SINGAMAXHOSA
WE ARE XHOSA.

ABOUT XHOSA

South Africa has seven, officially recognized, traditional kingdoms, three of them situated in the Eastern Cape Province: the kingdoms of the Xhosa, the Thembu and the Mpondo. In all three, Xhosa is the official language – which is closely related to Zulu. There are no major cultural differences between the two population groups. As far as language is concerned, Xhosa distinguishes itself mainly from Zulu by the extensive use of click sounds by the former. These sounds were adopted from the Khoisan, the indigenous people of South Africa the Xhosa interacted with, as was not, or hardly, the case with the Zulu.

The Xhosa – because of their penchant for red also called the “red blanket people” – have lived at the rugged eastern coast of South Africa since, at least, the 16th century. Reports of European sailors who were shipwrecked on this Wild Coast specifically mention the hospitality and helpfulness of the Xhosa. Some of them chose not to be “rescued” by their countrymen but stayed amongst the Xhosa. However, after 1779, that tradition of benevolence towards strangers disappeared after the outbreak of the first (of a series of nine) “Cape Frontier Wars” with white settlers (cattle farmers) heading north, always searching for new pastures. In 1879 – after a full hundred years – the wars finally ended.

About that time, the first Xhosa newspaper appeared, Indaba (“News”). Tiyo Soga, trained in Scotland as a Presbyterian minister, considered this to be an excellent opportunity to preserve the Xhosa culture and traditions for posterity. In an extensive statement written for Indaba, he made clear that

Everything must be imparted to the nation as a whole. What was history or legend should be recounted. What has been preserved as tradition should be retold.

Tiyo Soga’s dream has come true. Today, old myths, legends, and customs are still passed on from generation to generation. They manifest themselves in special dances and chants performed at harvest festivals, for the benefit of couples who cannot have children, and during rites of passage where young men are shaped into adulthood. A man still has to pay his parents-in-law lobola (a dowry) for his bride. In the countryside, people still wear colourful beaded necklaces; men and women still smoke tobacco from traditional pipes made of acacia wood or clay. And, last but not least, an imbongi (“praise singer”) still performs at important public events.

The newspaper Indaba no longer exists, and its successors were short-lived. However, since 2015 the weekly I’solezwe lesiXhosa (“The Eye of the Nation – that sees across the river”) has been published. It has over 30.000 subscribers, particularly in the Western and Eastern Cape Province.

The Xhosa have a long tradition of fighting racial segregation and discrimination. It is, therefore, not surprising that they played a substantial role in the anti-apartheid struggle in the 20th century. ANC leader Oliver Tambo (Mpondo), President Nelson Mandela (Thembu), and ANC deputy president Walter Sisulu were all native Xhosa speakers.

© 2022. Bos Theaterproducties, Amsterdam.



SINGAMAXHOSA
WE ARE XHOSA.

ABOUT XHOSA

South Africa has seven, officially recognized, traditional kingdoms, three of them situated in the Eastern Cape Province: the kingdoms of the Xhosa, the Thembu and the Mpondo. In all three, Xhosa is the official language – which is closely related to Zulu. There are no major cultural differences between the two population groups. As far as language is concerned, Xhosa distinguishes itself mainly from Zulu by the extensive use of click sounds by the former. These sounds were adopted from the Khoisan, the indigenous people of South Africa the Xhosa interacted with, as was not, or hardly, the case with the Zulu.

The Xhosa – because of their penchant for red also called the “red blanket people” – have lived at the rugged eastern coast of South Africa since, at least, the 16th century. Reports of European sailors who were shipwrecked on this Wild Coast specifically mention the hospitality and helpfulness of the Xhosa. Some of them chose not to be “rescued” by their countrymen but stayed amongst the Xhosa. However, after 1779, that tradition of benevolence towards strangers disappeared after the outbreak of the first (of a series of nine) “Cape Frontier Wars” with white settlers (cattle farmers) heading north, always searching for new pastures. In 1879 – after a full hundred years – the wars finally ended.

About that time, the first Xhosa newspaper appeared, Indaba (“News”). Tiyo Soga, trained in Scotland as a Presbyterian minister, considered this to be an excellent opportunity to preserve the Xhosa culture and traditions for posterity. In an extensive statement written for Indaba, he made clear that

Everything must be imparted to the nation as a whole. What was history or legend should be recounted. What has been preserved as tradition should be retold.

Tiyo Soga’s dream has come true. Today, old myths, legends, and customs are still passed on from generation to generation. They manifest themselves in special dances and chants performed at harvest festivals, for the benefit of couples who cannot have children, and during rites of passage where young men are shaped into adulthood. A man still has to pay his parents-in-law lobola (a dowry) for his bride. In the countryside, people still wear colourful beaded necklaces; men and women still smoke tobacco from traditional pipes made of acacia wood or clay. And, last but not least, an imbongi (“praise singer”) still performs at important public events.

The newspaper Indaba no longer exists, and its successors were short-lived. However, since 2015 the weekly I’solezwe lesiXhosa (“The Eye of the Nation – that sees across the river”) has been published. It has over 30.000 subscribers, particularly in the Western and Eastern Cape Province.

The Xhosa have a long tradition of fighting racial segregation and discrimination. It is, therefore, not surprising that they played a substantial role in the anti-apartheid struggle in the 20th century. ANC leader Oliver Tambo (Mpondo), President Nelson Mandela (Thembu), and ANC deputy president Walter Sisulu were all native Xhosa speakers.

© 2022. Bos Theaterproducties, Amsterdam.