“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.

                                                  Xhosa people

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).

                                      Xhosa people at the countryside
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.
                            Chief Zwelivelile Mandlasizwe Dalibhunga Mandela of the Thembu at Mvezo

 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. 

                                    Xhosa people

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.

                   1840 SCHINZ/HONEGGER LITHOGRAPH Xhosa People

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.

                                    Xhosa people

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. 
                                     Drawing of King Faku of the Pondo-Xhosa People.Circa 1830

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.
The Photo of Nonkosi(left) and Nonqause(right), the niece of a prohet who allegedly misled her people to commit national suicide by killing 25,000 cows and convinced them to burn their crops around 1857
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 women. circa 1910
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.
                                                        Xhosa woman

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.

                                        Xhosa circumcised initiates (umkheta)


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.

                                    Xhosa people on their land.circa 1963
 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. 
                                           Xhosa boy in traditional attire
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.
J Barnett and Co Young Xosa Woman in Costume National Anthropological Archives Smithsonian
caJ. Barnett and Co.:   Young Xosa [Xhosa] Woman in Costume; Wood Bowls and Gourd Container Nearby, n.d. [late nineteenth century].

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.

                       Former SA prez Thabo Mbeki is from Xhosa tribe
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 tourist market.
                             Steve Bantu Biko,the hreat freedom fighter is from Xhosa tribe
Industrial Arts. Mats, baskets, beer strainers, brooms, utensils made from calabash, beadwork, pipes, knobkerries, walking sticks, wooden yokes, whips, and leather harnesses are made mostly for personal use. 
                       Thembu women wore highly decorated leather purses hanging from the hip over 
                        leather skirts.Circa 1960

Some people are regarded as specialists in these crafts and may manufacture these items for others. In areas near major roads some of those items may be sold to tourists. Sleds are made from forked tree trunks to transport goods. Wooden mortars and pestles and grinding stones are made for the grinding of grain.
              Xhosa woman wearing traditional attire with native wooden violin in her hand

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.

                    Nelson Mandela is from Xhosa tribe

 The whole family is involved in harvesting. Boys who do not attend school herd the livestock and chase birds when the crops ripen. Girls care for younger siblings and help their mothers with their chores. In areas close to the sea men, women, and children harvest marine resources. In urban areas the division of labor is less prescriptive, but women still do the household chores.
Land Tenure. There are three systems of land tenurepermission to occupy, quitrent, and freeholdin the rural areas. Land is regarded as the property of the tribal group and is held in trust by the chief.

                                    Xhosa settlement

 A person who wants residential and/or arable land must apply through his or her local headman, and depending on availability, land is allocated. After payment of the required fees, the land is registered at the local magistrate's office in the name of the person to whom it is allocated for that person to use in accordance with the rules applicable to the particular type of land tenure system.

                                   Xhosa land


Kin Groups and Descent. Descent is patrilineal. Exogamous patriclans (iziduko) are the most important kin groups. A variety of clan names are derived from the names of founder members, animals, and plants. The clans are noncorporate groups, and individual members may support one another in times of crisis and during ceremonies related to the life cycle and sacrifices to the ancestors. 

Closer relatives who have the same clan name (isiduko) are called imilowo (equated by some researchers to lineages) and are more deeply involved in the daily lives of individual members. In earlier times a group of imilowo would form a corporate group with a leader (intloko yemilowo). The father's sister ( udadobawo ) plays an important role in the lives of her brother's children. At ceremonial occasions the children of sisters (abatshana) are included as imilowo. In urban areas neighbors often are included as imilowo. Kinship does not have the same importance in urban areas that it does in rural areas.
Kinship Terminology. Kin terms are a variation of the Iroquois type. However, the mother and the mother's sister are not referred to with the same term, and the mother's sister's children are referred to by different terms than are the father's brother's children.
                                             Xhosa circumcission initiate (Umkhweta)
The Xhosa are a South African cultural group who emphasize traditional practices and customs inherited from their forefathers. Each person within the Xhosa culture has his or her place which is recognized by the entire community. Starting from birth, a Xhosa person goes through graduation stages which recognize his growth and assign him a recognized place in the community.
Young bare breasted Xhosa girls in traditional procession
                Young bare breasted Xhosa girls in traditional procession

Each stage is marked by a specific ritual aimed at introducing the individual to their counterparts and hence to the ancestors. Starting from imbeleko, a ritual performed to introduce a new born to the ancestors, to umphumo, from inkwenkwe (a boy) to indoda (a man). These rituals and ceremonies are still practiced today, but many urbanized Xhosa people do not follow them rigidly. The ulwaluko and intonjane are also traditions which separated this tribe from the rest of the Nguni tribes.

Photo documentary opening of Ubuntu centre
               Xhosa women in their traditional attire smoking their trademark pipes

All these rituals are symbolic of one's development. Before each is performed, the individual spends time with community elders to prepare for the next stage. The elders' teachings are not written, but transmitted from generation to generation by oral tradition. The Iziduko (clan) for instance—which matters most to the Xhosa identity (even more than names and surnames) are transferred from one to the other through oral tradition. Knowing your “Isiduko” is vital to the Xhosas and it is considered a shame and “Uburhanuka” (lack-of-identity) if one doesn’t know one's clan.
                       Newly circumcised initiates (Umkhweta) of Xhosa tribe in South Africa

 This is considered so important that when two strangers meet for the first time, the first identity that gets shared is “Isiduko”. It is so important that two people with the same surname but different clan are considered total strangers but the same two people from the same clan but different surnames are regarded as close relatives. This forms the roots of "Ubuntu" (neighbouring) - a behaviour synonymous to this tribe as extending a helping hand to a complete stranger when in need. Ubuntu goes further than just helping one another - it is so deep that it even extends to looking after and reprimanding your neighbour's child when in the wrong. Hence the saying "it takes a village to raise a child".

Intonjane  (girl's initiation, puberty rite)

              Thembu-Xhosa Female intonjane Initiation at Qutubeni in Transkei Province,SA. Circa 1965

Intonjane is a rite of passage for girl to welcome them into womanhood.  During intonjane, a girl is secluded at her homestead, where she is taught womanhood values and norms, and prepared for marriage. Girls are taught the responsibilities and rights of being a wife, a mother and a leader. The initiate’s elder relatives are chosen to preside over the intonjane and when the winter sun sets, the process begins.

                Thembu Female Initiation: 
Intonjane at Nkondlo in Transkei Province,SA. Circa 1962

A group of women sing a traditional song as the young woman and her two amakhankatha (orderlies or attendants), who are covered in blankets from head to foot are led from the veld to the homestead by elders.

Women sing and dance for the intonjane. They also taught her valuable womanhood life skills and train her for the stage.

 "‘When a girl arrives at the age of puberty she must be danced for.  The dance is to prevent evil in after days, just as when a woman is married, dancing at her kraal takes place lest evil should arrive."

 Amakhuko (grass mats) are used as partitions to keep the initiate in seclusion for the duration of her intonjane. 

She must sleep on grass covered only by blankets, naked a part from a black doek covering her head. On her face she wears white clay and inkciyo (traditional underwear), but her breasts and buttocks remain exposed. Her entire body – from her face to her toes – is painted with soft white clay usually worn by the abakhwetha (male circumcision initiates).

                  Mother and child at intonjane at Nkondlo in Transkei province,South Africa.Circa 1962.

A day after she enters seclusion, a goat is slaughtered, which teaches the girl to observe the crucial custom of ukushwama. The slaughtered goat is known as umngena-ndlini, meaning a goat slaughtered when a maiden enters seclusion. Seven sheep are also slaughtered on the day. On the seventh day of seclusion, an ox is slaughtered for ukutshatela intonjane. At midday on the same day, in accordance with the custom, the girl must run naked around the yard banging a pot as she goes.

                                 Intonjane initiation ceremony

Every evening local boys and girls come to the hut to perform Xhosa dances and songs, showcasing their skills. On the 10th day, the girl is dressed in imibhaco. A black doek covers her head as the floor is cleaned and smeared with cow dung. Outside the grass is burnt. In the evening, new grass is placed on the floor and she removes the clothes as she returns to seclusion. On her final day, her elders take her to the main house and report back to her parents and other family members

Xhosa womenDressed, attending - and enjoying1 - intonjane. 1970.

 However, the heavy expense involving seven killings of cow, plus beer and other food for the feasting and feeding of attendants over several weeks, meant that, in practice, it was frequently postponed, even until after marriage.

                    Women dressed for intonjane, in charge of the beer at Nkondlo. 1957.

Thus, even without intonjane, a girl became an intombi at puberty and could be married. More importantly, the rite was regarded as important preparation for child-bearing. Without it, a girl was liable to fall ill after marriage, be barren, or have sickly children.

 Any trouble in the young bride was likely to be diagnosed by the diviner as having been sent by her father's ancestors, who were aggrieved that the custom had been omitted, and that she should return to her parental homestead and undergo the rite.

               Xhosa wedding:Inspection of the bride and bridesmaids at Ngqokotho . 1975.

 Among the southern Nguni, the custom did not involve instruction in sexual matters and techniques, or even in the duties of wife and mother.
                                         Intonjane initaites

Sacred Xhosa Birth Rituals- SIFUDU
In Xhosa culture, cattle and goats are sacred because they provide meat, milk, hides for clothes and symbolise the unity between the human material world and the spiritual world of universal gods and the ancestors. When a baby is born, she slips through the two worlds as it were into the present social community, bringing gifts of character and recent connections with the spirit world and even ancestors that will, over time, differentiate her from any other human being.

                         Umtuma ingredient preparation for the child`s umbilical cord

Birth in the Xhosa culture, is an important rite of passage and is therefore treated with due respect, honour and celebration. Traditionally, the birthing mother is attended to by ‘grand-mothers’ in her ‘rondavel’, who have experience in birthing babies. The rondavel is made with mud or a cob-like mixture, and the roof is usually thatched, so the room is dark and circular. After the birth the mother and new baby are secluded until the cord falls off and the grandmother aids this process by mixing ash, sugar and a poisonous plant called ‘Umtuma’ together and rubbing the paste onto the newly severed cord, which is believed to aid the drying out process.

                            Cutting the child`s umbilical cord. After birth, a length of dry grass taken from the roof of the hut, is split in half, its edge is razor sharp, and with this the umbilical cord is severed leaving a length of 7 to 10 cm of cord on baby. Approximately and hour later, this length is reduced to approximately 5 cm by again severing with the grass as seen, maintaining that the second cut release all unnecessary blood from the cord.

Once the cord has fallen off, the new baby is introduced to close female family members as well as to women of the wider community. The ritual of “Sifudu” is then performed. Pungent leaves of the Sifudu tree are burnt in a fire, around which the women gather, to produce a very pungent smoke. The baby is then floated over the smoke (upside-down) three times, which causes a severe reaction of coughing and sometimes screaming.

                   Traditional medicine being applied to ensure that the remainder of the cord rots

Then the baby is given to the mother who passes the baby under her left knee then her right knee. This ceremony is believed to make the baby stronger in spirit and protect her from future evil. The baby is then washed and smeared with a white chalk called “Ingceke” mixed with ground “Mtomboti” wood, a sweet smelling substance that lasts for many weeks.

A woman holding a baby`s head downward  into the smoke, which gives it such a shock it can hardly cry

The baby is then breastfed by the “Umdlezana”, the mother.

“Inkaba” is the ritual of burying the cord and the placenta and this has great significance to the clan and seals the attachment of the baby to her ancestral lands. “Inkaba” then comes to mean one’s ancestral home and symbolizes the relationship between the individual, his/her clan, the land and the spiritual world.

Mother swiftly passing the child under one of her legs, then under the other. All this, plus the smoke shock, assures beyond doubt, that when the child grows up it will never be subject to fright, nor be timid, shy or easily ridiculed by minor or adult, as it will stand it's ground.

The burial place of an ‘Inkaba’ is a place where one must go and dream and communicate with ancestors.

The ritual of “Imbeleko” is the ceremony welcoming the child into the greater community, when a goat is slaughtered and the clan is invited to attend the feast. The skin of the goat then becomes a sacred item for the new clan member, the baby, who will sleep on it in the future in times of trouble, signifying a desire for connection with the ancestors.

                Child being thoroughly washed after it's ordeal.

The baby will be named with a family prefix, or suffix and may be named to signify events, like a thunderstorm or lightening, or wishes the family may have like “Hope” or “Themba”.

Baby is painted with white substance INGCEKE from river bank. Substance is prepared on a flat stone into which a small quantity of ground MTOMBOTI wood is mixed. This wood has a strong pleasant odour, which they maintain clings to the baby holding off all evil spirits from attacking the child.

 A clan “Praise-Singer”, who is comparative to a Bard in celtic culture, will call upon the ancestors and vocally elaborate on all the ancestors’ feats of excellence and praiseworthy qualities, so as to imbue the new member of the clan with a sense of her responsibility to the group at an early age.

Baby feeding after its ordeal. Note how white it's face has become now that the paint has dried.

The Abakwetha Circumcision Ceremony
A boy among the Xhosa is a 'thing' and not a person until he has been through the Tribe's circumcision rite.  This rite is known as the UKWALUSA (circumcision) or the ABAKWETHA ritual and it is the most important event in any male's life.  The full ritual is spread over a period of about 3 months.

Before circumcision young men wear “Gourds” (calabashes) over private parts. Like this considered fully dressed even in front of women.

 Among the southern Nguni, the ordeal (ukwaluka/abakwetha) was seen as a necessary demonstration that the youth was worthy of being considered a 'man'. If a male did not undergo this rite, he would always be referred to as inkwenkwe (boy) no matter how old he became. He was excluded from  all male activities, prohibited from participation in councils, and was unable to inherit.

      The initiates to be circumcised, heads shaved, have last meal in sheep kraal before operation.

The uncircumcised male was subjected to the intense ridicule of women as well as men; no woman would have anything to do with him, and no family would agree to arrange a marriage. Overt religious overtones, in the form of direct invocations to ancestors, were few and the participation of a religious specialist (igqira-diviner) was limited to one ceremony during the entire process. Nevertheless, the religious significance was important.

             The newly thatched hut, Sutu, which will become their home for three months.

This  custom initiated the young man into full membership in the family, which included not only the living adults but also its guiding spirits--the ancestors who would never accept an uncircumcised man. However, this religious aspect was largely inherent rather than explicit and overt.

           Xhosa traditional circumcission surgeon ready with spear before operation.

To become men through circumcision. Five youths at a time are circumcised, ages 17 to 20 years The group of five live together in a specially constructed hut (sutu), which becomes their home for three months while they undergo the transformation from youth to manhood.

The start of actual operation, 500 yards from newly constructed hut. (Sutu).The severing of the foreskin. No modern medicine used.

The event usually takes place in the boy's late teens but sometimes, when they are particularly wild and cannot be controlled by their parents, boys are put in earlier to sober them up and to instill responsibility into them.

                  Completely severed. At this moment the boy shouts NDIYINDODA (I am a man).

The interesting part about the rite is that it indisputably does have this effect.  The reason is not because of any punishment or discipline that is exercised over the initiate in the school itself but purely, it seems, because of the psychological power the rite has.

The bandaging. Goat skin strip around waist becomes bandage. The herbs used. Left hand ‘swadi” stops bleeding. Right hand “isichwe” antiseptic.

There have been cases of widows whose sons, without a father's restraint, were quite out of control and
spent their time thieving and getting up to all the mischief imaginable, who in the end were physically caught by the men of a kraal and taken struggling and shouting to the "ngcibi" (surgeon) with his sharpened assegai.  They were in each case completely reformed as a result of the ceremony.

                          Operation complete, faces smeared with mud. Not white paint.

The "ngcibi" or surgeon arrives at sunrise and as he passes the family huts, the women start wailing.  Those whom he passes have to be careful because he flails his arms and his assegai around, not worried about injuring anyone.

As he comes in sight of the initiates he screams viciously referring to them as 'dogs' and 'things'.
                                                  Xhosa circumcised initiate

The operation is done with a sharpened blade and the boy must not cry out or even flinch in pain.
As he operates the "ngcibi" (doctor) says, 'You are a man!' and throws the excised portion on the ground in front of the boy who has to repeat,"'Ndiyindoda!'" ('I am a man!') as he picks up the portion and holds it in his clenched hand.
                             Xhosa adolescent Initiate (umkhweta). After ritual circumcision the initiates 
                                 live in isolation for up to several weeks painted in white clay.

After this, the initiates or "Umkhweta" have to go in different directions and bury the portions in an ant heap where the ants will eat them up so that a sorcerer cannot find them and make medicine from them.  If the portions were used for such a purpose then the initiates' wounds would never heal.

The wound is bound with special leaves supposedly having healing properties and mud is then packed over it.

The surgeon then smears a mixture of ant heap and water on the face and chest of the initiates and makes them drink a mouthful of the mixture.   This makes their hearts hard like an ant heap, so that they won't be cowards in their future lives as men.  It also prevents them from being dizzy.
Xhosa traditons Circumcision South Africa
The initiates are looked after by an amakhankatha, or guardian, who explained the rules they had to follow if they want to enter manhood properly. The first chore of the amakhankatha is to paint their naked and shaved bodies from head to foot in white ochre, turning the initiates into ghosts. The white chalk symbolized purity. The initiates then wrap themselves up in their new blankets so that they will not catch cold.  They are then lectured on being honourable Xhosa's and the father of each initiate pays the surgeon 50 cents.

Young Xhosa Abakwetha. © James Nachtwey, National Geographic.The circumcision rituals, known as Ulwaluko, are traditional within the Xhosa culture (and many other African cultures). The ceremonies signify the passage from boy to manhood.


Labola was a fundamental element of Xhosa marriage. It involved the transfer of substantial amounts of wealth in cattle or an equivalent from the bridegroom (and his family) to the guardian (normally the father) of the bride. Except in the case of chiefs and very rich men, the number of cattle demanded was usually fewer than ten. The number of cattle and the timing of their delivery were matters of long negotiation. In many cases, the final total was not decided, nor in most  cases were all of the cattle delivered prior to the completion of the marriage. As a result, the woman's relatives would demand additional cattle from time to time. In order to increase the pressure if it was felt there was unnecessary dilatoriness, the woman might be called home and detained until additional cattle were forthcoming.
                            Xhosa mother and her daughter (bride)
Much has been written about lobola and its significance. African marriage was primarily a joining of two families rather than a matter between two individuals. As a result, negotiations and decision-making regarding any proposed marriage were in the hands of the family heads. In theory (except in the case of older heads of their own homesteads), all marriages were 'arranged' and the wishes of young people were not regarded as crucial. Obedience to one's parents and the economic and legal dependence of the young people caused most to accept the arrangements made for them.

                                            Xhosa mothers

 In practice, young men were often consulted and their wishes respected; if a young man wanted to marry a particular girl, his family most likely would attempt to arrange the match, and rarely would they attempt to override a strong dislike or objection. Girls were consulted much less, and families would resort to strong pressure, including thrashings, if they thought the marriage a good one and were anxious to conclude it. A girl was expected to submit to the wishes of her father. However, fathers were constrained not only by their fondness for their daughters and the need to get the consent of the girl's mother, but also by the fact that if the wife were responsible for a breakdown in the marriage, the lobola might have to be returned. Thus, if a girl were determined, she could usually effect a veto over a proposed marriage.

                                                     Xhosa wedding

Lobola was the foundation of African marriage.  Although there were  a number of ceremonies, rituals and reciprocal entertainments by the families, only lobola was indispensable in legitimizing a marriage.  Without the payment of cattle, the father or his family could not claim parental rights to the children.  Without the payment of lobola, a son did not have a claim to inherit.  Perpetuation of the lineage was a source of great anxiety to African families, and the main incentive and purpose of African marriage was the desire to provide children. Also, as an active producer  in agriculture, a woman made important contributions to the economy of a homestead. Thus,  lobola was a compensation from the family of the groom to that of the bride for the loss of her productive and reproductive contributions Moreover, lobola cemented  the alliance between the families, and the substantial transfer of wealth created very important vested interests in the marriage.
                                           Xhosa young man

The payment of lobola was an indication to the bride's family that the proposed husband was capable of providing for the bride and that he and his family were people of substance. Also, it was a security bond posted by or on behalf of the bridegroom as a pledge of good treatment; a man was not likely to abandon such a substantial investment, and in most societies, if a divorce resulted because of abuse and ill-treatment, all or most of the lobola was forfeited.
                                                           Xhosa courting couple
On the other hand, by the receipt of  lobola,  the bride's family incurred a great many obligations. The bride had to carry to her new home, a wardrobe, a range of presents for her new 'in-laws', and a good supply of household articles; also, from time to time, she would return home to replenish these by demanding more. Her family had incentives to encourage the young wife's good behaviour.
  Mandla Mandela,grandson of Madiba (Nelson mandela) and his French wife Anais Grimand who married last year in a traditional ceremony

If she were at fault in a divorce, the  lobola would have to be returned. If she created trouble or violated the  ukuhlonipa  (to show respect) restrictions, she would be sent home to get a fine to restore harmonious relations in the husband's homestead. Beneficiaries of lobola  acquired lifelong obligations; if widowed or divorced, a woman could go to them and claim protection and maintenance.Also, it seems that in the event of disaster or hard times, a husband could ask for and expect some assistance from his wife's family.

                                                        Xhosa man and his wife

Before the Missionaries arrive to change the Xhosa ways of living, each household had a man with his wives, married sons with their wives and children, and unmarried daughters. Marriage was polygamous and patriarchal. Each woman in the household who has been married a year or more had her own hut, and also a store-hut.

Uduli - the bridal party - consisting of bridesmaids, young men, an old man and old woman escort the bride-to-be to the prospective bridegroom's family umzi (the kraal). 

 Huts were arranged in a semicircle, which, if the nature of the site permit, faces east. The open segment of 
the circle was filled by a cattle kraal. The senior male of the household was the owner of the house. The hut of his mother, or if she is dead, and that of his first wife(the 'great wife') are built opposite the gate of the cattle kraal.

                                          Xhosa husband and wife
The traditional process of Xhosa marriage begins with "Ukutwala," which means "the taking," or "carry away/abduction" which occurs after the grooms family has chosen a suitable bride for himself. It is important to note that "Ukutwala" is not kidnapping because the prospective bride is not harmed and may return to the family. It is rather a formal method signifying the intention to marry and this marks the beginning of the betrothal process.

   Bride and maids inside hut painting up. Bodies smeared with red ochre paste and ears painted white.

After "Ukutwala" has taken place, the groom`s family will kick start the negotiation for marriage and lobola with the bride`s family. It is important to appreciate that lobola is not a" bride price," but a means of establishing links between the two families. the size of lobola varies considerably depending on the relative wealth and status of the families involved, the advantage to gain from the marriage link, and the desirablility of the bride.

Painting complete, they are adorned in their beadwork, taking great pains just as a white bride does on her great day.

Traditionally lobola usually amounted to 8 heads of cattle, and today the value of each head of cattle forms part of the overall negotiation. However,there is a Xhosa saying 'one never stops paying lobola," which means the family link is an important part of lobola, a union that must be constantly kept renewed by visiting one`s in-laws, inviting them around, and in general, maintaining good familial relationships.

                                    Xhosa couple

Once lobola is finalized marriage can take place. On the appointed day, the bride`s family brings the bride to the groom`s house, amidst celebration in which animals (chickens,goat or cattle) are slaughtered as sacrifice to the ancestors, inviting them to the occasion and introducing the bride to them. There are no formal invitation to this event, rather whoever wishes to attend, can participate in the celebrations, and this often leads to a very large gatherings

                            Xhosa wedding ceremony

The event is joyous and very communal in spirit  and the celebration goes on at least two days at both the bride`s home and the groom`s (especially at the groom`s).
The final stage of the marriage occurs when the bride and the groom show themselves to the community by walking along the main road together. This is known as "ukucanda ibala."
A Xhosa wedding which incorporates both African and Western ways of doing things.

A play on umtshato.

Umakoti (Daughter in-law/wife)
A  bride has to show respect towards her husband's family.  The first virtue demanded of a bride is that she should be hardworking, respectful and eager. She must care for her husband's comfort and that of his family particularly the parents in law. Part of her responsibilities include fetching the wood, water and wild spinach from distant places. She also takes care of the home garden and of course the cooking.
Customary law requires that a bride must show respect towards all senior relatives of her husband, particularly his male relatives.

 The bride must never go near the cattle kraal in which her husbands father or grandfather are buried or where the ancestors of the family are believed to reign. However, if she opens her own homestead with her husband, she may go near the kraal of that homestead; she is only forbidden to go to that of the senior homestead. She must avoid the inkundla (courtyard between huts and kraal) in which men sit. When entering a hut of a senior relative of her husband, male and female, she must turn sharply to left ad circle around the back so as to avoid the men's side (Ukuceza). A daughter-in-law disdains her husband's umzi if she does not avoid every place bout where her fathers sit.
    Xhosa ladies.It is important for women to look dignified at all times particularly if there is a cultural ritual. Women must cover their head at all times and have a scarf around their waist and have something to put on their shoulders. This is a sign of respect.

The avoidance of the right of huts, the inkundla, and the cattle kraal is extended to those imizi (homesteads) of her husband's seniors into which a woman might have married. In her husband's mother's hut a bride is expected to take a retired position. She may approach the hearth to mend the fire or see to the pots, but cannot sit up to the fire. A bride avoids the name, and words, of which a principal syllable is similar to the principle syllable of the name of her husband's father, his brothers, her husband's elder brothers, and his father's father, whether they are living or dead. She also avoids personal names of her husband's mother, paternal aunts, and elder sisters, but does not avoid words similar to them. 

 At ibhasi (the dance of the married men) at Qebe,Transkei Province,SA.Circa 1973.

When she arrives, she is told (by her husband's sister, or an elder co-wifey) what words are avoided in the homestead. So long as she lives in her mother-in-law's homestead, a wife, no matter how long she has been married, is responsible to her other-in-law, even more than her husband. If she want to visit her homestead, the wife must get permission from her mother in law and then she can tell her husband that his mother has given her permission to go visit with her people. Impoliteness to her mother-in-law may result in a bride being sent back to her people. Nevertheless, a mother-in-law is expected to be "Bush shelter" to her daughter-in-law against her husband. If a husband beats up his wife, she run to her mother-in-law to seek refuge there, and the son, because he respects his mother, will not pursue her there.(http://fubustyle.blogspot.com/2011/05/xhosa-wedding.html)

                     Xhosa traditional wedding

Domestic Unit.
 Households are defined by sharing a cooking area and eating together. The ideal is that married sons will stay with their parents in patrilineal extended families. However, as a result of a shortage of land and restrictions on the size of residential plots, the tendency is away from extended families and toward nuclear families.
Documentary photography Older Xhosa woman in traditional dress
                       Documentary photography Older Xhosa women Healers in traditional dress

A married man will stay for some time with his parents and then try to secure his own residential plot. In the case of polygyny a man can settle all his wives on one residential plot or acquire a separate residential plot for each one.
Xhosa traditional marriage
                              Xhosa traditional marriage

Households in urban areas consist of nuclear families extended by married and/or unmarried relatives and tenants. There is a fairly high incidence of matrifocal families, often extending over four generations.

 According to customary law, a man's oldest son or, in cases of polygyny, the oldest son of the main wife is his main heir and successor. The right to land normally is transferred to the name of the main heir in the case of quitrent and permission to occupy.

                                             Xhosa men in their traditional dress

 Land in freehold can follow the customary pattern or be inherited in accordance with a will. The main heir also inherits the livestock, plows, tractor, car, houses, household utensils, and furniture, and these items are regarded as house property. The widow has the right to use the property if the main heir is still a minor. The main heir also inherits his father's debts. Each son inherits something from his father because during his lifetime the father earmarks livestock for each of his sons and that livestock will be handed over to them when they marry and start their own households. His clothes are distributed among his sons, and his pipe and accessories are given to one of his brothers. 

                                              Xhosa warrior

In cases of polygyny, the wives are assigned to different houses and the oldest son from each house is the main heir in that house. As a rule daughters do not inherit anything from their fathers. A man can draw up a will and divide his property among all his children. When a woman dies, the household utensils that she brought to the marriage remain part of the property of her house. Her husband may determine the distribution of her clothes and ornaments among her daughters, and her pipe and accessories are given to the husband's oldest sister.

                                               Xhosa people

Depending on their age, children are raised by their fathers, mothers, older sisters, grandparents, and other close relatives. From the age of about eight years boys in rural areas are assigned tasks such as herding small animals, and their fathers teach them the tasks assigned to men. Girls are drawn into the realm of household chores, and their mothers teach them the tasks assigned to women. Obedience to both parents is expected and can be enforced through corporal punishment. Respect must be shown to all older people. Nine years of compulsory schooling forms an important part of the socialization process in both rural and urban areas.
Xhosa traditons Circumcision South Africa
                                Xhosa circumcised initiates

Boys are initiated at the age of approximately eighteen years. This involves circumcision and seclusion for at least three weeks, depending on how long the wounds take to heal. During this time they are subject to restrictions regarding their movements and food and are taught the proper way to behave as adult men. This custom is practiced in urban areas as well, although increasingly males are circumcised in hospitals.
Xhosa traditons Circumcision South Africa
 The corresponding ceremony for women (the intonjane) takes place during a girl's first menstruation. This custom has fallen into disuse in many rural areas and has acquired the character of a fertility rite as married women who have difficulty becoming pregnant are sent back to their fathers' homes to undergo this rite.

Sociopolitical Organization
Social Organization
Status is determined by age and gender. Men have a higher status than women according to indigenous law. This is changing because of the impact of the Bill of Rights included in the Constitution of South Africa. Although no formal age groups or age sets exist, men and women occupy different status positions during their life cycles that are determined by their age stage and/or marriage. These groups assemble separately during ceremonies and are served different portions of meat from sacrificial animals, and beverages are served to them in different containers. Succession to political office in rural areas is determined by male primogeniture. Important visitors and dignitaries such as chief's, headmen, ministers, priests, and government officials occupy a place of honor during festivities and ceremonies.

                                  Xhosa people doing their traditional dance

In rural areas work groups are organized to help with agricultural and construction activities. Funeral societies, Christian denominations with societies for men and women (iimanyano), the Zenzele women's organization, sports clubs, choirs, school committees, soil conservation committees, local branches of political parties, and trade unions exist in rural and urban areas.

                  Traditional Xhosa makhulas (grandmothers)  in a rural South Africa carrying firewood

Political Organization.
 The Black Land Act of 1913, the Black Administration Act of 1927, and the Black Trust and Land Act of 
1936 revived the position of chieftainship, which had practically come to an end after the final annexation of Xhosa territories in 1894. The Xhosa have 6 paramount chief's (some people maintain that they must be called kings) and 115 chief's. A paramount chief plays more of a ceremonial role, while a chief (inkosi), as the head of a tribal authority (ingunyabantu lesizwe), is responsible for a tribal area. All tribal areas are incorporated into municipalities as part of the local governing system.
                    Xhosa chiefs waiting to be served traditional beer and meat

A chief occupies the position because he is the firstborn son of the main wife of the previous chief. The main wife is the one who was chosen for the chief by the tribe. In the tribal areas the chief's and their councilors (amaphakathi) are responsible for administration and the maintenance of law and order. Each tribal area is divided into administrative units (iilali) under the leadership of an elected headman (isibonda). These headmen also act as the chief's councilors.

    nkosi Zwelivelile Mandlasizwe Dalibhunga Mandela of the Thembu pointing his traditional staff in a direction

 Each headman has a council (inkundla· kwasibonda) consisting of the heads of households (abaninimzi) in his administrative unit. They are responsible for administration, law and order, allocation of land, and the application of regulations regarding land use in the administrative unit. The chief has an elected chief councilor (umandlali gaga) who is also the chairman of the chief's executive and tribal councils. He serves the chief in a close advisory capacity.

                                       22nd  Xhosa King, Zwelonke Sigcawu

Social Control
 Conflict arises from the infringement of people's property rights through theft and damage by humans and animals; the infringement of a man's rights over his wife and children through rape, adultery, the impregnation of unmarried daughters, and elopement; violation of privacy and defamation; assault; murder; and accusations of witchcraft. 

                                             Xhosa matriarchs

Punishment can take the form of fines in money and/or livestock or corporal punishment for young men and boys, and reparation is given in the form of money and/or livestock. In rural areas the imilowo try to settle conflicts between relatives. If one of the parties is not satisfied with the outcome, he or she may take the matter to the headman's court (inkundla kwasibonda), and from there the matter can be taken to the chief's court (inkundla yesizwe/inkundla yakomkhulu), where cases are tried according to customary law, subject to restrictions imposed by national legislation involving the jurisdiction of courts. An aggrieved party may appeal to the magistrate's court, which usually is in a nearby town.
                                                   Xhosa chieftain Qula kwedini

In urban areas conflict is solved at the individual level or through the law enforcement agencies of the state. However, there are also illegal "people's courts" in which residents take action against culprits, often in violent ways.

                                      Xhosa women

 Before the annexation of the Xhosa territories conflict with other groups mostly involved access to territory and rights to grazing. Livestock raids were common and still cause violent intertribal conflict in rural areas. Most of the time this conflict is settled through the intervention of the state's law enforcement agencies.

                                 Xhosa people

Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. People adhering to the traditional religion, Christians, and those practicing a syncretism of the two religious traditions are found. There is not a sharp division between traditionalists and Christians. Christians have traditionalist relatives and cooperate with traditionalist neighbors in all community activities, including deliberations in the courts, schools, and prayer ceremonies in times of drought.
                            Igqirakazi (female healer)at Ngqokotho in full regalia including baboon-fur headdress, white-
                       beaded headbands, armlet of white-haired goat skin, and waistband of animal pelts. 1975.

Traditionalist Xhosa believe that a supreme being called uQamata or umDali created the world and maintains the cosmos. Another term used to refer to this deity is uThixo, the word that is used in the Xhosa translation of the Bible. After the creation he was no longer directly concerned with the human world, and therefore no prayers or rituals are directed to him. There is no retribution in the life after death for misdeeds committed on earth. It is believed that the creator was the first ancestor and that he therefore is accessible through the ancestral spirits (izinyanya). The ancestral spirits receive their power and preparation from him. The belief in ancestral spirits forms the central part of the traditionalist religion, and the ancestors are believed to control the day-today affairs of people.
                                         Xhosa traditional healers at an initiation ceremony

There are four types of spirits: the spirits of the kinship group; tribal spirits, who are deceased chief's; foreign spirits who are deceased, who may have special meaning to people; and the river people, who are the spirits of persons who disappeared in rivers or the sea. Spirits reside in the vicinity of living people, close to the cattle corral. Certain animals are linked to the ancestors; elephants, lions, leopards, snakes, crocodiles, otters, and bees are important in this regard. Ancestors often appear in the form of these animals. Each clan has its own animals of importance, but this is not a form of totemism. When a person dreams of such an animal, it is a sign that the ancestors are trying to make contact with that person. The spirits show displeasure with people by causing illness and plague and killing livestock. To ensure the goodwill of the spirits it is necessary to present them with libations and sacrifices.
                                                                                  Julius Pani, ligqirha. 1975.

Witchcraft is practiced by people (amagqwirha/abathakathi) who are believed to have contact with malevolent powers and can take the form of causing misfortune and death through poisoning, directing lightning, and the use of familiars such as the lightning bird, uthikoloshe (a little man whose outward appearance is described in various ways), snakes, baboons, frogs, wild cats, the jackal-buzzard, and a resurrected deceased person. Accusations of witchcraft often are directed against married women as outsiders to the kin group.

                      Thembu-Xhosa traditional healers. Circa 1975

After the first missionaries made contact with the Xhosa in 1799, missionary societies founded 25 mission stations during the nineteenth century. Each mission had a number of outstations, and by the end of the nineteenth century there were few areas where the gospel was not preached. More than 60 percent of the Xhosa are Christians.

Religious Practitioners
 The diviner (igqirha) and the herbalist (ixhwele) differ in their training and in their functions in society. A diviner is called by the ancestral spirits. That person contracts the intwaso sickness and is troubled by dreams, pain, hot flushes, and convulsions. More women than men are called, and often there are several diviners in a kin group.

                                             Xhosa woman

 A qualified diviner will diagnose the cause of an illness, and a person must be initiated as a diviner for approximately one year under the guidance of a qualified diviner. Diviners normally are consulted to determine the causes of diseases, accidents, death, and the origin of witchcraft. There are generalist diviners, specialist diviners, and rainmakers. 

                       Xhosa traditional priests/healers performing a traditional ceremony

Herbalists are not called by the ancestral spirits and obtain training through apprenticeship with a qualified herbalist. Herbalists are consulted for the treatment of people who are affected by witchcraft, protection against witchcraft, cures for diseases, and the provision of medicine that will ensure prosperity. Diviners and herbalists practice in urban areas as well as rural regions. Many people are both diviners and herbalists.

                                Xhosa diviners

The head of a household officiates when a sacrifice needs to be made by his household. When the wider kin group is involved, the intloko yemilowo officiates; the chief officiates if the sacrifice concerns the tribe as a whole.
                                       Thembu Traditional Healers:Lady Amagqirha.Circa 1971

Prophets in the African Independent Christian Churches also play an important role in healing activities.
Xhosa chief bleeds ox out
                                     Xhosa chief bleeds ox out

Ceremonies. Offerings in the form of livestock to the ancestral spirits are made during rites of passage in the life cycles of individuals. They also are presented for thanksgiving for national, tribal, and family successes; propitiation in cases of death, chronic sickness, epidemic disease, and offences against customary laws and taboos; and supplication in times of privation, poverty, and drought. Offerings containing crops are made to thank the ancestors after the harvest and form part of the sacrifices made at river pools for the river people. Libations in the form of beer or liquor may be made whenever a person drinks those beverages.


                         Xhosa women in their beautiful traditional cloth

 Traditionally, patterned pottery was manufactured and widely used. Mats, beer strainers, and baskets are woven from grass, and beadwork has become an artistic tradition. Decorated ceremonial clothes are made from different types of cloth, and women knit and crochet with various types of wool and yarn.
                           Xhosa dancers in Nelson Mandela Bay

Traditional musical instruments include musical bows, drums, and trumpets made from the horns of animals. Diviners use drums to accompany their dances. The main type of musical expression is singing, usually accompanied by dancing. Choir singing is a popular form of musical expression in both rural and urban areas. Jazz and "township music" have a large following in urban areas. The first book in Xhosa appeared in 1824. Since that time numerous books, articles, newspapers, and journals have been published, many of which have been translated into English.

                    Khaya La Bantu Dancers Performing Traditional Xhosa Dance

Xhosa Mythology

The world of the African folk tale and legend is a world of 
myths developed in order to embody human needs and 
goals. . . 
-Lewis Nkosi, Tasks and Masks (1981).

Table Mountain Myths: Situated at the tip of Africa is one of the African continent’s most magnificent attractions—Table Mountain. Aside from the spectacular beauty and sheer size of this extraordinary natural formation, Table Mountain has been the focus of several ancient African myths and legends.                                 

                                                              table mountain
Watch short video of Table Mountain 
The Battle of Qamata and the Sea Dragons: According to the ancient legend of the Xhosa people, 
Qamata was the creator of the world. As he was creating the earth, he wanted to form dry land. The dragons beneath the sea were furious with Qamata in his quest to create dry land and began an epic battle. Qamata’s mother, earth Goddess, Djobela, helped Qamata by creating four powerful giants that would protect the earth from the dragons. The giants were defeated by the dragons but wished Djobela to turn them into mountains so that they could continue to protect the land. According to traditional Xhosa beliefs, one of these four giants was turned into Table Mountain.
                                                Jika - drum and marimba/traditional Troupe of the Pondo People
 ‘AmaXhosa History' 

A certain man had three sons, whose names were Ibranana, 
Xosa, and Twa. Ibranana was a keeper of cattle, sheep, and 
goats, as was also Xosa, while poor Twa was satisfied with his 
honey bird and his game in the desert. Ibranana (the ancestor 
of the Hottentots) was not a tall man, and his complexion was 
sallow. Twa (the ancestor of the Bushman) was shorter still and 
more slender, and also of a sallow complexion, but a shade 
lighter. And Xosa was a tall, muscular man, and dark 
coloured. We know nothing on which we can depend, of 
Sikomo, or his son Togu, or his son Gconde, farther than that 
they and our fathers occupied a country north of our present 

The oldest son of the father of all was a Hottentot; the second a 
Kafir [African or Xhosa]; the third a white man. No creature 
could have been more happily situated than the Hottentot. He 
reveled in the abundance of his father's riches and luxuries. At 
length, by reason of the abundance in which he moved, he 
grew careless, indolent, and utterly regardless. His great 
amusement was to follow the honey-bird from day to day in 
search of bee-hives. One day he went out as usual, and never 
returned to his father, leaving everything behind him. That is 
the reason given why the Hottentots are such an improvident 
The second son, the Kafir, took a special liking to cattle, and 
the herding of them. Cattle ultimately became his inheritance; 
and when he came of age, he left his father, and set up for 
himself. That is why the Kafirs are to this day so fond of cattle. 
The other thing, received from his father, to retain for ever as 
his inalienable property, was Kafir corn, for which he has a 
special liking.
While the oldest son, the Hottentot, was pursuing his 
wandering chase after the honey-bird, and the second son, 
the Kafir, was following his flocks in the fields, the youngest 
son, the white man, was always at home with the old man, his 
father. As the youngest, he was a great favourite. He was 
constantly in his father's company, waiting upon him, and 
hearing his wise talk. In this way he became a precocious 
child. His father poured into his ‘ soft head ' all the treasures of

wisdom and knowledge. He told him everything; showed him 
how to do all things; and thus the white man was in advance 
of the other races. 

“The Cattle-Killing”

And so catastrophe crippled this land, 
for Mhlakaza's daughter emerged from the pool, 
came back home noising the problem, 
made her demented report to men, 
who never pay any attention to females. 
That in itself of course was suspect, 
a veritable curse to this land of Xhosa, 
for a woman to claim that the shades had addressed her, 
that she'd met and conversed with them face to face. 
Where were this country's thinking people? 
Where were the great men? 
Where were the dignitaries? 
Where were the senior men of experience, 
who danced to the beat established by others, 
dancing besotted on cattle? 

So then, my fellow countrymen,

this is the problem Nongqawuse announced, 
informing the Xhosa, who sat back unsuspecting: 
she claimed to have talked to the shades in person, 
and they called for the wholesale slaughter of cattle 
and the total destruction of grain, 
for the One Everlasting would speak to the nation, 
the one we know by the name of Qamata. 
It was this same Qamata who had pressed her to prominence 
on the day the unheard-of occurred, 
events without precedent in the country of Phalo.

It so happened that when this girl made her announcement 
the Xhosa were in virtual control of the land, 
a nation custom-sustained. 
So they made preparations to receive what was coming 
and began to slaughter their innocent cattle.
All of our problems began with conversion: 
conversion entailed the acceptance of God, 
yet this God we said we accepted, 
this Bible---is pregnant with evil incarnate, 
it's held by a man who faces westward, 
his clerical collar primly folded in front 
is secured by a butterfly stud at the back, 
and concealed at his back a cannon is lodged 
which looms into view when he opens his mouth 
and shatters the sinews of those he confronts. 
And when confusion afflicted the land 
the Christian missionaries cut right through, 
they cut right through urging peace and calm.


Xhosa bodily marks (scarifications)

Travelling through the Transkei in South Africa, one very often sees a young maiden with her tummy full of scars of equal size, which run from between her breasts down to the navel, and horizontally across the sides of her tummy, while many bear the scars on their backs as well.
Investigation proved beyond doubt that this custom is carried out by most young Tembu girls for the sake of beautifying the body. The operators, elderly women, are experts at the job, performing the operation whenever a young maiden requests it as described in the following manner:

                              Tribal amaxhosa beautification marks
Therapeutic practices include cutting, sucking, massage, purgatives, and the provision of amulets made from animal and plant parts and beads. Medicines are made from dried bark, leaves, roots, and bulbs ground into a fine powder. Medicine is mixed with water and drunk or smeared onto the affected part of the body; it also can be carried on the body in a small container. Some herbalists have divining spirits that help them execute their duties and make the presence of those spirits known to the ancestral spirits. Many "Muti shops" that sell indigenous medicines exist in urban areas. Clinics and hospitals in rural and urban areas provide scientific medicine to patients. Often one type of medicine is reverted to after the other type has been used if the person is not satisfied with the outcome of the first treatment.

Death and Afterlife.

 Death is ascribed to witchcraft and sorcery, natural causes, and the will of God. The spirit of a deceased household head is believed to continue to live as an ancestral spirit. By law, all corpses must be buried in a cemetery, and this has had an influence on the belief that a household head should be buried in his cattle corral, a person who was struck by lightning or who drowned should be buried where the corpse was found, and babies should be buried under the wood pile. 

A death causes impurity, and any person who has come into contact with a corpse must be purified through the washing of his or her hands.

 Funerals are important occasions, and relatives and friends make an effort to attend. Graves are covered with branches from thorn trees to prevent animals from damaging the grave and to prevent sorcerers from digging up the body and changing it into a familiar. There are different types of tombstones in both rural and urban areas, and they are ceremonially unveiled. Burial societies play an important role in rural and urban areas, and their members provide one another with material and moral support.

                                             Xhosa girl, Eastern Cape, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

The brewing of traditional beer
The first step is to prepare the malt.  This is done by moistening a quantity of sorghum or mealies, covering it and placing it in a warm place to germinate after which it is dried and used as malt or inkoduso for making the beer. Meanwhile the women and girls grind sorghum, maize or wheat coarsely.  This meal is moistened and left overnight to be ground fine the next day. The resultant dough is placed in a tub and left, covered with a hessian bag overnight.  The following day a thin porridge is cooked, using the dough.
Xhosa chiefs sits with woman whilst they
          Xhosa chiefs sits with woman whilst they're drinking traditional beer

  A small quantity of this is left to cool and is then poured into a pot or tub where it is mixed with the malt to ferment quickly and forms theisilumiso, or yeast , some of which is then used to hasten the fermentation of a small quantity of beer.  This is drunk by the head of the household and his friends.  On the day set aside for the purpose, the rest of the porridge is poured into containers and mixed with the rest of the isilumiso / yeast. 

               Amakwenkwe (boys) help to prepare for beer-drinking at intonjane. Mbekeni. 1970.

 Before this yeast is poured into the container, half of the remaining malt, known as imithombo yangaphantsi is poured into the bottom of the tub and the whole mixture is stirred thoroughly.  Then the other half of the malt,imithombo yangaphezulu, is poured over the mixture which is again stirred and then covered with a sack to ferment.  The rate of fermentation depends on the amount of yeast added and the prevailing temperature, but it normally takes about 24 hours.  The beer is then strained and is ready for consumption.  Nowadays the meal and malt are bought ready ground.  Apart from this, the brewing process remains unaltered.

                    Khaya La Bantu dancers of Xhosa tribe
The term literally means “humanness” and is used to represent the saying “I am because we are” and is described by Barbara Nessbaum as follows:
Ubuntu is the capacity in African culture to express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, harmony and humanity in the interests of building and maintaining community with justice and mutual caring. Ubuntu, an Nguni word from South Africa, speaks to our interconnectedness, our common humanity and the responsibility to each other that flows from our deeply felt connection. Ubuntu is consciousness of our natural desire to affirm our fellow human beings and to work and act towards each other with the communal good in the forefront of our minds. Ubuntu calls upon us to believe and feel that:
Your pain is My pain,
My wealth is Your wealth,
Your salvation is My salvation.
Xhosa chiefs about to enter Ubuntu Education Fund Centre
                            Xhosa chiefs about to enter Ubuntu Education Fund Centre

And this consequently gives rise to the saying: Umntu Ngumntu Ngabantu – “A person is a person because of others”. Ubuntu is a social philosophy, a way of being, a code of ethics and behavior deeply embedded in African culture. The underlying value seeks to honor the dignity of each person and is concerned about the development and maintenance of mutually affirming and enhancing relationships. 

                           Archbishop Desmond Tutu is from Xhosa tribe

Because ubuntu embraces and requires justice, it inspires and therefore creates a firm foundation for our common humanity. It has been in existence for thousands of years in most countries of Africa and continues to lie at the core of intrinsic values in traditional African culture, although in urban areas, such values are being increasingly eroded
I am because we are
Ubuntu ungamntu ngabanye abantu
 Xhosa proverb
"People are people through other people".
"My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up in yours. We
belong in a bundle of life. I am a human because I belong. A person
with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does
not feel threatened that others are able and good; for he or she
belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are
humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or
treated as if they were less than who they are."
Desmond Tutu explaining Ubuntu in No Future Without Forgiveness;

                                Khaya la bantu dancers of Xhosa tribe

Everyday Social  Observances
Observances pertaining to greetings when entering a room:
The visitor greets first as he/she enters saying “Molo” when there is only one person in the room/house and “Molweni” if there are two or more people.  If the visitor is known or knows the family, he/she may call out the person’s name.  Likewise, the same procedure can be followed when greeting a group of people with the greeting “Molweni mawethu” – Greetings my fellows.  These observances are also normally accompanied by the shaking of hands.  Other observances pertaining to the shaking of hands are:
  • The hand of a witchdoctor is not shaken.
  • The hand of a young man who is undergoing the initiation or ulwaluko process is not shaken.
  • Hand shaking is accompanied by meeting the eyes of the other person, not looking sideways or down.
  • In the more rural areas, young people can be expected to greet one another not with a hand shake, but with sticks.

                                                  Khaya La Bantu

Seating arrangements inside a house or room
  • Men always occupy the left side of a room as you enter, with the women on the right.  This is traditionally done for reasons of protection, because an “enemy” after entering a room and noticing this seating arrangement, will immediately step back.  To deviate slightly, the same applies to when a man and a woman are walking together – the man will walk on the left and slightly in front, in order to ward off any enemy that might be lying in wait.  Today this could for example happen as you leave a lift, and the man walking out first.  This again is not to be perceived as a sign of impoliteness, but rather seen as him fulfilling his role as protector – hence the expression “Ukugabula izigcawu” – To beat away the spiders (pave the way).
  • After knocking on the door, you will be summoned inside by the head of the family, with the word “Ngaphakathi!”, literally meaning “Inside!”, but implying “Come in, you are welcome”.
  • The visitor should always wait to be offered a seat, the man being offered a seat on the left-hand side, a woman on the right, boys with boys and girls with girls, etc.

                                                      Xhosa girls

Cultural observances in this situation
  • It is etiquette for the visitor to shake everyone’s hand with the exception of:
    • A newly wed or young woman should greet only the older members of the family, especially the women, and just nod to the other members.
  • The older person will initiate the well-being exchange by saying: “Unjani? (singular) or “Ninjani?” (plural) – both meaning “How are you?” This plural form is commonly used and the question is often asked why this is directed at a single person. The reason for this is that the question is not only directed at the visitor as an individual, but also includes his/her family at home.
  • This initiation of the well-being exchange is responded to by the visitor saying “Ndiphilile enkosi” – I am well thanks, or“Siphilile enkosi” – We are well thanks, followed by the reciprocal question “Unjani wena?” – “And how are you?” or “Ninjani nina? – “And how are you all?”.

 Khaya La Bantu Dancers Performing Traditional Xhosa Dance.Khaya La Bantu

Other cultural observances pertaining to the greeting
  • The first to enquire about the well-being of a visitor is the most senior person in the room or house.
  • Should the meeting take place in the street, the first to greet does not initiate the well-being exchange, but rather the one met and greeted.  This is done as a sign of respect and politeness.
  • This practice applies to all genders. However a female may not enquire about any well-being before this has been done by a male member of the household.
  • If the visitor is a woman, the male will initiate the well-being exchange and then hand over to the most senior woman or his wife, if she is the most senior.
  • One can expect the respondent (visitor) to relate the well-being of his /her entire family to those present.
Xhosa woman smoking traditional pipe
                                      Xhosa woman smoking traditional pipe

Cultural observances pertaining to departing / farewell
The visitor when wishing to leave may state any one of the following depending on the stituation and those present:
  • Ndicela indlela – I am requesting the road (may I leave?)
  • Mandinishiye – I must leave you
  • Mandibaleke – I must hurry off
  • Nisale kakuhle –Stay well (all of you)
Responses to these are:
  • Kulungile, hamba kakuhle -  Fine, go well
  • Nawe uhambe kakuhle – And you too, go well
  • Kulungile, Ubulise kubo bonke ekhaya – Ok, Gretting to all at home
The visitor should not leave until given permission by the senior person present that he may do so.  He could in a formal situation, say“Siyakunika” –“ We are giving you the road – you may leave”.  Another round of handshaking denoting departure could follow, with the senior household member accompanying the visitor to the door.

Documentry Xhosa traditions
                     Xhosa tradition

Khaya La Bantu Dancers from Xhosa tribe

Khaya La Bantu
(Home of People)
Xhosa Cultural Village & Guest Farm

                             Khaya La Bantu Dancers posing

                                    Xhosa Circumcision

                                Khaya La Bantu Dancer and her brother

                                             Khaya La Bantu Dancers

                                        Thembu Traditional healers at Ibhasi,Dance for Married men

Umkhetha (circumcision initiate)

Xhosa maids bathing in the river.

                      A unique picture. Married Xhosa twin sisters.                     

                                 Xhosa girl assiting her pal to dress 

                                                                Mama Africa

                                                   Little Xhosa tribe girl

                                             Xhosa kids

                                              Chief Mandla Mandela

Below are the full pictorial representation of the Xhosa tribal beautification marks (scarification), Abakwetha,Intonjane and Wedding (Induli) initiation/ceremonies of Xhosa people of South Africa. All the articles and photos were culled from:http://www.ezakwantu.com/' and authored by Lister Haig Hunter

Scarification of the Body for Beauty

Amasumpa - Amantsumpa - Bumps

The following imagery and text was authored by Lister Haig Hunter





Travelling through the Transkei in South Africa, one very often sees a young maiden with her tummy full of scars of equal size, which run from between her breasts down to the navel, and horizontally across the sides of her tummy, while many bear the scars on their backs as well.

Investigation proved beyond doubt that this custom is carried out by most young Tembu girls for the sake of beautifying the body. The operators, elderly women, are experts at the job, performing the operation whenever a young maiden requests it as described in the following manner: -


Two maidens seated upon the ground, have designs drawn upon their skins by the operator, using any small stick which works like a pencil upon the dark skin.


The designs completed.


Operation begins by lifting the skin with a needle at quarter inch intervals, then slitting the skin with a blade.


Operation in progress. Note black bleeds very little compared to the front.


A close-up of needle lifting skin.


A 11 ½ cm. close-up of the actual cut.


Showing the front nearly complete.


Operation continues, showing back and front.


Operation completed.


Dry blood being washed away.


The cuts visible immediately after washing.


Fresh cow dung is smeared over the cuts, sealing them from the air, thereby ensuring no ill effects.


Close-up showing new cuts as cow dung is applied.


Four days later. Note the scabs which have formed.


Scabs are all removed which ensures the skin growing together in a manner forming the blobs upon the body which, when healed, they maintain is very beautiful.


The body beautiful when fully healed.

The Abakwetha

 The following imagery and text was authored by Lister Haig Hunter


In the Xhosa Language, aba means a group, while kwetha meats to learn, hence the word “Abakwetha”, meaning a group learning. What are they learning? To become men through circumcision. Five youths at a time are circumcised, ages 17 to 20 years The group of five live together in a specially constructed hut (sutu), which becomes their home for three months while they undergo the transformation from youth to manhood.


Before circumcision young men wear “Gourds” (calabashes) over private parts. Like this considered fully dressed even in front of women.


Some with “Gourds” removed, proving uncircumcised.


Date of circumcision announce. They become chi-cha boys wearing fantastic headdress for two to three weeks before circumcision.

On day of circumcision men begin erection of skeleton framework


The completed framework.


Women take over and begin thatching framework.


Each initiate has head completely shaved.


Sheep are slaughtered for initiates.


The initiates to be circumcised, heads shaved, have last meal in sheep kraal before operation.


The newly thatched hut, Sutu, which will become their home for three months.


The Witch Doctor ready with spear before operation.


The start of actual operation, 500 yards from newly constructed hut. (Sutu)


The severing of the foreskin. No modern medicine used.


Completely severed. At this moment the boy shouts NDIYINDODA (I am a man).


The severed foreskin being stretched over the boys thumb.


The bandaging. Goat skin strip around waist becomes bandage.

The herbs used. Left hand ‘swadi” stops bleeding. Right hand “isichwe” antiseptic.


Operation complete, faces smeared with mud. Not white paint.


Entering newly-constructed hut - their home for three months.


The way the initiate must eat for the first seven days, never touching food or drink with his hands.


The eighth day. Emerging for “Jisa” (the day of the roasting).


Initiates seated, watch, as two strips of meat taken from flank of sheep just slaughtered are placed on coal. Note green leaves on coals to make meat bitter. These leaves are from the famous stinkwood tree (Nukani).


Roasted, each strip of meat is cut into five small pieces. Then each piece is offered on end of: stick to initiate, first piece he must spit out, second piece he may eat.


Roasted mealie held between two sticks offered to initiate. As in 23, first mouthful of first mealie he must spit out. The second mouthful of second mealie he may eat.


Beer from can offered to initiate. First mouthful he must spit out, as seen. Second mouthful he may swallow.


“Jisa” (roasting) competed, initiates enter hut remove mud from faces, then paint themselves completely white from Ingceke mixture made in large hollow stone.


Outside showing themselves painted completely white. This ensures, they say, that the complexion of the youth changes under paint to the complexion of manhood.


The incision of the forehead, after which black powder Ntsisyabatwa, is rubbed in, by witch doctor. See black mark on forehead, also drop of blood. Initiate then takes rest of black powder by mouth.


A month after circumcision, completely healed, they dress for dancing.


Dancing (Nchilo) fully dressed in their palm leaf skirts, head and face gear.


Beautifully dressed older women of the tribe beat an ox hide drum from which the boys obtain the rhythm for dancing.


A view of the huge crowd watching the dancers.


During dancing, the most energetic dancer is chosen. His reward is to be painted like a leopard which they maintain is the most agile of animals. He is then known as the King of Dancers for the rest of the ceremony. Corn cobs burnt to charcoal provide the black substance creating the dots.


A close-up of the Leopard Man with spear, dancing in full regalia.

Lazing around their hut which is encircled by white flag representing presents sent by girl friends.


Last day of three-month ceremony, in the river, white Ingceke paint is completely removed.


After washing, returning from the river amongst the cattle to ensure their nudity is obscured by the beasts.


Arriving back at their hut, appointed with ox fat which they rub into their bodies until it glistens.


He fits the "Sidla" (cup made of sheep skin) to private part. This replaces the "Gourd" (calabash) and is his proof of completing the ceremony from youth to manhood.


He then receives his Red Blanket of Manhood.


As the new men and the crowd move away, the hut (Sutu) is set alight.


A close-up of the burning hut, burnt to obliterate everything concerning their youth.


Reaching main kraal, new men enter hut. Two mix red Mdiki powder and water on stone, then begin painting themselves red.


The others follow, and soon all are plastered in the red Mdiki paint of manhood. They are now known as "maqualas".


To-night they dance the Ntiombe. This flashlight taken after midnight shows their hazy faces from consumption of beer.


Next day, seated in cattle kraal, they listen, as older men lecture them and hand out presents. Note new blankets on laps.


Next day ceremony ends. As the new men in black turbans and red faces emerge from hut, they are met by double line of women waving mealie stalks and bidding them farewell. The rigorous ceremony completed.

Many months later, as fully-fledged men, dressed for dancing, we see them with "sidla" (sheep skin cup) fitted, not calabashes.


Close-up of these men showing the "sidla" (sheep skin cup) in place, whilst next slide...


Shows the close-up with the "sidla" removed, proving that he has indeed been circumcised.

Initiation into Womanhood

The following imagery and text was authored by Lister Haig Hunter



Described very briefly, this ceremony concerning young primitive maidens of many Transkeian tribes, only takes place after the young girl who, through the natural acts of nature, suddenly finds herself a woman. She naturally informs her mother of this, who explains to her daughter what has happened.

Until the above occurs, the girl's parent will never let their daughter marry, no matter how poor they may be, or how many cattle are offered. The sign that womanhood has arrived is time for discussion between mother, father and relatives, as to when their daughter will start the ceremony of "NTONJAAN". This ceremony is an age old custom amongst the most primitive tribes. It's purpose is to instil upon the girl the discipline required of women in the tribe - further, the girl herself feels she MUST complete the ceremony, as it will enable her to produce many children, while the tribe themselves will always recognize her as a true woman.

To instill the discipline referred to, the girl is seated inside a hut, behind two sleeping mats strung from the ceiling, where she will remain in so called seclusion for approximately three to five weeks. During this period she is visited daily by older women friends from far and wide. Seated facing the girl, they instruct her continually about life, it's pit falls, etc., emphasizing the wonders of being a true woman in the tribe. The effect is fantastic, as never will a woman of loose morals be found in the tribe after this ceremony.

Just as men in the tribe will never be recognize as men until circumcised, so the same applies to women unless they complete the ceremony.


Near sunset, maids who attend Ntonjaan (in white) return from the river, where they have washed her very thoroughly to cleanse the body before the ceremony, while upon their heads they carry special bundles of grass.


Entering huts specially provided and thoroughly cleaned, Ntonjaan is seated against the wall, her head covered by a black turban given by her mother. From the roof of the hut, two sleeping mats are strung behind which she sits in seclusion. The mats are always closed, and have only been opened for you, the viewer, to see. Therefore, all instructions spoken by the older women, are to someone they cannot see, but know she is there by her answers. The special grass is strewn upon the floor for visitors to sit upon while instructing.


The following morning, she is painted completely white to obliterate all traces of the girlhood complexion. White paint is made from a soft white stone from the river, call "INGEKE".


While outside a huge gather of people celebrate the occasion.


A close-up showing her being painted.


A close-up showing the majesty of the beautifully dressed women.


During the celebration, a goat, as sacrifice, is slaughtered, of which a piece is roasted upon coals inside the hut, cut into small pieces and offered to Ntonjaan on the end of a sharpened stick, as she may not touch meat with her hands while transforming from girlhood to womanhood. Once she tastes the sacrificial meat, all celebrators take part in the feast of Ntonjaan. This may last two or three days.

While in seclusion, maids attending Ntonjaan, pass the time by decoration the wall inside. Black paint for base is made by burning corn cobs to charcoal, then mixing with water. The white paint, as in 69, is applied with a chicken feather creating designs seen.

It is an easy matter to tell how long Ntojaan has been in seclusion, as above her head, behind the mats, maids keep a calendar painted on the wall, adding a round dot of "INGCOKE" every morning. This Ntonjaan, as calendar indicates, has been here eight days. 


At the end of seclusion period, Ntonjaan is taken to the river to wash the white paint from her body, after which we see her seated in the river as maids attend her hair.


Returning to the hut, Ntonjaan is painted completely red, with a powder called "MDIKI", which, when mixed with water, gives the result as seen.


A close-up of the painting. It's purpose, to obliterate all traces of white paint which might still adhere to the body. The red therefore ensuring no traces of girlhood remain.


Leaving hut she has occupied for three weeks, Ntonjaan sits upon a sleeping mat outside hut, while elder sister fetches fresh cow dung form cattle enclosure from which she makes a dung basin on ground in front of Ntonjaan.


Ntonjaan is offered thick sour milk, takes a good mouth-full which she spits into dung basin.


Spitting completed, sister closes dung basin then throws it back into father's cattle enclosure. This action, they maintain ensures that many cattle will pass into father's cattle enclosure as Labolo (dowry), in exchange for his daughter, when her hand is ought in marriage after ceremony.


Ceremony nears end as Ntonjaan, inside hut, receives presents from relatives and friends, as they wish her luck as a woman now ready for marriage. Presents given as seen, are simple things such as Bangles, Sweets, Tobacco and Beadwork, etc.

The above complete, her last job is to take a bucket of water, into which she throws fresh earth making a thin muddy paste. With this, she enters the hut where she underwent her seclusion, and obliterates all traces of youth from the walls as described in Slide 74.

Xhosa Wedding - Umtshato

African Wedding

Traditional Eastern Cape Wedding

The following imagery and text was authored by Lister Haig Hunter



COMPRISING 24 SLIDES Nos. 99 - 122

To fully describe the wedding would take very many pages. However, the points  of the ceremony are captured in colour slides.

You will not see a bridegroom as he has chose his bride long ago, paid her father twelve head of cattle as Labola (dowry), which he borrowed from his own father. He is probably at the Gold mines in Johannesburg working to earn money so that upon his return he can pay the debt to this father in respect of the cattle which he borrowed. After this, he will leave with his wife to start his own home.

His bride and her retinue have come from 20 miles away to the bridegroom's father's home, where a hut has been prepared for them. It is here that the strange wedding takes place. Upon it's completion the retinue return to their own homes, while the new bride remains and works here awaiting the return of her husband.


Bride and maids inside hut painting up. Bodies smeared with red ochre paste and ears painted white.

100. f

Painting complete, they are adorned in their beadwork, taking great pains just as a white bride does on her great day.

Standing. Only the bride has an ankle length skirt, but shortly.....


We find maids as well as bride in long skirts. Reason - when emerging later, the huge crowd outside cannot tell bride from maid. This custom ensures indemnity until the last possible moment.


A close-up of the bride.

Bride and maids seated in line having heads covered with black turbans.

Blankets are drawn up enclosing black turban - result - a black turbaned head surrounded by red blanket. When they emerge from hut it is IMPOSSIBLE to tell bride from maids.

Emerging, the leading woman tosses sweets into the air (see in left-hand corner) for the children.

Walking in single file, group follows leader who leads them to in front of where the men are sitting.

Here a woman spreads out a sleeping mat upon which bride and maids sit shoulder to shoulder, facing men. The retinue now forms a circle around the kneeling lot, stretching their blankets wide open from end to end. The men watching therefore see only the circle of closed blankets. Occupants not visible.


Inside above circle, one of retinue begins to remove black turbans and drop shoulder blankets.


At a given sign, the retinue who have kept the above procedure enclosed, suddenly swing blankets open for a brief period, enabling bridegrooms father and the men, to gaze for the first time upon the bride and her maids.


A close-up of bride and maids, after which the circle is closed once again, while bride and maids turn themselves around, back towards men, then same procedure as in 109 takes place. Upon completion of 109 and 110, turbans and blankets are replaced. They stand up and proceed in single file to where the chattering, inquisitive women excitedly await exactly the same performance as n 107 to 109.


The bride and maids returning to the hut after their most exciting experience.


We find them inside having a meal after the performance, as they await the slaughter of a beast.

Upon completion of slaughter, bride receives meat first, which she roasts. See fire ready for lighting on floor. As soon as meat enters her mouth, the rest of the tribe begins to feast and drink, taking sometimes three or four days, after which all is quiet and normality once again settles over the home. The bride remains with parents-in-law until her husband's return.

Next day all the young unmarried girls who were friends of the bride in the area she lived before her marriage, have risen very early and dress for what is termed "The Duli", the giving away of their friend for the area in which she lived to the new area. Distance in this particular case was 20 miles. They all assemble, beautifully dressed, then set off together. Eventually we them arriving in a long single file at the bride's new home.

Outside the brides hut they form a semi-circle, singing and chanting the so-called handing over of their friend to the new area. While doing so, beautifully dressed married women come dancing into the semi-circle, chanting and thanking them for the wonderful bride who was once a playmate of theirs.

A close-up front view showing how young girls dress on this occasion.

A rear view. Noted the long bands of beads which fit around the head hanging down the spine.

A view of the married women described in 115, with two of the unmarried dancers.

Two tiny tots who attended.

The dancing described in 115 carries on until approximately 3.00 p.m. By this time the performers are very hungry, and it is customary to form a semi-circle, as seen, around the bride's hut and chant for food. This is readily given, and after they have eaten, the girls again for a semi-circle chanting their farewell song to their friend, after which they will leave on their long journey home, probably arriving after dark.

A picture of bride and groom taken nine months later after his return from the mines. Shortly afterwards the couple left here and started their own home.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Very educative. It is not enough to identify with our traditions, but we have to identify with our God(s). It is through imported God(s) in the image of White Man that the Xhosas (and Africans) lost their economic resources. Imported Gods resulted in imported goods and services and exported jobs. Miriam Makeba was correct when she said "...now we have the Bible and they now have the Land".

  3. don't attack on women, at any where because she is also part of love and god. Your shared pix and gallery really no where on other countries will be watch.

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  6. The blog you have posted here provided many information about south africans and their dresses from ancient times. Its really nice .Thanks and keep sharing more with us.I want to share something with all kidney cleanse diet or homemade detox cleanse aim is to get back to your fitness and always feel fresh to start any work in your corner.During Cleanse process you should feel better and get some fresh energy to do any work but not enough to get into gym & do some workout it behaves according to your routine.


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