Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Matabililand is a district lying N. of the Transvaal and between the Zambesi and the Limpopo, having a length of 180 miles and a breadth of 150 miles. The Matabili (Araandebeli) are a mixed Zulu people, who under their chief, the fugitive induna (captain) Umsilikatze, first settled about 1828 in the Marico district, on the borders of the present Transvaal and Bechuanaland. Driven thence in 1837 by the Boers, Umsilikatze led a motley gathering of Zulus and Bechuanas across the Limpopo, and established himself at Bulawayo in the Matoppo Hills, where he introduced the Zulu military system and founded the present kingdom of Matabililand. The occupation of the country was thus from the first of a purely military character, and the royal kraal at Bulawayo was in the nature of a hostile camp planted in the midst of the peaceful and industrious aborigines Mashonas, Makalakas, and Banyai - against whom were organised periodical plundering expeditions, which have been continued with little intermission down to the present day. After an interregnum of two years following the death of Umsilikatze in 1868, his second son, Lo Bengula (" The Defender"), was chosen by the indunas as his successor, although the eldest son, Kuruman, was living, and is by many believed to be still alive. Lo Bengula continued the old system in its full rigour. But he was induced in 1892 to come to terms with the British South Africa Company, surrendering in their favour his pretensions to Mashonaland, and allowing them to peacefully occupy that country. [Mashonas.] This arrangement, however, was viewed with disfavour by the more warlike indunas and impis (armed and disciplined bands), which had hitherto lived by rapine and murder, and they forced Lo Bengula to break his engagements with the company, to renew the periodical marauding expeditions and Mashonaland. After a brief but sanguinary war, Lo Bengula was killed, and the subordinate chiefs submitted. In 1896 another revolt broke out, but after a few months it was suppressed. Although claiming to be full-blood Zulus, the Matabili are a very mixed people, forming, according to their diverse origin, three distinct classes: (1) Abasanzi, descendants of the original Zulu tribe led into the Transvaal by Umsilikatze; (2) Abentla, descendants of the Bechuana captives incorporated in the Marico district: (3) Amalwli, descendants of the Mashona, Makalaka, and other captives incorporated in Matabililand. These heterogeneous elements are reflected in the mixed character of the language (Insidebeli), which is a degraded or simplified Zulu dialect, full of numerous words and expressions borrowed from the various subject peoples. The territory is divided into four military circles commanded in time of war by four head indunas (generals), and capable of mustering from 15,000 to 16,000 men armed with assegais (spears and darts), clubs, shields, and a few muskets. The power of the king is absolute both in time of peace and war, and extends to the lives and property of all his subjects. A controlling influence is, however, exercised by the Council of Indunas, to whom civil and criminal cases are often referred. The criminal code is excessively severe, cowardice or even failure in the field, as well as all other military offences, being almost invariably punished by death. Such sentences are carried out either by the hammer (clubbing), the rope (hanging), or the pillory, in which the culprit is lashed to a tree and left to his fate. Fire, mutilation, and stoning are inflicted for social offences. In other respects the Matabili political and social organisation differs little from that established in Zululand by Chaka at the beginning of the present century. (Moffat, J. Mackenzie, Montagu Kerr, Anderson, Selous.)