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. 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 Swazis, evident both in language and clan names. Traditionally amaHlubi kings preferred to marry Swazi 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 and in Africa generally though there a section of people closely related them known as Bashubi in Rwanda and Burundi. They are found also in places like Zimbabwe and Lesotho. They have secret female initiation rituals, and other customs separate them from the Nguni in general.
Below is a traditional estimation of the Hlubi Kings that ruled from 1300 until now. Note that Hlubi history comes mainly from oral sources and the dates below should not be taken as historically accurate:
1. King Chibi 1300 – 1325
2. King Lubelo 1325 - 1350
3. King Busobengwe (Bungane I) 1350 - 1370
4. King Fulathel’ilangjuhj0a 1370 - 1390
5. King Bele 1390 - 1410
6. King Lufelelwenja 1410 - 1430
7. King Sidwabasenkomo 1430 - 1450
8. King Mhuhu 1450 - 1475
9. King Mpembe 1475 - 1500
10. King Mhlanga 1500 - 1525
11. King Musi 1525 - 1550
12. King Masoka 1550 - 1575
13. King Ndlovu 1575 - 1600
14. King Dlamini 1600 - 1625
15. King Mthimkhulu I 1625 - 1650
16. King Ncobo and later, Hadebe 1650 - 1675
17. King Dlomo I 1675 - 1710
18. King Mashiya 1710 - 1720
19. King Ntsele 1735 - 1760
20. King Bungane II 1760 -1800
21. King Mthimkhulu II (Ngwadlazibomvu) 1800 - 1818
22. King Dlomo II and later, Mtetwa (commonly known as Langalibalele I) 1839 - 1889
23. King Siyephu (Mandiza) 1897 - 1910
24. King Tatazela (Mthunzi) 1926 - 1956
25. King Muziwenkosi (Langalibalelle ll) 1974 -
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. There are Hlubi communities in the Eastern Cape (Matatiele, Mt Fletcher, Tsolo, Qumbu, Maclear, Mt Frere, Mount Ayliff, Queenstown, Sterkspruit, Tsomo), Kwazulu Natal (Ixopo, Mzimkhulu, Escourt, Madadeni, Utrech etc), North West and some settlements in Lesotho and Zimbabwe .
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 who appears on number 14 on the Hlubi ruler's lineage. 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, etc..known as "Shubi".
The Hlubi language is classified as a member of the Tekela language group, a subgroup of the Nguni group. It is thus closely related to siSwati, Bhaca and Southern Ndebele. Sesotho, isiZulu and isiXhosa words are common. Below is a list of some Hlubi words used in everyday conversation.
mme ---------- ma/mama (mother)
thaba --------- jabula/vuya (be happy)
ukutswafa ------- ukuvilapha/ukwenqena (laziness)
itswayi --------- usawuti/ityuwa (salt)
itswikiri --------- ushukela/iswekile
inhloko --------- ikhanda/intloko (head)
na ----------- xa/uma (if)
ukukhamba -------- ukuhamba (walking)
ukugijima -------- ukubaleka (running)
ukunatha -------- ukuphuza/ukusela (drinking)
hlanza -------- gabha (to vomit)
ijiki -------- uthswala/utywala (liquor)
isibongo -------- isiduko (clan name)
ibonda -------- udonga (wall)
isigqiki -------- isitulo esenziwe ngomthi (wood chair)
ithari -------- imbeletho/imbeleko (a ceremony done to introduce a child to the family ancestors)
ixoxo -------- isele (frog)
ing'ang'ani ------- (crane)
igwanya -------- injana (puppy)
itikani ---------- (lamb)
ipetsane -------- pony
Igqwintsane/iqugwane -------- intsonsto lehagu (pig's baby)
isirubu -------- indlu yeenkunku (chicket hut)
irhwabe -------- wild spinach
letha/thapha -------- zisa (bring)
Nhene -------- iqiniso/inyani (truth)
swaya ---------suka (move)
qodzoma -------- (squat)
dzid'lama --------- (alight, jump down from height)
shenxa/suduka -------- bhekela (move aside)
sina -------- xhentsa (dance in a traditional way)
thewuka -------- yehla (come down)
thaba -------- vuya (being happy)
thoborodza -------- zifake/nyanzelisa ungena kwindawo encinci (to force in a small entrance)
thola -------- fumana (get)
thela -------- galela (pour)
tshunduza -------- bhekelisa (to push aside)
umiyane -------- ingcongconi (mosquito)
ukudzibadela -------- ukugqumelela into phantsi komhlaba
Ukukhwehlela -------- ukukhohlela (to cough)
Ukutshakaza -------- to spread or throw eg xa kuphiwa iinkuku umbona
umgubho -------- celebration done on a day before a boy goes to the initiation school
urhamredzela -------- ukukhawulela ()
amarekele -------- iilekese/sweets
ukukwaperela/rhwapha -------- ukugwencela/ukutshela (to hold on tightly)
ekhethu -------- ekhaya (my home)
ekhenu -------- kini/kowenu (your home)
lapha -------- lapha/apha (here)
ekhabo -------- kowabo (at her/his home)
amabele -------- amabele/amazimba (sorghum)
hlabela -------- cula (Sing)
Hlubi is an endangered language, and most Hlubi speakers are elderly and illiterate. The language is still spoken in places like Qumbu, Tsolo, Maclear, Mt Frere, Mt Ayliff, Border Lesotho, Matatiele, Mt Fletecher and Sterkspruit. There are attempts by Hlubi intellectuals to revive the language and make it one of the eleven recognised languages in South Africa. The younger generation largely speaks Xhosa or Zulu. Xhosa is regarded as a neutral language among Black people living in the Eastern Cape, while Zulu is the language most spoken in KwaZulu Natal.
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 tow 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 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 Drankensberg Mountains where Shaka was the prime ruler. Names of those chiefs are as follows: Mananga, Mndebele and Ntambama. Others fled to the East Griqaualand (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. It should be noted that the latter group resided in the Northern part of the Eastern Cape and is the one that is still prominent 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.
Hence, many Hlubi chiefs are spread throughout Southern Africa but although they are found in disparate areas they pay allegiance to King Langalibalele II, who is headquartered in Estcourt, Natal.
In the early 1820s the Hlubis (under Mpangazita) and Batlokwa conducted a campaign that ravaged land now in the Free State province, mostly fighting Basotho. Over the course of the next few decades, however, Hlubi land was conquered by the British and mostly incorporated into Natal province.
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  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 greatness….at 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 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.
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 and Zulu nations.
AmaHlubi, especially those who reside in the Eastern Cape province, practice the traditional initiation ceremony for boys that are deemed to be ready to be young men. This is one of the many cultural practices that separate this group from many other Nguni groups. They do not allow any non-Hlubi circumcised person near their ritual area. Even circumcised Xhosa men are not allowed in their place, and there is no compromise about this. It is only circumcised Basotho men that are allowed there under as the ritual of these two group is a bit similar. AmaHlubi have no casualties in their place of practise like many places where Xhosa initiates die because of several reasons and they maintain that the reason for this is that the whole community is involved in this ceremony especially old men with loads of experience. The old men also act as mentors to the younger generation so that they can continue this tradition.
Hlubi boys go to the mountains in large numbers and they can be as many as 200 in one initiation school. This is where they are taught among several things about their history (umlandu), culture, respect, behaviour, hard-ships, accountability, family issues, solving family conflicts, diseases, the amaHlubi important events (ike the annual pilgrimage that the whole amaHlubi nation undertakes to the king's homestead in Estcourt in KwaZulu Natal) and their own initiation school secrets. They have made themselves famous for the beautiful, distinct songs that they sing when the come back from the mountains. When the come back the whole village and people from neighbouring places gather to the main homestead waiting to see them in singing their manhood songs and weaving their beautiful traditional attire that is similar to that also worn by Basotho men. After the ceremony has passed the young men are expected to do chores that are done by the men of the community without hesitancy. They are also expected to be ambassadors who are proud of their heritage. This is evident in places like Bizana, Mt Frere, Tabankulu, Kokstad etc where amaMpondo and Bhaca boys prefer to go to the Hlubi initiation schools for circumcision as it is more safer and more respectable than other groups because there are no casualties. The amaHlubi are also well-known for their traditional dance, called "Indlamu", which is accompanied by old songs telling Hlubi history on how they travelled from Natal to the Eastern Cape.
In some places amaHlubi girls also undergo initiation and they are guided by the old mothers in the village. This is where young girls are taught on family matters and how to be good mothers to their children. They are also taught about being good community members. The purpose of this ceremony is also to highlights the importance of the role that women play in their communities.
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 practiced 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.
According to one of the documents submitted to the Nhapho Commission the following traditional leaders pay allegiance to the Hlubi king:
1. Inkosi Hadebe – Ixopo
2. Inkosi Hadebe – Newcastle and Dundee
3. Inkosi Ndaba – Estcourt
4. Inkosi Hadebe – Ladysmith
5. Inkosi Magadla – Matatiele
6. Inkosi T Zibi – Mt Fletcher
7. Inkosi Ludidi – Qumbu
8. Inkosi M Zibi – Rustenburg
9. Inkosi Nongamile Zibi (acting) - Middledrift
10. Inkosi Mehlomakulu – Qumbu
11. Inkosi Mehlomakulu – Mt Frere
12. Inkosi Mehlomakulu - Herschell
13. Inkosi Luphindo – Matatiele
14. Inkosi Sibenya - Mgwalana
15. Inkosi Mini – Qumbu
16. Inkosi Ncwana - Tsomo
17. Inkosi Nhliziyo - Ngqwaru
18. Inkosi X – Peddie (Ngqushwa)
19. Inkosi Matandela – Matatiele
20. Inkosi Mvunge - kaMlindazwe – Toleni
21. Inkosi Dlomo - ? (Natal)
22. Inkosi Welile Notha – Mt Ayliff
23. Inkosi Ntabayezwe - Tsolo/Maclear
These chiefs mentioned above would all pay allegiance to the King Lanagalibalele II who resides in the royal homestead of the Hlubi nation in Estcourt in Natal.
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. It should be noted that there are many other clans that have joined the Hlubi kingdom since the book was first published. Below is a list of these clans that were recorded by HM Ndawo:
IZIBONGO NEZIDUKO [IZINQULO] - CLAN NAMES
48. Rhadebe - The Rhadebe's have the following subclans:
49. SIPAMBO amahlubi amahle
(c) Makhunga - Mduli
(g) Ntshali - Ntshayi
(j) Sondezi (Sotetsi in Lesotho)
(k) Swebelele - Ndlazi
55. Zengele - Thiyani
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.
As the amaHlubi were the largest and stronger in their earlier days, there are a few examples of the groups and clans that had a different origin but joined amaHlubi to create this super nation:
1. Mdakana, Mlambo and Gumbi – broke away from amaNgwane, so did Khweswa & Mnguni from the Mchunus (abenguni) and Nkwali (Mkhwanazi from Ndwandwe).
2.Maduna (Matona) of Sotho origin were incorporated on arrival in Hlubiland, so did Nkomo and amaZengele (Thiyani).
3. Tshabalala and Msimang of Swazi origin came through marriage, so are the Xaba who are of Mtetwa origin.
4. Other sub clans include: AmaBongwe, Dontsa, Ndaba, Hlatswayo, Khumalo, Mabaso, Mayaba, Nkala etc.
Other groups can be traced from the ancient amaHlubi Kings. For example:
5. AmaBhele are either formed from the Hlubi king called Bhele or according to Soga (page 424), they are from King Mhuhu’s son called Bhele, brother to King Mhlanga.
6. While the amaZizi, are derived from King Dlamini of the amaHlubi, who is 14th on the Genealogical table above. Hence the salutation of the amaZizi which is Dlamini! (see Soga page 425)
7. Sikosana is derived from Musi (Msi), son of King Mhlanga (Ncwana page 10 and HM Ndawo page 18).
These are but a few examples of how the amaHlubi built this nation.
For a Kingdom to exist, most people would argue that it needs a coherent, continuous border, and a degree of sovereignty, all things necessary for a monarch to dispense favours, implement laws, and maintain loyalty. Hlubis (much like Ndebeles) are spread throughout Southern Africa. In fact, they are one of the 11 Amakhosi (chiefs) in Natal requesting status equal to that of any king in South Africa and they are rumoured to have a very strong case as they are very clear about this issue and have valid arguments. It should be noted that this is not the first time that amaHlubi have lodged a similar claim but their pleas have always fell on deaf ears. It must be noted that in the province of the Eastern Cape province that is commonly referred as a Xhosa stronghold there are 6 recognised Kings. Whatever the outcome of the Nhlapho Commission, the government of KwaZulu Natal Province has passed a law (The Traditional Leaders and Governance Act, Act 5 of 2005) that constitutionally guarantees and entrenches the Sovereignty of the Zulu Monarch and the Royal family in KwaZulu Natal. In addition, At the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA - where South Africa's constitutional democracy was negotiated) the parties gave an undertaking that KwaZulu-Natal would give Constitutional and Legislative recognition of His Majesty the Zulu King.
It remains to be seen therefore (given KwaZulu Natal's Zulu Monomornachiacal constitution) on whose territory the Hlubi (and the other 11 aspirant chiefs) Kingdom would be recognised should the Nhlapho commission rule that their Kingship claims are legitimate and deserve compensation on a King level by provincial government. The Hlubi argue that King Langalibalele has to be given powers all over South Africa where amaHlubi reside and he has the backing of the amaHlubi Chiefs who pay allegiance to him. King Langalibalele II is also recognised by these kingdoms, where he is accorded the status of a king when he visits:
1. Ndebele Kingdom 2. Swazi Kingdom 3. Xhosa Kingdom 3. Lesotho 4. Amampondo Kingdom
1. Henry Masila Ndawo, Iziduko zamaHlubi, The Lovedale Press, 1939 (can be found in UNISA and University of Fort Hare).
2. Norman Herd, The Bent Pine, The Trial of Chief Langalibalele, Ravan Press JHB, 1976 ( can also be found in UNISA )
3. Check the SA Cultures website, and click on The Hlubi tribe link
4. The Mkhangeli Ngoma business website. Click the amaHlub heritage link
7. Selby Bongani Hadebe, History of the amaHlubi Tribe and Izibongo of its Kings, University of Natal, 1992
8. Henry Masila Ndawo, Ibali lamaHlubi, Lovedale Press Collection, 1945
9. Andrew Hayden Manson, The Hlubi and Ngwe in a colonial society (1848 – 1877), Pietermaritzburg, 1979
10. Rev AT Bryant, Olden Times in Zululand and Natal, Longmans, Green and Co., 1929
11. Rev John Henderson Soga, The Southern Eastern Bantu, 1930
12. John Wright and Andrew Manson, The Hlubi Chiefdom, Ladysmith Historical Society, 1983
14. Bishop Colenso, Langalibalele and the amaHlubi Tribe, London, 1875
15. Norman Herd, The Bent Pine, The Trial of Chief Langalibalele, Ravan Press JHB, 1976
16. Government Gazette, Pietermaritzburg, Thursday November 13 1873 (vol. XXV no. 1441)
17. P Maylam, A History of the African People of South Africa, 1986
18. John Wright and Andrew Manson, The Hlubi Chiefdom, Ladysmith Historical Society, 1983