Xhosa History

Now - prepare yourself for the occasional typo, rushed english and even cultural and historical surprises. Yes even some of the stuff written here might not be 100% accurate! You must understand that the Xhosa people are a very secretive and `closed` off community. As they should be. And understandably so, as they have been tossed around, conquered and killed ever since ancient times up until very recent times. Bearing this in mind, some of the information below might not be 100% correct from a Xhosa perspective or traditional historical point of view for that matter. Although this will be 100% more accurate than much of the information available on the subject online today. Enjoy :)

XHOSA (KOH-suh) is a language spoken in South-Africa (eastern and urban areas), by roughly 6 million people. A People, Bantus who are said to have traditional beliefs. This can be interpreted as a firm belief in a supreme being uThixo or uQamata), or as this blog will ascertain, some claim ro worship NiNi. The Creator of all things we find in Nature, the Heavens and the One responsible for putting the very breath in our mouths.



The word Xhosa itself, refers to a people (and language) in South-Africa again divided into a number of different subgroups with their own distinct (but related heritages and traditions, from Old Testament times in Israel (South-Africa). There are other subgroups, like Bhaca, Bomvana, Mfengu, Mpondo, Mpondomise, Xesibe and Thembu. This little article will be focusing on Xhosa, both culture, language and history.

You see, way before the Europeans, the arrival of the Dutch Boers in the 1650s, the Xhosa was settled in the southeastern areas of South-Africa. If you consider books like Forgotten World (2014) by Peter Delius (also Maggs & Schoeman), it becomes embarrassingly apparent that these ancient areas were already and had for a long time been settled - and mind you, they where also a civilised and a technologically advanced society. No, I am not talking ufos, annunaki or Atlantis, no made up `science fiction` technology. Just a great deal more knowledge about Nature and how perfect it. To put it simply - how to grow great crops! It becomes very obvious they had things like irrigation (and agriculture) pretty much sorted out and damn near perfected, a feat undertaken long before roman aqueducts or other landscapers eyesores... But just think about it, they (ancient people of Africa) MUST have had some levels of understanding, how else then would the hanging gardens of Babylon even have worked? This is known now throughout history as an agricultural and scientific wonder. Though they still argue where it was located, the Babylonians where experts in moving water from down below and up to the plants themselves. A technical marvel. As I said, people where much more efficient and conscious about their environment in ancient times. Imitating, rather than destroying the Nature around them. Still we are lead to believe that the San people, nomads and hunter gatherer, are all that ever inhabited these, South-Africa - one of the more (if not the most) biologically diverse and lush placed on the world... Not likely !

Think about it, people have been fighting over land and minerals for thousands of years, to think no one would go to war over lands such as these is utter folly... And that the San and Khoi lived there many years relatively undiscovered, is not particularly likely. The things is that there cetainly was war for many many years, and guess what - its all chronicled in the Bible. The area called ISRAEL was not in the Middle-east or ancient Persia (as I call it) ... An article in itself, another complex though just as interesting story.

Anyways, I rable. And you probably say - have any proof for all this rable? Well, not to much... other than the ever changing places and names in the historical books in the Bible. And good eyes to see that the world has gone very wrong and isn´t exactly becoming a better place. However, in trying to collect mere shreds of evidence, some geographical locations are still intact in South-Africa even to this day. A returning point, although most of Benjamins cities, discussed in Samuel, can easily be found on the KwaZulu coast (North & South). One of the best preserved names of one of the most ancient of towns is Cape Town (or Capernahum). Se my article on that city.

In moving on, we see that the mysterious Stone Circles, discussed in Forgotten World (2014) seems to provide if only a small window into some of the forgotten events unfolding not to many years ago. Though the book does pose more questions than answers, we could examine some of the finer points below the majestic Xhosa in traditional apparel. Wearing a traditional (and biblical) overgarment of cloth, though no ashes... ;) the term sackcloth and ashes is another cultural mark of Xhosa tradition, and along with circumcision strongly links them to the seed of Abraham.

1. The Bakoni


Oral traditions of the some of the traits of our `lost culture in question` (Israelites, Bantus, the real first peoples), may have some trace marks in the people named by some `The Bakoni`. With the areas that very much stands out has been referred to as an `island of agricultural intensification`, a likely place for export of cattle and grains in return for perhaps metals (such as hoes). The book does concentrate on the Bakonis exports of metals (perhaps some lingerings of the great mines and accomplishments Solomons?) then gives accounts from the European missionaries that reported a variety of metal-working centres even in the 1860s (with tin production to the west of Bokoni). This was seemingly only a remnant of the previously flourishing native metal production in the southern parts of Africa. I could and probably will update this section as there is much more to say about Solomons mines and how vast his ancient network of trade actually was...I believe had would have had carte blanched on almost every single written recorded out there, which filled his libraries, which has survived to this day only through a year collection wise words and proverbs.

The discussion in the book Forgotten World (2014), discusses the interesting topic of large bored stones found and the EVEN more so interesting agricultural terraces, which according to them was a technology adopted from early hunter gatherer culture. Not a very primitive tool, I know. The stones themselves where perhaps not used for digging, and oral history wills it they where used when attached to hoes to make them heavier in order to break up new agricultural ground for cultivation. Quite the feat, years before the tractor-plough, they were making efficient fields of produce..

Once the terraces were constructed the first turning of the soil began hoes without stones could be utilised. This shows signs of a rather advances agricultural technique, but not innovative as it has been used mourned many so-called Megalithic sites all round the world. Still, these are shadow-pictures of some of the landscapes that used to be all over South-Africa (Israel) in its peak and heyday.

There exists numerous rock engravings in the region that display images similar to what can be seen in aerial views today, with different homesteads connected tighter by roads. One would think as society became more and more complex people had to figure out different paths where people and cattle could take.

Beneath is an example of a sculpture, often referred to as African Image (also a clear violation of one of the most central of the 10 commandments, a very `normal`thing in Africa, to bow down to and worship (admire) an image made by human hands - which exists also in this region of Africa. This particular one is called Lydenburg, discovered in the area (province of Mpumalanga) a city know to Xhosas as Mashishing.

It is recorded that by 1830s most of these Bokoni sites where abandoned because of risk of centralised states and the growing warfare in SA lead to relentless raids and uproar. Forgotten World (2014) has it that the Bakoni fled and took refuge in other Kingdoms, where they helped build fortresses and such. Many of the Bacon taught refuge at mission stations, one of these was Botshabelo (Place of Refuge), a center of agricultural production that Forgotten World attribute (essentially) to Bacon refugees and a mic between European and African influences.

Now for the interesting part, which is something that can be discerned also in the difference between the Bokoni, and perhaps even earlier peoples with vast networks of innovative agriculture - and their militaristic and rebellious counterpart, but also lost children of Israel, the Zulus.

Much can be said about the Zulus, though not much can be `historically` proven, in terms of archeological or historical documentation on them actually being a remnant of Israel. Other than European and African sporadic hearsay, there isn`t to much to go on. Their name, meaning Heaven in Xhosa, seems to give some small hints to their convoluted past, though not to much other than oral folktales, the book The Religious system of the Amazulu (1885) by reverend Henry Callaway (1817-90) does its part (conscious or unconscious) to link Zulu-traditions with Old Testament beliefs and down right observance of the Law of Moses. I mean can you even argue with such inherited traits? There is also a link to forms of Hinduism. Much to be said about the finer points of the book, an article is looming. However and back to the sites, like the Bokoni complex, which even today has received no recognition as a world heritage site or is even known by the general public. Neither have the 19th century strongholds and mission stations that have roots in the history of the Bokoni. This should be enough smoke for people to see that there indeed is a great fire. Only it is very very old.

2. Khoi-San & European settlers


Then begins the arrival of the `recorders of all known history`, the white europeans, who started interacting with the local natives who where thought of as nothing more than foraging and pastoral people, the Khoi and the San. The first Europeans first settled in South-Africa in and around Cape Town, the Biblical city of Kapernahum, that we remember was condemned by the Saviour - Msindisi or Amanwele (which literally means to feel Spirit in Xhosa, fitting indeed) in Matthew 11,23.

As the years passed the Europeans off course expanded their initial territory, and this happened at the expense of the Khoi and San, and later Xhosa lands where taken as well. Now war was inevitable, and a series of them raged between the trekkers (Afrikaner-colonists) and Xhosa began in the 1770s. Fast forward after years of unrest, the British came in the 1900s and quickly became the new colonising power, foreigners in control so to speak, directing the entire country from the Cape. And the British made sure of that many Xhosa lost their lives under their armies.

The Christian missionaries did in turn establish the first outpost among the Xhosa in the 1820s, luckily this did not have e successful outcome. After the population had been traumatised by European invasion, severe cases of drought and disease, did a larger amount of Xhosa people convert to Christianity. This did not make them wealthy or help them regain the glory seen in Solomonic times, and they had little choice but to start working in the gold mines (a large percentage of the workers in the mines where Xhosa).

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 the apartheid rule, the South-African government created separate regions described fittingly as BANTUSTANS (homelands) for black people of African recent, and two regions - TRANSKEI and CISKEI - were set aside for Xhosa people. These regimen where then proclaimed independent countries by the apartheid government, and denied South-African citizenship to many of the Xhosas. Thousands of people were forced to relocated to the remote areas of Transkei and Ciskei. These homelands were abolished with the change of democracy in 1994.

3. Xhosa Culture


Looking back in time again, we see that before the arrival of the Europeans in the 1600s, the Xhosas already had laid claims on the Promised Land - as it had been promised to them (Land of Canaan), today know as the eastern parts of South-Africa. The modern region extended from the Fish River to areas inhabited by Zulus south of the modern city Durban. A territory which has well watered hills close by the scenic cost, in contrast with he harsh and dry regions further inland. Xhosas today live in Capernahum (Cape Town), Imonti (East London), and Ibhayi (Port Elizabeth).

When it comes to the language, Xhosas refer to it as isiXhosa, and is a Bantu language closely related to Zulu, Swazi and Ndebele. The language is characteristic by the various respectful forms you can greet elders, in-laws and relatives (as will be exposed in the Xhosa Words posts coming up). The language has a richness in idioms, where you would have a warm hand (isandla esishushu), which means to be generous. Xhosa has words that are sounded by clicking consonants, presumably borrowed from Khoi and or San.

  1. The X is made by the tongue on the side of the teeth (which is reminiscent of something akin to a clicking sound English-speaking horseback rider make to encourage their horse to manoeuvre. English speakers that has not yet mastered this click, will pronounce Xhosa as `Ko-sa`, revealing their shortcomings.

  2. The C click is made by placing the tongue behind the upper front teeth, a sound akin to `tsk tsk` and shaking once head in disapproval.

  3. The last letter with a clicking sound is Q, which is also the most difficult to pronounce. It is made by placing the tounge in the roof of the mouth and sounding it off almost like a tennisball being hit. Not easily explained, but unmistakably recognisable to whomever is listening or speaking Xhosa.

Names in Xhosa, just like the Biblical names used to, express values and or opinions of the community. Both now and back then you would encounter strong names such as:

UmGeresho (remedy), Thamsanqa (good fortune), Nomsa (Mother kindness) or Musa (the real name of Moses, which means Mercy), or modern names such as Thando (Love), Xolani (be in Peace), Vuyani (be happy), Cwenga (purify), Sipiwo (a gift) or quite simply Thembinkosi (trust in the Lord/King)

Adults are often referred to by their isiduko (clan or lineage) names. When it coms to women their clan names are preceded by a prefix meaning `mother of`, which means a mother of the Thembu clan might be clause MamThembu. Women are also named in reference to their children, hence Thembinkosi`s mother, becomes the politer form of NoThembinkosi.

Moving on to folklore, where legends and satires provide accounts of Xhosas ancestral lineages. If you dare go back far enough, you end up with Ntu, the first human being, a singular form of Bantu. Adam was not the name of the first human, his name was Ntu.

The `traditional stories` talks about a man called Xhosa, which are descendants of one ancestor, Tshawe, which again has historian speculating that Xhosa and Tshawe ere the first Xhosa kings or chiefs. Pure speculation off course, though it is somehow accept as facts, as `we don not know to much about their past...`. And they call themselves historians...

When it comes to creative verbal expression, few languages boggles the mind like Xhosas play on words, and double meanings, just like tasty proverbs, the Xhosa language are full of them. Intsomi (folktales) and umzekelizo (proverbs) and isibongo (praise poems) are told often in dramatic and creative ways. The instomi (folktales) have adventures of both animal protagonists and human characters, just like Greek fables, and the praise poems are traditionally related of ancestral heroes or other mighty leaders.

Now, for the interesting part.

Xhosa and religion

The supreme being is named uThixo or Qamata, though some admit the true name of the Almighty as being NiNi. They approach the Almighty through prayers, ancestral intermediaries who make sacrifices through rituals, by Ixhwele (herbalists, inyanga) or a Sangoma (diviner), the latter being more prevalent among Zulus. And this is where it gets ugly, from a Biblical perspective, things can easily be mistaken for witchcraft, a catholic word that describes all form of use of herbs it seems...

Still there are anthropologists and other academics that insist that the supreme being among Xhosas is called uThixo or uQamata. This blog along with many other Xhosas will insist the name being: NiNi.

More scropuols sources will claim that God rarely is involved in everyday Xhosa life - though its culture reflects many of the today considered `tedious` aspects of the Law of Moses, sacrifice, what and what not to eat, what and what not to wear, to mention a few. It has also been claim that they ONLY approach God through ancestral intermediaries who are a honoured through ritual sacrifices, which again only make their wishes know through dreams... How I wish these claims could be substantiated through a Xhosa person... I dont think they can.

When it comes to so-called ritual religious practice, there is much to be said and unraveled. And that is something we will be discussing in the coming years on this blog.

Xhosa observe same holidays as other Bantus in South-Africa, like Christian holidays, Workers Day (May Day), Day of Reconciliation (a Biblical remnant of the dreaded Day of Atonement celebrated annually in the Bible before the Fest of Tabernacles in the Autumn), and also something called Heritage Day (celebrated 24. September).

3. Xhosa Culture


Now, we could and should go into the apartheid ear and the travesties that followed it. Only this deserves its own separate article. Instead we will stick to the Xhosa as a people, and revealing other cultural traits which only they seem to have as a people.

The Rites of Passage, in after giving birth, is a time when the mother is expected to remain secluded in her house for at least ten days. There isn`t a verse that directly commands this expected behaviour in Xhosa tradition, and another strange custom is the burying of the umbilical cord to protect the baby from sorcery. At the end of the isolation/seclusion, a goat is sacrificed (a very Levitical custom), an event that may also be marked my a special dinner and or observance of other traditional rites.

The Male initiation is in the form Circumcision, Silimela (Luka), a direct command to descendants of Abraham. The Abakweta (initials in training), live relatively secluded in special huts, in isolation from villages or towns for weeks. Their heads are shaven, they wear sackcloth and put on ashes (white clay) smear not only on the head, but the whole body. There are numerous so-called Taboos (much like the aestetchis living in Buddhas time) which they are expected to act out to their adult male leaders. There are different stages in this process that are marked by a sacrificing of a goat.

The Female ritual of circumcision is shorter endeavour, only it last a lifetime, where they attend INTONJANE (A girl to be Initiated), is secluded/isolated for a week. A period when there is dancing and ritual sacrifices of various animals, the initiate hides herself from plain sight and has some restrictions of food. THERE IS NO ACTUAL SURGICAL OPERATION ON WOMEN. So calm yourself if you start to make images in your head. They are almost always wrong. Stop it.

When it comes to relationships in general, there is a very important element of showing respect and having good intentions towards others. So when interacting with others, it is crucial to show this respect (ukuhlonipha). Youths are expected to keep quit when elders are speaking, and to lower their eyes when spoken to. Being hospitable is highly valued and people are expected to share with visitors with what they have. Dancing, just like in the Old Testament, is a way of telling both a story and conveying/displaying feelings (David danced wearing something akin to a pair of trouser - before NiNi, at one point 2. Samuel 6). So this then has survived among the Xhosa until this day, and a girlfriend or boyfriend os often found by attending dances like UMTSHOTSHO (or Intlombe), an event that could last all night. And under some certain conditions unmarried lovers can be allowed to sleep tighter provided they consent to certain restraints. There is actually a form of external intercourse called ukumetshawas, another interesting topic. Though westernisation has also taken place among th Xhosa, and romances nowadays probably being at school, church or through mutual acquaintances. But everyone should know that concepts like dating, which essentially promotes harlotry, is a strict western practise not well understood among native tribes.

When it comes down to living conditions, especially during early periods of white rule in South-Africa, the Xhosa communities where severely neglected. As recent history has it the rural areas were deliberate impoverished to encourage Xhosas to seek wage labour employment. There where attempts from the government to address some strange and rather major health concerns in Xhosa rural areas. These attempts where indeed short lived. Ae the rural population of Xhosas expanded through natural increase and some forced moving, the lands became (as they where used to travel to another place in their own lands, when they became to many or resources where used up) both overcrowded and depleted (eroded). Towards the 20th century men and women migrated to small shantytowns (towns made of huts), where poverty and ill health still are widespread, in rural and urban communities. There has been attempts from the government to offer health and nutritional aid to the suffering black population. The difference between the poor and the rich is striking when first experienced.

Like the Patriarchs of Old, the traditional Xhosa family has men as the heads of the household, where women and children are expected to defer to men`s authority. Polygynous marriage (more than one wife) occurred where the husband had the means to pay lobule (bride`s wealth) and to insure that the wife was maintained properly. Not to be read out of context. Women were expected to leave their families and go to live with their husband`s family. This close relationship with the family has been put under great pressure due to the migrant labour system, which has lead some to establish two distinct families, one at the workplace and one at the rural home.

When thinking about the Bibles mentioning of clothing, terms like sackcloth and undergarments, it becomes apparent that before the missionaries arrival introduced pants (like the Bermuda) - the Xhosas dress with intricately sewn designs of blankets (garments) and even the Tsitsits, tassels they where ordered to have on the edges of their garments. Such an exact hassle was the same one worn at the edges of the Saviours robe which the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years touched when she came up from behind him (Matthew 9,20, Luke 8,44). They also make shawls and or capes, often used (custom from the New Testament) by women to cover their hair, scarf or hat can also be used.

Traditions regarding food is shared with other peoples in South-Africa, with staple foods such as corn (Maize) and bread, but mutton and goat are popular food items. They drink probiotic milk, often called sour milk, along with Sorghum beer. One food popular identified with Xhosa is umngqusho, a dish that combines corn with beans and local spices. Eggs are avoided, and were considered taboo for women, an recently married wife as mentioned before had to abstain from retrains meats. Also men where not suppose to drink milk in any village where they might take a wife in the future.

When it comes to music, Xhosa places a strong emphasis on group singing, just like the ancient performance of the Psalms, had the accompaniment of drums and handclaps, and off course dancing. Variations of drum like (percussion) instruments like rattles, whistles, flutes, mount harps and stringed instruments (lyre), constructed with a bow and resonator - where also used.

Xhosas use their hands and make alkyds of crafty handiwork, such as headwork, sewing, pottery making, house decor, weaving, etc. Their garments (clothes) at least before Europeans arrived, was off course all hand made. Intricate patterns found in the ceremonial clothing i often elaborately decorated with fine embroidery and beautifully intricate geometric (psychedelics) designs.

Social problems in Xhosa culture can very easily be traced back to (directly or indirectly) apartheid past. Issues like high rates off poverty, broken families, malnutrition and down right crime. Aforementioned probably has something to do with the competition for the now scarce resources, which has also led to conflicts with other ethnic (African) groups in South-Africa. Divisions exist also among Xhosa communities, that may lead to further tensions in the future. Although Scripture tells us otherwise, as the Xhosa will `take over the Kwazulu coast, in due time.


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.

Uxolo lube nani