In the 17th century, the Ndebele broke away from their coastal Nguni cousins, who were to become part of the mighty Zulu empire (Northern Ndebele and southern Ndebele, which is spoken in South Africa, are separate but related languages although the former is more closely related to Zulu.)
Ndebele culture is diverse and well appreciated all over Africa and the world. It has an expensive cultural heritage built up from the 14th century and still showing its value anywhere the culture story comes up.
Ndebele women were responsible for painting the colourful and intricate patterns on the walls of their houses. This presented the traditionally subordinate wife with an opportunity to express her individuality and sense of self-worth. Her innovativeness in the choice of colours and designs sets her apart from her peer group.
Ndebele women are full of colourful ornaments looking beautiful and symbolising her status in society. Husbands used to provide their wives with rings; the richer the husband, the more rings the wife would wear. The rings (called Idzila) were believed to have strong ritual powers, she would only remove the rings after his death.
The residential unit of each family was called an Umuzi. The Umuzi usually consisted of a family head (Unnumzana) with his wife and unmarried children. If he had more than one wife, the Umuzi was divided into two halves, a right and a left half, to accommodate the different wives.
Every tribe consisted of a number of patrilineal clans or Izibongo. This meant that every clan consisted of a group of individuals who shared the same ancestor in the paternal line.
The initiation rites are considered as a symbol of maturity. The boys are initiated into a group when they are of 18 years of age called special regiment (Iintanga) and led by a boy of high social rank. The girls, on the other hand, wear a large collection of colourful beaded hoops (called Iinrholwani) around their legs, arms, waist, and neck. The girls are kept away from society and they are trained to become homemakers and matriarchs.
Corn is the staple food in the community. maize cereals (Isitshwala) are a favourite.
There are five main colours representing Ndebele people: red, yellow, gold, sky blue, green and sometimes pink. They can mean the status or power of the home’s owners, offer prayer, announce a marriage in the home or can represent a current protest. Ndebele is known for breeding artistes up. The likes of the famous Esther Mahlangu who is making Ndebele proud and also has gained international fame. She is the first woman and also the first African to be asked to do the prestigious BMW art car.