Historical background

The area was originally settled by Bushmen (San) and Hottentots, but towards the end of the 17th century they were gradually displaced by the Hlubi people wandering down from KwaZulu-Natal, led by a woman named Xhosa. These people claimed a common ancestry with all the tribes of the eastern coast, originating from a place called eMbo. When the Xhosa encountered the Hottentots, they were much taken with the clicks in the Hottentot language, which became a fashionable part of the Hlubi language.

Successive waves of people came down the coast and began to split up into homogenous groups. The northern group became the Pondo, the middle group became the Mtembu and the southern group became the Gcaleka.

Pressure from migrating tribes in the north pushed the population southwards where they began to encounter the white traders and settlers moving north. The inevitable result was conflict.

The first half of the 19th century were particularly turbulent years. The reign of Shaka was sending shock- waves down the coast as refugees from his wars came pouring south in search of new homes. This led to many differences of opinion between the residents and the newcomers. The British, moving north, often intervened in these tribal wars and also found themselves in wars of their own. The result was the nine Frontier Wars. It was at this time that a young girl called Nongqawuse had a vision that her forebears would help the Xhosa drive the English out. The disastrous result weakened the Xhosa still further. Matters were not helped by the fact that the Xhosa themselves were not an homogenous people ?? there were a number of old and newly-formed tribes in a shifting demographic landscape and often they fought amongst themselves.

The Ninth Frontier War spelled the end of the Xhosa and the Transkei area was incorporated into the Cape Colony. But it was never quiet. There were raids between settlers and Xhosas, and turf wars between different Xhosa tribes. Missions were established here and there to try to bring Christianity to the people, with limited success.

Because of the warlike reputation of the region and the ongoing tensions between the different factions, the place was never really populated by European settlers and was thus left largely to the indigenous people.

Version II:

History of Pondoland (Transkei)

The land of the Pondos is full of stories that remind us of times gone by. Most of these tales are kept only through their telling but some have been recorded.

Somewhere between 500 and 1200 years ago Bantu speaking people settled all along the East coast of Southern Africa down to what is now known as Port Elizabeth. This area was also home to nomadic San and Khoi people. Many of the Khoi were incorporated bringing with them the three characteristic clicks that are found in the Xhosa language today.

This region is geographically referred to as "Eastern Pondoland".

The amaPondo are one of 12 Xhosa speaking tribes. The Pondos and other Xhosa speakers along the coast had their first contact with Europeans in the form of shipwrecked sailors. Strange light-skinned apparitions would occasionally be left with the white foam on the beaches after a big storm. The Xhosa word for "Whities" is "Abelungu" - meaning just that - 'foam from the sea'. Some of the shipwrecked stayed - the clan name 'Umlungu' often recording the history of their children.
Trade between the amaPondo and other Xhosa speakers - where Xhosa tobacco and cannabis was traded for metal - has been dated to 400 years ago. Trade between the Xhosa and Boers was recorded 300 years back.

Around the late 1700's the pressure for land began increasing. For the Xhosa speaking tribes there were the British to the South, Boers to the East and other Bantu speakers from the North. Those from the North were pushed down by the series of battles and migrations that were set off by the rise of Shaka and the Zulu state. The war with the British and the Boers continued sporadically for 60 years. By the early 1850's relations between the Cape Colony and the so called 'Territories' had settled down to an uneasy peace. This standoff was tragically settled by the 'cattle killing' of 1856. On the advice of a diviner (Nongqawuse), people were ordered to eat all their cattle and consume or destroy all their crops. All those who disobeyed together with all whites were to be swept into the sea by a strong wind on the 18th of February 1857.

At this time there was an abundance of cattle and grain, but with the resulting famine, resistance to the colonials crumbled. In the same year the British introduced a poll tax. By 1858 all chiefdoms except those of the Mpondo had submitted to colonial administration.

Geographically remote, tucked away in the far NE of the 'Territories' the Pondos were furthest away from the wars with the colonists. They did not take part in the cattle killings of 1856 and were exempt from the poll tax of '57.

The Pondos had been effected by the Mfecane - the wars and migrations set off by the rise of Shaka and his Zulu empire. In 1828, during the reign of Faku (paramount chief of the Pondos), they lost their land and cattle east of the Mzimvubu (river) to many hundreds of people who were fleeing Shaka's impis (warriors). It is during this retreat that Faku reorganised his military forces and intensified raiding, hunting, agricultural and trade enterprises. By 1843 the Pondos had replaced their herds of cattle and Faku represented many people living south of the Zulu kingdom, commanding tremendous power. The following year Faku signed a treaty with the Cape Colonial government which recognised and protected his authority. Many groups of people joined his empire as a means of protecting their land from the 'trekkers' in Natal who were keen to expand their own borders.

Through various political, economic and religious pressures the tribespeople were forced to accept the annexing of Pondoland to the colony in 1894.

For 70 years Pondoland fell under the Cape Provincial Administration - first under British colonial government and then from 1948 under the Nationalist party government. The 'separate development' policies (Apartheid) of H.F. Verwoerd resulted in the 'awarding' of 'self-government' to an area known as the Transkei in 1963 (The area known as the Transkei incorporated many, though not all, of the Xhosa speaking tribes.) This was followed by 'full independance' in 1976.

After the first fair democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, the Transkei as an entity fell away, and the region became part of the vast and diverse Eastern Cape. Despite this incorporation, Transkei in general and Pondoland in particular remain discrete regions in many ways.

Many people still lead lives not much different from those of their ancestors during the 16th and 17th centuries. Traditional forms of land use and government are still practised, and while this may be partially explained by the shortage of facilities and capital during colonial and apartheid governments, the resilience of many craft, religious and other cultural practices also suggests a determination on the part of many rural people to retain elements of their heritage. This does not mean that modern ideas and innovations are rejected; instead they are incorporated and employed alongside traditional methods."

Janet Hayward (Research in progress)

Version III:

The Pondoland region was occupied by hunter gatherers from about 500,000-150,000 years ago, with agropastoralists establishing themselves in the area in the 7th century AD. People have thus had an impact on the local environment for many centuries (Feely 1987).

By the nineteenth century, the area was used extensively for cattle grazing. Settlements at that time were mostly temporary and only from 1894, after the annexation of Pondoland and subsequent large scale immigration into the area did grazing occur year round (Beinart 1982).

The area was then subject to regulations and restrictions from different governing bodies: the British colonial authorities (1894-1910), the Union of South Africa (1910- 1963), the Republic of South Africa (1963-1976), the government of the Transkei homeland (1976-1994) (Southall 1982) and more recently the provincial Eastern Cape and national government structures.

From the turn of the century to about 1930, cattle numbers increased significantly and since have varied much less with declines due to drought or government destocking regulations in the 1960s (Kepe and Scoones 1999).

The Ama-Xhosa of the Transkei

This is a must-have book for your coffee table...

£1 (GBP) from the sale of each book will be donated to Sustaining the Wild Coast (www.swc.org.za), a registered NPO responsible for halting the mining at Xolobeni, and currently waging a protracted legal battle, alongside the Pondoland residents, to stop the N2 troll road.

Click on the pic to order your copy: click on the pic or here: title= http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/905621

The Ama-Xhosa of the Transkei - by Deryck Lang. Edited by Dianne Lang

Gqira: Priest-divinerGqira: Priest-divinerA photo journal depicting and explaining the customs of the amaXhosa, the largest tribe in South Africa.

Deryck spent his life among the amaXhosa in the Transkei, and was a respected member and Elder of the amaTshezi; the foremost clan of the Bomvana tribe. The photographs he took are a testament of his enduring love of the people, and their deep respect for him. Deryck "Mdesaleni" Lang: 1934 - 2009Deryck "Mdesaleni" Lang: 1934 - 2009

Few, if any, outsiders have been as privileged to photograph tribal customs and ceremonies, to share in their fortunes and their sorrows; and to live amongst them their entire life. Deryck captured an intimate glimpse into what could sadly be the end of a cultural era.

Deryck was a true African in the deepest sense of the word, a man who epitomised the meaning of "Ubuntu" and "Umntu Ngumntu Ngabantu".

Lala Ngoxolo Mdesaleni

Wild Coast History

The infamously dangerous 300km coastline between East London and Port Edward known as the Wild Coast has been described by experienced seafarers as South Africa's own Bermuda Triangle; where ships disappear without a trace.

Freak waves which frequent this notorious coast have plunged untold ships to the bottom of the Indian Ocean, or sent them crashing onto the shore. The most famous victim was the SS Waratah, which vanished a hundred years ago, on the 29th July 1909, with all 211 passengers and crew aboard. (See www.wildcoast.com/shipwrecks for more info.)

The last ship to tragically sink with all her crew was the Indian-registered Cordigilera, which disappeared without a trace on November 13 1996¹ in the vicinity of Port St Johns. Seven months later, on the 9th of July 1997, the Romanian cargo vessel, the Calarasi, perished in similar weather conditions about five nautical miles from the site where the Cordigilera went down. In her case, however, twenty of her 21 crewmen were airlifted to safety from this treacherous Transkei coast.

The eastern seaboard of southern Africa is notorious for its ferocious coast, and modern day maps still warn of possible 20m freak wave phenomena. Factors in (the disappearance of vessels certainly) the formation of freak waves may be that in some parts (near Port St Johns, particularly) the continental shelf is extremely close to the shore. Scientists have theorized that the deep (3000m) and swiftly flowing Agulhas current, which moves in a south-westerly direction, is accelerated further by strong winds from the north-east which can increase the surface speed of the water to over 7 knots. Subsequently, counter winds then form enormous waves which are extremely dangerous.

So there is little or no dispute as to how the Wild Coast originally got its name; yet it is appropriate, too, for its untamed splendor and sheer spectacular cliffs which, in two places, feed waterfalls directly into the ocean. Amongst the small handful of waterfalls on Earth which exhibit this rare elemental combination, two are located within the Pondoland Centre of Endemism (PCE: an internationally acclaimed Biodiversity Hotspot) between Port St Johns and Port Edward. The northern perimeter of the PCE, the Xolobeni region, is threatened by strip-mining for its heavy titanium bearing minerals; apparently the 10th largest deposit on Earth. (www.wildcoast.com/xolobeni)

Perhaps there is some connection between the mineral wealth and the savagely beautiful landscapes and unique flora along this mystical, legendary wild coast.

Historically the name “Wild Coast” is an exceedingly accurate appelation as well; in that the area where it is geo-politically located; the Transkei (which literally means across the Kei River) never really succumbed to colonial rule. Even until today the Transkei Wild Coast remains one of the last unspoiled frontiers of South Africa, and a cultural crucible for the amaXhosa people:

Archaeological evidence dates the presence of hunter-gatherers in the region from 150 000 - 500, 000 years ago, whilst agro-pastoralist settlement in the fertile coastal valleys dates back to the late 7th century AD.

1. Edit: Date correction, thanks to Kevin Oram.

100 years since SS Waratah disappeared off the Wild Coast

SS WaratahSS WaratahThe Waratah 1908 - 29 July 1909

The SS Waratah, sometimes referred to as "Australia's Titanic", was a 500 foot steamer. In July 1909, the ship, en route from Durban to Cape Town, disappeared with 211 passengers and crew aboard. The disappearance of the ship remains one of the most baffling nautical mysteries of all time. To this day no trace of the ship has ever been found.

According to Dispatch archives, the 10 000 ton ship passed along the Transkei coast on July 28, 1909 after stopping off in Durban the previous day.

It was heading to London and would have stopped over in Cape Town before setting sail on the high seas. A Dispatch report from July 1971 said: “Two people had disembarked in Durban – one to find a job and the other after he dreamt that the ship would sink – and after being spotted by two other ships along the Transkei coast, the Waratah disappeared in what was to become ‘one of the most baffling nautical mysteries of all time’.”

History and folklore of Hole in the Wall

Photo (c) Neels BotmaPhoto (c) Neels BotmaHole-in-the-Wall is one of the most impressive landmarks along the entire South African coastine. Second only to Table Mountain, most likely, though only a fraction of the size.

Standing at the mouth of the Mpako River, the cliff consists of dark-blue shales, mudstones and sandstones of the Ecca Group, dating back some 260 million years. These rocks were subsequently intruded by a dolerite sheet, and the ‘hole’ was created over millions of years by the buffeting waves, which eroded away the softer rocks underneath the dolerite to form an arch. The same process also eventually separated the cliff from the mainland.

Hole-in-the-Wall was named by Captain Vidal of the vessel Barracouta, sent by the British Admiralty in 1823 to survey the coastline between the Keiskamma River and Lourenço Marques (now Maputo). Vidal took his ship to within 800m of the coast, and described in his log "where two ponderous black rocks above the water’s edge, upwards of 80 feet above its surface, exhibiting through the phenomenon of a natural archway", prompting him to name it the Hole-in-the-Wall. The local Bomvana people named the formation ‘EsiKhaleni’, or the Place of the Sound.

Local legend has it that the river running through the Hole-in-the-Wall (Mpako River) once formed a landlocked lagoon as its access to the sea was blocked by a cliff. A beautiful girl lived in a village near the lagoon cut off from the sea by the mighty cliff. One day she was seen by one of the sea people - semi deities who look like humans but have supple wrists and ankles and flipperlike hands and feet - who became overwhelmed by her beauty and tried to woo her. When the girl’s father found out he forbade her to see her lover. So at high tide one night, the sea people came to the cliff and, with the help of a huge fish, rammed a hole through the centre of the cliff. As they swam into the lagoon they shouted and sang, causing the villagers to hide in fear. In the commotion the girl and her lover were reunited and disappeared into the sea. At certain times of the year, it is said, the music and singing of the sea people can be heard.

Xhosa legend holds that this is the gateway to the world of their ancestors. The local Xhosa call this place "esiKhaleni", which means "place of thunder" or "place of sound." During certain seasons and water conditions the waves clap in such a fashion that the concussion can be heard throughout the valley.

Hole-in-the-Wall and the tragedy of the prophetess:
A young girl called Nongqawuse had seen a messenger from the realm of the ancestors at a waterhole. She told her uncle Mhlakaza about her vision. As he was an important Xhosa priest, his social rank granted a great impact to the prophecy he derived from his niece's vision. He announced that soldiers who were incarnations of the souls of dead Xhosa warriors, would arrive on the 18th of February over the sea, come onto land through the "Hole in the Wall" and defeat the hated British. But, he continued, the Xhosa had to make a sacrifice to help the warriors by destroying all their cereals and killing all their cattle. After the victory, there would be food in abundance for everybody. The Xhosa followed the instructions in his prophecy and killed their whole stock of cattle. The catastrophe took its course and thousands of Xhosa perished from famine. (http://www.wildcoast.com/nongqawuse)

Xhosa - Introduction, Location, Language, Folklore, Religion, Major holidays, Rites of passage, Relationships, Living conditions


PRONUNCIATION: KOH-suh (See: http://www.wildcoast.co.za/xhosa_phrasebook for more accurate pronunciation)

LOCATION: South Africa (eastern, urban areas)

POPULATION: 6 million

LANGUAGE: Xhosa (Bantu)

RELIGION: Traditional beliefs (supreme being uThixo or uQamata); Christianity


The word Xhosa refers to a people and a language of South Africa. The Xhosa-speaking people are divided into a number of subgroups with their own distinct but related heritages. One of these subgroups is called Xhosa as well. The other main subgroups are the Bhaca, Bomvana, Mfengu, Mpondo, Mpondomise, Xesibe, and Thembu. Unless otherwise stated, this article refers to all the Xhosa-speaking people.

Well before the arrival of Dutch in the 1650s, the Xhosa had settled the southeastern area of South Africa. They interacted with the foraging (food-gathering) and pastoral (nomadic herding) people who were in South Africa first, the Khoi and the San. Europeans who came to stay in South Africa first settled in and around Cape Town. As the years passed, they sought to expand their territory. This expansion was first at the expense of the Khoi and San, but later Xhosa land was taken as well. A series of wars between trekboers (Afrikaner colonists) and Xhosa began in the 1770s. Later, in the nineteenth century, the British became the new colonizing force (foreigners in control) in the Cape. They directed the armies that were to vanquish the Xhosa.

Christian missionaries established their first outposts among the Xhosa in the 1820s, but met with little success. Only after the Xhosa population had been traumatized by European invasion, drought, and disease did Xhosa convert to Christianity in substantial numbers. In addition to land lost to white annexation, legislation reduced Xhosa political autonomy. Over time, Xhosa people became increasingly impoverished. They had no option but to become migrant laborers. In the late 1990s, Xhosa make up a large percentage of the workers in South Africa's gold mines.

Under apartheid (a government policy requiring the separation of races), the South African government created separate regions that were described as Bantustans (homelands) for black people of African descent. Two regions—Transkei and Ciskei—were set aside for Xhosa people.

These regions were proclaimed independent countries by the apartheid government. Apartheid policy denied South African citizenship to many Xhosa. Thousands of people were forcibly relocated to remote areas in Transkei and Ciskei. The homelands were abolished with the change to democracy in 1994.


Before the arrival of the Europeans in the late 1600s, Xhosa-speaking people occupied much of eastern South Africa. The region extended from the Fish River to land inhabited by Zulu-speakers south of the modern city of Durban. This territory includes well-watered rolling hills near scenic coastal areas as well as harsh and dry regions further inland. Many Xhosa live in Cape Town (iKapa), East London (iMonti), and Port Elizabeth (iBhayi). They can be found in lesser numbers in most of South Africa's major metropolitan areas. As of 1995, there were about 6 million Xhosa, making up approximately 17.5 percent of South Africa's population.


The Xhosa language is properly referred to as isiXhosa. It is a Bantu language closely related to Zulu, Swazi, and Ndebele. As with other South African languages, Xhosa is characterized by respectful forms of address for elders and in-laws. The language is also rich in idioms. To have isandla esishushu (a warm hand), for example, is to be generous.

Xhosa contains many words with click consonants that have been borrowed from Khoi or San words. The "X" in Xhosa represents a type of click made by the tongue on the side of the mouth. This consonant sounds something like the clicking sound English-speaking horseback riders make to encourage their horses. English speakers who have not mastered clicks often pronounce Xhosa as "Ko-Sa."

Names in Xhosa often express the values or opinions of the community. Common personal names include Thamsanqa (good fortune) and Nomsa (mother of kindness). Adults are often referred to by their isiduko (clan or lineage) names. In the case of women, clan names are preceded by a prefix meaning "mother of." A woman of the Thembu clan might be called MamThembu. Women are also named by reference to their children, real or intended; NoLindiwe is a polite name for Lindiwe's mother.


Stories and legends provide accounts of Xhosa ancestral heroes. According to one oral tradition, the first person on Earth was a great leader called Xhosa. Another tradition stresses the essential unity of the Xhosa-speaking people by proclaiming that all the Xhosa subgroups are descendants of one ancestor, Tshawe. Historians have suggested that Xhosa and Tshawe were probably the first Xhosa kings or paramount (supreme) chiefs.

Xhosa tradition is rich in creative verbal expression. Intsomi (folktales), proverbs, and isibongo (praise poems) are told in dramatic and creative ways. Folktales relate the adventures of both animal protagonists and human characters. Praise poems traditionally relate the heroic adventures of ancestors or political leaders.


The supreme being among the Xhosa is called uThixo or uQamata. As in the religions of many other Bantu peoples, God is only rarely involved in everyday life. God may be approached through ancestral intermediaries who are honored through ritual sacrifices. Ancestors commonly make their wishes known to the living in dreams.

Christianity in one form or another is accepted by most Xhosa-speaking people today. Cultural traditionalists are likely to belong to independent denominations that combine Christianity with traditional beliefs and practices. Xhosa religious practice is distinguished by elaborate and lengthy rituals, initiations, and feasts. Modern rituals typically pertain to matters of illness and psychological well-being.


Xhosa observe the same holidays as other groups of South Africa. These include the Christian holidays, Workers's Day (or May Day, May 1), the Day of Reconciliation (December 16), and Heritage Day (September 24). During the apartheid era, two unofficial holidays were observed to honor black people killed in the fight for equality and political representation. June 16 was a national day of remembrance for students killed by police in Soweto on that day in 1976. March 21 honored protestors killed by authorities during a demonstration in Sharpeville in 1960. Both of these anniversaries continue to be recognized with a day of rest, meetings, and prayer. Another important holiday is April 27, the date of the first national election in which black South Africans could vote.


After giving birth, a mother is expected to remain secluded in her house for at least ten days. In Xhosa tradition, the afterbirth and umbilical cord were buried or burned to protect the baby from sorcery. At the end of the period of seclusion, a goat was sacrificed. Those who no longer practice the traditional rituals may still invite friends and relatives to a special dinner to mark the end of the mother's seclusion.

Male initiation in the form of circumcision is practiced among most Xhosa groups. The abakweta (initiates-in-training) live in special huts isolated from villages or towns for several weeks. Like soldiers inducted into the army, they have their heads shaved. They wear a loincloth and a blanket for warmth. White clay is smeared on their bodies from head to toe. They are expected to observe numerous taboos (prohibitions) and to act deferentially to their adult male leaders. Different stages in the initiation process were marked by the sacrifice of a goat.

The ritual of female circumcision is considerably shorter. The intonjane (girl to be initiated) is secluded for about a week. During this period, there are dances, and ritual sacrifices of animals. The initiate must hide herself from view and observe food restrictions. There is no actual surgical operation.


Xhosa have traditionally used greetings to show respect and good intentions to others. In interacting with others, it is crucial to show respect (ukuhlonipha). Youths are expected to keep quiet when elders are speaking, and to lower their eyes when being addressed. Hospitality is highly valued, and people are expected to share with visitors what they can. Socializing over tea and snacks is common.

In Xhosa tradition, one often found a girlfriend or boyfriend by attending dances. One popular type of dance, called umtshotsho or intlombe, could last all night. On some occasions, unmarried lovers were allowed to sleep together provided they observed certain restraints. A form of external intercourse called ukumetsha was permitted, but full intercourse was taboo. For Westernized Xhosa, romances often begin at school, church, or through mutual acquaintances. Dating activities include attending the cinema as well as going to school dances, sporting events, concerts, and so forth.


During the early period of white rule in South Africa, Xhosa communities were severely neglected in terms of social services. In fact, rural areas were deliberately impoverished so as to encourage Xhosa to seek wage labor employment. In the later years of apartheid, some attempts were made to address major health concerns in these areas. However, most government money continued to be set aside for social services that benefited whites. As the Xhosa population in rural areas expanded through natural increase and forced removals, rural lands became increasingly overcrowded and eroded. In the twentieth-century, many men and women migrated to urban shantytowns (towns comprised of crudely built huts). Poverty and ill health are still widespread in both rural and urban communities. Since 1994, however, the post-apartheid government has expanded health and nutritional aid to the black population.

Housing, standards of living, and creature comforts vary considerably among Xhosa. Xhosa people make up some of the poorest and some of the wealthiest of black South Africans. Poor people live in round thatched-roof huts, labor compounds, or single-room shacks without running water or electricity. Other Xhosa are among an elite who live in large comfortable houses in quiet suburban neighborhoods.


The traditional Xhosa family was patriarchal; men were considered the heads of their households. Women and children were expected to defer to men's authority. Polygynous marriages (multiple wives) were permitted where the husband had the means to pay the lobolo (bride wealth) for each, and to maintain them properly. Women were expected to leave their families to live with their husband's family.

The migrant labor system has put great strains on the traditional family. Some men have established two distinct families, one at the place of work and the other at the rural home. With the end of apartheid, some of the families previously separated by the labor laws are beginning new lives in urban areas. Some of these families live under crowded and difficult conditions in shanty-towns and migrant labor compounds.


Many Xhosa men and women dress similarly to people in Europe and the United States. Pants for women have only recently become acceptable. As a result of missionary influence, it has become customary for a woman to cover her hair with a scarf or hat. Many rural woman fold scarves or other clothes into elaborate turban shapes. They continue to apply white or ochre-colored mixtures to their bodies and faces. Other unique Xhosa dress includes intricately sewn designs on blankets that are worn by both men and women as shawls or capes.

12 • FOOD

Xhosa people share many food traditions with the other peoples of South Africa. Staple foods are corn (maize) and bread. Beef, mutton (sheep meat), and goat meat are popular. Milk is often drunk in its sour form. Sorghum beer, also sour in taste, continues to be popular.

One particular food popularly identified with the Xhosa is umngqusho. This dish combines hominy corn with beans and spices. Xhosa also regularly eat the soft porridge made of corn meal flour that is widespread in Africa. Eggs were traditionally taboo for women, and a just-married wife was not allowed to eat certain types of meat. Men were not supposed to drink milk in any village where they might later take a wife.

The major mealtimes are breakfast and dinner. Children may go without lunch, although school lunch programs have been established by the government.


The first Western-style schools for Xhosa-speakers were begun by missionaries. One of the most famous of the missionary institutions, the University of Fort Hare, boasts Nelson Mandela and a number of other famous African leaders as former students.

Under apartheid, African access to education was restricted and many of the best mission schools were shutdown. As a result, adult literacy rates (percentage able to read and write) dropped, in some areas to as low as 30 percent. Today, the goal is free education for all those aged seven to seventeen. Literacy and education are now seen as keys to success and are highly valued by most people.


Xhosa traditional music places a strong emphasis on group singing and handclapping as accompaniment to dance. Drums, while used occasionally, were not as fundamental a part of musical expression as they were for many other African peoples. Other instruments used included rattles, whistles, flutes, mouth harps, and stringed-instruments constructed with a bow and resonator.

Missionaries introduced the Xhosa to Western choral singing. Among the most successful of the Xhosa hymns is the South African national anthem, Nkosi Sikele' iAfrika (God Bless Africa). It was written by a school teacher named Enoch Sontonga in 1897.

Xhosa written literature was established in the nineteenth century with the publication of the first Xhosa newspapers, novels, and plays. Early writers included Tiyo Soga, I. Bud-Mbelle, and John Tengo Jabavu.


Many rural Xhosa have left home to find employment in the city. Under white rule, Xhosa men were most frequently hired as miners and farm laborers. Women also worked as farm laborers, but work in domestic service was more valued. For those with high school and college educations, the greatest opportunities were in health care, education, and government administration. In the 1990s, Xhosa sought degrees in all fields. South Africa's migrant labor system has dramatically altered Xhosa social life and put strain on the family.


Xhosa children enjoy skipping rope, racing, swimming, and playing hopscotch. Boys enjoy wrestling and stick fighting.

The most popular sport in South Africa is soccer. There are many professional, school, and company teams. There are also organized competitions between schools in athletics (track and field).


Popular entertainment includes attending movies, plays, and musical performances. Televisions and videocassette recorders are also popular. Most movies are imported from other countries, but a South African film industry is developing. Plays are often broadcast over TV and radio. Television broadcasts also include programs in Xhosa. Xhosa "soap operas" are a regular feature.

South Africa has a well-established music industry. The most popular musicians are typically those that perform dance tunes. Religious choirs are also popular.


Folk craft traditions include beadwork, sewing, pottery making, house decoration, and weaving. Hand-woven materials were generally functional items such as sleeping mats, baskets, and strainers. Xhosa ceremonial clothing is often elaborately decorated with fine embroidery work and intricate geometric designs.


Most of the social problems found among Xhosa people today stem directly or indirectly from the apartheid past. These include high rates of poverty, fractured families, malnutrition, and crime. Competition for scarce resources has also led to conflict with other African ethnic groups. There are also divisions within the Xhosa community—between men and women, young and old, rural and urban, and highly educated and illiterate. These divisions may lead to tensions if not resolved in the post-apartheid era. One of the biggest challenges for South Africa as a whole is to meet rising expectations for education, employment, and improved standards of living.


Ramphela, Mamphela. A Bed Called Home: Life in the Migrant Labour Hostels of Cape Town. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1993.

Switzer, Les. Power and Resistance in an African Society: The Ciskei Xhosa and the Making of South Africa. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.

Zenani, Nongenile. The World and the Word: Tales and Observations from the Xhosa Oral Tradition. Collected and edited by Harold Scheub. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.


Embassy of South Africa, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.southafrica.net/, 1998.

Government of South Africa. [Online] http://www.polity.org.za/gnu.html, 1998.

Interknowledge Corp. South Africa. [Online] Available http://www.geographia.com/south-africa/, 1998.

Southern African Development Community. South Africa. [Online] Available http://www.sadcusa.net/members/safrica/, 1998.


(Sourced with thanks from: http://www.everyculture.com/wc/Rwanda-to-Syria/Xhosa.html)



"Government is not reason, it is not eloquence- it is a force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action."

"Occupants of public offices love power and are prone to abuse it."

~George Washington

Towns of historical interest in the 'kei


Butterworth is the oldest town in the Transkei, built quite near to the place where the great chief Hintsa had his palace. It was founded by Methodist missionaries in 1827. The Xhosa name is Gcuwa after the river running through it, but the English name is from the then- treasurer of the Wesleyan Mission Society, Reverend Butterworth. At the end of the Frontier Wars – during which the town had been burnt down three times - traders began to settle here. During the days of 'independence' it was earmarked as a site for industrial development but most of these ambitious projects have now been abandoned.

Xhosa Calendar

The Xhosa months of the year are poetically named after stars and seasonal plants of Southern Africa.

The Xhosa year traditionally began in June and ended in May, when Canopus, the brightest star visible in the Southern Hemisphere, signalled the time for harvesting.

In urban areas today, anglicised versions of the months are used, especially by the younger generation. But in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape – the old names still stand.

  • January - EyoMqungu (month of the Tambuki Grass)
  • February - EyoMdumba (month of the swelling grain)
  • March - EyoKwindla (month of the first fruits)
  • April - uTshaz'iimpuzi (month of the withering pumpkins)
  • May - EyeCanzibe (month of Canopus)
  • June - EyeSilimela (month of the Pleiades)
  • July - EyeKhala (month of the aloes)
  • August - EyeThupha (month of the buds)
  • September - EyoMsintsi (month of the coast coral tree)
  • October - EyeDwarha (month of the tall yellow daisies)
  • November - EyeNkanga (month of the small yellow daisies)
  • December - EyoMnga - (month of the mimosa thorn tree)
  • Nongqawuse

    Nonkosi (L) & Nongqawuse (R)Nonkosi (L) & Nongqawuse (R)1856 was a bad year for the Xhosa nation of the Wild Coast. Their lands had been taken by the British, drought had withered their crops, and their prized cattle were dwindling under a mysterious disease. The people were facing a hard winter when hope came in the shape of a young girl called Nongqawuse, the niece of a prophet. Nongqawuse claimed that the spirits of the ancestors had spoken to her from a pool in the Gxara River. If the people would only kill all their cattle and burn their crops, a day would come when new cattle and crops would arise along with an army of the ancestors who would drive the whites into the sea. The "vision" took hold among the desperate people, who followed her orders. By February 1957 more than 200 000 cattle had been slaughtered and left to rot. All the summer crops had been burnt.

    The allotted day dawned and nothing happened. The weakened population began to starve and within a few months more than a third of the entire Xhosa people had died of starvation and disease. It was easy for the British to take over the remnants of the tattered Xhosa kingdom and imprison the chiefs for their role in this ??genocide??. Nongqawuse was taken to Robben Island for her own safety but her people were broken.

    The 1856 cattle killing has receded into legend and its tragic manifestation is Nongqawuse's pool, which can still be seen on guided tours from the resort of Qolora Mouth on the Strandloper Coast.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nongqawuse for more info.

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