Khaya Dlanga

Xhosas are liars?

2011-10-12 13:50

Many of us have heard this stereotype about Xhosas being liars. We have no idea where it began, nor from where it came. One can only speculate. It is of course an unfounded stereotype that has continued over the years unabated. Seemingly well-informed and educated people appear to believe and perpetuate this notion.

For the purposes of full disclosure I suppose it is necessary that I out myself, I am Xhosa. My clan name is uMadiba, uDlomo, uNgqolomsila, uSopitsho, uYem-Yem uVela zimbentsele; azisambentseli zoyik abelungu. And my mother is also Xhosa, and her clan name is uS’nama, uRhadu, uSomadoda, amalendelwa yintombi ithi “ndizeke noba awuna nkomo”.

Now, just to make things very clear, I am not an un-fun person. I am very much fun. I make fun of myself and I make fun of others too. This is where stereotypes come in. They are part and parcel of comedy, and they are what make funny, funny. We have hundreds of them, all about our differences in this country. And they make it easy for us to laugh at others and ourselves.

Nor am I pleading for an overly political correct and boring society that won’t allow us to be ourselves, and cause us to tip toe around our words.

I have often wondered where the idea of Xhosas being liars might have come from. No one seems to know. This perplexes Xhosas. Those who call them liars don’t know where it comes from either. This idea is in itself a lie because it implies that only Xhosas lie and others do not. Of course other will state that what they mean is that Xhosas lie more than other tribes.

I’d never heard that Xhosas had the reputation of being strangers to the truth until I moved to the big city, Johannesburg. I was shocked that these cosmopolitan people would hold such unfounded views. I remember going to a braai where the subject matter turned to Xhosas and the general agreement from those who were not Xhosa was that they’d all heard from their parents that we’re liars. What shocked me even more was the fact that there was the absolute belief that it was true. What surprised me to a point of laughter was when one the guys said that he’d heard that we are taught how to lie by our own parents. That we get taught to do this while we are still breast-feeding. Literally.

Where did this come from? I have a very uneducated theory. Of course someone may disprove it if they so wish because it is untested and un-researched. I understand that it is thin, I will boldly put it forth nonetheless.

When the colonialists arrived, they first met with the San, and would then move on to the Cape. Then they met great resistance from the Xhosa during the Nine Frontier Wars (which were known as the Kaffir Wars), which were fought between 1779 to 1879. They started of as little skirmishes between the settlers and the Xhosa.

So, what are the origins of this myth? Allow me to speculate.

In 1820, John Brownlee founded a mission near Alice, and William Shaw established a chain of Methodist stations throughout the Transkei. These missions brought about education to the Xhosas.

Some of the first schools for black people were introduced in the Cape, schools like Healdtown, which was established in 1845, and others. Of course, much later, in 1916, the formation of the now famous university of Fort Hare, which has educated the likes of Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Kenneth Kaunda, Robert Mugabe, Julius Nyerere amongst others. It was the first such institution to be opened to blacks on the African continent.

This means that the Xhosas were some of the first to receive a Western style education in South Africa, precisely because of their close proximity to these schools. What does this mean? This is where some of you will accuse my theory of being thin.

When an educated person meets a completely uneducated one (in the Western sense of the word), one can tell an uneducated person a fact, and the person who has not been exposed to that education will downright refuse to believe the evidence. Now, say you meet a person who has never seen a book, never seen a map and you say to them, “The world is actually round.”

The person without the education will immediately accuse you of lying, because from what they can observe, the world is flat and has mountains, its roundness is illogical. Thus the teller of this tale will be seen as a teller of tales.

My theory is that the origins of the lying Xhosas stems from education, just as the aggressive Zulu stems from the era of Shaka Zulu. I have never met a Zulu that is more aggressive than a person from another tribe or race. The only people I’ve met are people who are aggressive because they are aggressive, not because they are Zulu.

I’ve met people who lie all the time, not because they are Xhosa, but because they just lie. To perpetuate the untruth that Xhosas are liars makes the person who continues with it, a liar.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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