Heritage Month is known for celebrating the cultural wealth of our nation and learning about each other’s culture and traditions. It is also about embracing who we are and to bring South Africans together to celebrate their different cultures. South Africa’s culture is one of the most unique and diverse in the world as displayed through our nation’s 11 official languages.
Today we will learn about the culture and traditions of amaXhosa. Historically, the name ‘Xhosa’ comes from the legendary leader and king called uXhosa. Xhosa was the name given to him by the Khoisan people, which means “fierce” or “angry” in the Khoisan language. The Xhosa people refer to themselves as the amaXhosa and to their language as isiXhosa.
Xhosa people are part of the Nguni super-group. Nguni people were a group of people who migrated from Egypt to the Great Lakes region of sub-equatorial Central/East Africa. They then followed the eastern part of southern Africa in their southward bound journey. About 2,000 years ago they entered what is now South Africa. The Nguni are divided into four groups which are amaXhosa (as mentioned already), amaZulu, amaNdebele and amaSwati. Nguni groups are closely related to each other which is why it is very easy for a Xhosa speaker to understand isiZulu, siSwati and isiNdebele languages. Xhosa is the brother of Zulu and Swati.
AmaXhosa settled in the east of South Africa. Tshawe was the third son of Nkosiyomntu who was the grandchild of Xhosa. Tshawe founded the Xhosa kingdom by defeating his brothers Cirha and Jwarha. His descendants expanded the kingdom by settling in new territory and bringing people living there under the control of the amaTshawe. That is why today amaXhosa have different tribes which are: amaBhaca, amaBomvana, amaXesibe, amaMpondomise, abaThembu,amaMpondo,amaMfengu. Today, Xhosa people are divided into two kingdoms which are amaGcaleka and amaRharhabe.
These following tribes fall under the two kingdoms amaGcaleka and amaRharhabe:
AmaBhaca – Zulu, Wushe, Qubulashe, Mjoli, Hlathi, Ndlangisa,Chiya, Mpomvane
AmaBomvana – Tshezi, Gqwarhu, Gebe, Mtabasa ka Dingana
Abathembu – AmaNtande, oDiba, AmaGcina, Ndungwana, Qhudeni
AmaXesibe – Xesibe – Nxanda kaXesibe, Mnune Mkhuma, Nondzaba, Mbathane, Nondize, Bhelesi, Matshaya ngenqaw’ende abanye betshaya ngezimfutshane, Nxele, Bhimbi, Khandanyawana, Mayitshin’eyibheka njengomntwana, Mantsaka
AmaMpondo – Nyawuza, AmaZangwa, AmaNtlane, Khwetshube, Khwalo
Amampondomise – Debeza, Jola,Skhomo, AmaMpehle, AmaMpinga, AmaQadi, OoNgcitshana
AmaMfengu – Dlamini, Miya, Shweme, Khumalo, Skhosana, Ndlangisa
IsiXhosa is the second most spoken language in South Africa after IsiZulu and it has clicks consonants, for example, the X, Q, and C. That is why many people always say IsiXhosa is the most difficult language to learn because it has clicks. IsiXhosa was also featured in Black Panther movie.
The most famous Xhosa meal is umngqusho which is made from samp and beans. Umqombothi is a beer made from fermented maize and sorghum and is usually made when there’s umcimbi. Umvubo is a sour milk mixed with umphokoqo which is made of mealie meal and is commonly eaten by amaXhosa. Umfino is also known as wild spinach and is mixed with mealie meal.
The Xhosa people are proud of their culture and heritage. Xhosa women wear umbhaco. It can be in any colour and it is decorated with beads. A headdress is made up of two or three different materials of various colours. The colours of the headdresses represent the different tribes they come from. Xhosa men wear wraparound skirts that run down from the waist to the feet. They throw a long scarf over one shoulder, which also serves as a cloak when it gets cold. They wear headdresses made from beads or cloth, depending on the customs of their tribes.
When a boy reaches the age of 18, he will be circumcised. That is called an act of transition from boyhood to manhood. Young men are mentored by elders in the bush and are taught about manhood. Stick fighting is an art that Xhosa men learn from an early age when they are out in the veld herding cattle. This is where the training starts because they will use this skill to defend themselves and their families. Most of the sticks that Xhosa men carry were given to them during their circumcision ceremony.
During the first part of the ritual, the young men cover their bodies with white ochre and in the last stages of the ritual they use red ochre. The ochre is also used as a deodorant and protects the skin from the bacteria and infections. When the young men finish their period in the bush, they wash off all the ochre in the river, revealing skin that is smooth and soft. Women also have their ritual of transition from girlhood to womanhood, which is called intonjane. The face painting or umchokozo plays a big role in Xhosa culture. Women paint their faces with white or yellow ochre and use dots to make patterns on their faces. The decorations are sometimes made over their eyebrows, forehead and cheeks.
AmaXhosa, like all Africans, believe in ancestors through which they communicate with God. When a child is born a ritual called imbeleko is performed to introduce a child to their ancestors. In Xhosa tradition, when somebody dies away from home, the rituals of a symbolic return of the soul to the ancestral home are performed. It is believed that one’s soul needs to be at home and also be reunited with the ancestors. The day after the funeral, the family organises a cleansing ceremony, where a sheep will be slaughtered. It is called intlambazandla.
Culture is a strong part of our lives as it influences our views and values. I believe it is crucial to learn about other people’s culture to avoid ethnocentrism. For example, Zulu people think that they are superior to Xhosa people. Zulu people refer to themselves as ‘the people of the heavens’ and they are the largest ethnic group of South Africa compared to amaXhosa. We are all human beings with different cultures and traditions. No one is better than anyone else. Culture has the power to unite people and that can happen through learning each other’s culture.
Sources: Southafrica.net, Wikipedia