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Nsingo Museum, tracing 518 years of Ngoni heritage

NSINGO Community Museum attendant Isaac Lungu showing some of the artefacts at Feni sub-centre in Chipata recently. PICTURE: DARLINGTON MWENDABAI

DARLINGTON MWENDABAI, Chipata
AFRICAN history, especially the customs and traditions of a people, are usually passed on orally in song and folklore to the next generation.
Traditional ceremonies are also a platform through which a people’s tradition can be learnt about in dance and song.
The Ngoni people of Eastern Province have a special occasion in the last Saturday of a month of February when their history is retold.
However, to offer citizens, local and foreign tourists an opportunity to learn more about their 518 year old history, the Ngoni people have established a museum at Feni sub-centre in Chipata.
The Nsingo Museum has been set up after the success of an initiative born in 2003.
In 2003, Dr Josiah Ngondo of Trust of Lusaka came up with an initiative to document Ngoni heritage, this resulted in the establishment of Nsingo Community Museum in 2018.
Located at Feni sub-centre in Chipata, the museum is right in the hub of Paramount Chief Mpezeni’s land.
It was opened on February 16, 2018 by Minister of Tourism and Arts Charles Banda at an occasion witnessed by dignitaries such as Eastern Province Minister Makebi Zulu.
The museum is named after Nsingo, who was the son of Mpezeni 1 and his wife, Lupoko.
At this museum, the tourists will learn of the Ngoni family tree, and learn that Nanaba (Jere), Loyanda (Jere), Mangangati (Jere) and Hlatshwayo ruled the Ngoni chiefdom before the famous King Zwangendababa (Jere) who ruled from 1818-1845.
Mpezeni I (Ntutu Jere) ruled from 1848-1900 and was succeeded by Mpezeni II (Chiloa Jere) 1900-1941, who was succeeded by Mpezeni III (Pontino Jere) 1941-1981, who is the father of current Chief Mpezeni IV (David Nyengembaso Jere) who has been on the throne since 1982.
Nsingo is one of the three community museums in the country, the others are Nayuma Museum in Mongu and Chikanta Palace Museum in Chikanta Chiefdom in Kalomo.
Nsingo Community Museum supervisor. Lloyd Banda says though history is passed from one generation to another through stories and folktales in most Zambian communities, tourism in Eastern Province is incomplete without sampling the 518 years rich Ngoni culture.
Mr Banda said the museum offers both local and foreign tourists an opportunity to get first-hand information.
“We are happy to have our own museum that depicts the Ngoni culture and heritage,” he said.
He says local tourists should visit the exhibition hall and promote domestic tourism.
He said a current challenge facing the institution is the poor road network which has resulted in less than desired tourist visits.
“It is also important that people know about this place through more publicity efforts,” he said.
Banda says despite these challenges, the museum receives a K3,500 monthly grant to run its operations.
To attract more tourists, the museum will start hosting weekly activities such as cultural dances and craft skill displays.
Banda says local and foreign tourists should explore rich Ngoni history by visiting the tourist site.
The history section of the museum depicts the life of the first Paramount Chief Mpezeni, the kind of lifestyle that existed in Ngoni land during the 18th century and the South African Society.
It has to be noted that the Ngonis continued to practise the Nc’wala ceremony in Zambia as they did in South Africa.
Sadly, in 1898, it was banned by then British Colonial government after a battle between British troops and Ngoni warriors led by Nsingo-the son of Mpezeni at Fort Jameson now Chipata city.
However, the Nc’wala ceremony was revived in 1980 by Paramount Chief Mpezeni III who wanted the Ngoni people to pay homage to their ancestral spirits and commemorates their war victories during their migration from South Africa.
The museum has pictures of manina (the elderly barebreasted women) who perform funeral songs called mgubo during Nc’wala ceremony.
Mgubo is a performance being done by barebreasted women telling a story of how the Ngonis trekked from South Africa to Zambia and the struggle they encountered on the way.
Currently, the museum is manned by an ever-smiling museum young attendant Isaac Lungu, who is always ready to explain the genealogy of the Ngoni from 1500 AD to 2018.
When you see them (women) barebreasted, it is a reminder to the young generation about how hard life was then in olden days.
Many have written about mdauko (tradition) of the Ngoni people, however, with the coming of the Nsingo Museum, more is yet to be written.
Mdauko as the Ngoni prefer to call their tradition, is a reminder of the common origin of the Ngonis as they come together to pay homage to their king and ‘god’ for the gift of fruits and food. This is always showcased during the annual Nc’wala ceremony.
This is why one cannot talk about Chipata city (Fort Jameson) without the Ngoni history.
The museum has an interesting history showing how 119 years ago, Robert Codrington first settled in the hilly place and called it Fort Jameson.
Mr Codrington was then a deputy administrator for North- Eastern Rhodesia when he created the town around 1899.
He was in charge of the town during the reign of Cecil Rhodes, who was running the British South Africa Company (BSA).
Previously, the administrations of North-Eastern Rhodesia were conducted in Blantyre in then Nyasaland, now Malawi.
Cecil Rhodes’ company BSA also built Mpezeni village when the town then had only six tin- roofed houses, a set of offices and one government house.
Back then, Chipata town was governed through the Ngoni Native Authority at Feni where the Nsingo Museum is located and the Kunda Native Authority in the Jumbe sub-centre while the urban party was governed by the Fort Jameson township management board.
However, after independence in 1964, the town was named Chipata, a Ngoni name from word chimpata meaning “large space,” as the town is situated in a shallow valley between hills.
While the name of the central neighbourhood of Kapata, the original centre of town, comes from another Ngoni word meaning “small space.”
Eastern Province Minister Makebi Zulu simply says, “The museum is a great master show, visit it and explore the rich 518 years Ngoni heritage.”

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