Tsonga

Did you know that the word – Tsonga – can be used for either Xitsonga, Mutsonga or Vatsonga?
While it might seem confusing, it’s really not.

When referring to a Tsonga person, you use ‘Mutsonga’.
When referring to the people in general, then it’s ‘Vatsonga’.
But when talking about the language, culture of practices of the Tsonga tribe – it is ‘Xitsonga’.

The Tsonga culture,  people and  language which can be easily found in the Southern part of Africa, transcends many countries.
Tsonga people are predominantly found in Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Swaziland.
There are currently 3.1 million Tsonga people in Mozambique, 2.1 million  in South African and at least 27 thousand  in Swaziland.

However, there seems to be a problem with knowing the exact number of Tsonga people around the world.
For starters, Tsonga peopleare often referred to by different tribe names. Some of which are Ronga, Shangani, Tswa, Tonga, Ndau, Hlengwe, Chopi or Tonga. And there’s still more.
More so, some Tsonga/Ronga people in South Africa are referred to as Zulu.

Besides that, there are hundreds of thousands of Tsonga people that can be found all over the world and not just in Southern Africa. These Vatsonga are usually not taken into account when counting the population of the tribe.
Even with these short comings in the population data, there are still tens of millions of Tsonga people accounted for.

Xitsonga –The Tsonga Language, culture and practices– is easily one of the most interesting aspects of Southern Africa.

Language

Tsonga language – Xitsonga – is a southern African language spoken by the Tsonga people.
Xitsonga is hugely influenced by a few European colonial languages and languages from neighboring tribes. For this reason, Xitsonga is notably influenced by English, Portuguese, isiZulu and Afrikaans.

The language was created in 1875 at Valdezia by Swiss Missionaries – Reverend Ernest Creux and Reverend Paul Berthoud.

That is not to say that there wasn’t any existing language before the missionaries came. The opposite is the case, actually – there were several languages.
The people in the region had their local dialects but did not speak a unified language.

The missionaries then combined all the many languages of the region into one super language which they named – Thonga. Over time, the language has modified into the language that it is today.
Some of the languages combined to form the super language include XiTswa, XiChopi, XiNkuna, XiTembe, XiRonga, XiValoyi and a few more.

Tsonga is currently recognized as an official language in both Mozambique and South Africa. It is currently not official in Swaziland or Zimbabwe but there have been suggestions in Zimbabwe to include it as one of its official languages.

Culture

As part of their culture, Tsonga men are required to attend Matlala (also known as KaMatlala) or Ngoma.
Matlala/Ngoma is an initiation school the men attend before circumcision.
After this, the males are regarded as ‘men’ by the community.

The traditional dances of the Vatsonga people contribute to the popularity of the culture. Some of the popular dances are the Makhawaya, Xigubu, Mcholongo and Xibelani.
For the Xibelani dance, the women are required to wear ‘tinguvu’ (a type of traditional skirt) around their waist. The tinguvu is made to make the dancer’s hips appear bigger, thus emphasizing the wearer’s waist movements and dance moves.

The girls are taught the dance as a means to enable them appreciate their culture.
While the women perform the ‘xibelani’ dance, the men perform ‘makhawaya’ and ‘xibugu’
Both sexes dance the ‘mchongolo’.

The Xibelani, Makhawaya and Mchongolo are performed during special tradition occasions such as ‘mkhinyavezo’ or ‘ku chachula’

Tsonga Names

XiTsonga names have become quite popular outside the tribe because of the depth of their meanings.
Incase you were looking for what to name your child, here are some popular Xitsonga names:
‘Xihlamariso’ which means Extraordinary or Miracle.

‘Nkateko’ which means Blessing. Nkateko should not be confused with ‘Katekile’ which means Blessed.
‘Andzani’ means To Multiply. ‘Akani’ means To Build.
‘Tinyeleti’ means Stars.
Do any of them sound familiar?

Speaking of names, here are the names of some famous people of Tsonga Heritage:

Joaquim Chissano and Samora Moisés Machel – Former presidents of Mozambique
Cassius Baloyi – a South African Boxer
Tito Mboweni – the Former Governor of South African Reserve Bank.

Lizha James and Gito Baloi – Mozambican musicians and celebrities.
DJ Brian Rikhotso – Radio personality and an entrepreneur)
Famed South African Football Legend – Jomo Sono