is the collective name for a major group of Bantu-speaking peoples
belonging to the Negroid racial group of Africa living in the summer?rainfall
areas between the Drakensberg and the Indian Ocean and along a broad
belt from Swaziland through Natal southwards into the Transkei and
Ciskei. The Northern Nguni comprise the Swazi, Zulu, and Ndebele
peoples of the highveld; and the Southern Nguni include the Xhosa,
Thembu, Bomvana, Mpondo and Mpondomise.
Howcroft, P. unpublished South African Encyclopaedia papers.
culture and language
traditional material culture continues to exist, but many changes
have taken place during the last two hundred years that have done
much to alter it. New objects and materials have been introduced,
mechanical transport has brought ease and speed of movement, wild
animals and foods have become scarce, Christian missionaries have
influenced clothing and taught new skills and white government has
promulgated laws which have fundamentally changed the mode of living.
Bearing in mind these accelerating changes, this page concerns their
Nguni language group is divided into the zunda and the tekela sub-groups.
The Zulu and Xhosa are the two largest written languages from the
Zunda group of which a third written language, while Zimbabwean Ndebele
is found in Zimbabwe. Under the tekela sub-group fall Swazi (siSwati),
Northern Transvaal Ndebele (siNdebele), and the Bhaca of the Transkei;
the difference between the two groups rests, among other things,
on the use of the 'z' sound by the Zunda, and the use
of the 't' sound in its stead by the Tekela, e.g. Zulu
izimbuzi, but Swazi timbuti (goats). Xhosa is the written language
of the southern Nguni of the Transkei and Ciskei. Zulu is the written
language of the Northern Nguni of KwaZulu-Natal, the eastern Free
State and southern Gauteng and southern Mpumalanga provinces. The
Manala and Ndzundza Ndebele speak a Zunda dialect that is also influenced
by Northern Sotho. The Nguni languages contain characteristic 'click
sounds'. Their hlonipha (respect) terms, especially, contain many
clicks signifying derivation from intermarriage with San and Khoi
they are nomadic herders and farmers, who originally lived in scattered
homesteads comprising two to forty beehive huts. Each homestead was
occupied by a man and his wives, unmarried daughters, his sons and
their families, as well as others who attached themselves to their
households. Most of the people in a particular area were descended
from one common ancestor and regarded themselves as a clan. These
loose communities of kinsmen formed a village under the leadership
of a headman. A number of villages formed a chiefdom under an independent
chief or, if it was a large area, it was subdivided under subordinate
chieftains. The influence of each chief depended on his strength
of personality, his system of justice and the number of his supporters.
the individual homestead of plastered cylinder and cone rondavel
huts is characteristic of the dwellings found in rural areas throughout
the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Swaziland. Beehive huts are
still used by Xhosa initiates and may still be seen among the Ngwane
and Swazi, who also favour ornamental reed fences to shelter the
front door. Traditionally, the huts were situated on a slope, facing
the rising sun, with the chief hut at the highest point. Huts were
arranged in a semi-circle or in a circle round the cattle kraal usually
fenced with brushwood, stone, aloes or sisal plants. The circular
hearth was centrally placed. In the past, huts were very simply furnished
with rolled reed sleeping mats, carved wooden headrests and possibly,
a wooden stool for the headman. The meeting place of the men (inkundla)
was between the main hut and the gate of the cattle kraal. The main
granary was a pit under the cattle kraal. Baskets and platforms were
also used. In rural areas all or some of these aspects of traditional
culture may still be seen.
possession of cattle still gives social status and they have innumerable
terms for their cattle that they love. Apart from wealth, cattle
fulfill a multiplicity of functions. Milk is used for the making
of dairy products. Beef is occasionally eaten. Oxen are used as draught
animals. Their hides are used for thongs, shields and articles of
clothing. Beasts are used as payment of fines or as payment of bride?price
(lobola). Cattle dung is used for fuel and as a binding agent for
plastering walls and floors. Cattle are used extensively in important
rituals and ceremonies. Traditionally, quality in cattle was less
important than quantity, for owning many beasts was the symbol of
wealth and status. They admired colour, markings and the shape of
the horns more than the quantity of milk produced. As they had scant
knowledge about cattle diseases, in times of cattle epidemics the
Nguni relied on magic and ritual. Goats are also valued, but are
less important mediums of exchange and usually fulfill the needs
of common rituals and ceremonies. Their meat and milk is relished
and their skins are made into clothing. Fowls are commonly kept.
Pigs were a later introduction. In former times, the Cape Nguni and
the Zulu did not eat fish.
Transport was mainly on foot. Women can still be seen carrying heavy loads
upon their heads. In early times, men rode oxen and later they used triangular
sledges drawn by oxen. These may still be seen in the more isolated rural areas.
After their introduction, horses were used increasingly for riding where horse-sickness
was not a problem. Donkeys have become increasingly useful pack animals.
the land belonged to the clan as a whole. The chief administered
it and his headmen allocated it for individuals to use. Chiefs or
headmen with their councillors allocated each man a residential plot
and land for cultivation. If land was plentiful, a common grazing
area was used. Most lands were some distance from the homestead,
although most also kept vegetable gardens nearby as well. The Nguni
originally used a wooden hoe but they now use iron hoes.
maize, pumpkins, gourds, beans, sweet potatoes and beans are widely
grown and are the principal forms of subsistence. Though modern practices
have wrought many changes in agricultural practice, to prevent harm
from supernatural causes, magic and ceremonies are sometimes performed,
when the ancestors are invoked to ensure rains and good crops.
staple diet is maize, stamped or ground and sifted in a shallow basket.
Food from the veld formed a high proportion of the general food supply
in former times, but with overgrazing, this is no longer so plentiful.
Food was cooked out of doors or in the centre of the hut. European
traders introduced the three-legged iron cooking pot, which is now
universally used. The Nguni used to serve porridge on woven mats,
and meat in wooden dishes, but today manufactured crockery is commonly
used. They still enjoy drinking sour milk and make nutritious sorghum
former times, clothing was made of skin, but today cotton and woollen
blankets have taken over. In rural areas, occasionally some skin
clothing is worn, especially for ceremonial occasions. Traditional
clothing for women is a short, fringed, beaded apron of skin or cloth,
a skirt, a cloak or wrap, and sometimes a breast covering. The shape
of the skirt varies. The Zulu skirt is flared and full. The Xhosa,
and Bhaca allow the small apron to show in front. The cloak is often
widely flared and voluminous.
missionaries began working among the Nguni, cloth replaced traditional
materials and new styles developed, often influenced by nineteenth
century missionary dress. In former times, Southern Nguni men wore
a penis-sheath only; later a skin apron was added. Northern Nguni
men wore a skin apron back and front, and a kilt of animal tails.
Styles varied according to clan, age and status. Women wore their
hair in different styles, some very elaborate. Warriors wore special
head-dresses made out of crane feathers and loerie feathers. In a
society where age was respected, the achievement of the isicoco,
or head-ring was a status symbol. Diviners and herbalists adapted
different costumes that varied from one locality to another. Cape
Nguni initiates still wear reed costumes to hide their identity.
The leopard skin cloak is still the mark of royalty.
Xhosa, Thembu and other Cape Nguni groups use cosmetics such as fat,
red ochre, soot, washing blue, and white clay for facial decoration.
Cape Nguni boy initiates still paint themselves with white clay.
Swazi men of the traditional chiefdoms still use aloe leaf and ash
or soap to bleach their hair. (Detailed descriptions of customs,
dress and adornment are included in the separate entries, e.g. Xhosa.)
most important part of their religious belief was, and among many
still is, the ancestor cult. However, it is a mistake to say they
worship their ancestors. They believe in a Creator, one who is impersonal,
and they believe that the ancestors are spirits who take a lively
interest in their lives and are able to influence events. They therefore
make propitiatory offerings at all the important times during the
life cycle -- birth, initiation marriage, death -- and
at certain seasons; for war or rain-making; or if misfortune strikes.
the Nguni are vocalists and instrumentalists who favour rattles,
reed flutes, whistles and horns. Apparently, they did not originally
have drums, although they are widely used today. It is hard to understand
their music if divorced from its close accompaniment, dance.
is the work of women; skin and leather working is the craft of men.
Basketry (weaving and sewing) is still very widely used for a variety
of needs such as mat weaving, strainers, hut walls, sledges and personal
ornaments. Woodcarving was not as well developed as that found in
Central, West, and East Africa, but many craftsmen and women in Southern
Africa today make pots, bowls, and sculptural pieces to sell to tourists.
Women still make beadwork.
the past, poor people could attach themselves to a headman or chief.
In return for services such as herding, building or fencing, a poor
man would be given some calves in order to build up his own herds
and thus improve his lot. Old and sick people were traditionally
cared for by kinsmen or the clan.
their history could be recorded, the Mfecane occurred. (The North
Sotho call this Difaqane, and the South Sotho, who pronounce 'L' as 'D' write
it as Lifaqane.) It was a period of widespread bloodshed and famine.
The aged, the repositories of oral history, were obliterated and
with their deaths, traditions and culture of the period before the
1820s vanished. The rise of Zulu power in the 1820s created the Zulu-speaking
Mfengu in the Cape, the Ngoni in Mozambique, the Transvaal Ndebele
and the Ndebele nation of Zimbabwe.
Mpondo and other related Cape groups
southernmost Nguni occupied the Transkei and Ciskei for centuries
before the immigrant Mfengu, Bhaca, and other refugees arrived. In
the east and north-east, the Xhosa chiefdoms include Thembu and Bomvana,
among others. In the east towards the coast, live the Mpondo and
Mpondomise. Xhosa-speakers today form 31.5% of the Nguni language
and other Cape immigrants. With Shaka's rise to power, many groups
fled across the Mzimkhulu River southwards. These included the Hlubi
from Lesotho. Some refugees later returned. In 1835, some 16,000
Mfengu entered the Cape and were settled by Governor Benjamin D'Urban
in the Peddie district. The governor looked to them for labour and
for military support against the warring Xhosa chiefs. They were
industrious and tended to settle around the Methodist missions where
they became Christians and were trained in agriculture and other
skills. By 1890, many had become diversified progressive commercial
farmers who lived in western style brick houses furnished in the
into the Eastern Cape
Bhaca and Wushe Zulu-speaking tribes settled in the Mount Frere area
and in the Ixopo, Harding and Bulwer districts of southern KwaZulu-Natal.
The Xesibe settled around Mount Ayliff.
Zulu is the name (isibongo) of only one clan. But since the mighty
upheavals that began in about 1815 with the rise of Shaka, many groups
fled in all directions. The rule of Zulu kings created uniformity
of custom and isiZulu became a widely used language. With the waning
of Zulu power and the beginning of European colonization in southern
Africa, some surviving fugitives managed to collect their clans together
again, while others were absorbed or vanished. Today, well over 300
hundred Zulu-speaking chiefdoms exist whose populations range from
as little as one hundred to as many as 50,000. They form 29.0 of
the Nguni group.
Ndebele of the highveld
a fall into disfavour, Shaka's ambitious warrior, Mzilikazi, trekked
with his followers from Zululand. Moving north and north-west over
the highveld, they destroyed or absorbed the weaker clans in their
path, settling first near Pretoria, then at Zeerust. As he pillaged
the Sotho villages, he rounded up the strong men and women, turning
the men into army recruits and the women into concubines for his
warriors. He crossed the Limpopo and established himself as ruler
of the powerful Matabele tribe. White civilization later caused the
collapse of Ndebele power but their language and culture survived.
Today the southern and northern Ndebele of South Africa speak different
dialects. The Northern Ndebele were originally Nguni, but today they
are more like the Sotho (Tswana) because they considerably influence
them. They live around Potgietersrust, in the Hammanskraal district,
and along the Botswana border where they have adapted the Tswana
language and culture. The Northern Ndebele comprise 0.6% of the Nguni
group. The Southern Ndebele have clung to their customs and language.
The senior chiefdom of the Southern Ndebele is the Manala group;
the junior chiefdom is the Ndzundza (Mapoch). The Southern Ndebele
trace their descent from Chief Msi who lived near Pretoria. They
form 1.9 % of the Nguni group.
Mzilikazi, two other outstanding military commanders left Zululand
to escape impending destruction by Shaka. Shoshangane led his followers
away in 1820-21 and founded Gazaland in Mozambique. He conquered
the Tsonga and took the forts at Delagoa Bay and Inhambane. The survivors
were absorbed and became known as 'Shanganes' (amaChangane). Shoshangane
died in 1856. The Portuguese conquered his son, Mzila. His descendants,
the Shangane-Tsonga, migrated into the Bushbuckridge area of the
lowveld bordering the Kruger National Park and many today live in
the Northern Province, in Mpumalanga, and in Swaziland. Zwangendaba
and Shoshangane clashed, causing Zwangendaba to trek north to Lake
Malawi. Their descendants still speak a Zulu dialect.
was occupied by Sotho-speakers until Shaka's depredations caused
the Nguni migrations. In about the 1820s the 'Swazi' people became
more unified with the rise of Chief Sobhuza I. The Swazi were not
seriously affected by Shaka's attacks. Mswati (c. 1840-75) drove
out the smaller and weaker Sotho clans and incorporated the remainder.
He placated the Zulu while conducting his own campaigns to the north.
The Boers and the Swazi established friendly relations until 1894
when a power struggle over Swaziland developed between the Boers
and the British. After the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, Swaziland
became a British protectorate. The Swazi have never been subjugated
by a foreign power and have retained their nationhood, despite European
influence in Southern Africa. Some Zulu influence is felt in southern
Swaziland. Southern Swazi clans speak the Tekeza (Thsefula) dialect
and follow those customs. Many Swazis live outside the borders of
Swaziland. The Swazi form 3% of the Nguni group.
Howcroft, P. unpublished South African Encyclopaedia papers.