The Shangaan People

The Shangaan people of the Lowveld are an amalgam of various other ethnic groups. Shangaan culture, while predominantly Nguni, incorporates many aspects of these other groups, such as the face scarring and music of the Tsonga. And their diet includes delicacies that will tempt only the most adventurous of palates.

Shangaan people

Did you know?

The famous South African song ‘Joy’ was composed by Shangaan musician Shalati Khosa.

The Shangaan people of the Lowveld have a mixed ancestry that includes strains from various other South African ethnic groups, including the Zulu and Tsonga.

The history of Shangaan culture is a complex one. It started around the 18th Century when the first Tsonga traders came to southern Africa to barter cloth and beads for ivory, copper and salt.

Enter Soshangane, the great Ndwandwe fighting general, in 1819. His force, under Zwide, had just been defeated by the legendary King Shaka in battle. Shoshangane fled north, through Swaziland, finally settling in Mozambique. His men found wives among the locals – among them Tsongas – and thus the Shangaan people were established.

Soshangane imposed the strict Zulu military system and tribal wear on Shangaan traditions, but retained the beautiful Tsonga homesteads that include round huts with patterned thatch roofs. He also incorporated their love of music that features a variety of ingenious stringed, wind and percussion instruments.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Shangaan people were forcibly removed from much of their ancestral lands in the Lowveld to make way for the formation of what is now the southern section of the Kruger National Park. Today they are found mainly between the Kruger Park and the Eastern Escarpment.

The Shangaan people, through Tsonga influence, are one of the few ethnic groups in South Africa to practice fishing and include fish in their diet. Because of the wealth of game in the area they also enjoy venison and crocodile, which they bake in a delicious groundnut sauce.

The most unusual aspect of their diet, however, is their love of the mopani worm found in the mopani forests of the Lowveld. These are either dried or pan fried in butter, which is a taste experience no adventuruous traveller should miss