The Hlubi peoples were recognised as being in South-East Africa before the 18th century and it is suspected that the name ‘Hlubi’ is the name of the king of this tribe’s king, although it does not appear in the list of the previous names of chiefs which are on record. The first people to use the Hlubi name were the people who related, or closer to Sothos, found in the centre of Eastern Africa. It is possible that a number of people who refer to themselves as Hlubis are currently known as amaSwazi. Their language is not confirmed however, Mabhonsa Sidlayi says, ‘We are of the same tribe with amaSwazi and Sothos’. Sidlayi was of the amaHlubi tribe and a prominent man regarding oral history.
From oral accounts, it is said there was a separation of these peoples with somebody and mention is made of its migration from Lubombo, on the Swaziland border, to settle north of Mzinyathi or Buffalo River. There is a view that amaHlubi found the land empty and it would not have sustained a large population because of the poor soils, grazing and lack of timber.
People calling themselves as Amahlubi today are not just people of a certain family which we can refer to as the great grand parent, but they are also an unknown family today which was taken by this tribe when it occupied the new land, and so were subjected through inter marriages.
Oral history tells of a chief Dlomo being the leader of the tribe during a period before the 18th century. Several names of chiefs prior to Dlomo, such as Mhlanga, Mthimkhulu, Musi, Ngcobo, Ndlovu, Dlamini, Hadebe and Mhuhu, however there are no records to substantiate them.
Dlomo was succeeded by his son, Mashiya, who ruled during the middle 1800’s and, although he had a deformed leg that affected his movements, he was not seen as a warrior like his father. He will however be remembered as a chief who led the battle between amaHlubi and amaDlambu and defeated them. Mashiya married a woman from the amaSwazi tribe who gave birth to a son called Nsele and, when Mashiya died, Nsele took over chieftainship. Nsele led the battle with the amaNgwane, ruled by Tshani, and Nsele won.
Bhungane followed Nsele as chief of the Hlubi bringing them into the 19th century. By now the Hlubi land had grown to about 5000 square kilometres and stretched from the Buffalo River south to the Biggarsberg Mountains, southeast to Blood river then eats to what is now Vryheid. Surrounding them were various other chieftains that included Ngwane, Dlamini, Khumalo, Mabaso and others. The great house of Bhungane was called Magoloza and situated south east, in the area now called Newcastle. His elder brothers were Jozi, Maphunga, Mpelehwana and Sondezi. His sons were Mabona, Mahwana, Makhanda, Makhonza, Manyaza, Monakali, Mpangazitha, Mthimkhulu, Sidlayi and Zingelwayo.
The Hlubis were different from the other tribes of what later became Zululand not only by their tekela speech but also by twisting their hair into tassels, which hung down the side of their head. They did not wear any traditional headdress like other tribes and a distinctive feature was the umsubelo, apiece of soft skin passed between the legs and tied around the waist. Hlubi women wore long leather skirts of cowhide for the rich and goatskin for the poor. There was marriage arrangements between these tribes, businesses conducted and the amaHlubi exchanged medicine called likhathazo for tobacco. When a Hlubi chief died, they were buried in crevices in rock-faces with, so stories handed down indicate, the chief’s favourite wife and attendant, after of course, their eyes removed and buried alive with him.
A tradition, among most tribes of the time, was to have an isigodlo or harem of girls, regarded as the chief’s sisters or daughters that he could marry off to influential friends who would pay him the ilobolo or bride-wealth. Bhungane did not have this isigodlo nor did he gather his men into amabutho or age regiments as other chiefs were doing. Hlubi armies were organised amabandla or regiments of men of all ages. Some see this difference in ‘management’ as suggesting that Bhungane did not have the same power as other chiefs such as Shaka or Cetswayo.
Today we associate tribal existence to have been reliant upon cattle however, that is a myth as, and unlike in later years the main concern of most tribes was the growing of sorghum, various beans and melons. This sorgum was stored in sacks called izilulu, while amaZulu were keeping sorgum in holes in the ground. It was only after the 19th century that the amaHlubi started ploughing yellow mealies, changing to white mealies when the whites arrived in Natal. Trees were scarce which is why they build stone kraals. This tribe valued cattle as it reflected wealth and at the same time gave a man the right to take a wife when the need arises. Cattle would have been owned by the more affluent of the tribe, whilst the poor would have only eaten meat when they had caught it in the wild.
On the death of Bhungane his two senior sons vied for the chieftainship but it was Mthikhulu that succeeded, but his brother Mpangazitha being a sore loser, continued to ‘play’ chief over a large tract of land where Newcastle is today. Mthimkhulu then moved the Hlubi capital across the Buffalo River to an area near Utrecht, in order to rebuild his ‘chiefly’ authority. It would appear that he succeeded because he ruled with a strong hand and changed the military tradition by establishing the amabutho or age regiments that the Zulus preferred.
When Mthimkhulu died his brother Mahwanqa took over, because Mthimkhulu said that his son Dlomo should rule but was still young at that time. During the ruling of Mahwanqa amaHlubi were in conflict with the amaNgwane tribe but Mahwanqa never made any efforts to tone down the anger of amaNgwane. Instead, he fled with his tribe, left the land they resided on and went north of the Phongolo River where he hoped to get a place to stay from the Shabalala tribe, today found in the Wakkerstroom area. It is assumed that when Mahwanqa fled the land of the amaHlubi, he took Dlomo and Dlomo’s younger brother, Langalibalele with him.
After the killing of Shaka by his brother Dingane, in 1828, the amaHlubi who left their land because of battles started to return, nearer to the UMzinyathi River. After some time Mahwanqa, who was still ruling on behalf of his nephew Dlomo and had revived the chieftainship arrived together with his followers. He revived the great place of this tribe, called Nobamba, and immediately fetched Dlomo and Langalibalele from the amaNgwe tribe, where they were looked after when their father died. The amaHlubi tribe was reunited after twelve years of separation.
Another thing organized by chief Mahwanqa was the revival of the custom of various small troops, the first being Mzimane and the second, Songanyathi. Researchers have said that the issue of Dingaan, who ruled after Shaka, of letting Mahwanqa revive his troops was an indication that Mahwanqa was not under the ruling of the chief of amaZulu. In the 1830′s, Mahwanqa’s main worry would have been troops that were growing in the amaHlubi tribe for whom he had a fear they might turn against him. At the same time, although Dlomo was now old enough to rule, Mahwanqa was reluctant to let him do so because he was jealous that Dlomo might usurp his revival of the tribe. He was so paranoid about Dlomo taking over the tribe that he thought of transferring the chieftainship to Langalibalele. Other people within the tribe could also see Mahwanga’s dilemma and, as a result, the tribe was divided into two factions, those who supported Dlomo and those who supported Langalibalele. Matters came to a head when Mahwanqa’s troop, the mZimane, decided to support Dlomo that resulted in a battle between the two and Mahwanqa was killed.
Dlomo’s first action was to walk to Dingaans great place in Mgungundlovu and, on arrival, told Dingaan it would be better if he, Dlomo, were given Mahwanqa’s cattle and chieftainship of the amaHlubi tribe. This was the last thing that Dingaan wanted and ordered that Dlomo be killed and immediately took all Mahwanqa’s cattle and joined them to his herd.
Challenges to rule the amaHlubi tribe were now between Langalibalele and of Mthimkhulu’s son, Duba. Now 21 years old Langalibalele had a right to rule the tribe so, after giving this serious consideration, he decided to leave the great place Nobamba and moved to a place now called Utrecht. Here he met Matshwatshwa Sibekebulala and Mnculwana of the Mpongo tribe and, accompanied by his few followers and councillors, tried to rebuild the amaHlubi tribe.
Meanwhile, Duba, was canvassing support from the amaBhele and amaRhadebe tribes for him as chief. These tribes are part of the amaHlubi tribe and had a special name of Mahlaphahlapha, so Duba went in search of Langalibalele. The story goes that Langalibalele was told about the plot planned by Duba and fled, crossing the uMzinyathi river to the other side, going to Matshwatshwa.
Conflict, animosity and hatred between Duba and Langalibalele continued until the arrival of Zimane, the great man in the amaHlubi tribe. Zimane took Langalibalele, along with other boys of Langalibalele’s age, and circumcised them after which Langalibalele was a man, so could be granted chieftainship formally. The great men of the amaHlubi tribe declared Langalibalele as the chief of the amaHlubi, however it is not clear what happened to Duba after that.
This event took place between 1836 and 1837, when Langalibalele was twenty-two years of age but he now required a family! His first wife was the daughter of Msimanga but he took a further three wives.
Siwela, of the amaNgwe tribe and son of Phuthini who was Langalibalele’s cousin, took his people and settled on the land of the amaHlubi. Some history claims that Siwela, tried to force his father to make him chief, but his father refused and it was out of anger that he took off to the amaHlubi land. Langalibalele attacked Siwela on three occasions eventually defeating him.
Langalibalele was once again in trouble! After he had defeated Siwela he was attacked by Mini, the son of Mahwanqa, who was claiming that, as the brother to Mthimkhulu, he had the right of chieftainship among amaHlubi tribe. Langalibalele refused and a battle ensued resulting in the defeat of Mini who fled to Drakensberg Mountains.
The migration of the amaHlubi from the Drakensberg Mountains began different leaders going to various areas in the north. Sondezi, elder brother of Bhungane, Ngalonkulu who was the elder brother of Mthimkhulu and Luzipho the son of Mthimkhulu went to reside in the area called Gwa nearer the Vaal River in the Transvaal.
Other amaHlubi chiefs moved to east of Drakensberg mountains on the land of the Zulu chief Shaka. Among those chiefs were three brothers of Mthimkhulu, Mananga, Mndebele and Ntambama and the amaHlubi tribe expanded quickly on the kwaZulu Natal land under the Zulu chief Shaka.
Other groups went to East Griqualand, even on to Gcaleka land, in the Eastern Cape and Mthimkhulu’s three sons Mhlambiso, Magadla and Ludidi went to the Transkei.
The land allocated to the Hlubi by the Government covered some 350 square kilometres and, from the start, it was too small for Langalibalele’s tribe who had enjoyed 2000 square kilometres in the Mzinyathi country. Gradually, as their numbers increased to 8000 or so, Langalibalele spread ‘their’ lands to 6000 kilometres. Besides the problem of ‘settling in’ to their new land the Hlubi were encountering difficulties living with their neighbours, white farmers. These white settlers had been encouraged to immigrate to Natal by the promise of free land and, by 1850 some were even taking options on land adjoining the Hlubis. Tensions increased between these two peoples when the immigrants complained that the Hlubi were unwilling to comply with their demands namely, to pay the farmers rent and supply them with Hlubi labour. Langalibalele refused to supply labour and a stalemate existed because the magistrates were unwilling to force the issue. Another cause for concern by Langalibalele was that in 1851 the government introduced a military levy, requiring tribes to sent men to join a force that was being sent against Moshweshwe’s Sotho who was at war with the British in the Orange River sovereignty. Langalibalele’s refusal turned to reluctant agreement when ordered to do so by Theophilus Shepstone, the Natal Secretary for Native Affairs.
From this period until about 1870, life was relatively good for the Hlubis, but things were gradually changing, particularly in their way of life. Historically the Hlubi were graziers and farmers but this could not continue as they became more ‘integrated’ with their white neighbours. To be more precise, as they traded more and more with them they required more money to barter for the new goods, such as blankets, consumer goods such as metal tools, horses, liquor and firearms. The outcome of this need for income resulted in the chiefs sending their young men off to work for the ‘whites’ which included the mines on the reef. This was the beginning of Langalibalele’s rebellion and eventual downfall.
Part of a statement found in the Archives claiming a renewal of her medical license by Nozibango, wife of Hlubi Umnyaiza chief Dumisa:
“I reside with my husband on the farm of an Englishman called by natives ‘Nomvengu’. We have lived in Klip River Division for seven years during the whole of that time I have been a licensed medical woman.
Last week I went to the office of the Magistrate of Klip River to apply for a renewal of my license but was refused it. I tendered the money but it was refused and I was told that my license had expired six months before.
I was not informed of any other reason, nor was I referred to my chief Dumisa.
I am my husband’s only wife and I have two small children. My husband is employed by our landlord but he is old.
My earnings as a medicine woman went to our support and if I am refused a license it will be hard for us as my husband has only one grown up son and he is a cripple.”
No reply to her request was found!
Nsele was known by the following praises:
He brings back ‘Tshani’s wives from collecting the wood,
He’s a well known bringer of ”,
He brought us Tshani’s troops
Even his son Masumpa.