The Life of a South African Tribe


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Let us [says Junod] look at . . . Gidja. . . . His village numbered not less than twenty-four huts, with beautiful shady trees behind. . . . He walks about proudly in his favored enclosure, looking with pleasure on his prosperity. Young men are ready to do the work he will give them to do. He will treat them with beer brewed by his wives. And often the people of the neighboring villages will join his people for dances and games on the fine square which is surrounded and enclosed on all sides by huts.

And, above all things, in the evening, each of his wives will bring him the pot which she has cooked for him. This is the essential matrimonial duty of the wife. Not one will fail in it. Gidja, the lord of six or seven pots of mealies seasoned with a sauce of monkey nuts, will feast and be satiated (shura) every day, and that means much, for the inner capacity of a Thonga is something wonderful.

He will become large and stout, quite shining, which in South Africa is a sure sign of wealth and nobility. The stouter he gets the more he will be respected. But it is easy to conceive that he cannot empty by himself all these pots amidst which he is reigning. He treats his children, but others come to pay him visits at that evening hour when they know him to be surrounded by so many good things! The sycophants are not wanting! "Good evening, son of so and so!" do they say. "You are one of the great men of the country." And to answer these and other compliments, the magnanimous Gidja shares his feast with his admirers!

Strangers are crossing the country and inquire where they could be received? "Go to Gidja" they are told. "A ni tshengwe, a fuya tshengwe," viz., "He is the possessor of a harem!" He is not killed by famine! He has beer to drink every day! He can give food to poor people. Even then, some of it remains in the plate and is eaten by little boys and dogs on the square. There is always abundance there. And the travelers come and enter (khuleka) his village, after which they will tell in their homes the story of the magnificence of Gidja and will extol his hospitality.

Thus the man who has succeeded in life becomes famous, his advice will carry weight in the discussions in which he takes part; he will perhaps be even more esteemed than the chief himself, though he has not the special prestige which the royal family owes to the blood which runs in its veins.1

1Junod, H.A.n/an/an/an/a, , 1: 125–128 (The Macmillan Company. By permission).


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Chicago: "The Life of a South African Tribe," The Life of a South African Tribe in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed December 3, 2022,

MLA: . "The Life of a South African Tribe." The Life of a South African Tribe, Vol. 1, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 3 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: , 'The Life of a South African Tribe' in The Life of a South African Tribe. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 December 2022, from