Gungunyane’s Kingdom before and after Migration

The Gaza empire after migration in 1889
The Gaza empire after migration in 1889 (Source: Les Africains, Vol 3, P. 181, C. Julien, Ed. J.A., 1977)
The Gaza empire at its heights around 1860s
The Gaza empire at its heights around 1860s

Following up on Gungunyane, the Lion of Gaza, I propose here maps of his kingdom before and after the migration.  I found a map of Gungunyane‘s kingdom, the Gaza empire, after migration from Mount Selinda, in ‘Les Africains,’ Vol. 3, P. 181, C. Julien, Editions J.A., 1977.  I also made an approximative map of what would have been the Gaza empire at its heights in 1860s, before migration, using the well-known boundaries of the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers, and Mount Selinda (in modern day Zimbabwe) as well as the city of Mossurize in Mozambique.  Enjoy!

Kofi Awoonor: Celebrating the Life of Ghanaian Poet

Kofi Awoonor
Kofi Awoonor

Today, I would like to talk about the legendary Ghanaian poet, writer, and diplomat Kofi Awoonor who lost his life this past weekend during the shootings at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

Well, many articles would tell you all about this man who was born George Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor-Williams, but who will end up using Kofi Awoonor as his pen name.  Kofi Awoonor was a poet whose poetry was based on Ewe / Ghanaian mythology and imagery.  His writings include the oral traditions of African village songs, with their various communal forms, themes, and functions/ceremonies.  For instance, his poem ‘The Purification’ records a sacrifice to the sea-god in a time of poor fishing.  One can find a sense of melancholy in his writings.  Enjoy this snippet from one of his poem ‘Songs of Sorrow.’  To learn more about this man, check this very good article on The Guardian, the BBC, and don’t forget to go to The Poetry Foundation of Ghana to read the end of this poem and other pieces by him.

Songs of Sorrow

Dzogbese Lisa has treated me thus
It has led me among the sharps of the forest

Returning is not possible
And going forward is a great difficulty
The affairs of this world are like the chameleon faeces
Into which I have stepped
When I clean it cannot go.
I am on the world’s extreme corner,
I am not sitting in the row with the eminent
But those who are lucky
Sit in the middle and forget
I am on the world’s extreme corner
I can only go beyond and forget.
My people, I have been somewhere
If I turn here, the rain beats me
If I turn there the sun burns me
The firewood of this world
Is for only those who can take heart
That is why not all can gather it.
The world is not good for anybody
But you are so happy with your fate;
Alas! the travelers are back
All covered with debt.


By Kofi Awoonor

Gungunyane: the Lion of Gaza or the Last African King of Mozambique

Gungunyane, the Lion of Gaza
Gungunyane, the Lion of Gaza

Today, we will talk about one of the greatest chief in Mozambique‘s modern history: the Shangaan king Gungunyane, of the Gaza Empire.  He governed a region which encompassed parts of eastern Rhodesia (in modern day Zimbabwe), and southern Mozambique.  He was known as the Lion of Gaza.

So who was Gungunyane?  Born Mdungazwe (which means ‘one who confuses the people’ in Zulu) around 1850, he will change his name from Mdungazwe to Gungunyane upon his ascension to the throne in 1884. Gungunyane was born on the Gaza territory, which extended from the rivers Zambezi and Incomati, to the Limpopo river, and would go all the way into modern-day Zimbabwe.  He was the son of Mzila, who reigned from 1861 to 1884.  He was also the grandson of Soshangane, the founder of the Nguni or Gaza empire, after his defeat at the hands of Shaka Zulu in 1820 in Zululand during the Battle of Mhlatuze river.  In its initial stages, the Gaza empire expanded over 56,000 km2 (22,000 sq mi) of land, with its capital being Chaimite.  At the death of his father Mzila, Gungunyane ascended the throne after a fratricidal battle with his other brothers.

Picture of a Vatua-Shangaan warrior, taken at the end of the 19th century (Source: 'Les Africains', Vol.3, P.182, Ed. J.A. 1977)
Picture of a Vatua-Shangaan warrior, taken at the end of the 19th century (Source: ‘Les Africains’, Vol.3, P.182, Ed. J.A. 1977)

At his ascension, the Portuguese sent him emissaries in 1885 who tried to have him sign treaties to recognize Portugal’s sovereignty in the region promising: to give his territory to no other than Portugal, to allow that a Portuguese agent reside with him as advisor, to have Portugal’s colors raised over his kraals, to allow Portuguese subjects to circulate freely in his territory, to allow only Portuguese to exploit his mines, to allow the establishment of schools and churches, etc.  For which Gungunyane would retain full jurisdiction over the Gaza territory with the right to administer it, and to raise taxes.  This was unacceptable to Gungunyane who refused to sign.

The southern region of Mozambique was a penetration road for the Portuguese who had been arming vassals of the Shangaan.  Thus in 1888, Gungunyane and his advisors decided to move their kraals from the Rhodesian plateau to the shores of the Limpopo river. This decision will end up costing them a lot, as 40,000 to 100,000 people made the move.  Several fractions left in april 1889, while the king himself moved from Mount Selinda on 15 June 1889.  This decision was motivated by the desire of Gungunyane to settle an old score with chief Speranhana (who was armed by the Portuguese) of the Chopi people from between the Limpopo and Inharrime, and the need to recover his father’s land in the region of Bilene.  In 1889, the Lion of Gaza invaded the Chopi territory, and installed a kraal in Manjacaze.  However, the battle against the Chopi will last until the end of his reign, and will greatly weaken the Shangaan.

Throughout his reign, Gungunyane never signed any treaties, because he never trusted neither the Portuguese nor the translator (even if the translator was his own son).  He was a skilled negotiator, and would always try to settle everything diplomatically.  He played well the British and Portuguese interests in the region… this might have been his downfall in the end.

In 1890, Gungunyane prohibited the sale of alcohol by Portuguese merchants on Gaza territory.  In 1891, the Portuguese adopted a decree to ban the sale of alcohol on Gazaland, and agreed to work with Gungunyane to implement this… but as we all know the Portuguese never stopped selling alcohol in the region (this seems like a century old practice from Europeans selling cheap alcohol in Africa, and turning Africans into drunkards).

Picture of captured Gungunyane on board the ship 'Africa' from the Diario Ilustrado - 15 March 1896
Picture of captured Gungunyane on board the ship ‘Africa’ from the Diario Ilustrado – 15 March 1896

The Portuguese never stopped trying to control Gungunyane who never stopped wanting more independence (it was his land after all).  They kept enforcing treaties.  In 1893, the conflict in Matabeleland between the British and Lobengula forced several Ndebele to seek refuge in the Gaza territory (one of Gungunyane’s sister was married to Lobengula) creating confusion.  In 1894, the Portuguese used a succession quarrel between Ronga chiefs to attack Gungunyane.  No proof was found of Gungunyane’s involvement into the hostilities.  On 22 August 1894, war started, when the Ronga troops defeated the Afro-Portuguese troops with Ronga chiefs Mahazul and Matibejana of Zixaxa attacking Lourenço Marques.  However, the Ronga chiefs were defeated by the Portuguese during the battle of Marracuene on 2 February 1895.  The Ronga chiefs thus sought refuge into Gungunyane’s kingdom.  Gungunyane kept negotiating, but now the sine qua non condition to any negotiation was the surrender of the Ronga chiefs, with other clauses such as the full control of his territory by the Portuguese, the installation of military bases, the payment

Picture of Gungunyane's children on board the ship 'Africa'- from the Diario Ilustrado -15 March 1896
Picture of Gungunyane’s children on board the ship ‘Africa’- from the Diario Ilustrado -15 March 1896

of an annual tax of 10,000 pounds, etc.  For the Lion of Gaza, this meant the end of his independence.  Negotiations were still ongoing, but by September, the Portuguese had invaded the territory of Cossine which was an integral part of the Gaza kingdom.  On 7 November 1895, on lake Coolela, not far from Manjacaze, the Portuguese crushed 8 Shangaan regiments.  Coolela became the Waterloo of Gungunyane.  The Lion gathered his treasures and took off.  For almost a month, Portuguese kept looking for him thinking that he had sought refuge in Transvaal.  However, Gungunyane had sought refuge in Chaimite, the sacred village of the Shangaan people.  While many of his dignitaries, and sons managed to escape into the Transvaal, the Lion never left Chaimite, and on 28 December 1895, he was captured there by Mousinho de Albuquerque, the Portuguese military governor of Gaza.  Gungunyane was first sent to Lisbon, and then later to the island of Terceira on the Portuguese Azores, with his son Godide, some of his wives, and dignitaries. He will die there on 23 December 1906.

In exile in Acores, from l to r: Zixaxa, Molungo, Godide, and Gungunyane
In exile in Acores, from l to r (top): Zixaxa, Molungo, Godide, and Gungunyane
Gungunyane and his wives in exile in Acores
Gungunyane and his wives in exile in Acores

Under Gungunyane, the Shangaan empire grew more powerful compared to his father’s years.  The Shangaan system expanded at a time when Mozambique was at the center of European greed and attacks.  Portuguese who had arrived in the area in 1891, were amazed by Gungunyane’s power, and wrote that the Gaza empire was “the biggest empire that the negro race had created in oriental Africa.”  Many were quite skeptical when they learnt of the Lion of Gaza’s defeat.  A contemporary Portuguese wrote in 1910 that: “the king of the Vatua [Shangaan] empire was a fine diplomat who, knowing that we did not have the military strength to counter his power, managed to turn us [the Portuguese] into docile vassals.” To learn more, check out the book ‘Les Africains, Vol. 3, C. Julien, editions J.A. 1977’, as well as VidasLusoFonas, and the book Gungunhana no seu Reino by Maria da Conceicao Vilhena.

Commemorating Agostinho Neto’s life – Angola’s National Heroes Day

Flag of Angola
Flag of Angola

Today is Angola’s National Heroes’ Day commemorating Angolan heroes, and is a celebration of the life of one of their heroes, President Agostinho Neto who was born on this special day.  To mark this day, and to celebrate in style, I propose yet another poem from Angola’s greatest poet, President Neto himself.  Enjoy! (I translated from Portuguese to English so it might not be the greatest… if you have a better translation, feel free to share).

Noite by Agostinho Neto – Translation by Dr. Y.,


Eu vivo
nos bairros escuros do mundo
sem luz nem vida. 

Vou pelas ruas
às apalpadelas
encostado aos meus informes sonhos
tropeçando na escravidão
ao meu desejo de ser.

São bairros de escravos
mundos de miséria
bairros escuros.

Onde as vontades se diluíram
e os homens se confundiram
com as coisas.

Ando aos trambolhões
pelas ruas sem luz
pejadas de mística e terror
de braço dado com fantasmas.

Também a noite é escura.


I live                                                                     in the dark quarters of the world                     without light and life.   

I fumbled through the  streets                                                          leaning on my dreams                                  stumbling on slavery                                                                 to my desire to be.

Slave quarters                                                worlds of misery                                                dark quarters.

Where the wills were diluted                                   and the men were confused                                   with things.

I walk in unknown streets                                                         without tripping                                                                 Streets soaked in with mystical light                    and the terror arm of ghosts.

The night is also dark.

Why the name: Burkina Faso?

Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso
Flag of Burkina Faso
Flag of Burkina Faso

Have you ever wondered about the name of the country Burkina Faso?  Why would a country have two names, i.e. Burkina and then Faso?  or even simply two names in its history: Upper Volta and then Burkina Faso?  Well, the country named Upper Volta was given a new name in 1984 by then President Thomas Sankara, who chose the name Burkina Faso.

Flag of Upper Volta
Flag of Upper Volta

Originally, Haute Volta or Upper Volta, was just given by the European colonizer, the French, more as an indicator or geographic pointer, and had no real attachment to the people of that region themselves.  Thus Upper Volta was named for the region above the Volta river flowing in the area; the people of that country/area where thus known as the ‘Voltaics’ (Voltaiques in French).  Since the river had three tributaries: the Black Volta, the white Volta, and the red Volta, Upper Volta’s flag also had those three colors.  The Volta river also flew into Ghana, which was never known as the ‘Lower Volta’.  No wonder the name needed to change, as it had no real meaning!

Thomas Sankara
Thomas Sankara a Ouagadougou

Well, on 4 August 1984, Thomas Sankara, with his usual charisma and revolutionary spirit, decided to change the country’s name to Burkina Faso.  He chose two names after two main languages of the country: the Moore (or Mossi language) and the DioulaBurkina from Mòoré means men of integrity, while Faso in Diouala means fatherland.  Thus the Burkina Faso is the land of upright people or the land of honest people.  The people of the country are known as the Burkinabé, where the suffix ‘bé’ comes from the Foufouldé language spoken by the Peulh people (a tribe found in many countries across West Africa), and means ‘men or women’.  Thus, Thomas used three of the main languages in his country to choose a name that was truly representative of the country and its people.  Sankara was then addressed as the PF or the President of the Faso.  The national cloth made up of woven strips of cotton or silk was called faso dan fani (this will be the subject for another post).

Enjoy this video, and travel to Burkina Faso, the land of the upright people.

The Tiger, the Ram, and the Jackal

Tiger (Leopard)
Tiger (Leopard)

TIGER (leopard) was returning home from hunting on one occasion, when he lighted on the kraal of Ram. Now, Tiger had never seen Ram before, and accordingly, approaching submissively, he said, “Good day, friend! What may your name be?”

The other in his gruff voice, and striking his breast with his forefoot, said, “I am Ram. Who are you?”

Tiger,” answered the other, more dead than alive, and then, taking leave of Ram, he ran home as fast as he could.

Jackal lived at the same place as Tiger did, and the latter going to him, said, “Friend Jackal, I am quite out of breath, and am half dead with fright, for I have just seen a terrible looking fellow, with a large and thick head, and on my asking him what his name was, he answered, “I am Ram.”


What a foolish fellow you are,” cried Jackal, “to let such a nice piece of flesh stand! Why did you do so? But we shall go to-morrow and eat it together.”

Next day the two set off for the kraal of Ram, and as they appeared over a hill, Ram, who had turned out to look about him, and was calculating where he should that day crop a tender salad, saw them, and he immediately went to his wife and said, “I fear this is our last day, for Jackal and Tiger are both coming against us. What shall we do?”

Don’t be afraid,” said the wife, “but take up the child in your arms, go out with it, and pinch it to make it cry as if it were hungry.” Ram did so as the confederates came on.


No sooner did Tiger cast his eyes on Ram than fear again took possession of him, and he wished to turn back. Jackal had provided against this, and made Tiger fast to himself with a leathern thong, and said, “Come on,” when Ram cried in a loud voice, and pinching his child at the same time, “You have done well, Friend Jackal, to have brought us Tiger to eat, for you hear how my child is crying for food.”

On these dreadful words Tiger, notwithstanding the entreaties of Jackal to let him go, to let him loose, set off in the greatest alarm, dragayed Jackal after him over hill and valley, through bushes and over rocks, and never stopped to look behind him till he brought back himself and half-dead Jackal to his place again. And so Ram escaped.

South African Folk Tales, by James A. Honey, 1910, Baker & Taylor Company.

My New Passion: Money

10,000FCFA (BEAC-1992)
10,000FCFA (BEAC-1992)

I love history, archaeology and archives. …  I just found a new passion: collecting money bills (old money bills, which are no longer in print) from the BEAC zone (central Africa), the BCEAO zone (West Africa), and from all over Africa!  In essence, I collect rare old bills.  My favorite bills of all times have always been the 10000 FCFA bills from 1978, and 1992 in the BEAC Zone … this was and still is the highest bill in print.  What I liked the most was the images chosen: the BEAC building in Yaoundé (Cameroon), the beautiful woman with her cornrows representing the African beauty itself, the antelopes (this does not take away the fact that FCFA is a slave currency which should disappear).  Be the judge!

So… do you have a favorite bill?  Which one is it?