The Tsonga people
Did you know?
The famous gumboot dance of gold miners was invented by the Shangaan-Tsonga tribe.
Before the Difecane (the scattering, the hammering) of the early 1800s, during which the nations of southern Africa spread out to new regions to escape the growing Zulu might, the Tsonga people fished the eastern coastline, grew their crops and generally lived peaceful, insular lives.
Large groups of Tsonga then moved inland, to settle in what is today Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. Another group, the Tsonga-Shangaan, remained strong in Mozambique and northern KwaZulu Natal. The Tsonga and Shangaan languages, however, are quite distinct from one another.
During the Apartheid era, the Shangaan and Tsonga people were concentrated in the ‘homeland' of Gazankulu, to the west of the Kruger National Park. Since 1994, Gazankulu has been integrated into Limpopo province.
In Tsonga culture a traditional village is composed of a few houses surrounded by fields and grazing areas. Because a man can marry more than 1 woman, and have many children, it is easy for a village to be formed consisting of only 1 family.
Many huts with large thatched conical roofs filled the land. This played a role in the formation of several small and independent chiefdoms where inheritance by brothers rather than sons was the defining feature of the social system.
Men in Tsonga culture are dominant, and there is a great belief in a Supreme Being (Tilo) as well as the ancestral worship typical of many African cultures.
Another distinct feature of the Tsonga tradition is face scarring. It had its origin in deterring Arab slave traders, but is now considered an element of physical beauty. Just as important is the enjoyment of music, with various stringed, wind and percussion instruments widely used.
The Tsonga drum is shaped like a tambourine, and drumsticks are used. Only the men play on these drums, which are used in various spiritual rituals.
Both the Tsonga and Shangaan traditions feature story-telling, and the keeper of the community legends is usually the elder woman, whose job it is to pass on the history of these fascinating peoples.
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