The Xangani (Shangaan) people of the south-eastern lowveld of Zimbabwe are the proud owners of a unique and vibrant social culture-
such as stunning hut paintings
Each year the Changana people celebrate their culture in various ways. such as dance.
General cultural information:
Xichangana is correct term if referring to the language.
Machangana as a plural form of muchangana, referring to the people.
Various cultural festivals have been hosted over the years by the Chiefs surrounding Gonarezhou National Park… but there is one major festival annually called
“The Great Limpopo Cultural Trade Fair”
Here below is some history of the smaller festivals that have been held, but they all embrace the same wonderful culture, read on for details and note the forthcoming festival at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge!
MaChangana (Shangaan) Cultural and Arts Festival (MCAF)
The MaChangana Chiefs of the south east lowveld and custodians of the MaChangana culture have appointed a committee to organise the MaChangana Culture and Arts Festival (MCAF).
This festival is held yearly in different areas around Gonarezhou National Park, which is part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, (GLTFCA).
The committee includes Headmen, Kraal heads, Local MP’s, Councillors, members of the MaChangana Promotion Association and select women from each of the Chiefs councils.
The MaChangana Culture and Arts Festival, 2010, was held at Chief Sengwe’s Village
The MaChangana Culture and Arts Festival, 2011, was held at Chief Tshovani’s Village.
The MaChangana Culture and Arts Festival, 2012, was held at Chief Mahenye’s Village.
The MaChangana Culture and Arts Festival, 2013, was held at Chief Gudo’s Village.
The purpose of the MCAF is to maintain the traditions and culture of the MaChangana people, to promote this unique culture amongst the youth and to ensure that this heritage be passed on to future generations.
The MaChangana people are proud of their hunter/gatherer culture which recognises the importance of respecting the environment. They have long depended on sustainably utilising the natural resources which are to be found in this diverse and remote part of Zimbabwe.
This Culture and Arts Festival promotes the history of early settlements and recording of historical events.
Further, it promotes the rich and diverse traditions of the MaChangana people, which include dress and beadware, food and traditional hunting methods , music and dancing, poetry and story telling (Karengano and Tsekelelo ), home building and wall decorations, Saila (annual fish drives), male initiation to adulthood (Ngomeni), and female initiation to adulthood (Khomba).
dress and beadware:
“Chibabela” skirts are deeply gathered and beaded skirts, worn under bright wraps and displayed when dancing or for special occasions.
These skirts sway and flare out when dancing to create an exuberant and mesmerising effect. They are made from traditional striped, woven “Salempore” fabric and glass seed beads.
Men and women wear earrings, but this is less common amongst the men than in the past.
A strong tradition of using glass seed beads for decorating skirts and for necklaces is still maintained.
Glass seed beads are treasured for decorating items of everyday use, such as snuff boxes and containers made from hollowed out wild gourds and squashes.
food and traditional hunting methods:
Food is locally produced, maize and sorghum being staple crops.
Grains are winnowed in traditional baskets (tsere) and hand-hewn pestle and mortars.
Traditional beer is brewed from sorghum.
Well-shaped, very large clay pots are skilfully made for storing beer and water, and for cooking every day meals.They are constructed from clay soil and earth-fires under piles of brush.
Multi-coloured goats, chickens and domesticated guinea fowls and also the occasional contented wandering pigs, are to be seen around every homestead.
Herds of spectacular Nguni-type cattle, the pride and joy of their owners, wander the banks of the Save River at Mahenye. Small, neat animals, they are are acclimatised to resist tick borne diseases and tsetse fly, and survive easily in this often-arid environment.
Delicious and potent palm wine is made by tapping the growing tip of Hyphaene palms (Lala palms), and fermenting the clear sap obtained. Fresh clear sap tastes delicious-somewhere between cucumber and coconut!
Traditional hunting methods are revered, with the constrution of well-crafted, multiple barbed fishing spears, fish traps and bows and arrows. Below is a hut painting depicting hunting in the GLTFCA !
music and dancing:
Many different, exuberant dances are performed, with names such as Muchongoyo, Chokoto, Marula, Chinyambele and Chigubu. Men wearing grass, cowrie shell and porcupine quill headresses and armbands, are often adorned with wild animal skins or goat skin skirts, and wear gourd leg rattles. Ladies wear the traditional Chibabela skirts, with mutiple strands of twisted beads wrapped around their hips and adorning their necks. Wire bracelets adorn their bare ankles. A kudu horn is treasured as a lead musical intrument, as are wood and skin drums. Musical wind and string intruments such as Tingoma, Chizembe, Chitende are still made. Ladies enjoy the piercing sound of tin whistles to lead their dance troops.
poetry and story telling (Karengano and Tsekelelo):
A vibrant tradition of oral story telling survives, with engaging and amusing, often dramatic and semi-tragic animal and human characters as the protagonists. I call it Changana rap! Chanting and repetition engage the listeners, who frequently and enthusiastically respond with known chorus lines.
home building and wall decorations:
Changana huts are built square, with deep shady verandahs and decorative wall paintings created by the womenfolk. They use organic materials to paint with-silt from rivers for black pigment, red earth for the rich rust pigment and white ash from burnt leadwood trees for the white pigment. Hut floors are smooth mixtures of mud and cow dung. Wooden doors are commonly used these days, but in the past incredibly resilient and long lasting doors were constructed from cross-laid Phragmites reeds, bound securely with plaits made from Lala palm fronds. True works of art.
Saila (annual fish drive):
In October 2011, the two local traditional Chiefs, Tshovani and Mahenye organized a Saila (a traditional and a sustainable method of harvesting fish). Some years ago, using traditional tools such as fish traps, nets and interlaced reed screens, these fish drives used to be done annually based around the great rivers of the Gonarezhou Park, the Save and the Runde rivers, and all the fish harvested were shared equally among the two chiefs and their people. In an effort to try and restore the glory of the Changana tradition, the current Changana chiefs received National Parks permission to continue this valued tradition. Stakeholders were informed and invited, including National Parks. This function was also supported by Parks since they supplied food and fuel.
For the Saila, a team of about sixty men is selected to begin the Saila preparations, i.e. cutting of the reeds and making the screens. Screens are constructed from Phragmites river reeds and hand-made string rolled laboriously from the leaves of the Lala palm. A suitable pool is also located in the Runde River and on the day of the Saila, the Chief attends and a certain old man enters the pool first and walks across twice, with traditional medicine in his hands, to dissuade any crocodiles from attacking people. He then commands the team to get into the pool and started pushing the reed screens. On occasions during the event, a crocodile is likely to bump into the screens but that does not deter the team. It takes about four hours to push the Saila screen through the selected pool.
The harvest can be low and in 2011 only about 35 kg of fish was harvested, but the elders seemed well satisfied with the proceedings. The species with the highest number caught was tiger fish and the following fish species were identified after the whole process.
Lulu, (Manyame labeo)
Ndungulu, (Purple labeo)
Khaiji, (Mozambique tilapia)
Ndhaka, (Black tilapia)
Mbungu, (Red breasted tilapia)
Muvanga, (Tiger Fish}
male initiation to adulthood (Ngomeni):
Circumcision as a rite in the passage to adulthood has always been a potent force in Changana culture. Before being considered an adult, uncircumcised Changana men and boys are obliged to spend a month in isolation from their families at remote, secret bush camps, undergoing strict instruction and tuition as to the ways of adulthood. After the actual act of circumcision, each initiate spends time recovering from the operation and taking further instruction while in the bush. At last the great day arrives when all preparations for the final “passing out” of the initiates are in place and the Ngomeni is held at certain Chiefs’ villages as appropriate. Initiates dress all in white, with beaded headresses and shorn, ochred heads. They carry striped pairs of ceremonial sticks which they have each made while out in the bush. Led by the ‘professors’ and protectors they have studied under in the bush, they gather in regimental lines outside the Chief’s village, heads downcast in supplication and wait…
Excited and nervous mothers and families gather in anticipation, dressed traditionally in Chibabela skirts and carrying sleeping mats made from reeds for their initiate sons and brothers to sit upon, since during the final ceremony initiates may not let any part of their bodies touch the earth.
Now the initiates shuffle forward, heads down, into the Chief’s presence, accompanied by the ecstatic and chanting mothers who lay mats for them as the long lines snake into place and the initiates are seated before the Chief and headmen. They beat their striped sticks in time, an eerie and powerful sound….
The colourful women dance troupe of the host village perform a stamping, jumping dance in front of the initiates and the Chief. The ceremony is long, exhausting and many young initiates droop in the heat, to be offered water from gourds by their protectors. At last the initiates stand, considered to be adult men now! As they exit the ceremonial ground, their families fall into place beside them, dancing and singing with joy and escorting them home, enveloped in clouds of happy dust, to their individual villages where the festivities will continue unabated for days.
female initiation to adulthood (Khomba):
Much as Changana men undergo certain rites of passage to be considered adult, so do Changana women, but circumcision is never part of the ceremony. The girls undergo a month of strict isolation from village life, with teachers to guide them, and are instructed in the ways of child-bearing, traditional dancing, home-building, food preparation and culture that adult women are required to know.
When they pass out, they are said to have undergone Khomba, and wear red caps with pins adorning the rims, which passers-by are expected to contribute to by donating more pins. Great ceremony is observed, as this episode in the lives of the women of the community is a highly regarded ritual.
For a fascinating story on Changana Totems, read: