In dedication to heritage month, I have to decided to share about my culture and what it means to be umXhosa, a language and culture I believe to be the best here in South Africa. In general, being African is much praised because of what beauty there is to it with the embedded roots, whether it be skin colour, hair, language or way of living. Now being umXhosa is digging deeper to what being African is because we have many and more specified traditions and ways of doing things; speaking, eating, dressing, etc.
So a couple of weeks ago, while I traveled to my hometown and went for a five day visit to my grandparents’ house for a traditional event, I decided to dive deep into what it really means being part of this amazing culture. What partially motivated me is the fact that while I was learning Portuguese (because you know, I like the language) I discovered more about the Portuguese culture and that they have a variety of different things they do, speaking and their food.
That’s when I tapped into my own language while translating certain words to make them easier to understand. The more aware I became of my own language and how intricate yet wonderful it is, the more I wanted to actually become more conscious of my whole entire culture, because I may see it as ordinary, living day to day, but honestly it is something I’m a part of that is fascinating. Not everyone would understand it, or be able to grasp why we do certain things the way we do them and how we pronounce certain words, but we do and it’s so lovely for us.
So I have decided to share just a bit about my culture and what it means being Xhosa.
Our Living, Traditionally
Now as much as we’ve become modernised, especially Port Elizabeth, there are still certain places, more-so in King William’s Town (where my family grew up) that show our heritage, with the rich plants on the sides of the untampered roads. These are the long roads that get walked on to fetch water and visit neighbours to fetch post-mails. Cars, post offices and linked taps are a new thing; much appreciated but not a necessity as this is the way of living for my folks here. Homes that are less than modernised but still on the road (pun unintended) normally have tanks now that fill up for natural rain water. It’s pretty cool if you think about it, organic fresh water.
Our Dressing (for traditional events)
As much as I look super crusty (and I am still yet to be more crusty in events like these *cringe*), this is the real me when I am at home with my family and there are events like this. This is how we dress for small events, just to clean up and cook, especially once you become a female adult. Then for much larger events we wear what is known as umbhaco which is basically one-colour cloths that get wrapped around the body as a skirt, dress or head-wrap, then some beads (or a ‘necklace) to finish the look, also known as iinstimbi.
This is what we call iiRostile, which is more-or-less fatcakes/vetkoeks, but instead of them being fried, they are roasted in hot coal over a griller (roasted basically). They taste pretty dry alone, but with some good saucy meat or ibhisto (tomato soup), they are super good.
We actually eat a wide variey of things, such as umphokoqo (dry dissected pap particles with sour milk, aka Maas), umngqusho (samp and beans with your choice of vegetables and meat, such as mince meat or sausage), and umfino (cabbage and spinach with mealie meal to make it some sort of dry pap) just to name a few. The list goes on, but hey, it’s part of our culture.
This place is called ebuhlanti, a sacred closing of tradition where the real, deep traditional events take place and also where the farm animals are kept (cows, goats, sheep and sometimes chicken). We have numerous traditional events here, such as imbeleko, ukoluka, umcimbi, where we speak to our ancestors to protect us through these milestones. Pretty intricate, but once you know it, it becomes easy, this is if you’re ever planning to marry into our culture.
There are many other things that make us who we are as a culture. I just named a few to show what it is like kwaXhosa.