'We love our traditions' – Tsonga, Tswana, Pedi, Venda, and Swati-speaking readers on their customs

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As we celebrate heritage, we look at five of our distinct local cultures and their customs.
As we celebrate heritage, we look at five of our distinct local cultures and their customs.
Foto24 / Theana Breugem

This Heritage Month, we spoke to South Africans from different cultures, mainly the Tswana, Swati, Tsonga, Venda,  and Pedi. Here’s what they told us about their traditions.

Tswana culture

Tswana-speaking people are found in Botswana and the Northwest province of South Africa, according to South African history online . They are popular for their Tswana dance and their traditional attire which includes the seshweshwe cloth.

A notable custom of theirs is when a mother in the family dies the children are required to shave off their hair as a way of mourning her death. This is usually performed by an uncle or brother of the deceased.

Ceremonies:

“When young girls and boys reach their teenage years, they get taken to initiation schools where they learn more about our culture and adulthood. The girls' initiation school is known as Bojela and the boys' initiation known as Bogwera,” Lelo Senwedi tells Drum.

When a mother gives birth, they also have a tradition called ‘Botsetsi’. “When a baby is born, the mother and the baby are kept indoors for a few weeks. The grandmother or aunts take care of the mother and her baby.

"We also practise lobola like the majority of South African tribes. However, in Setswana, it is called Magadi. After the lobola has been paid ‘Serwalo’ takes place. The brides’ family takes food, refreshments and gifts to the grooms’ family,” she explains.

‘Mpho ya badimo’ is a ritual done for a child by the father’s family, a sheep has to be slaughtered for this ceremony. However, it is not done by all clans.

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Attire: 

Young girls wear ‘Makgabe’ which is made of small Tswana beads and worn as a skirt.  The young boys wear ‘Seope’ which is brown and cut traditionally while the adults wear dresses (Seshwehwe) and shirts made out of a fabric called ‘Toishi’ in the colour blue.

Food:

Traditional dishes include Dikgobe ( corn and peanuts),  Korong (Wheat), Ting ( porridge made with Sorghum), Mogodu ( tripe) and Tshotlho ( ground meat).

Popular clan names of the baTswana include: Bathaping, Barolong, Batshweneng, Bakgatla, Bangwato, BaNgwaketse, Bahuruts.

Siswati culture

According to Every Culture The Swati people originate from the Nguni-speaking groups who migrated from the North East of Africa and settled in the Southern East of Africa and can be found in Mozambique, Eswatini which is was once inhabited by San people,

Ceremonies:

The Umhlanga reed dance is a ceremony that is done every year around late August or early September. The ceremony aims to preserve the chastity of young girls while also paying tribute to the Queen mother and it also encourages solidarity by working together.

Incwala: Is the first fruits ceremony held every year on the 21st of December. Everyone in who is Swati can participate in this event which runs for four days. The rule is that if there is no king in attendance there is no Incwala as it it done to honour the King and the new harvest.

Attire:

Gugulethu Mkhonta says, “We as unmarried [Swati] females dress in fabric and ‘Indlamu’, this is won by virgins especially at emhlangeni [The Reed dance].

"Unmarried males wear lion skins, cloths and bead ornaments. Married men wear lion skin and married women wear animal skin skirts (Isidwaba), umhelane (traditional cloth) and isicholo (hat) to cover their head. Traditional Swati weddings are called ‘Umtsimba’”.

Food:

They have many traditional dishes including ‘Sidvudvu’ (cooked pumpkin mixed with porridge and sugar for taste). They also have ‘Umbhidvo’ which is a dish made with spinach. Inkakha (Momordica balsamina plant).

Pedi culture

The BaPedi are mostly located in the Limpopo province.

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Ceremonies:

“In our [Pedi] culture," says Paballo Mathebe, "we have a king and queen who is in charge of a certain area. They rule over and solve community problems. When there is a wedding, we must take a leg and some part of the limbs of a cow to the royal house as a gift.

"When a boy or girl reaches the age of 12 they are taken to the mountain to stay there for a month, doing rituals and learning how to be a man or a woman. When they return home, we celebrate them and they are labelled as being ready to be a man or a woman.”

Attire:

Pedi traditional wear is renowned for its colour and vibrancy. The Pedi people are well known for their beadwork, designs and rich colours. Traditional outfits for women vary and can range from calf-length skirts, pleated blouses and long voluminous dresses.

Food:

Their famous traditional food includes ground beans, spinach, pap and meat. They're known for their love of watermelon.

Tsonga culture

The Tsonga people are a diverse people, including the Shangaan, Thonga, Tonga, Vandzawu, VaTshwa, Vakalanga and Valoyi to name a few. According to Siyabonga Africa, Tsonga people are also part of the Bantu ethnic group and mainly found in Southern Mozambique and South Africa. 

Ceremonies:

Traditional ceremonies are still practised by many in the Tsonga culture. For instance, a the girl's departure from her home, a sacrifice is made, and she formally takes leave of her family and their ancestral spirits. This is followed by a 'handing over of the bride to her new family.

“Our language is a mixture of Zimbabwe languages, Venda, Zulu and Tsonga," Innocent Mashele says. "Most of us are from Limpopo, we mostly enjoy eating Maoja which is also known as Maponya worms."

Attire:

Their popular prints include the Xitsonga xibelani, Motjeka and Miceka. The women usually wear these with bangles.

Their full attire is made up of the doek (duku), the neckpiece (vuhlalu – usually more than one), the shirt (yele), the stomach belt (nkhamu), the queens (ti queeni), miceka, and xibelani.

Food:

Their traditional food is Guxe (dried nut beans), Tihove (samp with peanuts), Matomana (Mopani worms).

VhaVenda culture

Venda traditions go back to the great walled settlements found in the Limpopo province and Zimbabwe, according to the Mhondoro website.

“The Venda people were one of the last African groups to migrate south of the Limpopo River. When they moved to present day South Africa, they found a bountiful area, which they named Venda (pleasant place) and settled there”.

Ceremonies:

There are many sacred sites in Limpopo where the Venda go to communicate with their ancestors. Lake Fundudzi, high in the Soutspansberg Mountains, is one of the most esteemed as it is believed this is where the White Python, the god of fertility, and other mystical water sprites (zwidutwane) live.

There are several rituals and traditions involved in the interaction between the Venda people and the spirits of Lake Fundudzi.

“We have a ‘Makhadzi’ [not the singer] who is the backbone of the chief, most of the royal rituals are done and known by her. The chief doesn’t make decisions without the Makhadzi,” Immaculate tells  Drum.

Attire:

Venda girls traditionally wear a shedo, a small apron around the waist. When girls develop breasts, they wear a nwenda at the waist or around one shoulder, which is made from brightly coloured striped fabric. Beaded necklaces, bangles and headbands are also worn.

A lion cloth called tsindi is an important item of clothing, traditionally worn by all Venda males.

Food:

Venda traditional food includes vhuswa ha Mutuku (fermented pap with mopani worms and termites).

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