Ancestors of modern amaXhosa arrived in the Eastern Cape from the north before the 15th century, and others moved into the area during the 16th and 17th centuries. Xhosa history tells of settlements east of the Sundays River by the early 18th century.
Xhosa society is historically viewed as an ‘open’ society, because of its readiness to learn from, trade and interact with other societies. Although the Xhosa undoubtedly killed or enslaved some of the Khoisan speakers they encountered, many were peacefully assimilated into Xhosa society.
In addition to the original Xhosa clan, the amaXhosa now includes a number of isiXhosa-speaking ethnic groups, including the Pondo, Thembu and Mfengu people.
Traditionally the amaXhosa lived by hunting, cattle herding and  growing crops (maize, tobacco and sorghum). Woodworking and ironworking were important men’s occupations. Homesteads were built near the top of ridges overlooking rivers such as the Fish, Keiskama, Buffalo, and Kei. 
Xhosa homesteads were organised around descent groups traced through male lineage. These lineages, and the large clans formed by groups of related lineages, provided the centre of Xhosa social organization. This was responsible for preserving ancestral ties and perpetuating society through animal sacrifices, mutual assistance within the clan, and carefully arranged marriages with neighbouring clans.
A powerful chief may be praised in oral histories by the claim that he had power over the land close to a large river, and a lesser chief, by the claim that he had power over land near a smaller river or tributary.
Lekker Links
Eastern Cape Tourism Board>>
Xhosa Virtual Resource Network>>
Xhosa folk-lore: printed 1886>>
African Voices – Xhosa>>
Wikipedia’s take on Xhosa history>> Tribes, nations & languages
Zulu; Sotho; Tswana; Pedi; Afrikaner; Khoisan
The imbongi or praise singer is an important figure even today – an imbongi preceded Nelson Mandela at his Presidential inauguration in 1994.
The amaXhosa had extensive contact with Europeans by the early 19th century, generally welcoming missionaries and educators into their territory.
The Xhosa even distinguished between ‘school people,’ who had accepted Western innovation, and ‘red people’ or ‘red blankets’ who were identified by the traditional red ochre used to dye clothing and to decorate the body.
isiXhosa , the language of the amaXhosa, is a Bantu language and part of the Nguni subgroup of languages. It became one of South Africa’s 11 official languages in 1994 at the end of apartheid.
There are just over seven million speakers of isiXhosa in South Africa, the majority of whom live in the Eastern Cape, with significant numbers in the Western Cape and fewer number in other provinces.
IsiXhosa and isiZulu are mutually intelligible.
Xhosa culture today includes diviners, who serve as herbalists, prophets and healers for the community. These roles are mostly taken by women, who spend many years in apprenticeship. Many Xhosa are Christian whilst maintaining strong beliefs in traditional healers and in their ancestors.
Words & phrases
Hello, to one person
Unjani? / Ninjani?
How are you (sing.)? / How are you (pl.)?
Ndiphilile / Siphilile
I’m okay /
We’re okay
Thank you
Hamba kakuhle
Go well (used as goodbye)
Hambani kakuhle
Go well (to a group of people)
I don’t know

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