Characterised by bright coloured traditional attire, ankle rattles, beads and suede headwraps, the baPedi, are one of the diverse tribes of South Africa.

History of the baPedi people

Currently located in Limpopo, the northernmost province in the country, the baPedi or Pedi tribe settled peacefully in their homeland of Bopedi, about 500 years ago. The ethnic group was formed before the 17th century and migrated from Central Africa. Today, Sepedi is spoken in the northern parts of South Africa and is one of the country’s 11 official languages.

The traditional food of the baPedi people

Early Pedi settlers were subsistence farmers who cultivated sorghum, pumpkins and legumes and farmed livestock. baPedi eat meat and vegetables, and popular dishes include ‘thophi’ (made from maize meal and a melon-like fruit called lerotse), ‘mashotja’ (worms of the Mopani tree), ‘morogo wa dikgopana’ (wild spinach cooked and left to dry in the sun), and ‘bogobe’ (finely ground corn cooked into a firm porridge). Food was and often still is cooked on the ground using firewood and a three-legged pot.

Traditional Pedi art and music

Art plays an important role in the culture of the baPedi people. They produce incredible art forms through metal-smithing, beadwork, pottery, and woodwork. The Pedi clan crafted drums and created their traditional music or ‘mmino wa setso’, played on a plucked reed instrument called dipela. The music now includes instruments such as the Jew’s harp, and the German autoharp or ‘harepa’, which are now regarded as characteristically Pedi. Together this ensemble produces a descending melody with beautiful harmonies.

Traditional Pedi attire

The Pedi traditional attire is the most colourful of all the South African cultures. The rich colours represent happiness. Traditional SePedi attire features the ‘hele’ and ‘motsheka’ (calf-length skirts), pleated blouses, long voluminous dresses and a doek. These dresses show off a combination of bright pinks, turquoise, yellow and white and designs include pleats, embroidery and ribbon trimmings. Much like most cultures in South Africa, the Pedi people, are renowned for their vibrant beadwork.

Interestingly, Pedi men are known to wear kilts as part of their traditional attire. It is said that they saw the Transvaal Scottish regiment wearing kilts in the 1950s and took a liking to them because of the way they twirl and flip when they dance. The regimental kilt looks smart and beautiful and allows them to express a kind of military ethic.

Cultural customs of the baPedi people

The baPedi tribe practices ancestral worship customs encompassing a ritual called ‘go phasa’. This ritual usually involves animal sacrifice and a key figure of the family called ‘Kgadi’ (eldest paternal aunt), who presents snuff and traditional African beer at a shrine in order to communicate with their ancestors. The Pedi people are ruled by a monarch led by the king and cattle play an important role in the society as a symbol of status and wealth, and are used as ‘magadi’, the dowry payments.

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