The History Of Xibelani: A Documentary By Sho Madjozi That Tells The Story Of An Ethnic Group & Ultimately Of Black South Africans

Africans documenting African culture is of the essence because Africans need to tell their own stories.

Archiving our stories and the ownership of our narrative are crucial for decolonising all aspects of our lives that were interrupted by colonialism. For instance, when Sho Madjozi is not disrupting pop culture through her music and style, she's exploring the roots of her Tsonga culture, and that of her fellow Black South Africans in a documentary film; a true cultural worker.

The History of Xibelani is a documentary directed by poet, rapper and writer, Sho Madjozi. As the title suggests; it details a story of the history of Xibelani, the traditional XiTsonga garment, which tells the story of the history of an ethnic group and ultimately the history of Back South Africans.

Meaning of Xibelani

The word Xibelani means the XiTsonga traditional dance skirt. The word Xibelani is fairly recent according to the elders featured in the documentary. They used to call it Tinguvu in the old days, not Xibelani.

In the old days

In the old days, you were not allowed to wear a Xibelani without a cloth. Men were forbidden from touching it or seeing it.

Interrupted by colonialism

Xibelani is colourful. The colour yellow must always be there. The colours must get your attention. Some Tsonga people made their Xibelanis from the maize mill bag and the missionaries who came from Switzerland brought the dresses, although baTsonga people thought they were Frence.  They later called them the first church the Swiss Mission. When people wore a Xibelani, they were called heathens. They were condemned for anything that had to do with the culture of Tsonga people.

One of the young women featured in the documentary says, "If your mother walked past wearing a Xibelani you wouldn't feel good. You would even ask your mother not to come to school anymore
Meaning, it was something to be ashamed of."  However, the people who continued to wear it were those who had no choice because they only knew Xibelani as their own dress.

Post-colonial South Africa

In post-colonial South Africa, those who laughed about it are now back to wearing the Xibelani.

In the documentary, Sho Madjozi raises a significant question, "If we're only ba Tsonga on special days, then who are we the rest of the time?" This statement resonates with the sentiments I always echo each year on heritage day. Why do we as Africans regard our traditional wear as ceremonial garments? Why don't we rock it any day? Why wait for Heritage Day or traditional weddings?

In February 2020, Sho Madjozi spoke at the Design Indaba where she addressed the history and future of Xibelani, and urged that "We shouldn't museumify our culture - we should live it."

Watch full trailer below:

Photo Credit: Garth von Glehn | Flourish And Multiply

Video Credit: Sho Madjozi | YouTube

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