55-year-old Mirriam Baloyi, one of the elders in the Siyandhani village, which is an area just outside Giyani, Limpopo sits down with us and tells us about the integral part that Xibelani plays in the Tsonga culture. As she commences with the making of a Xibelani skirt her daughter will wear at her wedding in the coming months, she mentions with sheer delight on her face just how practicing our tradition and cultures helps us as Africans to remain rooted in who we are.
The Xibelani skirt is a traditional Tsonga skirt that Mama Mirriam has worn since she was a young girl and to this day she continues to wear it with a cloth that is draped across one shoulder, called Minceka. She explains that the Xibelani skirt is quite versatile and can be worn to traditional events such as Ntlangu, Nkhuvu or even Tikhomba – a coming of age ceremony for ladies. Tikhomba is similar to the isiZulu ceremony called “umemulo", a rite of passage ritual into womanhood, where elderly women pass on their knowledge to younger women. She then smiles a little as she mentions how not so long ago they hosted Tikhomba for her daughter and now she’s getting married.
She then gets up to show us the dance she will be doing at her daughter’s wedding which is the Xibelani dance. She explains how perfecting this dance takes practice and describes how the dance isdone through a considerable amount of hip and feet coordination in order to move the Xibelani skirt with flair. The movement is usually dictated by the music which determines how fast or how slow one has to move their feet and waist. The Makhwaya dance is a dance performed by men and young boys at these events of celebration. The male attire is called Tinjhovo; she also knows how to make the male attire and she mentions how rare it is to find people who can make both in the traditional way it has been made for centuries. These days people have added a modern spin to the Xibelani and Tinjhovo, which is something that is really unsettling for Mama Mirriam. “It’s like we are diluting our culture. People don’t want to learn about the right way to make these things, especially young people,” she adds.
Tsonga women love to express themselves and colour is one way to do this. She gets up and reaches for a box on top of her wardrobe, in it is all the accessories she wears with her Xibelani. All of them are made with colourful beads to symbolise the diversity of the Tsonga heritage. She shows us her large collection of colourful beads called Vuhlalu and Vusenga which are silver bangles or ankle bracelets made out of wire. She mentions how men use feathers, beads and animal fur to accessorise. Although the greatest threat to their tradition is young people modernising sacred cultural practices or neglecting to perform them, Sunglen Siyandhani, sister to the Chief of the Siyandhani village, takes great pride in ensuring that elderly women and the youth keep their heritage alive through small community events where they are able to dance and learn from older men and women about the ways of the Tsonga people. “Many young people don’t understand that our tradition makes us who we are, we must continue to learn and perform every part of our culture in the way the previous generations used to do it, if we are to keep the Tsonga culture alive,” concludes Miriam Baloyi.
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