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The Pedi - A North Sotho Tribe
"Ba Pedi - Bapedi"

Porcupines (Noko) of the Sotho -Tswana











The Ba Pedi



Who are the Pedi?


The Bapedi are "one" of a number of North Sotho tribes.


Who are the Pedi not?


The Ba Pedi are not > the < North Sotho!


Historically, missionaries who first developed the orthography of North Sotho, had contact mainly with the Pedi of the North Sotho complex. The standard Northern Sotho language (Sesotho sa Leboa) was therefore incorrectly largely based on Pedi. The origin of the confusion lies with missionary contact.


According to Wikipedia...


The name "Pedi" is not, as some believe, synonymous with "Northern Sotho"; the official Northern Sotho language is intended to encompass approximately 30 closely related dialects, of which Pedi is but one. The name "Pedi" thus refers specifically to the language of the Pedi people, while Northern Sotho refers to the official language, which is a much broader category than merely Pedi.


Also from Wikipedia...


More recently, the term "Northern Sotho" has replaced "Pedi" to characterize this loose collectively of groups. The Northern Sotho have been subdivided into the high-veld Sotho, which are comparatively recent immigrants mostly from the west and southwest, and the low-veld Sotho, who combine immigrants from the north with inhabitants of longer standing. The high-veld Sotho include the Pedi (in the narrower sense), Tau, Kone, Roka, Ntwane, Mphahlele, Th wene, Mathabathe, Kone (Matlala), Dikgale, Batlokwa, Gananwa (Mmalebogo), Mmamabolo, and Molet e. The low-veld Sotho include the Lobedu, Narene, Phalaborwa, Mogoboya, Kone, Kgakga, Pulana, Pai, Kutswe.



Pedi History


Some time in the late 15th to early 16th centuries, a group of Bantu speakers settled in the area between the Vaal and Limpopo Rivers, in the modern Provinces of Limpopo, Guateng, and Mpumalanga. They were an offshoot of the Sotho-Tswana speaking Kgatla. Little is known about the group during those early years, but as early as 1600, they formed a kingdom known as Bapedi or Pedi. By about 1650 they had settled in an area to the south of the Steelpoort River. Over several generations of interaction, a degree of linguistic and cultural homogeneity developed.



In the late 1700's, King Thulare united the few remaining independent chiefs. This extended his control over the region, making himself the ruler of the "Pedi Kingdom". Contrary to the accepted custom of Sotho chiefs, he did not choose a natural stronghold for his mosate or great place, saying that a chief who is surrounded by brave men needs no walls of stone to protect him. It was with this sprit of bravery which made him so successful.


Tragedy on a vast scale struck southern Africa in the early 1800's. The event was named the Mfecane "the crushing" by the Nguni and Difaqane "the scattering of tribes" by the Sotho-Tswana.


Click the link below to learn more about the .....


Mfecane - Lifaqane - Difaqane


 During the Mfecane, the Ba Pedi were were overwhelmed by the Matabele, an Nguni tribe closely related to the Zulu who, under their leader Mzilikazi rebelled against Shaka and fled Zululand.



Mzilikazi (Moselekatse) - King of the Matabele


The Matabele depopulated and subjugated a vast area, partially inhabited by the Pedi, before settling down in the south western part of what is today Zimbabwe. Mzilikazi took supplies and followers along his way. Thulare's empire was destroyed. The Pedi Kingdom fell into disarray and dislocation followed.


Thulare's son Sekwati rose to power. Boers settled in the region. Sekwati engaged them in numerous negotiations and struggles over land and labour. His success in these struggles, and later that of his heir Sekhukhune I, owed in part to the firepower enjoyed by his rule, purchased with the proceeds of early labour migration to the diamond fields of Kimberley.


The Bantu Tribes of South Africa

The Suto-Chuana Tribes - The Bapedi


These photographs, together with many that follow,

were taken prior to 1931 by A. M. Duggan-Cronin




        Sekukuni II - Paramount Chief of the Bapedi             Chief Sekwati (Cousin of Sekukuni II)


The Bantu Tribes of South Africa - A. M. Duggan-Cronin


During this period, the power of Pedi was entrenched through the insistence that the chiefs of groups subordinate to the Pedi take their principal wives from the ruling dynasty. A system of cousin marriage resulted, which perpetuated hierarchical marriage links between ruler and ruled and which involved the paying of inflated bride-wealth to the Royal Maroteng kraal.


In 1861 the Berlin Missionary Society established the first mission to the Pedi, west of the Leolo Mountains.

By the 1870s, the Pedi represented one of three sources of regional authority including the Swazi and Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek or (ZAR), which the Boers had established. Like the Pedi, the Boers were domestic farmers. In fact, they lived off the land much in the same way as the African societies.  It was only natural that they would compete for the same, limited resources.



Pedi Village - The Bantu Tribes of South Africa - A. M. Duggan-Cronin


Disputes started almost immediately. Boer farmers accused the Pedi of stealing livestock while the Pedi accused the Boers of stealing their children for farm labour. The inevitable confrontations led to minor skirmishes in 1838, 1847 and 1852. Sekwati eventually negotiated a land agreement with the Boers in 1857 that kept the peace until his death in 1861. After what may have been a violent power struggle, Sekhukhune assumed his father's throne, forcing his brother Mampuru to exile.

Matters between the Boers and Pedi declined soon after Sekwati's death. Sekhukhune respected his father's treaty, but was fiercely independent and sought to protect Pedi sovereignty. The first incident occurred in 1865, when he expelled the missionary Rev. Merensky from his lands, accusing him of subversion. Things got worse when Johannes Dinkoanyane, half brother of Sekhukhune and convert of Merensky, withdrew from the Christian mission and returned his people to Pedi land.

The situation grew even more complicated with the discovery of gold in Pilgrim's Rest in 1873. The enterprising Pedi immediately went to work in the mines. They accepted lower wages than the Europeans, causing yet another source of friction, then used their earnings to stock up on arms and supplies.

The real problem however was the Steelpoort River, demarked by treaty as the boundary between the Transvaal Republic (the Boer state) and the Pedi. Miners from Pilgrim's Rest were crossing the river in greater numbers to prospect for gold without first paying tribute or seeking permission, a serious insult in many Bantu cultures.


The situation enlaerged to a boiling point in 1876 when Dinkoanyane discovered a wagonload of wood on his property belonging to a Boer farmer named Jankowitz. Outraged at this trespass, Dinkoanyane confiscated the wood and forcibly expelled Jankowitz. By the time the "story" reached Boer President T.R. Burgers, the Pedi had "seemingly" stolen large herds of cattle and destroyed a German mission, both of which were false. Burgers immediately declared war.



Pedi Warrior - The Bantu Tribes of South Africa - A. M. Duggan-Cronin


In the summer of 1876, a Boer advance was stopped at Sekhukhune's fortress. The Boer soldiers fled across the Steelpoort River in the face of a Pedi charge, landing the aggressors a resounding defeat.


The British annexation of the Transvaal followed in 1877, partly spurred by the Boers' failure to subjugate the Pedi. Sekhukhune claimed he did not fall under British rule, while the British argued that as the new rulers of the Transvaal Republic, they were entitled to rule the Pedi. One year later, Sekhukhune was at war once again.


After a string of embarrassing defeats, the British gained the upper hand. In 1879, Sir Garnet Wolslely forced Sekhukhune to surrender.

Sekhukhune's half brother Mampuru, saw this as an opportunity to regain the throne as the rightful King. In 1882 he murdered Sekhukhune, then fled for the safety of King Nyabela of  the Ndebele.


As mentioned, Boers had united as the ZAR. They saw this as an opportunity to rid themselves of the Ndebele, enlisting Sotho help to overthrow Nyabela and bring Mampuru to "justice".

The Pedi and other Northern Sotho kingdoms eventually succumbed to Boer and British encroachments. Only natural obstacles such as the  lack of sufficient water, wild animals and disease, kept the Europeans from occupying Pedi lands in large numbers.


In 1913, the Northern Sotho were restricted to "native reserves" which had little to do with traditional lands and more to do with confining them into manageable groups, "in the interests of ethnic consolidation."

In 1959, the young Apartheid system of government established the Lebowa homelands in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces. By 1972, the planning had culminated in the creation of an "independent national unit" or "homeland". This was designed as a place of residence for all Northern Sotho speakers. Many Pedi had never before resided in the "reserve".


The homeland system was controversial throughout South Africa as Africans were often forcibly removed, then granted small tracts of unusable land. Moreover, homeland government officials were selected for their loyalty to the South African government, rather than for their bureaucratic skills. Few if any homeland officials had a legitimate claim to any African kingdom. Not surprisingly, life in the homelands deteriorated rapidly and the people grew restless. The homeland government did not hesitate to suppress dissent, as indicated by the discovery of mass graves in Lebowa in 1986.


Today, many Pedi and North Sotho live agricultural lifestyles while enjoying the benefits of a free government and economy. Others moved to live in the townships adjoining Pretoria and Johannesburg on a semi permanent basis.



Mural Art - The Bantu Tribes of South Africa - A. M. Duggan-Cronin


The 1994 Land Rights Bill sought to restore some of the land confiscated by the Apartheid government providing some Pedi with the opportunity to determine their own economic future.


Mural Homestead - South African Life Today - Image 34


The present-day Pedi area, Sekhukhune-land, is situated between the Olifants River  or Lepelle and its tributary, the Steelpoort River or Tubatse. The area is bordered on the east by the Transvaal Drakensberg range and crossed by the Leolo Mountains.








Pedi Material Culture


Ba Pedi boys are initiated into the ways of manhood at an early age.



Pedi Initiates - African Renaissance - Page 84


Photographic records by Duggan-Cronin show young Pedi girls wearing North Sotho initiation necklaces. These are no longer found in the Pedi area. The necklaces were given to the girls by admirers.



 Collected in the Lobedu Kingdom                                   The Bantu Tribes of South Africa

                                                                                                A. M. Duggan-Cronin


Initiation ceremonies for girls remain important amongst the Ba Pedi.



Pedi Initiates -  African Renaissance Page 92


Initiated Pedi girls wore the same back skirt as adult women, but with a short fringed apron to the front, as below.


The Bantu Tribes of South Africa - A. M. Duggan-Cronin


Pedi fashion overlaps with their Ntwane neighbors.



Vanishing Cultures of South Africa Page 133


The girls aprons and body rings appear to be Ntwane, but are not.



Vanishing Cultures of South Africa Page 132


Unfortunately, the pair of unique aprons (below) were destroyed in a house fire.




This 19th century collected apron maybe Pedi, Ntwane or Tswana-Bechwana.



African Adorned - Pg. 102 - Private Collection


Pedi teenage girls and adult women, wore their hair worked into a circular matted cap.  Their coiffures are tribally specific, allowing for easy identification of old photographs, paintings and figurative sculpture.



                                    Mizream Maseko - 1927-1994                                       The Bantu Tribes of South Africa

                                     Mizraim - Mizram - Mizriam                                                   A. M. Duggan-Cronin


The watercolor above by South African artist Mizream Maseko, topics a  Pedi woman. He was born at Boyne near Polokwane and was of North Sotho origin. Contact Galerie Ezakwantu for the availability of this original watercolor.



The Bantu Tribes of South Africa - A. M. Duggan-Cronin


In the early 19th century Pedi woman wore un-beaded leather aprons called thetho. The example below was recorded by Duggan-Cronin as "oversized".



The Bantu Tribes of South Africa - A. M. Duggan-Cronin


Neck and body rings were worn.




       Vanishing Cultures of South Africa Page 137                                    Related neck and body rings.


Ever encroaching missionary influence dictated thetho's were worn under cotton smocks.




              Pedi Chieftainess - Image 193                              Pedi Dress - Barbara Tyrrell - Page 67

           South African Tribal Life Today                               Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa


Thetho aprons were made of goat skin, while rear aprons called mosese, were of ox hide. Though related examples were worn by their Ntwane neighbours, only the Pedi decorated their leather with "tooled" abrasions as below.



Aprons were cut and beaded according to fixed repetitious fashion. Brass and glass beads highlighted sections on each apron and attached medallions.



Over time, Pedi smocks came to be used as "traditional" wedding attire.



Pedi Bride - Image 192 -  South African Tribal Life Today


Few examples of Pedi figurative sculpture are known. The object below represents a rare example attributed to the Pedi, ascertained by the infants coiffure. The figure was collected by Major Knapp, a District Governor in the area during the late 19th century. Note the related goat skin child carrier called thari in the Duggen-Cronin photograph.



            The Bantu Tribes of South Africa                                        ex Karel Nel - ex Major Knapp

                     A. M. Duggan-Cronin


Photographic evidence confirms the Pedi used neck rests to protect their headdresses, or coiffure "caps".



The Bantu Tribes of South Africa - A. M. Duggan-Cronin



Pair of Figures - Wits University Art Gallery


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