Characterized by loud, fast-paced music, bright colors and a dance like no other, the Tsonga (sometimes called Shangaan) people are truly a vivid and lively bunch.

The story of the Tsonga people is one that begins back in the days of King Shaka Zulu. In his quest to conquer more lands, King Shaka Zulu sent one of his Lieutenants, Soshangane, up north of South Africa to what is today known as Mozambique. Soshangane went on to be victorious but instead of handing the reigns over to King Shaka he decided to rule by himself and founded the Gazankulu Kingdom. When King Shaka caught wind of the news that Soshangane had started his own Kingdom, he sent soldiers to overrun the Kingdom so that he could take over but Soshangane, now with a fairly large army, defeated them.

Soshangane then expanded his Kingdom southwards and conquered several groups in Kwazulu Natal and overtime Tsonga people began to settle in various parts of South Africa. After Soshangane died, his sons, Mawewe and Mzila, fought over leadership of the Kingdom. Mawewe eventually won the throne and drove Mzila and his followers to the Soutpansberg mountains. Mzila later went on to defeat his brother Mawewe and moved his people to Northern Transvaal province (in an area now known as Limpopo Province) where he rebuilt the Gazankulu kingdom. A majority of Tsonga people are still found there to this day.

If there is something that stands out the most about Tsonga people, it’s their art and culture. From their eccentric traditional clothing to their vibrant music and their popular dish, Masonja.

Tsonga music is characterized by extremely fast paced beats, averaging around 190bmp, and sharp guitar strings. It is accompanied by an equally unique dance called Xibelani (pronounced Shi-bhe-lahni) which is normally performed while wearing a skirt of the same name. The skirt is made up of a short top layer, usually made of wool or cotton, across the hips over a longer skirt, and this helps emphasize the hip movements of the dance.

Tsonga people also have a very popular traditional delicacy called Masonja (or Mopane Worms). Masonja are caterpillars that are picked straight from the trees in the Mopane woodlands before they become butterflies. They are then left to dry in the sun and once dry can be eaten uncooked, cooked or fried. We should mention that one has to have a bit of a strong stomach to eat them as they can be quite an intimidating delicacy up close.

To explore the Tsonga tradition for yourself, simply head to the rurals of the Limpopo province and immerse yourself in the culture. They are a warm and welcoming people.