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Rich, Colourful AmaNdebele Culture

The cultural practice of the Ndebele people is distinctive, especially with regard to their colourful and rich mural paintings.

Mural painting has been passed on from generation to generation from mother to daughter.

Each and every woman has her own style, meaning and knowledge base about the different things which they use in their lives, which are depicted on the walls.


Everything has a meaning and an importance in the eyes of the artist. The “Ndebele Flower” symbolises a Ndebele Women’s fertility while the razor blade pattern is used extensively as it is used in traditional hair shavings, beadwork, household tasks and traditional ceremonies.
In the old days parents were responsible for choosing a wife for their sons.

A specific son must have returned from an initiation school before the marriage Labola (dowry) could be paid.

The value of the bride’s labola is calculated by the number of cows (usually eight cows) given to the bride’s parents by the groom.

Before a woman is married, a “bukhazi” is performed; the bride to be goes into a smaller room/hut for a week before the wedding and the elder women in the community coach her about her role as a wife and her duties as a married woman within the village.

This tradition is usually practiced in winter, every four years. The boys are taken to the bush for a period of two months whereby they learn the history, rituals, norm, values and traditional poems of the Ndebele culture.

A circumcision process takes place at the end of this period and the boy is initiated into manhood. The men then return to home and are ceremoniously welcomed back into the community as men.

The mothers of the initiates prepare, fix and paint the homestead in preparation for the welcome home ceremonies. Traditionally the houses were painted in muted, natural colours extracted from nature – black from fire ash, white from stones, browns/yellows from cow dung.

Pigments were often mixed with cow dung and water and then applied to the walls. The bright colours only came later, with the introduction of western and Indian paint pigments. Girls practice their initiation schooling around the village for a period of one month.  Celebrations differ from the men’s initiation school but the young girl’s teachings are completed once they too have been initiated.

When the youth have completed their initiation, and return to the village, a bull is slaughtered for the male initiates and a cow for the female initiates, to welcome them back into the community. Before a cow is slaughtered, the blood of a goat must be thrown on the ground.

The Ndebele culture is also closely linked with nature. The Morula tree, weeping wattle (mosetlha) and the buffalo thorn (mokgalo) abound in the Mapoch village. The Morula tree produces a fruit, which is used to make traditional morula beer. The fruits drop from the trees in January/ February and the village and livestock are well fed.

Back in the day, men used to gather at a special gathering known as the E bandla, a meeting or Indaba place, to discuss important issues, which affect the whole village.

Women, on the other side, are not allowed at these meetings or in these places. There is however, a place in the village, normally under a centre tree, where the whole village meets to discuss certain issues.


Women usually discuss issues whilst doing their daily tasks. Important decisions are left for the men to decide.
As far as their Ndebele diet is concerned, traditionally maize meal (known as “pap” or “mealiepap”) forms the staple diet. The meats include, among others, chicken, beef, lamb, as well as vegetables which are added to the pap.

A sauce or gravy is sometimes served with the pap. Mala magodus, mainly sheep or cow tripe, chicken feet and heads from goats, sheep and cows are regular delicacies.