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People of the Victoria Falls
Enter the Ndebele
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To The Victoria Falls

People of the Victoria Falls

The Makololo

The Luyi state was invaided sometime between 1820 and 1840 by a branch of the Basotho people who became known as the Makololo (or Kololo). They occupied Barotseland and the Luyi people, who they called the Lozi, until they were overthrown in 1864. During this time their language and culture became adopted into that of the Luyi.

The Makololo were a cosmopolitan group, brought together by the assimilation of conquered groups under the respected leadership of Sebituane. He led his people in a staged migration from an area close to modern-day Lesotho, as part of the dispersals referred to as the mfecane, and north and through present day Botswana, in an effort to avoid conflict with the Ndebele people under their powerful leader Mzilikaze.

Sebituane was a wise military strategist renowned for his leadership qualities, defeating all the tribes he came across, without however, seeking to take their lands but instead capturing their cattle. He also had a strategy of assimilating strong aspiring leaders from conquered peoples into the Makololo ranks. He united his diverse people through fair leadership; "all are children of the chief".

After arriving at the eastern extremity of present-day Caprivi, Sebituane did not follow the Zambezi, but instead moved directly north on to the high Batoka plateau. After settling near Kalomo, Sebituane was attacked by Ndebele raiders, and so moved west to Bulozi and Barotse floodplains.

Divisions within the Luyi led to their overthrow, but the total subjugation of Barotseland took several years to complete. Sebituane initially made his capital at Naliele but moved south again to Linyanti where he recieved Livingstone and Oswell in July 1851. He had been established in the area prior to crossing the Zambezi.

Livingstone and Sebituane appear to have forged a strong friendship, with the Makololo chief telling them his life story, and Livingstone had a great regard for Sebituane, recognising him as ‘a gentleman in thought and manner’.

Livingstone soon moved on to Sesheke with Oswell, and on the 4th August 1851, first saw the great Zambesi. His aim was to start a mission station in the area, but he could not find a district which was sufficiently free from fever, and so turned back.

Unfortunately had Sebituane died soon after their departure.

During this time, Sebituane had died, Livingstone states from pneumonia aggravated by an old wound. The Makololo version however, is a little different. This is to the effect that one day, Sebituane insisted on riding Livingstone’s horse, in spite of warnings from the missionary that the animal was not fully broken in; Sebituane insisted that he was a very good rider and so Livingstone acceded. Unfortunately, Sebituane was thrown. He was carried to his hut in great pain and died two or three days after Livingstone left. Livingstone does not mention this incident but it is significant that the symptoms as described by him could have been caused by such an accident; no blame appear to have been attached to Livingstone.
[Baxter, in Clark (1952)]

Livingstone was greatly affected by his death. Livingstone had quickly perceived that with Sebituane there existed an opportunity to set up a mission station in a land which was fertile and productive with the aid of a wise and strong chief. Perhaps through Livingstone Sebituane saw a chance of peace with the Matabele chief Mzilikaze, through Livingstone’s father-in-law, Robert Moffat.

Many years later, C W Mackintosh (1922), recordeded an increadible meeting during her journey to the Upper Zambezi in 1920:

Outside the church the men and the women ranged themselves in separate groups and saluted. M. Beguelin then introduced a very interesting person, an old Mosuto or Makololo woman, the daughter of the great Chief Sebituane, Livingstone's friend, who died during his visit in circumstances that have never been explained. (Sebituane was the Basuto chief who conquered Barotseland, the middle of last century and imposed the Sesuto language on the people, a dialect of which they still speak.)

...I asked her if she would mind telling me the real cause of her father's death in 1851, as notwithstanding Livingstone's circumstantial account it had been much disputed in England, some saying that he had fallen from Livingstone's horse, some that he had died of pneumonia, others of poison. M. Beguelin interpreted.

At this she glanced pawkily at a friend behind her and said, "Oh, these young folk!" i.e. "what silly questions they ask." ... She replied, "He did not fall from the horse, but the missionaries (i.e. Livingstone and his companion, Mr. Oswell) said, "We should like to see you on horseback," so he mounted their horse and rode, but when he dismounted he was seized with such a terrible panic that he fell ill and died of the fright."

As this story, if not due to the inspiration of the moment, was obviously a late gloss, I looked rather sceptical, and M. Beguelin said, "But wasn't there a little 'medicine' besides?" She laughed and turned away her head; and then made a confidential reply in his ear. This was, "If the missionaries say there was a little medicine, they say right."

The idea seems to be that the natives wished to get rid of the white visitors, but knowing they were under the protection of the Makololo conqueror, they put an end to him first, intending to poison the others afterwards. Although they did not bring this off, it is well known that they did poison the members of the Helmore and Price expedition of the London Missionary Society, who responded to Livingstone's appeal for a pioneer work at the Zambesi. Mr. Price and one child alone escaped with their lives. Livingstone attributed this wholesale death-dealing to the Makololo tribe whom the Barotse soon afterwards massacred almost to the last man, restoring their own dynasty. But they preserved a large number of women for themselves, as they admired the race and each chief who secured a Makololo wife treated her with marked honour as his chief prize, which no doubt accounts for this aged woman's survival.

After Sebituane’s death, his empire started to unfold. He appointed his daughter, Mamochisane, successor, and it was with her permission that Livingstone and Oswell continued their travel and explorations.

However by the time of Livingstone’s return in May 1953, Mamochisane had stepped down in favour of her half-brother, Sekeletu. Livingstone estimated Sekeletu’s age as 18 when they met in 1853. He led for twelve years, but during this time remained in Linyati and the power he inherited over the Lozi people diminished.

Livingstone parted from Sekeletu in Novemeber 1855 provisoned, staffed and loaded with ivory to use as currency for a return not only home, but to the Zambezi. Livinstone’s retinue consisted of 115 men who he left at Quelimane, 100 km north of the mouth of the Zambezi, while he returned to England to make new preparations.

When Livingstone did eventually return, and found Sekeletu at Sesheke, weakened by illness. Livingstone noted on his final visit that the Lozi princes, previously based at Linyati, had return to their northern homelands. Sekeletu died in August 1863 from ill-health, perhaps leprosy. In the absence of a leader a message arrived from Mzilikaze stating that the land was his. Many of his people dispersed, but after bitter fighting, Sekeletu was succeeded in turn by two of his uncles, first Mamile, and the Mbololo, under leadership was finally overthrown by the Lozi in August 1864, marking the end of the ‘Makololo interregnum' and the restoration of the Lozi monarchy with the Lozi prince Sipopa, son of Mubukwanu, as their leader.

It was whilst the Makololo were resident in the area that David Livingstone discovered the Falls to the outside world in 1855. He first visited the Makololo in 1851 and saw the elders wearing British cloth that had been sold to Africans by the Portuguese in Angola. The name Mosi-oa-Tunya was given by the Makololo people and has entered popular use following Livingstone's discovery and promotion of the Falls to the wider world.

Next page: Enter the Ndebele

Life and Death at the Old Drift, Victoria Falls 1898-1905

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'To The Victoria Falls' aims to bring you the wonder of the Victoria Falls through a look at its natural and human history.

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