Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
It is one of the Bantu languages - a common characteristic of which is -ntu meaning a man.
Nguni is an artificial term, which suggests an ethnic unit, which it is not. A further, similarly artificial partitioning differentiated between the northern Nguni, consisting of Zulu and Swazi, and the southern Nguni among which are the Xhosa, Thembu, Mfengu , Mpondo and the Mpondomise.
The clan was based on male ancestry, formed the highest unit of the Nguni. Each clan was led by a chieftain. Influential men tried to achieve independence, by creating their own clan. The power of a chieftain depended often on how well they could hold their clan together.
Up to 1800, the southern Nguni culturally hardly differed from the northern Nguni. Both sub-groups consisted of a multiplicity of quite small Chiefdoms. Only after this time were the most important differences of the socio political structure of the northern Nguni apparent. In the early 1800s the first powerful Chiefdoms appeared; in particular the Zulu. The Zulu attained influence by military conquests. Some clans were incorporated into the Kingdom of Zulu. As at that time generally usual, each family did not provide for itself. Rather only some people were responsible for the food production of other people. From this resulted a surplus of workers, which permitted the Zulu to develop an army.
The southern Nguni living between the Ciskei and the Transkei remained a society of individuals. The Xhosa formed the probably most well-known Tribe of the southern Nguni. As is the case for the Zulu the Xhosa had clans, or Kingdoms, whereby the respective king had large power, who had the right to mobilize the entire clan for a war. He was also a highest judge for all disputes. This powerful status of the king permitted a substantially larger strength and stability than with most Chiefdoms. Despite this strength the political structure was to never compare with the state apparatus the Zulu. A specific characteristic of the Xhosa was the intensive regional trade. They exchanged in particular cattle and tobacco with the Thembu, skins of the Pondoland as well as iron and copper of the Tswana. By the arrival of the white man further commercial possibilities opened themselves for the Xhosa.
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