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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

The Matabele Organisation

The Matabele Organisation.

The Matabele are divided into three classes, which prevents the unification of the people into a powerful nation or tribe as follows:—
1.Abezanzi.—Original tribe who came from Zululand with Umziligazi or their descendants.
2.Abemhla.—Original Bechuanas, taken captive on the entry into Matabeleland.page 80
3.Maholi.—Captives from neighbouring tribes (Mashonas, Makalakas, Barotse, &c.) taken on raids.

The Abezanzi, and even the Abemhla, are supposed not to marry out of their own class; the Maholi are slaves, but practically become Matabele, though held naturally in far less account than the other two, especially the first.

The country is divided into four great sections, forming territorial divisions, under four chief Indunas, named:

(1) Amabuto, (2) Amgapa (Egapa), (3)Amhlope, (4) Amakanda,

In every division are a certain number of kraals, each of which has one or more indunas, according to their size. A kraal bearing the name of a regiment forms its head-quarters, the war-shields and assegais being kept in a hut in the centre. Kraals are placed near water and wood, and when the timber has been cleared for miles around, or the water and pasturage become insufficient, the kraal is burnt and another established in a fresh place. Thus they are moved every ten years or so, Buluwayo being some eighteen miles north of the position the capital once occupied.

The army, according to the most reliable estimates, may be taken at 15,000, in about twenty regiments of something like 750 each. New regiments are formed when there are sufficient men of a class able to wield the assegai, permission being then granted to build a kraal with the regimental title.

The soldiers are supposed to marry by regiments, and only when they have arrived at a certain age, or have distinguished themselves in the field, when they are allowed to wear the head-ring, Zulu-fashion (formed by working the hair with a certain gum and grease into an oval ring), while the "moutcha," or long fringe-apron, worn by the girls, is replaced by the dressed-hide petticoat of the matron. But in recent times the head-ring has been worn by young men who have qualified neither by age nor service in the field beyond, perhaps, some poor victims on a Mashona raid—some old man, woman, or child—who has fallen to their assegai.

Their war-formation is similar to the Zulus: they deploy into a crescent, and try to outflank the enemy with the two horns, about eight to ten deep at the centre and four deep at the two extremities. As anticipated the Matabele have employed, almost exclusively the assegai and stabbing spear, their national weapons; the thousand breech-loaders, of which a good deal had been heard having seemingly hardly been brought into use.