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Xhosa Origins / Imvelaphi

House of Phalo (Umzi kaPhalo)

The word Xhosa refers to a people and a language of South Africa. The Xhosa-speaking people are divided into a number of subgroups with their own distinct but related heritages. One of these subgroups is called Xhosa as well. The other main subgroups are the Bhaca, Bomvana, Mfengu, Mpondo, Mpondomise, Xesibe and Thembu. Unless otherwise stated, this article refers to all the Xhosa-speaking people.

4000 years ago– MontuHotep is King of Kemet and is named after MoNtu (Ntu), the representation (god) of war and bravery. AbaNtu are are descendants of this King. Kemet’s greatest generals & kings called themselves Mighty Bulls, the sons of Montu. It is from this figure that we find the first use of the root word NTU. 5000 – 2500 years ago – Kemet is the richest and most powerful Empire in the world and enemies emerge from neighbouring civilisations.

3600 years ago – The Hyksos (Asians) invade Kemet leading to some African people leaving Kemet & Nubia, moving to other parts of the continent. Order is restored when King Ahmose I drives the Hyksos out and the best time in the History of Kemet begins. African people are the richest and most powerful people in the world led by Queen Hatshepsut, King Thutmose III, King Amenhotep III, Queen Tiye, King Akhenaten, King Tutankhamun and King Ramses the Great.

2500 years ago – Persians (Asians) invade Kemet followed by the Greeks (Europeans) and later Romans (Europeans) leading to massive migrations of African people and the beginning of the “African Dark Ages” & "Great Amnesia".

About 2000 - 1500 years ago – AbaNtu had moved all the way down past the Great Lakes Region and crossed the Limpopo River into the southern parts of Africa.

From a place called Luhlangeni mountains near the lost river Dadasi a Chief known only as Umnguni from the name of his people decided to emigrate South across the Ukhahlamba (Drakensburg) along the way he assimilated a lot of other smaller clanlets and moved down with them. His people had a centralized leadership system and had with them iron which would prove critical to their success.

On crossing the Drakensburg Mnguni suddenly found himself in conflict with the native clans and populations both of Nguni and Khoi descent that had settled in this new land. Through trade, intermarriage and conquest he managed to create a place for his people in this hostile new land. To the Khoi people these strange invaders were known as the Chobona because of how they greeted which was “Sawubona”.

Their most formidable foes were the San a group of hunter gathers. The San believed that their God had given all the animals in the world for them to hunt and this included the cattle of the Chobona. They hunted the herds of domesticated cattle until the Chobona got angry. This led to a bloody conflict that resulted in the crushing of the weaker San groups and the abduction of San and Khoi Khoi women and young men to serve as wives and warriors in Xhosa society. The San appalled at their greed and lack of generosity with their animals named these new tall and dark strangers the Xhosa (angry men). This name stuck to Umnguni’s oldest son and he was known through the land as umXhosa the angriest of the Chobona.

As with most Nguni nations it was quite expected of royal sons when they came of age that they move away from their father’s house and start their own clan. The right of inheritance was not automatic as all royal sons had a right to claim the throne should they be strong enough to do so. The rules of succession were such that then son of the Great house had automatic right to the paramouncy.

As a Chief grew older his influence and wealth rose and when he was strong enough he would seek alliance by marriage to one of the stronger clans. This youngest house because of her rank would be taken into the great house where she would bear the heir. So unlike the European and Asian model it was often the youngest son who was King provided he was strong enough to keep the throne. The oldest son would rule as Regent until the youngest brother came of age and when he was fit to take the throne the oldest would leave taking with him his followers but would have to pay tribute to his younger brother.

Xhosa as his people were moving and expanding begot Malangana who begot Nkosiyomntu. Nkosiyomntu had four children the Cirha, Tshawe, Jwara (oldest), Qwambi. When Nkosiyomntu died his Greathouse son Cirha naturally took over the role of chief. The only problem was that he was not a capable leader of men and his older sibling through a lot of political maneuvering Tshawe overthrew Cirha and took over throne with the support of his neighbouring Mpondomise allies AmaRhudulu [Ngwevu] and he was the Paramount Chief of all the Xhosas. He led the Xhosas on an expansive drive and swallowed up a large number of Nguni and Khoisan tribes in the region.

Tshawe had Ngcwangu who gave birth to Skhomo who gave birth to Togu in around 1686. Togu had three sons Ntinde who founded the AmaNtinde tribe, Khetshe who founded the AmaBhayi and Ngconde who was Paramount Chief. Ngconde’s children were Hleke founder of the AmaHleke, Mdange (~ 1736) of the Dange Gando of the AmaKwayi and Tshiwo (~1704) who was Paramount Chief to all Xhosas speaking nations in the region. Tshiwo had three sons Phalo the Paramount Chief, followed by Gwali founder of AmaGwali and Thiso. Phalo was the second son of Tshiwo but his older brother Gwali was from a junior wife and Phalo was in line for the throne. Tshiwo died the same year of Phalo’s birth so his uncle Mdange took over the reigns as regent. Gwali joined forces with Ntinde, chief of the AmaNtinde clan, to overthrow Phalo but was not successful. Phalo had troubles he was married to two women of similar rank and none of their fathers wanted their daughter to be a subordinate wife. To fix this problem an elder from the Jwara clan advised that the oldest of the girls would be in the Great house and the youngest would be inducted into the Right Hand House. This meant that sons born to these women had the right to be Kings. The Great house though would have to be differed to and the right-hand house son would then migrate to form his own kingdom. This afforded greater expansion to the Xhosa and was followed by all kings who followed. The sons of Phalo were Langa, Gcaleka (Great House) and Rharhabe of the right hand house, Lutshaba (1730) and Nukwa. Through their rivalry they would lead to split of the Xhosa nation and set the stage for one of the dramas of Southern Africa. AmaMbalu Langa (1705 –1794) was the founder of the AmaMbalu sub-group of the Xhosa nation and reigned as chief from 1740 until his death. Langa is known to have had two sons Nqeno (1759) and Thole. Gcaleka (1730-1792) had 3 known sons Khauta, Velelo and Nqoko. He became paramount in 1775. Gcaleka tried to usurp his farther’s rule and interclan war broke out resulting in the Xhosa tribe to split into two major sub-groups, the Rharhabe and the Gcaleka. Khawuta 1761-1804 was the second Chief of the Gcaleka people, a sub-group of the Xhosa nation. Khawuta was the eldest son. Khawuta had 3 known sons, Bhurhu (1785) Hintsa 1789 and Malashe (1799). He became paramount chief of the Xhosas in 1792. Not much else is known about Khawuta other than peace reigned during his regime. Kwawuta died in 1804 near what is now Centani in the Eastern Cape,other sources record 1794 and 1820as the years of death.

Nqoko 1730-1792 was a regent and 3rd paramount chief of the Gcaleka. Nqoko was the third son of Gcaleka and took over the Gcalekas when his oldest brother Chief Khawuta died in 1804 and served until 1820 when his nephew Hintsa took over. Nqoko died in 1792 Rharhabe ka Phalo (about 1722-1782) was the founder of the Rharhabe sub-group of the Xhosa nation. Rharhabe was the 2nd son of Phalo. Rharhabe is known to have had at least two wifes. He had 9 sons from his first wife, Mlawu, Jalousa, Siko, Sigcawu, Cebo, Hlahla, Nzwane, Mnyaluza and Ntsusa and from his second wife Nojoli kaNdungwana of the abaThembu he had two sons Ndlambe and Nukwa. Rharhabe died near present day Dohne in the Eastern Cape Province.

Although Gcaleka was the rightful heir to Phalo’s kingdom, Rharhabe developed a reputation (and a large following) as a fearless warrior. Eventually, rivalry between the two brothers resulted in civil war. Rharhabe was defeated and forced to flee west of the Kei River. There, he established a kingdom among the Xhosa currently living there. Unfortunately, this region was heavily populated and Rharhabe’s arrival caused quite a bit of turmoil. Smaller clans defeated in battle were forced to settle elsewhere as Rharhabe sought to consolidate his power. Rharhabe and his heir, Mlawu, were both killed during this period, and control of the clan transferred to Mlawu’s son, Ngqika.

Although the clan took Ngqika’s name, he was too young to rule. As with Xhosa tradition, Rharhabe’s other son, Ndlambe, served as ruler until Ngqika matured. As second son, Ndlambe had title, but no real authority–as soon as he was old enough, Ngqika would take over. Nevertheless, he supervised a major expansion in the size and power of the clan (now called the Ngqika). By the late 1700s, this expansion resulted in the inevitable contact with the European settlers in Cape Colony.

Both the Africans and Europeans depended on cattle as the fundamental economic asset. Thus, both groups competed for the prime grazing lands located west of the Great Kei river. In addition to fighting over grazing lands, raiding parties on both sides stole cattle and other livestock. The number and severity of the conflicts increased rapidly. By 1779, the situation had deteriorated beyond repair. Over the next 25 years, three Xhosa wars broke out. While these were mainly border skirmishes, they did cause more distrust between the Xhosa and Europeans.

One noteworthy development during this period was the short-term alliances between Ndlambe and the Dutch settler (or Boers). In 1793, Ndlambe sought to defeat the remaining Xhosa clans west of the Kei River. This would make the Ngqika clan the paramount clan in the region and a major threat to their Gcaleka cousins to the east. This Second Frontier War was not much of a war at all. The Boers, eager to stop constant cattle raids, mounted a concerted attack and drove several smaller clans out of the lands west of the Groot-Vis River. There, Ndlambe waited with his armies and routed his fleeing cousins.

The border situation might have died down, but for the fact that young Ngqika was now eighteen and ready to assume the throne. Ndlambe of course was not so willing to give up power, so he appealed to the clan. When this didn’t work, he and his followers sought assistance from the Gcaleka, west of the Kei River. The Gcaleka, fearing the new Chief Ngqika would seek to rekindle and old rivalry, decided to support Ndlambe and sent a small detachment to assist him and his followers. In a legendary battle, Ngqika defeated the force and took Ndlambe prisoner.

The plot thickened in 1795 when the British took control of the cape. Now an undisputed world power, the British colonial empire spread from South America to East India. They viewed their South African possessions the same way they viewed their other possessions, a resource to be mined. When the local population interfered with this endeavor, the population was unseated. They took this attitude to Ngqika with a suggestion that the Xhosa clans west of the Groot-Vis River relocate east to help resolve the border disputes. Ngqika happily agreed, knowing fully well he had no authority over these groups.