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Who are the Tsonga people?

December 7, 2018 7:17 am

The Tsonga people are a Bantu ethnic group native mainly to northern South Africa, southern Mozambique, southern Zimbabwe and Swaziland. They speak Xitsonga, a Southern Bantu language which is closely related to neighbouring Nguni, Basotho, and Vhavenda.

The Tsonga are a varied people, generally including the Shangaan, Thonga, Tonga, and several smaller ethnic groups. Together they numbered about 2 million people in South Africa, with some 4.5 million individuals in southern Mozambique, southern Zimbabwe and Swaziland.

 

Social and cultural background

Traditionally, the Tsonga lived mainly by fishing for subsistence. A few goats and chickens were raised, and crop cultivation was important. Their tsetse fly-infested coastal lowland habitat made cattle raising an uncommon practice. By the 18th Century, most Tsonga were organised 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.

 

Heritage, tradition and religion

At the height of his power the King Soshangane ruled the impressive Gaza Empire. This empire consisted of what is now south-eastern Zimbabwe – which is where the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve and Singita Pamushana Lodge are situated – as well as the area from the Save River to the southern part of Mozambique.

In traditional Shangaan culture the sangoma, a healer and spiritual guide, is seen to be one of the most important members of the Shangaan tribe. Over the years the sangoma’s medicine gourd, a nhunguvani, has become an accepted symbol of the traditional cultural heritage of the Shangaan.

The Shangaan are now mainly found in southern Mozambique and in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.

 

Music and dance

In the Shangaan-Tsonga tradition, the storyteller is the grandmother or elder woman of the family who is the respected transmitter of the old stories.

With a love for music, the Shangaan-Tsonga people have developed a number of musical instruments. The ‘fayi’ – a small, stubby wooden flute that produces a breathless, raspy, but haunting sound, and is often played by young herd boys. The ‘xitende’, is a long thin bow tied on each end by a taut leather thong or wire – which runs across a gourd. This was often used to alleviate boredom on long journeys. The Shangaan-Tsonga is well known for their mine dances, carried out to the beat of drums and horns and wide variety of musical instruments such as the mbila. Shangaan-Tsonga male dancers performed the muchongolo dance, which celebrated the role of women in society, war victories and ritual ceremonies.

 

To make up just one outfit today, one would need different clothing items;

Nceka/Shawl and Nceka/Headwrap – These are made out of imported cotton fabric with flower patterns that are now used.

Xibelani – This is a knee-length skirt worn by women. It is made by a bolt of cloth about 18-metres from a fabric called salempur.

Yele/Top – There’s also a top called yele but you can wear just any tight fit T-Shirt cover cover your chest unlike before.

Yele/Top – There’s also a top called yele but you can wear just any tight fit T-Shirt cover cover your chest unlike before.

Madeha, Masiha na ti-Queen – These are accessories such as bracelets, ankle-lets and necklaces are also worn.

Flat Sneakers – Traditionally, you’re not supposed to wear shoes however, seeing that times are evolving – women now wear takkies to allow comfortability when dancing.

 

Food

Typical Tsonga indigenous food or dishes include xigugu, tihove( a kind of samp), tshopi, vuswa bya mavele(mealie pap), xigwimbi, vukanyi and matomani (mopani worms). Tihove is a kind of samp made with dried corn kernels, peanuts, ground nuts and beans. It can be eaten alone or as a meal with meat.

 

Author: Gesture Chidhanguro

Who are the Tsonga people? Reviewed by on . The Tsonga people are a Bantu ethnic group native mainly to northern South Africa, southern Mozambique, southern Zimbabwe and Swaziland. They speak Xitsonga, a The Tsonga people are a Bantu ethnic group native mainly to northern South Africa, southern Mozambique, southern Zimbabwe and Swaziland. They speak Xitsonga, a Rating: 0
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