Xhosa Traditional Attire

People wear Xhosa traditional attire for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is a way to express their pride in their culture and heritage. Second, it is seen as an emblem of beauty and femininity. Finally, it is a method to draw attention and exhibit their own distinct style.

In the Xhosa culture, traditional dresses for females are rather distinct. It’s usually a long, brightly-colored gown with a matching headscarf. Xhosa traditional attire is very ornate and takes numerous hours to put together.

xhosa traditional attire
Xhosa Traditional Attire

Types of Xhosa Traditional Attire

The Xhosa traditional attire is made up of colorful and beautiful ensembles that have been worn for millennia. This apparel is not only a mode of dress; it also symbolizes the Xhosa culture and history.

The Xhosa traditional attire is made up of many different elements with varying meanings and purposes. It’s critical to understand the meanings and history behind these symbols in order to properly wear Xhosa clothes.

Xhosa traditional attire varies in style from one geographical area to another, but generally they include a blanket or shawl, a skirt, and a beaded headdress. The blanket is generally composed of thick animal wool and has exquisite patterns embroidered on it.

The traditional clothes worn by Xhosa women are intended for ordinary work activities. This includes gathering food, getting water, and caring for livestock. Moreover, the skirts are generally made of bright printed fabric and frequently very festive in appearance.

Elegant Xhosa traditional dresses consist of a long, brightly coloured skirt, a matching top, and a techni-coloured headscarf. In addition, women also sometimes wear beaded necklaces and earrings. Traditional Xhosa dresses are worn for special events like weddings, funerals, and cultural activities.

General Dresses

These will typically be worn to special events such as funerals, cultural events, birthdays and weddings, if you’re a guest. See some examples below which include short Xhosa traditional dresses.

black xhosa dress
Black and White Dress
xhosa traditional dresses
Another Black and White Theme
xhosa traditional attire man and woman
Couple in Ethnic Xhosa Dress
short xhosa traditional dresses
ethnic red dress xhosa
Looking Dashing in a Red Dress
urban xhosa traditional attire
Stylish Xhosa Couple
red and black xhosa dress
A Simple Red design

Xhosa Traditional Wedding Dresses

As the name suggests these are worn by the bride at a wedding. Explore some examples below.

xhosa traditional wedding dresses
Xhosa Traditional Wedding Dresses
elegant xhosa traditional dresses
Black and White Wedding Dress
xhosa wedding dress
Xhosa Elegance
xhosa wedding
Glamorous Couple
xhosa attire
Cream and Black Wedding Dress

Xhosa Ethnography

Let’s explore the Xhosa ethnography. This involves taking a deep dive into the people, culture and customs.

Xhosa People

The Xhosa people are a Nguni ethnic group native to the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. They are the second largest race group in Southern Africa and speak the IsiXhosa language as their traditional language.

Currently, there are approximately eight million Xhosa people in South Africa, and the Xhosa language is the country’s second-most populous home language, after the Zulu variety.

Although the pre-1994 apartheid system of Bantustans revoked Xhosa South African citizenship, it set up “homelands” (native reserves) for them called Transkei and Ciskei, which are now both a part of the Eastern Cape Province. Many Xhosa people reside in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London.

Xhosa Language

The most widely spoken language in South Africa is Xhosa, which belongs to the Nguni branch of languages. It is a daughter language of Southern Ndebele, Northern Ndebele, and Zulu. The term “Nguni” refers to the group of related languages that include Zulu and Southern Ndebele

Xhosa is mutually intelligible to a small degree with Zulu and other Nguni languages, albeit to a lesser extent. The larger classification of Bantu languages includes the Nguni languages.

xhosa people
Rural Xhosa Women

Xhosa History

According to oral tradition, the modern Xhosa Kingdom was founded before the 15th century by Tshawe (who gave his tribe their name) who overthrew his brother Cirha (together with his brother Jwarha) with the help of the amaNgwevu clan of Mpondomise.

Tshawe fought and defeated the people of the Mpondomize Kingdom, incorporating its formerly independent Nguni clans into the Xhosa kingdom. The Inqua, Giqwa, and Amangqosini (both khoi and sotho stock) were incorporated as well.

Previously self-governing (many of them originating from the khoi) and chiefdoms in the area were conquered by the amaTshawe and spoke isiXhosa as their primary language.

Colonialism and the Xhosa

The Xhosa people’s identity became political, not ethnic, and anyone who accepted the House of Tshawe as rulers was considered to be Xhosa. The Xhosa polity grew in power over most of the Cape Khoi, right up to the very outskirts of the Cape Peninsula.

With the arrival of Europeans in 1652, the indigenous people were gradually pushed eastwards until, in the 1700s, the boundaries of the Cape Colony had pushed populations far enough east (with relations between colonists and natives increasingly strained) to form a critical mass of hostile population to resist settlers in the Eastern Cape.

The Dutch sought to conquer the Cape of Good Hope, which they regarded as a gateway to the riches of India. This sparked off the Cape Frontier Wars, which were some of South Africa’s longest military resistance against colonialism. The ultimate result would be the confinement of large portions of the Cape native population in Native Reservations in eastern South Africa.

However, these people would also be used to perform labour for the Cape Colony in the future. In the 20th century, these indigenous reserves were rebranded as “homelands,” and only fully dismantled in 1994 when people began returning to their traditional homes throughout the wider Cape.

Xhosa Politics

During the historical mfecane in the 1800s, the Xhosas engaged and repelled several tribes that were fleeing Zulus in Natal. Those who were accepted were assimilated into the Xhosa culture and followed its customs.

The Xhosas divided these various groups into the AmaMfengu, or wanderers, who were made up of families such as the amaBhaca, amaBhele, and amaHlubi. The descendants of the amaMfengu are part of the Xhosa nation today and speak isiXhosa.

The Xhosa people’s capacity for unity and resistance to foreign encroachment was weakened by the famines and political divisions that followed the cattle-killing movement of 1856–1858.

This movement is now seen as a millennialist reaction, both to a lung sickness that was affecting Xhosa cattle at the time and to the strain placed on Xhosa society by the continuing loss of their territory and autonomy.

According to certain historians, this early absorption into the wage sector is responsible for the long history of trade union membership and political leadership among Xhosa people.

History continues to speak today in high proportions of Xhosa representation in the ANC’s top leadership, South Africa’s ruling political party.

xhosa village
Traditional Xhosa Village

Xhosa Folkore

Diviners (amagqirha) are one of the many types of healers in South Africa. This job is usually carried out by women who spend five years in training. There are also herbalists (amaxhwele), prophets (izanuse), and healers (iinyanga) for the community.

The Xhosa have a rich oral culture, with many tales of legendary ancestors; according to folklore. Dreams have a significant part in divination and communication with ancestors. Rituals, initiations, and feasts are features of traditional religion. Modern rituals typically handle issues such as sickness and mental well-being.

Xhosa Religion

The first Bible translation was undertaken in the mid-1850s, partly by Henry Hare Dugmore, missionary Protestants who had established outposts among the Xhosa.

Many Xhosa people were not converted in significant numbers until the 20th century. However, many are Christian now, particularly within the African created churches such as the Zion Christian Church. Certain denominations combine Christianity with older customs.

Xhosa Customs


The Xhosa are a South African cultural group who emphasise traditional practices and customs inherited from their forefathers. Each person within the Xhosa culture has their place which is recognised by the entire community.

Starting from birth, a Xhosa person goes through graduation stages which recognise their growth and assign them a recognised place in the community.

Each stage is marked by a specific ritual aimed at introducing the individual to their counterparts and also to their ancestors. Starting from imbeleko, a ritual performed to introduce a new born to the ancestors, to umphumo (the homecoming), from inkwenkwe (a boy) to indoda (a man).

These rituals and ceremonies are sancrosact to the identity and heritage of the Xhosa and other African descendents. Though some western scholars question the relevance of these practices today, even urbanised Xhosa people do still follow them.

xhosa initiation
Male Initiation


The manhood ritual, a secret ceremony that signals the transition from boyhood to adulthood, ulwaluko, is still carried out.

The initiates (abakwetha) live in seclusion for up to several weeks, frequently in the mountains, after ritual circumcision. They smear white clay on their bodies and follow a variety of customs while they heal.

Girls are also initiated into womenhood (Intonjane). They, like males, are kept in isolation for a shorter time. Female initiates are not circumcised.


The various customs and rituals that are connected with Xhosa traditional behaviors are found in Xhosa marriage, umtso.

These include the “selection” of the wife by the male known as Ukuthwalwa. This stage also involves the man making his intentions of marriage known to his future wife’s family. After that the Isiduko happens where the man will then let his parents know which women he has chosen.

The final stage is Inkhazi, where the man will proceed to appoint marriage negotiators to help broker a dowry payment known as lobola.

The Xhosa people’s customs have been carried out for decades and are now part of contemporary Xhosa marriages. The goal of the techniques is to bring together two distinct families and offer assistance to the newlyweds.

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