South Africa trip journal: Love lessons from Mama Tofu

While I was in South Africa, I ended up on three very different “cultural village” experiences. I’ve already covered my trip to a Swazi village, and I’ll eventually get to the Zulu village, but in the small village of Ngxingxolo, near Chintsa in Eastern Cape province, a tiny Xhosa woman taught me some very important lessons about love.

Her name is Mama Tofu, and she is a legend.

Xhosa village Mama Tofu South Africa

Meeting Mama Tofu

Mama Tofu is a matriarch, storyteller and keeper of tradition for a Xhosa village. She welcomes visitors to her home and provides an extensive lesson in Xhosa traditions, and made a valiant attempt at teaching me some Xhosa, which involves a series of very challenging clicking sounds. It was … sort of successful. One year older than Nelson Mandela, she also describes the immense cultural, political and social changes she has witnessed in her 93 years.

Xhosa village Mama Tofu South Africa

Xhosa traditions are still upheld today, with boys and girls going through separate rituals to enter adulthood. In fact, looking through Mama Tofu’s pictures, I had a flash of recollection. I had first seen these rituals illustrated in the October 1991 edition of LIFE magazine, a special edition documenting traditions from around the world for life’s milestones – birth, adolescence, marriage and death. This was a weird thing to recall standing in a village in South Africa, but that’s memory for you.

Unfortunately, the Xhosa have seen the same challenges being experienced in the rest of South Africa, including high rates of HIV/AIDS that have left the women of Ngxingxolo raising a number of orphaned children with very limited resources.

Xhosa lessons in love

Despite these challenges, Mama Tofu still encourages young people to follow some simple rules for selecting good partners, and generally, encourages the young people in her community to make good choices – advice that transcends cultural borders and never goes out of style. While she acknowledged your faithful blogger was a little … older… than the girls normally seeking her advice, she still offered her keys to finding a husband. If a young woman sees a fella who catches her eye, she should ask him four questions before proceeding any further:

  1. What is your clan? (To make sure we’re not related)
  2. Are you married?*
  3. Where do you live?
  4. Do you work?

*Note: I’m a little unsure about this one, I had half-forgotten it between leaving Mama Tofu’s and arriving back at my room.

Ultimately, you can’t fault her logic. The key is to ask good questions to make sure you’re meeting a good man and he’ll be good to you. After the lesson, she took my hand and told me I’d figure it out eventually, which made me actually believe her.

Mama Tofu Xhosa Village South Africa

The rest of my time in Ngxingxolo was similar to other cultural village experiences. We got to try out some manual labour, peruse the craft offerings made by the women and girls of the village, then had a great dance party with a few of the younger girls.

My friends and I were ready to stay. There were only four of us, about 12 in total with the women and girls of the village, and we just had a really lovely time chatting, singing, dancing and being as normal as possible.

Xhosa village Mama Tofu South Africa

When is was time for us to say our goodbyes, the girls walked us to our car, and sang us off. I think about my time there every day, the fun and funny advice about love and all my sweet new friends from Ngxingxolo.

See for yourself:
Ngxingxolo Cultural Village
Chintsa, Eastern Cape, South Africa




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