renowned father.