South Africa is home to a diverse and interesting assortment of indigenous tribes, many of whom share basic principles and belief systems – Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Khoisan, Tswana, Sotho, Tsonga, Swazi, Venda and Ndebele.
Patriarchal in nature, with a strong emphasis on the role of the ancestors in their day to day lives, the tribes of South Africa have a well structured traditional society which is strictly adhered to, especially in the rural areas and tribal lands.
Rituals and ceremonies are day to day occurrences which take place for any number of reasons. Weâ€™ve collated a fistful of fascinating South African tribal customs guaranteed to pique the interest.
The Royal Candle Wife of the Pedi
When a royal wife or â€˜timamolloâ€™ is chosen for a Pedi chief, the tribe pays her bride price and her first born son is heir to the throne. When she arrives at the royal house, all the fires in the village are doused and her candle is the only one which is lit. All the other fires are then re-lit directly from her candle, hence the name timamollo or candle wife. Should a timamollo die without producing an heir, her sister or close female relative takes her place!
Venda Fertility & Rain Dance
The Venda of the Limpopo Province revere the great African python god as a potent symbol of fertility and the bringer of rains. Each year, young maidens in the final rites of coming of age dance the Domba at the tribeâ€™s most sacred site, Lake Fundudzi. After a ritual offering of beer is poured into the lake to sustain the great snake god, the topless virgins line up in single file, each holding the elbow of the girl in front of her, forming a human chain and dance in a slow, sensuous line to the rhythmic beat of the drums, emulating the movement of a snake and a baby in the womb!
Zulu Roof Wetting Ritual
The powerful Zulu nation is the largest tribe in South Africa and is concentrated in KwaZulu Natal. To welcome the ancestors into a new home, a traditional house warming or roof wetting ceremony is held called â€˜ukuvula indluâ€™. Traditional sorghum beer, umqombothi is prepared in a ritual of its own, while natural incense derived from the everlasting plant, impepho, is burnt to communicate with the ancestors. A goat is slaughtered and its bile is rubbed onto the home ownerâ€™s extremities and poured into his gaping mouth!
Pedi Cleansing Ceremony
The Pedi have an intriguing cleansing ceremony following the death of a loved one. After wearing black for an entire year and being shunned by the community for being dirty and distinctly bad luck, the mourner undergoes a cleansing ceremony known as â€˜dihloboloâ€™. The well worn black outfit is discarded by stuffing it into the ventilation tunnels of a termite mound. New clothes are handed over by the clan and a final farewell is held.
Modjadji, Rain Queen of the Sotho
The most powerful Rain Queen in South Africa, Modjadji is part of an ancient dynasty that is based on the ruthless act of filicide. When the tribe first arrived in the Limpopo Province generations ago it was ruled by a man, Chief Mogado who had visions his sons would overthrow him. In a fit of rage, he executed his sons and promptly married his daughter, establishing a dynasty of queens which continues to this day!
The Rain Queen is never allowed to marry but has wives to do her bidding. Royal consorts father her children but only the first born girl child stands to inherit the throne. The tribe is currently without a Queen following the premature death of Rain Queen Makobo Constance Modjadji VI in 2005!
Explore South Africaâ€™s tribal rituals first hand
The incessant beat of drums, rhythmic thud of feet in the dust of Africa and voices raised in harmonious song can only really be appreciated in person. Why not experience South Africaâ€™s fascinating tribal customs first hand on a guided cultural or township tour?
Explore the possibilities online at comprehensive and accredited South African holiday booking websites which feature day tours, together with affordable car hire and accommodation, of authentic cultural villages and tribal homesteads.
Visit an online South African booking site today to find out more about day and multi-day tours of South Africaâ€™s vibrant traditional tribal destinations.
About the Author: e-southafrica.com is a SATSA accredited South African holiday booking website featuring accommodation, car hire and day tours of the Rainbow Nationâ€™s intriguing cultural and tribal destinations.