Xhosa, pronounced KOH suh, are a black people whose ancestors moved into southern Africa by the 1500's. More than half of the approximately 5 million Xhosa live in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.
Most Xhosa once tended cattle and raised crops for a living. The wealth of each group depended on how many cattle it owned. The Xhosa did not kill their cattle for food, though they sacrificed some of the animals during religious ceremonies.
Xhosa men traditionally practiced polygyny, the custom of having more than one wife at a time. A typical household consisted of a man, his wives and unmarried children, and his married sons and their families. Members of the household lived in a cluster of small cone-shaped houses with thatched roofs. During the 1900's, this traditional way of life has mostly disappeared among the Xhosa.
Large numbers of British and Dutch settlers migrated to southern Africa during the 1800's, and the Xhosa were defeated in war by the British in the late 1800's. Their defeat, loss of grazing land, and poverty forced many Xhosa to migrate to towns or farms where they worked for white people. Today, large numbers of Xhosa live in urban areas. Many others work on white-owned farms. The Xhosa and other nonwhite groups in South Africa have suffered severe discrimination at the hands of South African whites.
Beginning in the mid-1980's, conflict between the Xhosa and a rival ethnic group, the Zulu, led to much violence and thousands of deaths among the two groups in South Africa. Much of the fighting has taken place between supporters of the African National Congress, many of whom are Xhosa, and members of the Inkatha Freedom Party, most of whom are Zulu.
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