It was at night, according to tradition, when the sun set and the campfire roared that all the villagers congregated to hear the stories of the ancestors. At one such gathering of the people, Andile was sure that he saw the outlines of some of the ancestors in the shadows made by the tall trees as they moved slowly in the breeze. This sent shivers down his spine. “Tonight,” said Utatumkhulu, “let me tell the story of Chief Maqoma, one of the best known Xhosa chiefs in the Frontier Wars of the 1800s.”
Maqoma: Founder of the AmaJingqi
This book extract is from the first of three titles about Maqoma, the great chief of the AmaJingqi. This part of the story begins at the same time that Shaka was building his kingdom. Maqoma, the senior son of Ngqika, was sent to take revenge on an uncle who had seized cattle from a relative. The battle of Amalinda that followed was to become renowned, significant not only in the life of the young Maqoma.
Maqoma led the 2000-strong army on the march before dawn. Ntsikana shouted after them, “Beware! The enemy wants to lead you into a dangerous trap.” But Maqoma and his army felt confident that victory would be theirs. It was a two-day march to Ndlambe’s kraal and this meant camping overnight. Maqoma woke early the following morning and wondered how he would perform in combat. It was after all his first battle!
As the dawn came he ordered his men to prepare for battle. The men marched down the mountain’s foothills toward the open Debe Flats. As they clambered over the last hill, the sight of several hundred warriors met them. They were camped out on the plain. It was Ndlambe’s warriors led by his eldest son, Mdushane.
Maqoma was fearless. He raised the assegai over his head and commanded the men to charge. At first it looked as if Maqoma had the upper hand and was driving the enemy back but suddenly the remainder of Ndlambe’s army appeared. This contingent was made up of more experienced veterans as well as warriors from the Gcaleka and Gqunukhwebe chiefdoms. They consisted of several thousand men. It was a big surprise when they suddenly emerged from the forested areas and charged into battle.
“This must have been a terrifying experience,” murmured Andile, imagining being surrounded by an enemy of such force.
As was prophesised- Maqoma had been led into a trap!
Within minutes the amaNgqika were surrounded by Ndlambe’s able forces and, as was prophesised, Maqoma had been led into a trap! Attempting to break out of the ambush, Maqoma led his men in counter-attack after counter-attack but his men were being killed all around him. They fought bravely throughout the day and Maqoma realised that Ndlambe’s more experienced warriors had the upper hand. All his councillors were killed along with many of his warriors! It was a massacre!
As the sun set, Maqoma saw a gap and fled with his tired and depleted force up the slopes of the NtabakaNdoda mountains. He stayed at the rear, trying to delay the charging enemy and it was during this fight to the end that Maqoma took a blow from an assegai which almost killed him. Members of his amaJingqi carried their wounded leader from the battlefield. It was a sad day. Maqoma had lost 300 men in the battle.
Ndlambe’s army pursued the defeated and fleeing amaNgqika. As they chased the survivors homewards, they set light to Ngqika’s kraal and seized 6000 head of cattle. King Ngqika escaped from Ndlambe’s marauding soldiers and sought refuge in the northerly Winterberg Mountains. He had been utterly defeated. Ngqika’s empire was in tatters! The villagers were in sorrow for the loss of their loved ones in battle.
“This was the battle of Amalinda,” said Utatumkhulu, “and although Maqoma was defeated, it is written that he was not dishonoured.”
“How did the prophet Ntsikana know how the battle was going to turn out before it happened?” asked Andile, looking most puzzled.
“That will be a story for another night,” answered Utatumkhulu, smiling.
Maqoma had been so seriously injured at Amalinda that he was not seen for the rest of 1818 and 1819. It was suspected that he had been captured by Ndlambe’s army or killed in battle.
King Ngqika wanted revenge! He was determined to fight back, but knew that he could achieve nothing with a depleted force using assegais. His only choice was to appeal for fire-power support from the colony. He sent messages to the colony in Grahamstown pleading for their support to restore him to his rightful place as controlling chief of the Xhosa people between the Fish and Kei rivers.
In November of 1818 Major Fraser went to meet with Ngqika at his hiding place in the mountains and the king requested support from the British. On his return to Grahamstown, Major Fraser briefed his superiors. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Brereton, military commander of the colony’s Eastern Frontier, was instructed to call up all the troops that were available. The British artillery would support Ngqika in his bid against his uncle, Ndlambe.
Ndlambe, who was well skilled in battle, hid his men in the thick forest. However, this proved useless against the might of the cannons and guns. Ndlambe witnessed his men being bombarded by the British military strength!
Brereton’s men captured another 10 000 cattle which they put in the care of Ngqika. The British implemented a scorched earth policy and for several days they destroyed the kraals and burned the fields. By the time the army headed back to Grahamstown, 23 000 head of cattle had been captured. After Ngqika had his share of 11 000 head, the rest were taken back to Grahamstown and sold to pay for the expedition. King Ngqika was restored as the chief of the amaXhosa between the Fish and Kei Rivers.