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Xhosa: Embracing Love Through a South African Language

  • Ashley Michelle Williams
  • 27 June 2012

This article was published by our friends at Africa.com, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on their Africa.com Blog.

No matter where you are in the world, sometimes it seems that all you need is love — that is, the love of other people. Indeed, I found this type of love from the overflowing diversity of people who I met when I traveled to South Africa.

For some reason, I don’t think I was that aware of how much diversity existed within South Africa.

South African flag

"Rainbow Nation" is a term that was coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe the unity of post-apartheid South Africa. The metaphor is represented by the colourful South African flag. Photo courtesy of flickr/WireLizard

I hate to be ignorant, but I didn’t realize the array of languages and cultures that existed within the country. Now, I definitely understand I why they called South Africa the Rainbow Nation. In fact, according to South Africa Explored, out of the 45 million South Africans, about 31 million are black; five million are white; three million are mixed race; and one million are Indian. Additionally, the black population is divided into four major ethnic groups, which are Nguni, Sotho, Shangaan-Tsonga and Venda. There are numerous subgroups of which the Zulu and Xhosa (two subgroups of the Nguni) are the largest. That is a great amount of diversity!

Interestingly, most people around the world do not even realize that there are so many types of people from many numerous backgrounds in South Africa. Like me, I think many people just assume that there is only one type of ethnicity present and that there are probably not many languages spoken there.

But guess what? That’s not true, either.

In fact, I was surprised to find out that there are actually more than 10 official languages in South Africa! Some of these languages include English, Afrikaans, Ndebele, Sepedi, Xhosa, Venda, Tswana, Southern Sotho, Zulu, Swazi and Tsonga.

Yet, my favorite language that many of my friends spoke and that I often heard while traveling around South Africa was Xhosa.

Nearly eight million South Africans speak Xhosa, which is pronounced with a clicking sound that encompasses the entire language. Thinking back on my experience (and even now as I silently try to pronounce this word as I type this post), it was very hard for me even to speak the word for the language. I had a lot of laughs, tough love and corrections from my friends when I tried to speak it.

Indeed, it was this love of the language and its culture that drew me to write this post. I didn’t know this then, but according to South Africa Explored:

The word ‘Xhosa’ is derived from the Khoisan language, which means ‘angry men.’ A majority of the languages in South Africa which involve tongue-clicking originate from the Khoisan. … With this fact, South Africa’s known to be Xhosa’s native land, and especially the Eastern Cape, where the language is spoken everywhere. When I traveled to Grahamstown and Cape Town, it seemed like I could always hear people carrying on in conversations speaking Xhosa.

Although there are English sounds within the language, there is a definitely an intense amount of clicking, which can be quite hard for someone who isn’t used to the language.

Still, though it can be hard to speak Xhosa and it can be quite overwhelming to know and to see so much diversity within one country, it is the love of people that really puts one at ease — at least, it did for me. The warmth of the people within South Africa as I tried to learn and embrace the many cultures there completely filled my soul. It re-sparked the belief in me that regardless of who we are, where we come from, and even what we speak, we can still come together and embrace one another. We can still love one another and be open to the thoughts, perceptions and beauty that is embedded within each of us.

Honestly, I think that is why I was and I am still so impacted by my experience in South Africa. It was an experience that I will remember all the days of my life. I found that even in a world in which there is sadness, poverty, corruption and so much negativity, we as human beings can still come together and love one another.

I learned from South Africans that we can all embrace each other if we remain open, loving and willing…

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Africa, indigenous culture, language, opinion, personal experience, South Africa, Southern Africa, whl.travel,

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