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Maskanda, Umkhosi wokukhahlela and the Articulation of Identity in South Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 August 2020


Umkhosi wokukhahlela is an annual ceremony in the KwaBhaca Great Kingdom (Eastern Cape, South Africa) that celebrates virginity among young women and girls. Not regularly practiced for decades, it has recently made a comeback, having been strategically adopted by King Madzikane II as a tool of empowerment in the fight against the HIV pandemic, the rise in teen pregnancies, rape and school dropouts, as well as the abuse of women in general. This article investigates the return of Umkhosi wokukhahlela through Antonio Gramsci’s notion of ‘articulation’. As we shall see, the ritual is a particularly engaging and thoroughgoing example of how local communities intertwine the past with the present to reshape their own identity, borrowing from tradition to articulate specific life lessons germane to the present – and future – of the Bhaca people.

© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Royal Musical Association

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This work was supported by the European Union (HUM/2010/1-271) and the Newcastle University School of Arts and Cultures Strategic Research Fund. We wish to thank Ian Biddle, Justin D. Burton, Ali Colleen Neff and audiences at the University of Edinburgh, Newcastle University and the University of Canberra for their thoughtful comments in response to earlier versions. We are also grateful to the editor of JRMA and the reviewers (one of whom was Barbara Titus of the University of Amsterdam) for their helpful suggestions.


1 KwaBhaca is located in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, formerly the Transkei region, situated between the cities of Kokstad and Mthatha.

2 Alelisiwe, ritual participant, 12 years of age. Interview, 2016.

3 King Madzikane II and the elder sisters made the request that the confidentiality and privacy of young ritual participants be maintained. As a result, we share the participants’ first names only in this article. Assurances that authors would use only first names in the published article were discussed with participants and their families prior to the interviews and at the start of focus-group discussions.

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54 Anonymous interviewee, 2013.

56 Anonymous panel member. Interview, 2016.

58 Anonymous visiting chief. Interview, 2013.

59 Anonymous panel member. Interview, 2016.

61 Anonymous panel member. Interview, 2016.

62 Alelisiwe. Interview, 2016.

63 Siphephelo. Interview, 2016.

64 Anonymous ritual participant. Interview, 2016.

65 Bongile. Interview, 2016.

66 Anonymous ritual participant. Interview, 2016.

67 Langalibalele. Interview, 2016.

68 Ibid.

69 Anonymous interviewees. Interview, 2016.

70 De Jong and King Madzikane II, ‘Umkhosi wokukhahlela in the Fight against HIV/AIDS’.

71 Ntombifuthi, 18-year-old ritual participant. Interview, 2016.

72 King Madzikane II. Interview, 2016.

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74 King Madzikane II. Interview, 2016.

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