History of the Xibelani dance of the Tsonga Culture.

The Tsonga people are a diverse group of tribes that include the Shangaan, Thonga, Tonga, Vandzawu, VaTshwa, Vakalanga and Valoyi to name a few. Together they numbered about 1.5 million people in South Africa in the mid-1990s, with some 4.5 million individuals in southern Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Tribal differences often lead to rejection of the title Shangaan or Tsonga, depending on who you’re speaking to. It’s important to understand that Tsonga people share one origin, but each tribe has assumed different identities. Tsonga people can be found in South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Historical Background

Image source: shesaid.com

The first Tsonga-speakers to enter the former Transvaal probably did so during the 18th Century. They were essentially traders who followed rivers inland, where they bartered cloth and beads for ivory, copper and salt. The Shangaan tribe came into being when King Shaka of the Zulu, sent Soshangane (Manukosi) to conquer the Tsonga people in the area of present-day southern Mozambique, during the Mfecane upheaval of the 19th Century.

Soshangane found a fertile place inhabited by scattered communities of peace-loving people, and he decided to make it his home rather than return to Shaka. The Shangaan were a mixture of Nguni (a language group which includes Swazi, Zulu and Xhosa), and Tsonga speakers (Ronga, Ndzawu, Shona, Chopi tribes), which Soshangane conquered and subjugated.

Apart from South Africa, the Tsonga people also live in the African countries of Swaziland and Zimbabwe. In terms of history, it is essential to note that Tsonga people from South Africa share the same historical background and culture with the Vatsonga people found in southern Mozambique. On the contrary, South Africa Xitsonga people differ from the Zambia and Zimbabwe Tonga people in terms of cultural differences and linguistic pronunciations. Read more

Read also: Shangaan-Tsonga Historical Background

The Xibelani Dance

The Xibelani Dance (Shibelani, Shibelana, Shibelane) is an indigenous dance of the Tsonga women and it is originated from the native Xitsonga (a Bantu Language) language. The name of the dance comes from the native Xitsonga language and it can translate to “hitting to the rhythm”, for example, the concept “xi Bela ni vunanga“. The name “xibelani” typically refers to the dance style while the skirt itself is referred to as “tinguvu”, however, the term “xibelani” is sometimes used to refer to both the dance and the skirt. The skirt is known as “tinguvu”. This xibelani skirt is tied around the dancer’s waist and then shake from the waist.It is made from cloth or wool and is customized with different colors and designs.

Other sources sat that the xibelani dance goes way back into the early coastal times of southern Mozambique from the 1400s or earlier when Mozambican tribes were experimenting with musical instruments and particularly wooden instruments and percussion sounds from traditional drums, xylophones, and marimbas. The indigenous Chopi people became particularly active in this art and are the documented source concerning the early times of this form of music and dance

This dance of Tsonga people you can see in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique also.

For Tsonga girls, learning this dance is mandatory. This xibelani dance is the way to show their pride and heritage. It is a typical Caribbean shake with faster rhythm. The aim of this skirt is to make the dancer’s hip looks bigger. Throughout the dance, they shake the hips with the drum’s beat and the typically designed skirt emphasizes the shaking.

Image source: https://ostudiopost.co.za/ostudiopost-culture-corner-with-the-tsonga-culture/

It is customary for Tsonga girls to learn the xibelani dance, and it is a way for them to express pride in their cultural heritage. The xibelani dance is used on occasions such as mkhinyavezo and Ku chachula,as well as to accompany other traditional dances such as the makhwaya and mchongolo. Traditionally women dance the xibelani, while men perform the makhwaya, Xincayinciy(xigubu) and on rare occasions participate in the mchongolo.

The Tsongas perform the xibelani dance to their own distinct music, usually Tsonga electro or Tsonga ndzhumbha (Xitsonga traditional music) and it has become typical for all Tsonga bands to have female xibelani dancers. The xibelani and tshetsha dances have experienced regained popularity in modern Giyani as the people have embraced their traditional ways.

While the xibelani dance is customary for women, some men now also participate in it, especially when there is a xiseveseve (a type of party). In modern society the xibelani dance is regarded as an open dance in which everyone can participate, and it is also used both in church as well as in rituals.

Shangaan – Tsonga Music Today

The Shangaan people are also custodians of a unique genre of music known as Shangaan Electro, which originates from Tsonga Disco and Kwaito House. The music is characterised by an extremely fast-paced beat, fluid guitar lines and drumming influenced by Thomas Chauke and Paul Simon. Shangaan Electro beats can go up to 190bpm, and this genre is specifically created for dancing, particularly footwork that can be compared to isipantsula and is often referred to as Xibelani. The dancers are often decked in colourful attire.                    

One of the pioneers of Shangaan Electro is an artist named Sho Nozinja, who is also known for taking Shangaan Electro to Europe and the US after being discovered by another artist, Wills Glasspiegel. Nozinja is also behind large street parties that take place. Here you’ll experience the thrill of Shangaan Electro, and people from miles around can feel the fast-paced beat reverberate around them. Nozinja’s music was initially released in 2010, followed by a compilation of remixes from international acts including Theo Parrish, Actress, Hype Williams and Anthony “Shake” Shakir. 

Shangaan culture has certainly evolved, and made international inroads. However, tribal divides continue to plague South Africa as does discrimination, and people remain skeptical of whether the music has an audience. However, artists like Sho Madjozi are proving that the Shangaan culture is relatable.

The Shangaan -Tsonga People |Southafrica.net
Xibelani Dance | Wikipedia
Shangaan Tsonga | KrugerPark.co.za

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