About 700,000 Tsongas still live in the rural communal territories comprised of three areas (northern, central, and southern) in the east of the Northern Province of South Africa, divided into seven districts (Giyani, Malamulele, Hlanganani, Ritavi 1, Ritavi 2, Lulekani, and Mhala) with a total area of 2,535 square miles (6,565 square kilometers).
These areas lie between 1,575 and 1,800 feet (480 and 550 meters) above sea level. The terrain varies between the fairly mountainous north and the level mopane (colophospermum mopane) woodland south with its granite hillocks. Of the eight rivers in these areas, only the Levubu and the Great Letaba rivers are perennial.
Cultural Tours in Ba-PhalaborwaTsonga tribes are as follows –
Ronga land close to AmaTongaland of the VaTonga va Nyembana, Swaziland and Vangoni (Zulu Land), it is in Mozambique. Famous Ronga surnames are Mpfumo, Hon’wana, Tembe, Livombo and Maxava.
Tsonga woman dancing
Balengi famously known as Vacopi
The name is derived from their bow and arrow fighting tactics (Copa means to shoot with an arrow), that killed a lot of Ngoni (Zulu) warriors with their bow and arrows. Famous Copi surnames are Valoyi or Baloyi, from Kalanga land in Zimbabwe, yet other historian’s claim Valoyi (Gwambe) is from Thovela, land of Modjadji. Junod states, Gwambe or Valoyi (known today) tribe, Gwambe people originate from Zimbabwe (Kalanga Land) and Modjadji land. Valoyi were known as Vanyayi before they were Copi, even today they still regard themselves as Vanyayi (Note: Vacopi existed before the Valoyi were swallowed into their culture and language). Another famous Copi surname is Mavila.
A small tribe found in Nkomati Mozambique, majority of them is known as VaNkomati. Famous known surnames are Mhangana, Nkomati, Xixongi and Masinge.
The name Ndzawu or Ndawu is not found in Tsonga history, it is a recently discovered. The Vandzawu people are one of the oldest Tsonga tribes, they originate from the Shona people of the east. The Ndzawu people have very powerful Ancestors, the Ancestors of the Sea. They were swallowed into Vutsonga and are divided as follows –
Maxanga – their land is closest to the Indian Ocean from Mozambique to Zimbabwe, Beira.
Magova – this Ndawu tribe is located by the Buzi River; their name is derived from their location selection, as they build near valleys (Gova in Tsonga means Valley).
Tsonga elder woman
Vandanda – they build where there are a lot of trees.
Vatomboji – named after a locust that eats tobacco leaves, they were known as a tribe that enjoyed tobacco and were named after the tiny locust.
The Ndzawu men are known for their “ku pfava” instead of lobola, a man stays at the woman’s family and works for them – in addition, they are firm believers of totenism.
This name was given to them by tribes from the east and the north, Dzonga means people from the South. Khosa is the father of Vandzonga, he originates from the Xhosa’s and came a long time ago to Tsonga land, where he expanded and gave birth to clans such as Mavone, Xikhotana (Masiye), Ntimane, Masuluke, Mahlawule, Rikhotso, Xivuri (from Sotho land), Sambo, Ngoveni and Manganyi.
In North-east Mozambique we find the Vanhlave tribe, one of the biggest Tsonga tribes. Famous surnames are Makamu, Nkwinika, Mavundza, Mawila and Mathye. Xivumba-Makhuvele is a Nhlave tribe that split and formed Xivumba (South tribe) and Makhuvele (known as Mugwena).
Nkuna is a tribe that joined the Vanhlave from Zulu land, Nkuna settled on Rikhotso’s land then moved to Bokgaha land where he expanded and gave birth to clans such as Risimati, Xikwambana, Mbalati, Maxele, Mboweni and Mukhari.
The name “Vatshwa” does not appear in Tsonga historical writings, yet according to Dr. Junod, Vatshwa are Tsonga and have accepted this. The Tshwa people believe majority of Tsonga tribes should be classified as Vatshwa excluding Vacopi and Vatonga va Nyembana. Mukhombo states Vatshwa are a branch and/or split from Hlengwe tribe, yet the Hlengwe and Vatshwa people dispute this. Vatshwa was introduced by the Portuguese describing Zulu “first line warriors” “vatua”. Famous Tshwa surnames are Bilankulu, Yingwana, Hlabangwana, and Savangwana.
Vatsonga va N’walungu
This tribe originates from the North, they are a large group, and with the Valoyi tribe being one of them (The Valoyi have managed to be part of a lot of tribes within Tsongas). The N’walungu are strictly Valoyi, linked with the Copi tribe, we have clans such as Lowana, Makaringe, Nyathi, Maringa, and Mavilani. Within the N’walungu tribe we find Van’wati, Vanyayi.
This tribe is the rightful owners of Kruger National Park, they used to habit the location until removed by the then government, and before it was called Kruger National Park it was called “Ka Nyamazana”. The Hlanganu was swallowed into other Tsonga tribes after losing their land, however, they still hold up Hlanganu ways. Famous surnames are Mnisi, Lamula, Mueche, Mukhombo and Xiluvana.
They dominate Mozambique, Vembe Land until Gijani by the sea, their main land is known as Bileni. Famous surnames are Manyike, Henhla, Comana, Xituvana, Xikonela, and Xisano.
The biggest tribe and original tribe of all Tsonga tribes, I am not biased because I am a Hlengwe, I am stating a fact. Dr. Junod stated that the Hlengwe tribe makes up half of the Tsonga population, this may have not changed, and this can only be disputed with statistics. Their main land is in Mozambique, Nhlengweni, the Hlengwe’s are all over including South Africa (In KZN known as Mabaso) and Zimbabwe. The Hlengwe tribe is divided into three, namely –
Vahlengwe va Xiviri (Pure Hlengwe’s) or Vahlengwe Xigombe – these Hlengwe’s merged with the Valoyi and Maluleke from the west. Famous surnames are Cawuke, the main clan that gave birth to the other Hlengwe tribes. They are original Hlengwe’s because their father Xinyori, who gave birth to Bangwana, who gave birth to Mantsena and Madzive, then Madzive gave birth to Ximundana and Xigombe (father of Vahlengwe-Xigombe), royal pure blood line.
Vahlengwe-Madzive – The found by the beach, their land is very big, it starts from North Mozambique Save and east of the Indian Ocean until the west. I fail to understand why they are not part of the Vahlengwe va Xiviri as they existed before Vahlengwe-Xigombe, after all Madzive is the father of Xigombe and both are royal (research is important in this case).
Vatshwa – as discussed previously there is a claim that Vatshwa and Vahlengwe are one, the reason is that the Vatshwa tribe habited land close to Hlengwe land, and certain Hlengwe intellects claimed all Hlengwe’s are Tshwa. However, Xitshwa is different to Xihlengwe; the languages are similar only on the basis that they are of Tsonga origin.
Famous Hlengwe surnames are Cawuke or Chauke and Mabasa.
The Tsonga people speak Xitsonga a Bantu branch of Niger-Congo language family.The name 'Tsonga' is used as a cover term for Tsonga, Tswa, and Ronga. Other dialects are Xiluleke, N’walungu, Hlave, Nkuna, Gwamba, Nhlanganu, Djonga, and Bila.
XiTsonga is spoken by about 1,972,000 people in South Africa's Limpopo province as well as Gauteng Province and Mpumalanga Province, as well as 1.5 million people in Mozambique, and 19,000 people in Swaziland. There are also 100,000 speakers in Zimbabwe.
In South Africa most of Vatsonga were concentrated in places like e.g. Nkowankowa, Giyani, Malamulele, N'wamitwa, Muhlava, Hlanganani(Bungeni) in Limpopo and Bushbuckridge(ka Mpisana) and others in Mpumalanga. There are also large numbers in the Northwest, KwaZulu-Natal(Tembe) and Gauteng provinces. Basically they can be found anywhere in the old Transvaal.
XiTsonga is an official language in South Africa.
Various dialects of Tsonga are spoken as far north as the Save River in Zimbabwe and as far south as KwaZulu/Natal. While most dialects are mutually intelligible, they do have distinct differences that are geographical as well as based on influence of the colonial era. Tsonga also has two very close relatives: Xironga, which is spoken in and about Maputo, Mozambique, and Xitswa, which is spoken around Inhambane and has a Chihlengwe dialect extending into Zimbabwe.
These dialects and relatives differ in pronunciation. For example, in South African Tsonga the use of the prefix "xi" is pronounced "shi" in Xikwembu (God). In Zimbabwe this prefix is pronounced "chi", as in "Chikwembu" (God). South African Tsonga also uses consonant combinations like "nk", "mp", "ns" as in khensa (thank), nyimpi (war), and nsiha (vein). In Zimbabwe the equivalents are khesa, nyipi, and siha.
All dialects have been influenced to different degrees by Zulu and, in Zimbabwe, by Ndebele. In Pretoria there is an urbanised variety, Pretoria Tsonga, which is adopting large amounts of vocabulary from Pretoria Sotho.
Tsonga believe that the first human being emerged from a hole in the ground. The hole was from the rock at Lowe, on the surface of which the first ancestor lift their prehisotoric footprints permanently engraved.
The Tsonga have a cultural hero called Nwampfundla (hare). Nwampfundla exhibits excellent wisdom, ingenuity and and mischieviousness,
It is believed that ancestors of the Tsonga, who now primarily inhabit an area in southern Mozambique, originated farther north in central Africa. Archaeological evidence points to a continuous occupation of the area between St Lucia Bay from at least the thirteen century, probably at 1250.
Early Portuguese documents of shipwreck sailors indicate that Tsonga Communities were already based between Maputo and Saint Lucia Bay by 1550. Writings of Perestrello (Santa. Bento-1554), Diogo de Couto (Santa Thome-1589), Lavanha (Santa Alberto-1593) record presence of Ronga chiefdoms between Saint Lucia Bay and the Maputo region in sixteen century. They recorded the names of chiefdoms like Ngomane, Nyaka, Mpfumo, Lebombo (Livombo), Manyisa and Tembe. These names have survived till today. What is significant is that Portuguese documents of the 16th century point to the fact that Tsonga (Ronga) chiefdoms were larger their Nguni counterparts. Actually, Nyaka and Tembe developed powerful kingdoms, the first extending from Delagoa Bay in the north to as far as Saint Lucia Bay in the south and the latter covering the Delagoa Bay region and all land as far as the Lebombo (Livombo) mountains.
By the eighteen century, the Maxabane (Mashabane) (which broke away from the Nyaka chiefdom), , Matsolo and Mabota chiefdoms were added to the chiefdoms observed by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century.
Historically, Tsonga communities stretched from St Lucia Bay in Northern KwaZulu Natal up to the upper Save river in Mozambique, covering parts of Swaziland, Mpumalanga, Kruger National Park and South Eastern Zimbabwe
In the 1720s , Portuguese and Dutch identified the Tsonga as linguistically and culturally belonging to one group despite the fact that they belonged to different chiefdoms. This was motivated by the fact the Ronga themselves identified themselves as one group with people who spoke the same language, regardless of the fact that they belonged to different chiefdoms. Dutch reports mention that there were visitors into the Delagoa Bay area from the interior (probably the Hlanganu) who were identified by the Ronga as speaking the same language as them and that members of the Hlengwe sub-group had the same scarifications as the Ronga. The Dutch stressed that the Ronga recognized the Tonga of Inhambane and the Chopi as separate from them.
Some Hlengwe oral traditions also claim that the Hlengwe were part of Ronga of Northern KZN and Maputo region of Mozambique. In the late 1600s to mid 1700’s there are Portuguese reports about the movement of some Ronga people from the Lourenço Marques region to Inhambane region. These Ronga/Hlengwe communities are reported to have ransacked the Tonga of Inhambane and some Shona communities in the upper Save river. This movement was happening almost simultaneously with the with entering of Sotho-speaking people into the hinterland of Delagoa Bay. The Portuguese of Inhambane knew both the Hlengwe of Chauke (Cawuke) clan and Sono in the early eighteen century.
Henri P Junod , postulated that Tsonga communities could be divided into these dialects:
(a) Hlengwe-mainly found in the upper Limpopo river and Save river in Mozambique and Southern Eastern Zimbabwe. The Hlengwe dialect is a transition between standard Tsonga and Tshwa
(b) Hlanganu- historically found in Swaziland, Mpumalanga Kruger National Park and between Sabie and Nkomati rivers in Mozambique. The Hlanganu dialect is a transition between mainstream Tsonga [based largely on Dzonga] and Ronga.
(c) Dzonga (South)-found between the Sabie and Nkomati rivers
(d) N’walungu (North)- mainly found between Limpopo and the Olifants River in Mozambique
(e) Vatshwa-mainly found in Inhambane in Mozambique
(f) Xika-mainly found in North East Nkomati in Mpumalanga
(g) Ronga (East) - mainly found in the Northern KwaZulu Natal and Maputo region in Mozambique. In KZN there are two Ronga dialects worth mentioning: the Xissonga in the Pongola valley, more especially in the Ndumo area and the Xikonde around the Saint Lucia Bay. These two sub-dialects may be nearer to extinction.
(h) Bila (Vila)-found in Bileni in Mozambique.
These people were so named mainly because of their geographical location and dialects. Though they spoke different dialects, the language and cultural practices were largely the same. Hence they constituted a single cultural and linguistic community. It is for this reason that when one reads Vutlharhi bya Vatsonga (a collection of Tsonga proverbs) by Junod, it is difficult to separate proverbs along the different dialects!!!!
For over centuries Tsonga have assimilated other cultural groups who came to live with them in the South East Africa region. The following clans are a case in point:
(i)Tembe-Karanga (Kalanga)- were in Delagoa Bay region by 1554
(ii) Baloyi(Valoyi) –Rozvi (Lozwi) – they were already in the N’walungu region during the time of the Dutch occupation of the Delagoa Bay (1721-31). Some Hlengwe oral traditions claimed that the Hlengwe were actually the ones who converted the Valoyi from Rozvi (Lozwi) into Tsonga in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. This probably happened after the death of the powerful king of Rozvi, Changameri Dombo in 1696.
(b) Shiburi (Xivuri) were Sotho. They entered Mozambique as conquerors from the Mpumalanga lowveld in the 1700s as separate groups, but they organised themselves into a Shiburi (Xivuri) chiefdom.
(c) Manganyi were Nguni who lived in Kwa-Magoda in Kwa-Zulu Natal
(d) Mabunda and Maswanganyi were part of the Mazibuko (Nguni) clan in KwaZulu Natal.
(e) Gaza-Ngoni-Shangaan: several Nguni clans who left with Soshangane to Mozambique from 1821 abandoned their Nguni language and became Tsonga speaking
(f) Chopi- several Chopi people have joined the Maluleke clan.
(g) Ndau- several Ndau clans like Mashaba (Maxava or Machava), Sithole, Moyana, Miyambu, Simango are now part of the Tsonga.
(h) Nkuna- came from Ngome in KZN.
It must be understood that although the Tsonga assimilated foreign cultural elements, it does not follow that the people are merely a hybrid of the assimilated groups mentioned above. In fact, the Tsonga have for centuries been identified as a cultural and linguistic group sufficiently different from other neighbouring cultural groups like the Tonga of Inhambane, The Zulu (Nguni or Ngoni) and the Karanga and the Sotho in South East Africa.
As indicated above the Gaza-Ngoni-Shangaan of Soshangane were not the first Nguni from Zululand (or Kwazulu/Natal) to enter Tsonga dominated Southern Mozambique. There were other groups like the Nkuna (spoke Mbayi) who left Ngome in Northern KwaZulu, (probably during the time of Dingiswayo’s rule) for Lydenburg district in Mpumalanga and then Mozambique. In Mozambique they settled among the Rikhotso. They abandoned the Mbayi dialect and adopted Nhlave, a Dzonga sub-dialect. The Manganyi were from Kwa-Magoda. They settled among the Van’walungu and adopted the N’walungu dialect. The Mabunda (Mavundza) and Maswanganyi were part of the Mazibuko clan in KwaZulu. They left for Nhlave area of Southern Mozambique where they adopted the Nhlave sub-dialect of Dzonga. When Soshangane arrived in Mozambique they were already Tsonga speaking , which means that they had been there long enough to allow for their Nguni dialect to be swallowed by Tsonga.
Mozambican Tsongas still live in dispersed traditional homesteads (kraals) in round walled huts with conical thatched roofs. Circular kraals enclose central cattle byres. Each wife has her own hut. Unmarried boys share a hut, as do unmarried girls.
South African rural villages feature a western-style grid pattern (street blocks with square stands). Structures vary from typical round to square thatched huts, rectangular flat-roofed houses, and modern western-style houses. Traditionally, huts were built with natural materials. Modern dwellings are built with sun-dried bricks and corrugated iron roofs. Traditional layouts are still found outside villages.
Subsistence. Rural Tsonga still depend largely on a subsistence economy. The main economic activity is agriculture practiced by women. In South Africa the diet includes home-grown crops, goat meat, chicken, occasionally beef, game and wild fruit. In Mozambique fish also forms part of the diet. Women grow cassava, grain sorghum, and maize as a staple food. They also grow other vegetables and
fruit—just enough to satisfy their own needs. They purchase additional food-stuffs.
Fields are seldom fertilized, but Mozambicans practice shifting cultivation and slash-and-burn. Leaves, berries, herbs and medicinal plants are collected. People make marula beer (sclerocarya birrea) and lala palm beer (hyphaene coriacea). Most Tsonga now depend on wage labour for cash, many migrating to Zimbabwe or South Africa to find work.
In the past most Tsonga relied on fishing for subsistence, although goats, chickens, and crop cultivation were also important. Cattle were relatively rare in their economies, probably because their coastal lowland habitat was tsetse-fly infested.
Commercial Activities. Commercial Tsonga farmers in South Africa grow tomatoes, bananas, mangoes, avocados, pineapples, litchis, oranges, pawpaw, maize, cotton, nuts, and tobacco, mainly for the local market.
South African Tsonga Tslops are gaining popularity in the U.S.
Labor migration is important to rural households. Many people in the communal rural areas of South Africa work for local commercial farmers or in the proclaimed towns. Most Tsonga have been in contact with the western monetary system, resulting in some individualization.
In proclaimed towns, government has stimulated industrial growth points and cooperative groups, manufacturing products including fencing wire, sisal mats, ceramics, baskets, and wooden articles. Most industrial products are exported, but some are marketed locally.
The business sector (butcheries, filling stations, printers, nurseries, retail enterprises, transport, catering, and accommodation services) is growing steadily. The Mozambican civil wars have left these Tsonga poor.
Industrial Arts. Women manufacture household articles such as sleeping mats made of grass, different types of baskets, clay pots, and strainers for beer making. The production of household articles from wood, of which the mortar and pestle used to pound maize are best known, is mainly the task of men.
Tsonga woman doing pottery art
Cultural tourism in rural communal areas in South Africa has stimulated the curio market, resulting in new products. Clay pots of different shapes with handles, wild animals carved from wood and soapstone, wooden pots with lids, and embroidery work on pillows are all new forms of art aimed at the curio market.
Trade. Tsonga women extract salt from salt-saturated soil according to a 1,700 year-old method for sale to other ethnic groups.
Division of Labor. Married women are entitled to arable land where they cultivate crops. Harvesting is usually cooperative. Men clear the land, while children guard crops from birds and animals. Women process crops, prepare food, make beer, collect firewood, carry water, and maintain huts.
Land Tenure. In South Africa, married men must apply to the ward headmen (ndhuna) for residential stands and arable land for their wives to tend. The stands are registered by the tribal secretary in the name of the applicant. Private land ownership outside proclaimed towns is impossible. Only the right of use applies to communal areas out of towns.
Kin Groups and Descent. The Tsonga tribes are composed of hierarchical patrilineal exogamic clans (sing. xivongo, pl. swivongo ). Each clan consists of various hierarchical patrilineages. Children always belong to the father's lineage.
Kinship Terminology. There are at least six Tsonga dialects with terminological differences between blood relatives on both parents' sides. Paternal relatives are called vakweru —"those with us," "in our home." These include the father's sister, hahani. The father is called tatana.
The term makweru ("my brother") is also used to indicate first and second cousins who have the same paternal grandfather or great-grandfather, and maternal cousins, particularly the mother's sister's children. The mother (and her sisters, mothers in the second degree) is known as mamona. The mother's brother (kokwana/malume) is not a father. Kokwana has three meanings: paternal grandfather, all the ancestors on the father's side, and all maternal male relatives.
Marriage and Family
Marriage. Those who want to marry must be competent to do so—the bride and groom must reach puberty (in Mozambique and for some South African Tsonga people, this includes puberty rites). The groom must have his own income. There must be voluntary concurrence between the two family groups involved. A father can no longer negotiate a marriage without his child's consent or refuse consent without valid reasons. Marriage goods are delivered by the groom's father to the bride's father. The bride is transferred to the bridegroom's family. Couples commonly marry according to indigenous law and civil law. Church weddings are also fashionable.
Tsonga woman sharing traditional tea
Clan exogamy is practiced. As a second wife, the first wife's younger sister or wife's brother's daughter is preferred. Patrilocal residence after the wedding is traditionally preferred, but is no longer common after three months for older sons. The youngest brother must stay to look after his parents and inherits his father's homestead.
Tsonga women in their wedding dress
Divorce is agreed between the parties (the families, not the individuals) concerned. Only if the parties are unable to reach an agreement does the case go to a higher indigenous public court on appeal. Divorce terminates the parties' reciprocal duties of support. The wife's father retains the marriage goods if the husband caused the divorce, but has to return them if the wife caused the divorce. A divorced woman again becomes subject to her father's guardianship.
Domestic Unit. The basic household consists of husband, wife, and children, functioning as a separate local unit with specific reciprocal obligations.
Tsonga women of Mozambique
Polygyny still occurs, but is declining among the younger generation. In Mozambique and South Africa, polygynous families occupy one homestead, or kraal. The different households in a homestead are ranked according to the order in which the various wives were married. The first wife is normally the principal wife.
Inheritance. Only the head of a homestead's estate is specified. General kraal property is separated from house property belonging to different wives' houses.
The eldest son of the principal wife normally inherits the bulk of general kraal property (cattle, ploughs, etc.), with smaller portions going to the principal heirs of the lesser households. The basic rule is that the widows and unmarried children of the deceased must be assured of continued support. House property must eventually be inherited by the sons of that house. Women are not entitled to inherit.
Socialization. No two children in a family have the same status. The ranking differences between children in a polygynous family are determined by sex, age, and the mother's rank. All boys are senior to all girls. Fathers concern themselves mainly with educating boys while mothers focus on girls.
After the age of seven, boys look after their faith
ers' goats. Boys hunt birds and small game, and play games, increasing their knowledge of plant and animal life through direct observation. At puberty, some rural boys undergo initiation (no longer among all Tsonga tribes), where they are educated about tribal history and the duties and responsibilities of a married man.
Beautiful Tsonga girl
At the age of six, girls undertake small tasks, increasing in number as the girls grow older, including sweeping the homestead, fetching water, gathering wood, hoeing, and cooking. Between the onset of puberty and her daughter's marriage, the mother informs her of her sexual responsibilities, explains the taboos to which a girl or woman is subject, and trains her to be a good wife.
The introduction of formal education has had a considerable influence on the way Tsonga parents educate their children, widening the range of knowledge available to children but also making it difficult for children to carry out their traditional duties.
Tsonga woman from Gazankulu, South Africa wearing traditional dress
Social Organization. The smallest tribal social unit is the nuclear family where authority rests with the father. Polygynous and extended families (married man with married brothers and/or married sons and their dependents) are larger social units. Other social units are lineages that can in turn be grouped into clans, descendants of a common progenitor in the distant past. There is a lineage and a clan hierarchy within a tribe.
Political Organization. The hereditary chief (hosi) is generally the most senior member of the most senior lineage and clan within the tribe. He has to be appointed (by the ruling family council), trained, and inaugurated as chief. In South Africa, the tribal chief is also statutorily recognized. If he has not yet reached maturity when his father dies, a paternal uncle is normally appointed as regent.
The chief must rely on the personal advice of his senior relatives and of the tribal council (a closed council consisting of ward headmen, the senior relatives of the chief, and experts). Tribal chiefs perform statutory, tribal, and ritual functions (the allocation and utilization of tribal land, administration, maintaining law and order, and settling disputes brought to his court on appeal from the ward headmen [tindhuna] of the different wards).
For administrative purposes the total tribal area is divided into a number of smaller administrative units or rural villages or wards (pl. miganga ), designated by the chief-in-council, with the tindhuna appointed on ability. The ndhuna is responsible for allocating land, collecting taxes, and settling disputes in the ward or rural village (muganga/malayini). He also represents the inhabitants of his ward on the tribal council. He is assisted by his family members and specific functionaries.
Social Control. All figures of authority among the Tsonga have the right to administer law in disputes between individuals. A distinction can be made between family trials and trials in indigenous public courts (the courts of the ward headmen and the tribal chief). The same legal principles are used as the norm in all trials.
All trials are first heard in the family court. If the matter cannot be resolved, the case goes on appeal to a ward court, and from there to the tribal court. Only if the case cannot be resolved in the tribal court will the matter be referred to a (western) magistrate's court. The family, ward, and tribal courts can only deal with private cases; all criminal cases must be referred to the national or western court system. The aim in these trials is always to bring about reconciliation between the conflicting parties rather than to inflict punishment.
Conflict. The most important causes of conflict between ethnic groups are land issues and competition for scarce natural resources (primarily water and grazing). Intergroup conflict is resolved by strategic royal marriages and alliances, while intragroup conflict is resolved by the indigenous court systems
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. The Tsonga believe in a supreme being, Shikwembu, who created humans. He is not directly worshiped. The central theme in Tsonga religion is belief in and veneration of the spirits of the dead. A distinction is made between family (maternal and paternal) and alien ancestral spirits. The wishes of the ancestral spirits are generally revealed by means of divination after illness, misfortune, or dreams. The homestead of every senior family head has a platform that serves as an altar (gandzelo) for sacrifices (at the behest of a diviner) of food and beer to the family spirits.
Spirit possession occurs when the ancestral spirits call someone by means of symptoms of body pain, often in the legs. An alien spirit may also possess the person. The possessed person goes to a spirit medium for initiation and training as a spirit medium. Initiation is directed at accommodating the possessing spirit rather than exorcising it.
Of the Tsonga, 29 percent belong to Protestant or Roman Catholic churches and 13 percent to the Zionist separatist churches. A further 9 percent belong to the Pentecostal and Adventist churches. Of the remaining population, 48 percent do not belong to any church. More women than men belong to a church. Despite affiliation to various Christian denominations, many continue to hold traditional beliefs.
Religious Practitioners. Magic is used for evil purposes (vuloyi) by evil sorcerers (valoyi) to harm the community. Conversely, magic is applied to the advantage of the community by the traditional practitioners (tin'anga; sing. n'anga ) who are usually both specialized herbalists and diviners.
Diviners consult the ancestral spirits using their divination instruments, especially the tinholo, a set of bones, to reveal the cause of misfortune and to determine what action (usually rites, sacrifices, or the use of potions) must be taken to rectify it. Healing prescriptions by a spirit medium are given while in a trance.
Senior N'angas help a new n'agna out of the water during an initiation
The traditional healers are called n'anga. Legend has it that the first Tsonga diviners of the South African lowveld were a woman called Nkomo We Lwandle (Cow of the Ocean) and a man called Dunga Manzi (Stirring Waters). A powerful water serpent, Nzunzu (Ndhzhundzhu), allegedly captured them and submerged them in deep waters. They did not drown, but lived underwater breathing like fish. Once their kin had slaughtered a cow for Nzunzu, they were released and emerged from the water on their knees as powerful diviners with an assortment of potent herbs for healing. Nkomo We Lwandle and Dunga Manzi became famous healers and trained hundred of women and men as diviners.
The eldest man in the family acts as priest when sacrifices are made to the ancestral spirits. When an illness is caused by the ancestral spirits in the lineage of the mother, the child's mother's brother (kokwana/malume) acts as priest.
Ceremonies. At birth a baby is cleansed and shown to his father before receiving a forename from the grandfather (if it is a boy) or grandmother (if it is a girl). The name is announced about a month after the birth. No special ceremony is involved.
In South Africa, initiation rites symbolizing the reaching of physical maturity and assimilation into the tribe have fallen into abeyance for both Tsonga boys and girls.
Cultural festivals feature traditional dances, choirs and drum majorettes, and speeches. Festivities may conclude with a sacrifice at royal graves.
Arts. Women make pottery—utilitarian objects bartered for food products or sold to tourists. There are Venda influences, and pots are increasingly decorated with shop-bought paint. Most women make grass mats to be used as sleeping mats or to sit on during the day. Tsonga women's beadwork does not convey messages, but indicates the status of the wearer.
Men make artistic but practical objects such as wooden bowls, calabashes, baskets, winnowing baskets, musical instruments, and mortars and pestles for pounding maize. Near towns, enamel basins and bowls have largely replaced wooden bowls, but most homesteads still pound maize, except people who stay near mills.
Medicine. The Tsonga believe that all phenomena, including humans, have particular power qualities. Such magical properties can be transferred to humans by taking potions or using amulets made of the parts of plants or animal organs in which the magical property resides. The people use western hospitals and clinics as well as diviners.
Death and Afterlife. Purification ceremonies are required from the family at various stages after the death. The official period of mourning for spouses is one year, during which period sexual intercourse is prohibited. Men are usually buried in the cattle-kraal and an ox is slaughtered to convey the deceased man's soul to the realm of the ancestral spirits.
Ideas about the afterlife are very closely related to views about life. Humans consist of a physical body (mmiri) which is discarded when one dies, and two non-material attributes (the moya and the ndzhuti ). The moya is a general human attribute, associated with wind or breath, and enters the physical body at birth and leaves it at the moment of death. The ndzhuti is an individual personal attribute associated with a person's shadow or reflection and with the specific character of that person. Both attributes continue to exist after death, so that the spirits of the dead (swikwembu) not only have general human characteristics, but keep their individual characteristics as well.