XHOSA PEOPLE:SOUTH AFRICA`S ANCIENT PEOPLE WITH UNIQUE TRADITIONAL AND CULTURAL HERITAGE
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
― Nelson Mandela from Xhosa tribe,South Africa.
The Xhosa often called the “Red Blanket People,” are speakers of Bantu languages living in south-east South Africa, and in the last two centuries throughout the southern and central-southern parts of the country. They were originally known as the Aba-nguni after a very early ruler by the name of Mnguni. Very little is known about Mnguni except that he was the ancestor of a man named Xosa and as a result they became the Xhosa people.
Xhosa people: Sangoma with accordian in traditional Xhosa ceremony
The Xhosa speaking people are of Nguni stock like the Zulu and are divided into several tribes with related but distinct heritages. The main tribes are the Mpondo, Mpondomise, Bomvana (“the red ones’), Xesibe, and Thembu. In addition, the Bhaca and Mfengu have adopted the Xhosa language. The name “Xhosa” comes from that of a legendary leader called uXhosa. There is also a theory that the word xhosa derives from a word in some Khoi-khoi or San language meaning “fierce” or “angry”, the amaXhosa being the fierce people. The Xhosa refer to themselves as the amaXhosa and to their language as isiXhosa.
Xhosa chief triumphant after slaughtering ox
Many famous South Africans are from the Xhosa nation, notably Oliver Tambo, Stephen Biko,Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Bishop Desmond Tutu,Mariam Makeba and well known cricketer Makhaya Ntini.
International song-bird Mariam Makeba aka Mama Africa is from Xhosa tribe
Identification and Location. Xhosa-speaking people live mostly in the rural and urban areas of the Eastern Cape Province in the Republic of South Africa. The rural area covers the region stretching from the Umtamvuna River in the east to the Great Fish River in the west, the Indian Ocean in the south, and Lesotho and the Gariep River to the north. Xhosa regions outside the Eastern Cape Province include the rural areas of southern KwaZulu-Natal and urban centers such as Johannesburg (Gauteng Province) and Cape Town (Western Cape Province).
Xhosa people of Transkei,South Africa performining their traditional dance
Presently approximately 10 million Xhosa people are distributed across the country, and Xhosa is South Africa’s second most common home language, after Zulu, to which Xhosa is closely related. The pre-1994 apartheid system of Bantustans denied Xhosas South African citizenship, but enabled them to have self-governing “homelands” namely; Transkei and Ciskei, now both a part of the Eastern Cape Province where most Xhosa remain. Many Xhosa live in Cape Town (iKapa in Xhosa), East London (iMonti), and Port Elizabeth (iBhayi).
As of 2003 the majority of Xhosa speakers, approximately 5.3 million, lived in the Eastern Cape, followed by the Western Cape (approximately 1 million), Gauteng (671,045), the Free State (246,192), KwaZulu-Natal (219,826), North West (214,461), Mpumalanga (46,553), the Northern Cape (51,228), and Limpopo (14,225).
According to Pinnock, the earliest reports by Portuguese survivors of shipwrecks along the south-east coast during the 16 and 17th centuries describe the amaXhosa as cattle herders who hunted game and cultivated sorghum. They lived in beehive –shaped huts in scattered homesteads which were ruled by chiefs.
Tshawe founded the Xhosa kingdom by defeating the Cirha and Jwarha groups. His descendants expanded the kingdom by settling in new territory and bringing people living there under the control of the amaTshawe. Generally, the group would take on the name of the chief under whom they had united. There are therefore distinct varieties of the Xhosa language, the most distinct being isiMpondo (isiNdrondroza). Other dialects include: Thembu, Bomvana, Mpondimise, Rharhabe, Gcaleka, Xesibe, Bhaca, Cele, Hlubi, Ntlangwini, Ngqika, Mfengu.
According to oral tradition, the ancestors of the amaXhosa lived in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains before moving slowly to the coast. “The first group of Nguni immigrants to migrate to South Africa around 13th century from East Africa ahead of the Zulus consisted of Xhosa, (made up of Gcaleka,Nggika,Ndlambe and Dushane clans), the Thembu and Pondo. However, the second group of Nguni-speakers joined these tribes later. historical evidence suggests that the Xhosa people have inhabited the eastern Cape area as long as 1593 and probably even before that. some archaeological evidence has been discovered that suggests that Xhosa-speaking people have lived in the area since 7th AD.”
By the mid 17th century, the Thembu tribe was settled around Mbashi River [meaning “dark river” or “dangerous ravine”] with the original Xhosa tribe in the vicinity of Kei River and beyond. The senior Xhosa chiefdom was given respect and tribute but was not much feared.The senior chief did not have enough military power to make himself king of a larger centralized state.
The chiefdom was further weakened when Rarabe,brother of the chief, Gcaleka challenged his brother`s rule and was driven off with his followers. He was succeeded as a western Xhosa chief by his son Ndlambe and later Nggika,his grandson, who took the chieftaincy away from his uncle in 1796. During the 1820`s and 30`s southern Africa was torn apart by violent wars between differrent indigenous peoples, in what is often termed Mfecane/Difeqane (“The Crushing”).
Two Nguni chiefs started these wars,Zwide of Ndwandwe kingdom in the north of present-day Zulu land (the area of Kwa-Zulu Natal lying north of the Tugela River) and Dingiswayo of the Mthethwe kingdom in the south.Refugees from both army became mfecane tribe “on the march” and swept across the countrycushing anyone that crossed their path.
When the British came to eastern Cape, they tried to prevent military invention by adopting a treat-state system. Treaties of friendship tied Independent African states such as Ciskei and Pondoland to the British. However the treaty-state system did not last very long and war broke out between the white settlers and the Xhosa tribes. An allied army of Nggika-Xhosa, Gcaleka-Xhosa and Thembu defeated the British.
However,this did not deter the British from annexing Keiskamma territory, thus setting the scene for another war which will eventually escalate to a civil war between Gcaleka, the Xhosa chief and the local Mfengu tribe that lives among them. In the wars against the British and colonial troops, two Xhosa chiefs Sandile and Maqoma, emerged strong leaders. After both had been defeated, Xhosa resistance crumbled and by early 1800`s, the last of Nguni chiefs has been brought under colonial rule. however, what actually broke the Nguni nation`s resolve was the disaster that occurred in mid 1850`s (The Great Cattle Killing of 1856-1857). In all the Xhosa fought for one hundred years to preserve their independence, heritage and land, and today this area is still referred to by many as Frontier Country.
The Great Cattle Killing of 1856-1857
A young girl by name Nongqause, had a vision of warriors of the old rising up from the reeds surrounding the pool into which she was gazing.They had been purified of witchcraft and they encouraged her to tell the Xhosa people purify themselves by killing their cattle, destroying all their grains and not planting any crops.
This action would also help get rid of the White settlers, since the old warriors would come and drive the White settlers away. News of Nongqause prophecy, spurred on by the preaching of her uncle Mlakaza, spread among the people like wild fire.In the aftermath, approximately 20,000 people died of starvation while another 30,000 were scattered among the white farmers in the outlying areas where they sought work for food.
Xhosa men wearing their traditional Mfengu headband
Despite,this disaster and havoc,it wrought on Xhosa people,Xhosa culture has remained strong.Although their lifestyle has been adapted to western traditions, they have still retained many of their traditions and culture. They were the first African people to become widely known to Europeans and this is probably why, according to historians, the name ‘Xhosa’ became the name for all Africans in the Eastern Cape.
Xhosa is an agglutinative tonal language of the Bantu family. While the Xhosas call their language “isiXhosa”, it is usually referred to as “Xhosa” in English. Written Xhosa uses a Latin alphabet–based system. Xhosa is spoken by about 18% of the South African population, and has some mutual intelligibility with Zulu, especially Zulu spoken in urban areas. Many Xhosa speakers, particularly those living in urban areas, also speak Zulu and/or Afrikaans and/or English.
Among its features, the Xhosa language famously has fifteen click sounds, originally borrowed from now extinct Khoisan languages of the region. Xhosa has three basic click consonants: a dental click, written with the letter “c”; a palatal click, written with the letter “q”; and a lateral click, written with the letter “x”. There is also a simple inventory of five vowels (a, e, i, o, u). Some vowels however may be silent. In other words, they can be present in written language but hardly audible in spoken language. This happens especially at the end of the word. This is because the tone of most Xhosa words is lowest at the end
The amaXhosa were pastoralists [people who herded livestock, often as nomadic wanderers without a set farm area], and their slow movement was more of an expansion of territory rather than migration. One of the main reasons for this movement of expansion was simply the splintering off of the sons of chiefs to found new chiefdoms of their own. Over centuries various chiefdoms formed as a result of inner turmoils and division, through unions with the Khoisan groups [more about this later] whose territories were overrun and conquered by the amaXhosa and through the arrival of refugees from wars in Natal, having been expelled from this area by the legendary king uShaka.
In the rural areas mixed farming consisting of horticulture and animal husbandry is practiced. Depending on the availability of arable land, each household has access to a field ranging from 2.1 acres (0.86 hectare) to 8.5 acres (3.43 hectares) or a small garden as part of the residential plot. Chief’s and headmen usually receive larger tracts of land that range between 15 acres (6 hectares) and 32 acres (13 hectares). Maize (the staple), sorghum, wheat, barley, beans, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, gem squash, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, and tobacco are grown.
The soil varies from sandy to sandy loam, and a few areas have clay and alluvial soils. Soil depth ranges from 6 inches (15 centimeters) to 6.6 feet (2 meters) (alluvial soils next to riverbeds). The main implements are ox-drawn plows and metal-bladed hoes. Cows and goats are eaten on special occasions related to the life cycle and religious ceremonies, and sheep, pigs, and chickens provide meat for household consumption. Commodities not produced locally, such as coffee, tea, sugar, canned food, cloth, clothes, utensils, and furniture, are bought with the earnings from migrant labor in urban areas or the proceeds from the sale of skins and wool to local traders or at shops in nearby towns.
People living near the sea or rivers eat the fish and crustaceans and mollusks. Roots, bulbs, berries, wild fruit, and herbal plants are gathered to supplement the diet. Occasionally small game may be hunted.
Commercial Activities. As a result of development efforts a number of irrigation schemes were initiated in which small farmers were resettled to produce pineapples, citrus fruit, coffee, and tea for commercial purposes. Government policy regarding land redistribution favors commercial dairy farming, wool production, and agriculture on a larger scale. In some areas handicrafts are manufactured for the tour
Division of Labor. In general, men tend to the livestock and clear virgin land for horticulture and women do the household chores (cleaning, preparing and serving food, washing clothes, fetching water and firewood, and caring for children) and work in the fields or gardens. After the introduction of ox-drawn plows, men became more involved in horticulture by tilling the soil and planting the crops and women did the weeding.
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