The Tsonga culture is owned by one of Africa's most vibrant ethnical groups to have ever inhabited the South of Africa. The Tsonga people are a Bantu speaking ethnic group that is also widely referred to as Xitsonga. This colorful ethnic group mainly resides in the Southern part of Africa as a continent. The Xitsonga people have their native and current roots to the country of South Africa and the southern region of Mozambique.
The Tsonga people are known for their colorful traditional clothes that have inspired numerous South Africa urban wedding designs. Apart from that, they are known for their energetic rhythm music, dance styles, delicacies, among other interesting cultural facts. Take a walk with us as we explore the various Vatsonga rich cultural practices that have been recorded from the past until now.
Apart from South Africa, the Tsonga people also live in the African countries of Swaziland and Zimbabwe. In terms of history, it is essential to note that Tsonga people from South Africa share the same historical background and culture with the Vatsonga people found in southern Mozambique. On the contrary, South Africa Xitsonga people differ from the Zambia and Zimbabwe Tonga people in terms of cultural differences and linguistic pronunciations.
History of Tsonga people
Central and West Africa happen to be the primary origin of the Tsonga people. Their migration routes and activities date back to the 200 and 500 AD. Concerning South Africa, the Xitsonga ethnical community made the Transvaal Province as their final settlement after moving from their previous coastal plains inhabitants in Southern Mozambique.
The first record of Xitsonga people settlement in South Africa dates back to the 1300s. This is recorded in the book titled "The Life of the South African Tribe" in 1912 and 1927. According to the 1977 "Matim ya Vatsonga 1498 – 1650", the books confirm the existence of the Tsonga people that formed kingdoms as their leadership units. Henri Philipe Junod wrote both books.
One of the rights provided for by the Constitution of South Africa is the identification right based on one's tribe or the cultural dialect. The Vatsonga names are shared among the people of South Africa, and the Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland who share a similar Vatsonga culture. Some of the common Xitsonga names of the cultural group include Tswa, Tonga, Chopi, Rhonga, among others. These cultural groups share the same heritage and history, similar to the Soth African existing groups.
The people of Tsonga are known for speaking the Bantu language known as Xisonga language. As one of the common and widely spoken languages, Xisonga is renowned as one of South Africa's official languages. The language history is based in the 1500s where it went through numerous linguistic alterations and developments.
According to the historical documentation by Henri Junod, Xisonga language is recorded to have originated from the then native language known as "Thonga." Missionary efforts are considered to be the significant factors that led to the study and development of the word. The missionaries learned the language so that they could easily communicate with the natives in the Southern parts of Africa. A good example is Paul Berthoud and his colleague Ernest Creux (Swiss Missionaries) who managed to come up with a Xitsonga hymn in the missionary-colonial period of 1878. Paul later went ahead to publish his first book in the language in the year 1883.
Africa ethnic groups are internationally known for their rich musical ethnic heritage. Concerning the Xitsonga music history, its production is based on three conventional musical instruments subdivided into three primary musical instruments. These include:
- Stringed Instruments
- Wind instruments
- Percussion instruments
Stringed instrument happens to be the critical ingredient in Vatsonga music production. Some of the essential instruments range from the Xizambi, Xitendxe, the Mgangala, and the Xipendana. When it comes to the wind instruments, the tribe boast of the Xitiringo, Nangna, and the Mhalamhala, which is an antelope trumpet. With the first ever recorded Tsonga music dating back to the 1920s, its music is considered as the most influential genre in South Africa as it has grown to incorporate new production equipment and instruments.
About the percussion cultural instruments, the musical tribe depends on the tambourines and the drums to achieve that high-tempo beat South African taste. The "Tsomane" is one of the commonly used tambourines like musical instruments. Local healers widely use it during their ritual healing practices. On the other hand, their drums range from ndzumba and xigubu. These two are majorly used mainly in the traditional initiation ceremonies. A unique drum known as "ngoma" is also widely used in various festival occasions to entertain guests.
Xibelani dance is a lively and movement filled Tsonga dance. With its origin from the Xitsonga language, its English direct translation meaning is "hitting to the rhythm." The dance involves the women wearing Tsonga traditional clothes known as Tinguvu. Vatsonga culture clothing utilizes alterations that enhance the waist and body movements. The Xibelani skirts are made from different materials that range from wool, grass, and even strings. The colorful skirts are a common phenomenon among most black cultures and resemble the Caribbean colors.
Tsonga traditional clothes originated from the coastal Mozambique dance style in the period of the 1400s and mostly involved wooden music instruments. By looking at the various videos of the song and dancers, you will notice that the Xilbelandi dance style involves both vigorous body movements accompanied by percussion music, clapping sounds, and the usage of whistles. The women are mostly engaged in singing and dancing as the men play the role of playing the musical instruments. Currently, the dance is performed by most orchestra bands where the dancers have to wear the Xitsonga traditional attire.
Did you know that the Xitsonga are known to eat termites as one of their cultural delicacies? Termites are a great source of protein, and the way they are prepared will have you salivating in no time. Other delicacies include the xigugu that is popular among the Vatsonga Shangaan language speaking Bantu. The dish is based on the corn and peanuts ingredients that are roasted and crushed to come up with very wholesome and sweet food.
Others include Tihove, tshopi, and vuswa. Apart from termites, Vatsonga people also eat worms. Specifically, the Mopani worms that are fried for an excellent indigenous taste.
Tsonga culture clothing
In most cultural celebrations and dance festivals to celebrate the Tsonga tradition, both men and women do wear different cultural attires that have different and unique meanings to the people. For example, the men tend to wear traditional attires made from different animals skin and hide while the women wear Xibelani skirts accompanied by beads and other colorful details that complement the dance movements by shaking.
Tsonga traditional dresses
According to the Shangazine magazine article of 20th April 2018, The Xitonga people are known for their colorful passion over the years. This is evident in the people's decorations, artefacts, and even the clothing and fashion details. The Xitsonga are also known for their colourful Xitsonga dresses and other body ornaments. These include the bright head wrap known as "duku," wooden legs, and hand bracelets called "deha" necklace beads(vuhlalu).
Tsonga traditional wedding dresses
Are you planning a wedding? Or are you a fashion designer based in South Africa/ the Vatsonga traditional wedding dresses are an accurate depiction of the elegance of a real African woman. Given the multi colors of the Tsonga people, you have the option of coming up with differently themed wedding dresses and a combination of perfect color blocking ideas. The dresses are mainly fashioned in the "Duke Back' design for that South African traditional heritage touch.
Tsonga culture is a perfect example of South Africa's rich history and cultural heritage. From its Xitsonga language to its colorful xibelani cultural clothes, and beautiful music and dances, Xitsonga is a people of great interest. Their traditional cuisine, dress code, and music have much inspired the current South African ways of life from fashion to the entertainment industries.
READ ALSO: 20 Xhosa traditional attire for men