South Africa is commonly known as the rainbow nation because its people have diverse cultures and traditions. The Ndebele people are known for their colourful patterns, clothes, and houses. Their language is one of the 11 official languages of South Africa. The Ndebele culture is closely related to those of the Zulu and Xhosa people.
What is the Ndebele culture? It is the customs and traditions of this community that define it. These people generally reside in parts of Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. What are the Ndebele known for? They are known for their patriarchal system and polygamy. Ndebele culture and customs also involve the use of traditional medicine.
The community traces its origins to the broader Bantu community. Mafana was the community’s first known chief. He was succeeded by Mhlanga who had a son named Musi. In the 1600s, Musi moved to the hills of Gauteng where the community settled.
After Musi died, his two sons fought for the chief’s seat. The community split into two groups after the fight. The Manala group remained in the north while the Ndzundza moved to the east and south. Today, the community makes about 2% of the total population.
What language do Ndebele speak? The Ndebele culture language is known as isiNdebele. The language has two dialects, which are the Nrebele (Northern) and the southern Transvaal Ndebele. It is one of the 11 official languages in the country.
The two dialects have a few differences in their language and culture. Those from the north are mainly from the BagaSeleka and BagaLanga tribes. They adopted their traditions and customs from the neighbouring Sotho community.
Ndebele culture food
What do Ndebele culture eat? Corn is the staple food in this community. Maize cereals, which are known as isitshwala, are a favourite. Corn and sorghum milk are commonly consumed. They also grow and consume a variety of food crops, fruits and vegetables. The community also rears cattle for milk that is used to prepare foods such as isathiyane, which is porridge with fresh milk.
Ndebele culture clothing
The Ndebele traditional attire is colourful. The ladies wear different ornaments to symbolise their status. Married women typically have more spectacular clothes. In ancient times, the Ndebele traditional wedding dresses were complemented with copper and brass rings, idzila, that were worn around the neck, arms and legs. A woman removed them only after the death of her spouse.
Ndebele clothing for women also included neck hoops and isigolwani, which were made from grass. The hoops were mainly worn during the Ndebele traditional festivals. The ijogolo, an important Ndebele attire, was a five-fingered apron that married women wore to after giving birth to their first child.
Every married woman wore a head covering that symbolised the respect she had for her husband. Boys typically ran around naked, but girls wore beaded skirts from a young age. During ceremonies, men wore ornaments that were made by their wives.
The houses in this community are colourful. When the Boers first invaded their territory at the beginning of the 20th century and forced them to lead oppressive lifestyles, the people started communicating via expressive symbols. They painted their houses to express their cultural resistance. The Boers thought that houses were painted for decoration, so they did not prohibit it.
Traditionally, only natural pigments were used. They included monochrome colours such as black, limestone whitewash and brown. Later, acrylic pigments were used. The style of house painting is typically passed down across generations. A house that is well painted symbolises that there is a good wife and mother who lives therein. The women paint the houses, both inside and outside.
The people in this community have particular patterns and geometric shapes that they employ in their art and paintings. The Ndebele patterns meanings may vary slightly from one family to another. Typically, the patterns are outlined with black paint and then filled with a different colour.
Ndebele culture marriage
In this culture, marriages only happened between members of different clans. A man was allowed to marry a lady who came from the same family that his paternal grandmother came from. In the Ndebele traditional wedding customs, the bride was secluded for a fortnight at her parent’s home to protect her from men’s eyes.
After the period of seclusion, she would emerge, covered in a blanket and umbrella. During the wedding, she would receive a blanket and beadwork. The married woman would then move to her husband’s home. She would retain her clan, but all her children would take their father’s clan name.
Ndebele culture dance
The popular dances in this community include Ingquza, Mushongoyo, Amabhiza, and Isitshikitsha. Men performed Muchongoyo before or after a war. They held sticks and shields as they danced. It involved stamping and making dramatic gestures. Isitshikitsha, on the other hand, was performed to please the King or in rainmaking ceremonies. It involved clapping, singing, whistling, and ululation.
The community members believed that spells and curses caused sickness. The strength and reliability of traditional healers depended on their ability to fight the curses and spells. Treatment was typically done using medicines or throwing bones. It was believed that the traditional healers were mediums who could speak with the ancestral spirits. Today, most people from this community are practising Christians.
The Ndebele culture is distinguished by its colourful patterns, clothing, and paintings. The community resides in parts of Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Although people are now becoming modernised, and there is increased rural-urban migration, some elements of this culture are unlikely to fade away.