The Xhosa

© Dr Peter Magubane
A male Xhosa initiate with a painted white face as part of the initiation ceremony.

The name Xhosa is a general term, used for an assortment of noble clans of Nguni descent, the Pondo, Bomvana, Thembu and the Xhosa tribe itself.

The Xhosa-speaking peoples or Cape Nguni inhabit the Eastern Cape, from the KwaZulu-Natal border to the Eastern Cape Zuurveld. Historically they were hunters, herders and subsistence farmers, who were organized in more or less politically independent chiefdom clusters, each recognizing a paramount chief. Xhosa, like Nguni, a linguistic rather than an ethnic term, was the dialect spoken in the valleys of the Fish, Keiskamma and Buffalo rivers.

The first group of Nguni immigrants to arrive in South Africa consisted of the Xhosa tribe - made up of the Gcaleka, Ngqika, Ndlambe and Dushane clans, the Thembu and Pondo. Later a second group of Nguni speakers arrived into Zululand, but were chased out by King Shaka. They were known as Mfengu and became assimilated within the Xhosa nation. These early immigrants formed the backbone of the Xhosa nation, the second largest group of people in South Africa. They are a justifiably proud nation, as they have never been enslaved or defeated by any other tribe.

Ancestors in Xhosa Tradition

Notably men of weight and influence during their lives, the shades were leaders of followings - the clan founders, clan leaders and chiefs of the distant past - occupying nodal positions in the kinship structure and with many descendants....more

Marriage in Xhosa Tradition

Marriage was traditionally exogamous (marital partners were sought outside the kin group), which was a distinguishing trait of the Nguni in general....more

The Evolving Xhosa People

Ntsikana, a famous Xhosa prophet who died in 1821, was a convert of the Reverend Joseph Williams of the London Missionary Society....more

The Xhosa People of South Africa

All of this suggests that scholarly speculations about the migration of Xhosa-speaking people from East Africa in the distant past are unfounded, if not misguided or something rather more sinister....more

Xhosa Clans and Chiefdom

The patronymic or clan name used by an adult male or female Xhosa is inherited from his or her father and membership of the agnatic cluster coincided with affiliation to a particular clan....more

Xhosa Cultural Customs

Historically, homesteads (imizi) of the Xhosa Culture tended to be scattered over the rural landscape and were situated on ridges to facilitate drainage and military defence....more

Xhosa Culture Rites of Passage

Some 150 years ago or more, all southern African chiefdoms and Khoi-san peoples observed initiation practices to prepare the youth, male and female, for their future roles in adult society....more