The Xhosa

The Xhosa people are of the Nguni group, in the southernmost part of Africa. There are approximately nine million Xhosa, second only in size to the Zulu nation. The Xhosa people consist of several tribes such as the Mpondos, Mpondomise, Bhaca, Xesibe, Bomvana, Thembu, and the Xhosa proper. But because they all speak the common language of Xhosa (isiXhosa), they are united by being identified as the Xhosa tribe.

Six million Xhosa (amaXhosa) live in the Transkei under the rule of the paramount chief and the regional chiefs, who work closely with the country’s governmental bodies. The tribe is governed by chieftaincies or tribal authorities. Even though the Xhosa homeland is the Transkei, they have been scattered beyond these borders as a consequence of a national disaster that occurred in the mid-1850s.

This disaster was named Nongqawuse, after a young Xhosa girl who was regarded as an amagqirha (prophetess). In 1856, she had a vision of the warriors of old. Their message to her was to tell her people, who were the original Xhosa tribe, that they had to destroy all their cattle and crops, after which fatter herds and better crops would arise from the earth to replenish the losses. The warriors also said that they themselves would arise and help drive the white men back to the sea. The prophecy was not fulfilled and as a result, tens of thousands of Xhosa died. Others fled south across the Great Kei River to the white-owned farms in South Africa to beg for shelter and food.

In spite of this great dispersion, the Xhosa returned to their homeland of the Transkei, where they continue to respect their tribal structure and traditional culture, including their tribal dress and customs. They still have their mystical little water spirits called Tikoloshe, along with their witch doctors and their “lightning bird.”

The Xhosa fundamental spiritual belief is the worship of the spirits of their dead ancestors, whom they fear. Their worship includes feasts in honor of their dead ancestors and the slaughter of animals.

The tribal (non-westernized) Xhosa are largely unreached. Currently, there are no full-time Christian missionaries in the Transkei other than us. The largest cult in our area is the Zion CC. This group believes in the Bible but also still believes in and practices ancestral worship. Not all of the Xhosa maintain a tribal lifestyle. Many have prominent positions in government and commerce. It is noteworthy that Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and the ANC party (which currently rules the government of South Africa) came from the Xhosa tribe.