Xhosa Gallery

Anthropology collects and documents Xhosa traditional knowledge, ranging from artifacts and medicines to myths and rituals.

Owing to its predominantly oral character, traditional knowledge is doomed to extinction in a modern hi-tech world in which its poetic language and practical significance are likely to be misunderstood, unless recorded and documented for posterity.

Ethnological artifacts are displayed in the XHOSA GALLERY, which documents social and cultural change among the Xhosa of the Eastern Cape from pre-colonial times to the present.


When he was born is unknown. 1875 is one of the dates previously mentioned, but this is clearly incorrect particularly if one considers the obituary written by D. E. Mbane that appeared in Imvo Zabantsundu following Sontonga’s death on 18 April 1905. Mbane mentions that Sontonga was thirty-three years old when he died, which means that he must have been born in 1872. “He was not sick, except for a stomach ache. He was always saying he was going to die.” On that account, he asked his wife one Sunday to take a photograph of him, but she had a toothache. As a result, he went to a professional photographer to have his portrait taken. His obituary mentions that he was a preacher and photographer. He was survived by his wife and a child.

Sontonga was born in Uitenhage and not at Lovedale Institution in Alice, as was previously believed. He was a member of the Mpinga clan (isiduko), which makes him Mpondomise, rather than Thembu as is sometimes claimed. Apparently, after being trained as a teacher at Lovedale, he was sent by the elders of the Methodist Church by ox wagon to Johannesburg, where he became an assistant teacher and choirmaster at the newly founded Methodist Church in Nancefield. According to his obituary, at the time of his death he was the choirmaster at the Rev. P. J. Mzimba Church in Johannesburg

Sontonga had a gift for song. He composed pieces, words and music for the use of his pupils at public entertainments. He wrote his compositions down in Tonic Sol-fa on odd sheets of paper, including Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, and eventually collected them into an exercise book with a view to publishing them. However, he died before he could achieve his ambition. He only wrote the first verse of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. The Xhosa poet laureate, S. E. K. Mqhayi (1875-1945), wrote the additional seven verses of the hymn. Composed in 1897, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika was publicly sung in 1899 at the ordination of the Rev. M. Boweni, a Tsonga Methodist minister. The hymn was also commonly sung in Native Day Schools. The Ohlange Zulu Choir, which was founded by Rev. J. L. Dube, presented the hymn at concerts in Johannesburg and further popularised it.

Sontonga’s portrait has an interesting history. In the early 1930’s Professor D. D. T. Jabavu (1885-1959), of Fort Hare University, was approached by the editor of Lovedale Press, Mr Shepherd, for a portrait of E. M. Sontonga to be used in a forthcoming publication of sheet music devoted to Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and its history. In a letter dated 17 March 1934 Professor Jabavu informed Mr Shepherd that he had found a negative of a photograph of Sontonga taken by a Johannesburg photographer, S. Govo, who was a former Lovedale student, and he was forwarding a copy to Lovedale Press. When Lovedale Press burned down in the early 1960’s the portrait of Sontonga and Jabavu’s letter, which were fortunately at the editor’s home, escaped being destroyed in the blaze and were subsequently donated to the museum. Sontonga was a keen photographer and on the day his portrait was taken he was walking round Johannesburg taking photographs with his camera. The bulge under his jacket, on the left of the portrait, apparently conceals his box camera.


Maqoma was the greatest Xhosa warrior, guerilla general and leader of the nineteenth century.

He was the eldest son of Ngqika (c. 1775-1829) by the wife of the Right Hand house, Notonta, of the amaNgqosini. Ngqika was the Great Son and heir of Mlawu, the Great Son of Rharhabe (c.1722-1787) who was the Right Hand Son of the Xhosa king Phalo (1702-1775).

In April 1817 Maqoma was present at the negotiations between Lord Charles Somerset and Ngqika on the Kat River. He ‘learnt to tie and milk a kicking cow’ and earned distinction as a warrior in October 1818 at the battle of Amalinde, in which Ndlambe defeated his arch rival Ngqika. At the head of his fellow abakhwetha (circumcision initiates) Maqoma stormed the enemy lines time and again, but he was severely wounded. Ndlambe’s warriors would probably have been killed him after the battle had not his comrades come to find him and help him from the field. Ngqika gave his Right Hand Son Maqoma his own beast and he consequently became the leader of the amaJingqi with the Xhosa praise name, Aah Jongsombomvu!

Following Ngqika’s death, Maqoma became regent during the minority of his younger half-brother, Sandile, Ngqika’s Great Son and heir, between 1829 and 1840, when Sandile was circumcised and later assumed the leadership of the amaNgqika. The military forcibly removed Maqoma from the Mancazana River for ‘cattle raiding’ in May 1829, the very month and year Tiyo Soga was born. In April 1830 he told Dr John Philip and his son-in-law, John Fairbairn, that ‘his heart was sore‘ owing to the loss of his lands. Having returned to the latter area, he was once again removed at gun point in November 1833. The loss of Maqoma’s lands was an intense grievance, the burning issue and motivating cause for the outbreak of the ‘War of Hintsa’ in 1835, in which he played a leading role.

When the ‘War of the Axe’ broke out in March 1846, Maqoma played only a small part, possibly owing to the involvement of Sandile, with whom he had a rivalrous relationship. In September Maqoma was the first to sue for peace and on the 25 November 1846 he gave himself up. When Sir Harry Smith arrived in Port Elizabeth in December 1847, he not only upbraided Maqoma in his presence for oath-breaking and murder, but also ordered him to prostrate himself and placed his boot on his neck saying, “This is to teach you that I come thither to teach [Xhosaland] that I am chief and master here, and this is the way I shall treat the enemies of the Queen of England.” Maqoma’s resulting humiliation promised that the governor had not heard the last of him. Nevertheless, in 1848 Maqoma was allowed to return to part of his former territory, where the Kat River Settlement had previously been established on part of his lands. In December 1848 Maqoma’s followers numbered only 2066, compared to Sandile’s 15 000, out of a total Xhosa population in Ciskei of 62 000. During the ‘War of Mlanjeni’ (1850-53), it took eighteen months for the British to dislodge Maqoma from his mountain stronghold. As the principal war leader involved in the conflict, he negotiated peace in March 1853. Maqoma participated in the Cattle Killing (1856-57) and inevitably became embroiled in colonial politics. Having been convicted as ‘a party to the murder of Fusani’, he was exiled to Robben Island in 1857 for twenty-one years. Nevertheless, he was released in 1869. After being convicted for’ incitement to violence’, he was sent back to Robben Island in November 1871, where he died two years later.

In the annals of frontier military history Maqoma is best remembered for keeping the frustrated governor ‘boxed up’ in Fort Cox between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve 1850. He also managed to frustrate Colonel Henry Somerset’s several attempts to break the siege of Fort Cox. Particularly memorable in that connection was Maqoma’s daringly successful attack on Somerset’s patrol on Sunday 29 December 1850 resulting in a desperate hand-to-hand struggle between officers and men of Colonel Yarborough’s 91st Regiment and Nguni warriors in a thorny valley at the foot of Mount Sandile, where twenty-three British officers and men were found the following day in the deadly embrace of their foes Later, in 1856, Maqoma, with evident admiration, praised Yarborough’s men saying, “They died fighting and cursing to the last”. On that occasion Maqoma’s contempt for Somerset, who a few days after the fore-mentioned engagement was promoted to Major-General, was apparently “as hearty and sincere”.