Brief History and Culture of 10 Immemorial South African Tribes.
Four major ethnic groups amongst Black South Africans are the Nguni; Nguni people are Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele and Swazi people, Sotho-Tswana, Shangaan-Tsonga and Venda.
Together the Nguni and Sotho account for the largest % of the total Black population. The major Sotho groups are the South Sotho made up of Basuto and Sotho tribes, the West Sotho or Tswana, and the North Sotho or Pedi.
The San are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, where they have lived for at least 20,000 years. The word San is commonly used to refer to a diverse group of hunter-gatherers living in Southern Africa who share historical and linguistic connections. The San were also referred to as Bushmen, but this term has since been abandoned as it is considered derogatory. There are many different San groups - they have no collective name for themselves.
South Sotho or Basotho people are concentrated in the Free State, Gauteng and Eastern Cape Provinces of South Africa, with small groups in Namibia and Zambia. Moshoeshoe is seen as the father of the Basotho people as he was responsible for drawing together the scattered Sotho peoples who had been driven apart by Zulu and Ndebele raids, and for creating Lesotho, the Basotho Kingdom.
The word Zulu means "Sky" and IsiZulu is South Africa's most widely spoken official language. Zulu people refer to themselves as 'the people of the heavens' and they are the largest ethnic group of South Africa, with an estimated 10 million Zulu residents in KwaZulu-Natal. The largest urban concentration of Zulu people is in the Gauteng Province, and in the corridor of Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The largest rural concentration of Zulu people is in Kwa-Zulu Natal. In the 19th century, they merged into a great kingdom under the leadership of Shaka Zulu.
Many Zulu people converted to Christianity under colonialism. However, although there are many Christian converts, ancestral beliefs have not disappeared. Instead, there has been a mixture of traditional beliefs and Christianity. Ancestral spirits are important in Zulu religious life, and offerings and sacrifices are made to the ancestors for protection, good health, and happiness. Ancestral spirits come back to the world in the form of dreams, diseases, and sometimes serpents.
The Tsonga are a diverse people, generally including the Shangaan, Thonga, Tonga, and several smaller ethnic groups. By the 18th Century, most Tsonga were organized into several small and independent chiefdoms in which inheritance by brothers, rather than sons, was a defining feature of the social system, a practice common in many Central African societies but rare among other South African groups. Compared with common western family structures, the traditional social structures of the Tsonga tribes are quite complex.
West Sotho or Tswana
Tswana culture is often distinguished for its complex legal system, involving a hierarchy of courts and mediators, and harsh punishments for those found guilty of crimes. The cattle kraal is central to most traditional Tswana villages and is the focus of life. Tswana believe in voluntary work on behalf of other families, especially during the ploughing and harvesting seasons. This form of voluntary work is known as letsema. The South African government has presently adopted the word letsema to encourage its citizens in volunteerism. Song (pina) and dance (pino) are highly developed forms of artistic expression by Tswana culture.
North Sotho or Pedi
|Northern Sotho or Pedi South African Tribe|
Estimated at 7 million, these Sotho speakers are the second largest African language group in South Africa. Three million Sotho and other closely related groups live outside of South Africa, the majority of whom are in Lesotho.
The Sotho can be subdivided into three groups. The first group is the Northern Sotho also called Pedi and Bapedi. The Pedi society arose out of a confederation of small chiefdoms that had been established sometime before the 17th century in what later became the Northern Province.
The Pedi believe in ancestors and Gods, they believe that through ancestors they can talk to Gods about their needs. They also believe that when the time is right young men and women should go to initiation school. They also reckoned that anyone who violates how things are done concerning culture and their tradition is to be taken away from the village.
The name Xhosa is a generalized term for a diversity of proud clans, the Pondo, Bomvana, Thembu and the Xhosa tribe itself. Red and the orange of ochre were the traditional colors of the Xhosa, Tembu and Bomvana. The first group of early Nguni immigrants to migrate to South Africa consisted of the Xhosa, the Thembu and Pondo.
|Nelson Mandela, Xhosa-speaking Thembu|
Nelson Mandela former President of South Africa was a Xhosa-speaking Thembu person and is perhaps the most well-known Xhosa.
Xhosa culture is rich in tradition, food and sport. Xhosa people have a rich oral history, as walking history books; they preserve ancient stories and traditions. Their inherited custom was passed down through generations. This passing down of oral history through proverbs is one of the most distinctive traits of the Xhosa.
From 800 AD, the Mapungubwe Kingdom emerged, stretching from the Soutpansberg in the south, across the Limpopo River to the Matopos in the north. The Mapungubwe Kingdom declined from 1240, and the centre of power and trade moved north to the Great Zimbabwe Kingdom. A shifting of focus to Zimbabwe's Khami and Rozwi empires followed, but the culture did not come to a standstill. South of the Limpopo Shona-Venda and Venda pottery styles developed in the 14th and 15th Centuries.
Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III, rules the nearly 1.5 million Swazi of Swaziland in South Africa. Music and dance are entrenched in traditional Swazi culture, the Umhlanga or Reed Dance and Incwala are popular traditional ceremonies. There are traditional songs for every occasion: weddings, royal rituals, coming-of-age ceremonies and national festivals. Sibhaca dance is the best known dance. In Swaziland, women, who under traditional Swazi law are treated as children and are in effect owned by their husbands or fathers, are expected to live lives devoted to their men and families.
The Ndebele wall paintings have a strong symbolic value and is closely linked to the home and to the relationship of the person. Women paint on the outside walls and sometimes also on the interior walls with rich geometric patterns learned from childhood. The walls are changed and repainted in particular moments of family life.
The South African Ndebele origins are unknown however their history can be traced back to chief Mafana in the 1600’s. The Ndebele first officially recorded chief, chief Mafana was succeeded by chief Mhlanga. The Ndebele second chief Mhlanga had a son named Musi who decided to leave his homeland. Chief Mhlanga did not name a heir and after his death his two sons argued over the position and the tribe divided into two divisions, the Manala and the Ndzundza.
The Ndebele preserved their distinct cultural identity. South African Ndebele people maintained the use of the isiNdebele language, rituals, customs and art forms as a means of asserting their identity and resistance to outsiders.