From generation to generation, the moral, religious and political values of a culture are handed on. We are going to dig deeper at the Xhosa people in this article. The easiest way to assess this is by an interview with an older person. King’ Zwelonke’ Mpendulo Sigcawu, who leads the Xhosa Royal Council and the Tshawe clan, was the person selected for this exercise. Xhosa refers to a Bantu minority group found in South Africa with a majority. In Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho, a few are found as well. Due to their assimilation with the Khoisan people, the Xhosa language has a “click” sound to it. Famous Xhosa personalities are Nelson Mandela, Miriam Makeba, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Thabo Mbeki. The following are the answers given by King Sigcawu about the various aspects of the Xhosa people.
In the traditional setting, the Xhosa people resided in huts shaped like beehives in scattered homesteads led by chiefs. This society is patriarchal. Children are given names by their grandparents or fathers. The moment a woman gets married, she is given a new name by her mother-in-law. Garments were mostly made of skin and women are expected to wear clothes which cover their upper arm and shoulders. Arranged marriages were the norm. Dowry was ten cows or money with the same value. The girl was then captured by the groom’s side and this closed the deal. Circumcision was practised on both men and women to usher them into adulthood. Uncircumcised males (“inkwekwe”) were not allowed to take part in tribal meeting.
Currently, the Xhosa people adorn western clothes. However, they still practise some of their traditions. For instance, in a home men are served food before women. It is also common that adults are not referred to by their first names. Titles such as aunty, uncle and mother of often precede the names. Circumcision is still practised by men and can be done traditionally or in the hospital.
Traditionally, the Xhosa people were led by kings and chiefs as their village assistants. During the apartheid rule (1948-1994), the government, run by the Dutch, set aside separate regions (“Bantustans”) where black people resided. Transkei and Ciskei were the two areas where the Xhosa people resided. This led to the people being denied citizenship in South Africa. The ruling Nationalist Party mostly consisted of white Afrikaans ensure that 90% of the country was inhabited by whites and the rest occupied the 10%. The “Bantustans” cover the area currently known as Soweto, which is an abbreviation for South Western Townships. Notable members of the Anti-Apartheid Movement include Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, who have both won Nobel peace prizes for their work.
Currently, apartheid is no longer existent. However, the Xhosa people are yet to heal from its effects such as low adult literacy, poverty, crime and broken families. The chiefs are still existent though they are more of traditional leaders. The Xhosa people are also involved in governing of the country since the former president, Thabo Mbeki, is involved in voicing their opinions.
In the traditional setting, the Supreme Being is the “uQamata” or “uThixo.” God was spoken to using intermediaries who were honored using ritual sacrifices. Ancestors generally spoke to the living through dreams. All the Xhosa people believe that they have one ancestor, “Tshawe” who was the first person in the world and was an exemplary leader.
Currently, most of the Xhosa people are Christians belonging to the Methodist denomination. This is due to its introduction by the colonialists. However, most traditionalists associate with denominations that combine elements of Christianity and the traditional practices.
Before the coming of missionaries, education was mainly informal. Values and customs were taught to the young people by their seniors. This was done using “intsomi” (folktales), “isibongo” (poems of praise) and proverbs. The first formal education schools were introduced to thee Xhosa community by missionaries. University of Fort Hare, stands as one of the most popular institutions. It boasts of influential alumni such as Nelson Mandela. During the apartheid rule, introduced by the Dutch, there was limited access to formal education. This has contributed to the low rates of adult literacy, some areas recording 30%.
Currently, the government has put in pace measures to increase the level of literacy. This has been done by provision of free education for individuals between the ages of seven up to seventeen. In the contemporary society, formal education is required for success therefore it is very important to the Xhosa people.
Traditionally, they were herders and farmers. Currently, they have taken up white collar jobs in many sectors such as banking, medicine and engineering since some have moved into the cities. However, they still practise farming especially in their rural homes.
The Xhosa are the second largest ethnic group in South Africa after the Zulu. They are a people who place utmost importance in their culture even in the contemporary society. They suffered under the apartheid rule and are still trying to recover from its effects just like majority of South Africans. Their contributions cannot be ignored as the community has produced leaders who are recognized in the world such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. They also work in a number of sectors in South Africa such as medicine and finance. Their heritage should therefore be preserved and celebrated.
King Mpendulo “Zwelonke” Sigcawu