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Matimu, Tinxaka ta Vutsonga, Xana a wu swi tiva?

Vutsonga and Women: Celebrating our Queens, Leaders and Founding Mothers

It goes without saying that culture is evolutionary. Cultural evolution may occur due to various factors, from internal and external.

There has been a lot of talk, which present African cultures as strictly Patriarchal. Interestingly, the arguments are forwarded by people who look at Africans from a non-African perspective.

In the original Tsonga analogy, Vutsonga is not defined by what can be classified as strict Patriarchy. Vutsonga, in the true sense, is a cultural identity based on Egalitarianism; the Xitsonga language is referred to as “Ririmi ra manana” (Mother tongue), or “Ririmi leri ndzi nga ri mama eveleni” (a language I sucked from my mother’s breast). Having a female ruler among Vatsonga was never a big issue, until the European and the Shangaan (Nguni-Ndwandwe) invasions. In fact, prior to European and Shangaan invasions, earlier contact between Arabs, Persian and Indians with Vatsonga, left them in shock. It was very common among Vatsonga to have female traders, which was a taboo among the Arabs, Persians and Indians.

The maxim which says, “Mutsonga a hi wa rimhondzo”, not only explains that Vatsonga are born from different Patriarchs, but also explains that Vatsonga are also born out of Matriarchs.

It is well narrated, among Vahlengwe, how the ruler of the Hlungwani tribe, in his death bed, gave power (Ndzalama – Royal Pebble) to his daughter so she could pass it to her son. N’waZinjivha / N’waMaledza, matter of fact is a great Matriarch of the Vahlengwe; she was married to Bangwana, son of Xinyori (Forefather of Vahlengwe), and bore Mantsena (Cawuke / Mavasa), the great Hlengwe Patriarch. It is the fruit of her womb which gave the world great people like the celebrated South African musician Dr. Thomas Chauke and the Zimbabwean revolutionary hero, Justin Chauke. That is Woman Power.

Europeans and Shangaans were shocked and perplexed when Hosikati (Queen) Xikhumbani led an army of the Bila tribe. Having been appointed as Heir to the crown by her own father and grandfather, Hosi N’wanteva, Hosikati Xikhumbani fiercely resisted Shangaan occupation of her land and protected her people against Shangaan slave raiders. Woman she was, she refused defeat until she was killed by a Shangaan regiment that drowned her in the river. The village called Xikhumbani, in Limpopo District in Mozambique, is named after this glorious Queen.

In the late 1800s, from 1897 precisely, in the last Gaza war against The Khoseni, Hosi Xongela had as one of his military strategists as his sister, Nganakati Xipisani. In fact, she led her own regiment against the invading Shangaan regiments, and held still, and managed to repel them. Xipisani was not only a mere military advisor, or a mere royal princess, she was a brilliant leader. She became the Supreme after Hosi Xongela died; Tsonga history records her as the last sovereign Khoseni Ruler, and the last Tsonga ruler to resist both Shangaan and European invasions, up to 1904. That is genuine Woman Power.

One of the most ancient Tsonga kingdom’s, is the Tembe Kingdom. After Mfecane, some Tembe rulers had opted to pay tribute to the Zulu in order to avoid another war (The Tembe had fought against the Mthetwa and too much blood was shed). Around the 1870s, when King Nosiyingile died, his brother, Muhena, allied himself with the Zulu to usurp the throne. Queen Zambili, the late King’s wife, put up a massive resistance against Muhena and his Zulu allies; she defeated them and secured the throne for her son, who was a minor. Her power and legitimacy, was not only by the spear, but Vutsonga legitimised her.

In Tsonga analogy, the Matriarchs, and families of the Matriarchs play a vital role in everyone’s existence; Sisters, Aunties, Grandmothers are royalties.

Even though, a lineage or a genealogy, as per generic Tsonga customs is carried through the male, it is very common in Tsonga analogy for a female to carry on the genealogy of her father, in the same way she can carry on her father’s royal duties. Tsonga surnames like Maxele, Nyathi, Mongwe, Ndhuvani, Cambale etc are surnames derived from Matriarchs of their respective tribes:

  • A Nkuna woman gave birth to the Maxele and Mahori. The fruit of her womb gave the world great men like Samora Maxele.
  • A Valoyi woman gave birth to the Nyathi and Mongwe. The Mongwe are one of the largest Valoyi clans. Her womb gave the world great artists like Themba Nyathi, Lourena Nyathi, and Raymond Nyathi.
  • A Khosa woman gave birth to the Ndhuvani and Cambale. Xokwe, a great Khosa ruler who once controlled the mid lower Limpopo lands, is a product of a Khosa female lineage.

That is power of the Woman.

The case of Hosikati N’wamitwa (Queen of the House of N’wamitwa of the Valoyi grouping) claiming to be the legitimate heir by virtue of blood regardless of her gender, is a much recent example of how Vutsonga recognises and validates the Matriarch Power. Her victory in a modern court of law was informed by genuine Tsonga cultural rules regarding the position of the Matriarch.

Most importantly, had it not been for Tsonga women who were forced into marriage with Shangaan men, the Xitsonga language would be dead or turned into some loose creole. The Shangaan had tried to kill Xitsonga by forcing captured Tsonga men to speak Nguni (isiLala) only. All Amabulandlela (Tsonga men turned foot soldiers for Amashangaan) had accepted to kill Xitsonga, it is Tsonga women who held their feet on the ground. By preserving our language, those women played a huge significant role. Today our oppressor’s descendants speak Xitsonga.  

Another striking feature is the fact that in Tsonga analogy, whenever a person enters a household, the most correct salutary form is: “Ndzawini”, which is in fact, a salute to the Lioness, because in Tsonga analogy, the household belong to the woman, though it has the man’s name. It is under this concept, where the saying: “Dzana ra vavanuna ri endla xivandlana, kambe wansati u endla muti” (100 Men can make platoon, but a woman makes a home”, has validation of a woman’s role in Tsonga cultural set up.  In Tsonga analogy, a man has his manhood validated by a woman, and by how he relates with the woman. In Tsonga analogy, a man only becomes a man after he marries a wife, no matter how old he is, all single men are boys and are excluded when elders and men meet.  

In Tsonga cultural set up, women form every part of the whole social structure. Women are the central nerve, nothing of serious matter can be undertaken without proper and legitimate consent of the Matriarchs; be it marriage, Royal rituals, Coronations, burials etc.

In this age, where people meet quite a lot due to urbanisation and industrialisation, there are people who find Tsonga men’s respect and honour towards women as “weakness”.  In fact, that is not “weakness”, that is the power of Vutsonga.

“Vutsonga i Vukosi”

Image source: elle.co.za

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