People of the Wild Coast

People of the Wild Coast

The Transkei is home to several of the Xhosa tribes; it is a green and pleasant grassland stretching inland from the coast to the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. Living in the south is the Gcaleka section of the Xhosa tribe, in the middle the Tembu and Bomvana tribes, and in the north the Pondo and Mpondomise tribes. Smaller tribal groups include the Cele, Xesibe and the Mfengu. Each tribe has its own distinguishing costumes, colours, beads and articles of clothing. Red and orange are the favourite colours of the Xhosa, Thembu and Bomvana. Light blue is the favoured colour of the closely related Pondo and Mpondomise tribes.

The people are pastoralists and cattle in particular are very important to them. Cows were introduced to the Wild Coast by the Xhosa during their migration to South Africa between 600 and 700 AD. These animals have played an important social and economic role in the development of their society and are used as a bride's dowry. The number of cattle held by a village or individual determines much of their importance to the rest of the world.

The countryside is dotted with thatched rondavel type huts, all built with doors facing east. The land is communally owned and huts are grouped in family units (umzi). The people grow mielies (corn) and keep cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, geese and chickens. Men along the coast supplement their income by catching fish and crayfish, which they sell to tourists. People tend to wear western style clothing these days and this is especially prevalent amongst the younger generation. Traditional clothing is still worn at ceremonies and tourists visiting between late autumn and early spring will be sure to see the outfits worn by the "abakwetha", boys who are undergoing initiation into manhood.

Witchcraft and superstition play a large part in the lives of the people, and they are want to believe in creatures such as the uthikoloshe, a mischievous hairy goblin who can only be seen by children. Christianity is well rooted, but traditional religious practices continue to flourish and there is belief in a supreme being, a creator of everything, known variously as umDali, Qamata or uThixo. The ancestors are venerated and it is believed that failure to placate the dead will result in misfortune. For this purpose, advice should be sought from an "igqhira" (diviner / witchdoctor) who can communicate with the spirit world. Most witchdoctors are women who have undergone a lengthy apprenticeship.