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Xhosa Genealogy

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Relationships among the Xhosa

The genealogy of the Western Nguni kings and chiefs is inherently complicated because it is based on a system of polygamous marriage and the consequently complicated inheritance rules. The lines of descent are of great importance culturally and have been passed down through oral tradition. Inevitably there are inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the information available, particularly for the early generations. The charts below are intended to show the relationships between those rulers who play a significant part in our story. To understand the line of succession it is necessary to understand the hierarchy of the wives of the chief. When a boy had gone through the circumcision ceremony he became a man, able to marry. An intrinsic part of the marriage ritual was the payment by the bridegroom of the bride price, lobola, to the parents of the bride. This took the form of a number of cattle appropriate to the wealth and status of the betrothed. A young chief might take several wives and have a number of children by them. Eventually, when he was mature, a dynastic marriage would be undertaken. This was usually to the daughter of another, often distant, chief, and an important feature of this marriage was that the lobola was paid, not by the chief himself, but by his people. This wife became the Great Wife; her eldest son was the heir apparent and her house was the Great House. The next most senior wife, often the first wife, was the wife of the Right Hand House. The sons of the Right Hand House had a role as councillors, giving advice to the chief. Because the Great Wife was generally married relatively late in the life of a chief, the Great Son often succeeded his father when he was still a minor. In such cases it was usually the son of the Right Hand House who acted as Regent. Thus Ndlambe acted for Ngqika, and Maqoma for Sandile.
The chiefs did not have absolute power. Their advisors played a vital part and no chief could ignore them without losing adherents. Nor was the succession of the heir a foregone conclusion. Concerns about the capacity of the heir or other political considerations could play a part, as was the case of Ngqika, whose brother was heir apparent and favoured by the elders, but was appointed through the influence of Ndlambe.
The Xhosa kings and chiefs appearing in our story have a common ancestor, Togu, who was active in the middle to late seventeenth century. The genealogical tables show his descendants. The polygamous system means that the relationships are complex. In particular, it is seldom that the name of a wife is known. Only some of the Great Wives of the major figures are recorded. For this reason children have been identified as originating in the Great House or the Right Hand House or a minor House, rather than by the name of their mother. The lines of descent are exclusively patrilineal; the names of the women, who in their time frequently played a powerful and influential role, have often not been recorded in the oral tradition.

The Origins of the Xhosa houses


Xhosa origins
The chiefs of most of the Western Xhosa tribes had a common ancestor Togu. This chart shows his descendants and the various Houses that resulted.
The major sources are Soga [1930], Jackson [1975], and Peires [1981]. Both the latter authors make substantial use of Soga’s much earlier work, which, in turn, is based heavily on oral tradition. Jackson provides extensive genealogical charts. His purpose, however, was to clarify the descent of those chiefs who held office (by tradition, or by Government appointment) at the time. Some lines which died out get scant attention. Peires’s work remedies this in some cases. The descent of the imiDange is a special case. Recent work by Peires [2008] has amplified and clarified this and corrected significant errors.


Jackson, 1975, The Ethnic Composition of the Ciskei and Transkei, Government Printer, Pretoria.
Peires, J. B., 1981, The House of Phalo : a History of the Xhosa People in the Days of their Independence , Ravan Press, Johannesburg.
Peires, J. B., 2008, The Other side of the Black Silk Handkerchief: The van Plettenberg Agreement of 1778, Quart. Bull. Nat. Lib. S. A. , v. 62, pp 9 – 35.
Soga, J. H., 1930, The South Eastern Bantu: abe-Nguni, aba-Mbo, ama-Lala, Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg.
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Descendants of Phalo

Three sons of Phalo founded three important Xhosa Houses
Gcaleka
Gcaleka was the first son of the Great Wife of Phalo. The Gcaleka House is the royal house of the Xhosa.  Although his brothers Rharhabe and  Langa founded independent houses, the western Xhosa still recognized Gcaleka and his heirs as the kings of the western Xhosa.
The amaGcaleka occupied the region to the east of the Kei river near Butterworth. They were thus remote from the frontier before the expansion of the Colony. Their contacts with the colony were first through missionaries and pioneering traders rather than those colonists who lived in the frontier region. Later their contacts were with the invading British troops.

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Rharhabe
Rharhabe, after conflict with Gcaleka, broke away from his brother's control.
The amaRharhabe occupied a region adjacent to the frontier. They were in the front line of contact with the Colony.

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Langa
Langa founded the House of the amaMbalu. Nqeno and Stokwe play significant parts in Pawns in a Larger Game.
The amaMbalu occupied a face to face position with the Colony on the eastern side of the Fish River near Committees Drift

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Other branches of the Xhosa


mdange
Mdange, founder of the imiDange, was a son of the right hand house of Ngconde. Jalamba, Habana, and Bhothomane all make appearances in the earlier part of Pawns in a Larger Game. The minor chief Tola played a key role in the initiation of the War of the Axe.

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ntinde
The amaNtinde occupied the region near King Williams Town. Dyani Tshatshu, the Christian chief, makes several appearances in the book.

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The Gqunukwhebe


gqunukwhebe
The Gqunukwhebe were very distantly related to the Xhosa. Over the years they had assimilated large numbers of Khoikhoi. While they were ethnically part Khoi they were culkturally Xhosa.They occupied the coastal region to the east of the Fish River. Chungwa, Phatho and Kobe play significant parts in Pawns in a Larger Game.

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