Traditions Field Note


Xhosa: People and Traditions

Abstract : The city of Cape Town is filled with a variety of people!  They each have their own unique culture. Although I am constantly learning about new cultures, I have decided to share some information about the Xhosa culture with you. Brace yourself for a fun filled adventure into Cape Town and the Xhosa culture.


Molweni bafundi! Hello learners! During my time in Cape Town, I’ve been learning all about Xhosa culture and the spirit of ubuntu! Ubuntu means, “I am who I am because of who you are. “ Cape Town is filled with many different types of people who celebrate different cultures. Xhosa is just one of the many cultures in Cape Town.

What tradition did I learn about?

The culture that I am currently learning about is Xhosa. IsiXhosa is the language spoken by a large portion of the  population here in Cape Town. A custom greeting for this language is to say ‘Molo’ or ‘Molweni’ if you’re addressing a large group of people. The IsiXhosa alphabet is similar to English but is also comprised of “click” sounds. There are four clicks in this language. They are the c, q, x and the gq letters. The clicks all have their own distinct sound. This aids in distinguishing isiXhosa among other tribal languages spoken in South Africa. You can look up these click sounds and listen to how they sound!

A right of passage is a major life event that is significant to your own culture. For American teenagers, typical  rite of passage is getting their driver’s license or graduating from high school. Xhosa’s have four main rites of passage in their culture.  They are when one is born, when they reach adulthood, when they get married, and when they pass on or die. These cultural rituals are celebrated together by an entire community. During the rituals, your brothers and sisters must take off work or have a free day to celebrate. Family is very important to Xhosa culture and family must always be present during these four major rites of passage.

One important ritual in this culture is imbeleko. This is a ritual that is performed when a baby is born. It is used as a way to introduce the new born to their community. Through this ceremony, the Xhosa belief is that they’re also being introduced to  their ancestors. Usually, an animal is slaughtered because its blood symbolizes the uniting of the physical and the spiritual world of the child. The animal of choice is a goat or a sheep. The skin of the goat or sheep is kept and used by the mother to carry the baby on her back and the child sleeps with the skin whenever they are sick.

After the baby is brought home, a trusted elderly friend of the family stays with the mother and child for a period of ten days (ifuku period). At this point, the umbilical cord (inkaba) of the baby falls off. Once the umbilical cord falls off, the father takes it and buries it in the families’ shed. This symbolizes the permanent attachment of the child to its ancestors. It is important for this ritual to take place at birth and if it does not take place than the belief is that the child may face problems like bedwetting, bad luck, or other problems.

Another important ritual is the naming of a child. The grandfather or father is given this task when a new life is welcomed into the world. All names in Xhosa have meanings. Grandparents pick a name that they want the child to live up to. An example of a typical Xhosa name is Thobeka which means humbleness. 

Why does the community have this tradition?

This community has this tradition because it is a way for them to connect with their ancestors and keep their culture alive. Culture has a history and many people use their culture as a way of better understanding their history and where they come from. Considering that family plays an important role in the lives of many Xhosa people, culture is a way of keeping the family rooted and connected to their ancestors.
Is this tradition connected to its environment? How?

This tradition is not as connected to its environment today as it was in the past. Recently, South Africa has become more westernized so many of these practices only take place in rural communities, not as much in big cities. Most Xhosa people today partake in many of the traditional practices but they do not wear the traditional Xhosa clothing. Typically, Xhosa women are supposed to cover up their hair with wraps and not wear revealing clothing but in today’s society most Xhosa women keep up with the everyday fashions. So, as the culture in South Africa changes, it reflects on the traditions of these communities!

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