GET TO KNOW AMAXHOSA!
AmaXhosa are one of four nations, known as Nguni, that are found in South Africa. They are the second largest cultural group in South Africa! Today’s blog will be introducing you to this beautiful culture, getting you prepared for your visit to South Africa, whether In-person or virtually!
WHO ARE AMAXHOSA
Although they speak a common language, Xhosa people belong to many loosely organized, but distinct Chiefdoms that have their origins in their Nguni ancestors. The Southern Nguni intermarried with KhoiKhoi and this is how the Xhosa culture came to be. 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, which also happens to be some names of different groups or clans. As the Xhosa slowly moved westwards in groups, they destroyed or incorporated the Khoikhoi Chiefdoms and San groups, and their language became influenced by Khoi and San words, which contain distinctive 'clicks'. Nowadays, you will find the Xhosa community across South Africa, mostly in the South-Eastern parts of the country, including Port Elizabeth, East London, and the Wild Coast area; as well as in Cape Town in the Western Cape Province.
THE XHOSA CULTURE
IsiXhosa is the language they speak and is rich in expressions with proverbs and verses in popular use. This is also shown in their naming system, meaning you can expect to come across names that reveal either the social standing of the person or the way she is regarded in the community, like Nomsa which means mother of kindness. Tradition of oral history is very strong. Folklore meshes with historical accounts, and stories of animal characters or legends of tribal warriors are recounted in dramatic ways. The Xhosa tradition of conveying historical events through folklore and songs, has kept the cultural fabric strong and thriving. Respect for elders, hospitality and community spirit are an important part of the culture. The traditional system is patriarchal, the men are considered as the bread-earners and protectors of the family. This is mirrored in their everyday practices where food habits and cultural events portray the importance of male members in the societal hierarchy. Do not be surprised to see the good meat portions being served to the young macho males exclusively! Dances and rituals capture this male role, while the dance movements by women emphasize their traditional role of the heart. The attire of the men, particularly the beadwork and cloth used, portray the role of the man in the community. Xhosa traditional wear is made from cotton woven into unique styles and patterns. The women wear white dresses that are decorated with black bias binding at the hem and neck, and a headdress made up of two or three different materials of various colours. The colours of the headdresses represent the different areas they come from. Jewellery is a must for Xhosa women; traditional Xhosa jewellery such as earrings, necklaces and traditional collars are made from beads. Collars range in size - some go as far as the shoulders, while others flow over the shoulders halfway down the upper arm. The beads come in all colours of the rainbow and when made with primary colours such as red, blue, dark blue, white and yellow; they look dazzling.
While the Xhosa people practice Christianity, they continue with their age-old rituals like the ‘coming of age’ celebrations, as well as traditions associated with weddings and funerals.Their rites of passage traditions play a significant role in their society. It begins with rituals associated with birth, coming of age or initiation into adulthood, engagement, marriage and death. Every stage of life or life-altering event is marked with specific rituals where songs, dances, sacrificial feasts, isolation, attire and food restriction form part of the traditions. Dances and food are the Xhosa way of connecting with the those who have passed on and paying homage to their spirits. Sacrificial offerings of goats, food offerings to the spirits of the departed, and dances with specific symbolism, are an important part of Xhosa traditions. The Xhosa people are also known for their colourful traditional crafts like beadwork, weaving, woodwork and pottery. Beads are usually made up of natural material, like wood, metal, nutshell, and bone seed. Heavy skirts of various designs and lengths are integral to the Xhosa handmade textile tradition, embellished with beadwork and in colours that testify cultural symbolism.
Xhosas, 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 and vice versa. When a boy reaches 18, he will be circumcised, an act that is seen as a transition from boyhood to manhood. Young men are mentored by elders in the bush and are taught about manhood. This ritual is meant to prepare them for life, leadership and being custodians of their culture.
FOOD OF AMAXHOSA
Xhosa cuisine is one of the best indigenous cuisines of South Africa, with red and white meats, greens, maize and grains forming part of the daily food. Meat eating is associated with rituals that reflect the patriarchal traditions. The liver is reserved for young men, and the Inguba for the elderly men. Traditional meat dishes include the Inyama yenkomo beef dish, the Inyama yegusha mutton dish, and Inyama yebhokwe of goat meat. Xhosa cuisine cannot be touched upon without the mention of the Mieliepap, a maize meal that forms part of the staple diet. When mixed with sugar beans and animal fat, it takes the forms of the popular maize dish umngqusho, which tastes much like the Italian risotto. This dish has also found its way into the kitchens of other cultures in South Africa. Most Xhosas like their soup, and you can find a good range including the isopho corn soup, umpoqhoko maize porridge and soured milk porridge, the Umvubo.
ISIXHOSA PHRASES YOU CAN USE WHEN VISITING SOUTH AFRICA
Hello: Molo (singular), Molweni (plural)
Thank you: Enkosi
My name is: Igama lam ndingu...
Can you please help me: Ndicela undincede
How much: Yimalini
Goodbye: Hlalani kakuhle
There is still so much more to learn about the Xhosa culture, so why don’t you book a free Concierge session with us or have a customized virtual tour arranged for you so that you can learn more about this beautiful and rich culture!