Saturday, September 11, 2021

What Do The Xhosa (South Africa) Words "Gwijo" And "AmaGwijo" Mean?

TRT World, Oct. 3, 2018

TRT is a Turkish public broadcast service. 

The Springboks versus the All Blacks is one of sport’s great rivalries. The South Africans beat the ABs in New Zealand in September, and when Siya Kolisi's team attempt to repeat that success in Pretoria this weekend, they'll be supported by traditional AmaGwijo songs. As Lungani Zama reports, it's a sign the Springboks are beginning to finally represent all South Africans....

**** Edited by Azizi Powell
This pancocojams post showcases a YouTube video about amaGwijo and provides article excerpts, online definitions, and comments aobut gwijo (amaGwijo) from South African sources. The content of this post is presented for linguistic and cultural purposes. All copyrights remain with their owners. Thanks to the Gwijo Squad and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of this video on YouTube. -snip- This post is part of an ongoing pancocojams series on gwijos*. Click the gwijos tag below for more pancocojams posts on this subject. * "Gwijos" is an English language plural form of the Xhosa word "gwijo". "AmaGwijo" (the Xhosa plural form for "gwijo"). Although the word "gwijos" is incorrect in isiXhosa, I've seen it used in a number of YouTube discussion thread comments about a particular gwijo or about more than one gwijo. Consequently, I sometimes use the word "gwijos" in pancocojams posts on this subject.

WHAT GWIJO AND AMAGWIJO MEAN These entries are given in chronological order with the oldest dated definition/comment given first except for comments/replies to sources. Numbers are added for referencing purposes only.

Gwijo Squad changing the face of South Africa Rugby

TRT World, Oct 3, 2018
Narrator [1:06-1:23] Though the [?] of amagwijo may be new to the ears of most South African fans, it has been a part of Xhosa culture for generations.  It started from the struggle and moving on to the sports field and its reemergence in popular culture has certainly put a smile on a lot of people’s faces”… 

Gwijo Squad changing the face of South Africa Rugby [comment]

Isipho CITY, 2020
"It's song which is meant to unite the people, for them to know in whatever battle they are facing, they are not alone and to prepare them mentally for whatever is to come!!!"

From Squad, the new sound of South African sport 20 ; By: Sibusiso Mjikeliso , Photographer: Ihsaan Haffejee,  Jun 2019


Igwijo and the trouble it caused

In many ways, [Xhanti] Madolo has always been the guy at the forefront of a wave of change. In high school, he was the rugby cheerleader and courted trouble at post-1994 Dale College in King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape for his penchant for igwijo.

“We sang the school songs with pride and vigour, but we mixed things up with igwijo the year I took over as cheerleader [in 2000],” he recalls.

“We needed to take the cheering to another level, because our team was on another level and the culture was changing. We started bringing in the more popular traditional songs: “Ntombi emnhlotshazana … Yinton’ le uyenzayo, ayilunganga (Fair-skinned girl, what you’re doing is not right)”. And we readapted struggle songs, replacing names like Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela with the first team captain.

“The boys took to it, but the teachers on the other hand had other opinions. They banned igwijo. I don’t know how many times I have been called into the headmaster’s [James Haupt] office because of igwijo.

“Then Grey High School [from Port Elizabeth] threatened not to play against Dale if amagwijo would be sung at rugby matches. They said they were ‘savage songs’ or something like that. But it was too big a thing, too big to contain. They couldn’t fight it and it grew into something that is now the norm in the passages at the school.”...

From "Workplace Inclusivity" - The Unsung Gwijo

Published on August 20, 2019, Thabo Moloi

…."A gwijo is an African chant used to commemorate important cultural events. It is how black people have traditionally come together to celebrate, to mourn, to show solidarity and remind each other of the defiant spirit inherent in all of us"

Understanding the Gwijo Squad movement

SABC Digital News, Sep 6, 2019

[Pancocojams Editor's Note: This is my transcription of a brief portion of this televised discussion (at around 1:46 to around 3:40 of this video). Additions and corrections are welcome.]

(Interviewer) -"So you're here to tell us about amagwijo. It's more than what we see in the stadiums, it's a rich tradition. Amigwijo is a Xhosa tradition. Tell us more about it"

Chulumanco Macingwane (C.M.) [chairman of the Gwijo Squad]: "The word igwijo is a Xhosa word, but the practice of gwijo, the singing of these traditional songs that take the form of a leader and respondents is something that is completely ubiquitous in the country. It exists in every single one of our cultures which is why it resonates so much with people of all cultures. Incidentally, I was explaining to some, to some really enthusiastic White supporters today that when you see a gwijo squad or a group of Black people singing gwijo, don't assume that everyone speaks the language that they are singing in. We might be singing in isiXhosa and there might be Venda people and Sotho people and such but it's because this thing exists in all those cultures. So whatever language it is being sung in, they, it resonates with them and they take right with it [Pancocojams Editor: I'm not sure of these words]. Why we felt that if a Venda dude can learn a Xhosa gwijo, it should not be that much difficult if at all for an Afrikaan say to learn a Xhosa gwijo. So that's why..."

[Iinterviewer): "It's for everyone."

(C.M.): "We felt that we needed to bring the spirit of gwijo absolutely to every color, creed, language". Yes.

Interviewer: "So, it's songs to get you through hardship. Rugby is particularly apt. Those players on the field have a lot of pressure. But it's the captain Gqoboka who has clicked so effortlessly with the Gwijo Squad. Tell us about that relationship.".

Meet the Gwijo Squad, the musical fan group confronting apartheid’s legacy

But the result is almost immaterial. The match will forever be remembered as a turning point in the history of South African sport. It was the first time a black African – Siya Kolisi – captained the Springboks, the national rugby team named after the leaping antelope on its crest that for so many people in South Africa is still an emblem of apartheid.


After completing his post-match media responsibilities, Kolisi skipped the lap of honor his teammates were undertaking and instead made a beeline to a cluster of fans gathered on the opposite side of the field.

He came straight to us,” Chulumanco Macingwane, 35, told CNN Sport. “It was mind-blowing. He came over and it was in that extraordinary moment that we knew we had started something special.

Macingwane was surrounded by 77 other people who had arrived at one of world rugby’s great stadiums with a single purpose — to sing traditional and spiritually significant African songs known as igwijo – as part of the newly formed Gwijo Squad.

“These are songs that speak to our African roots and reach deep into our ancestral past,” explained Sibusiso Mjikeliso, South African journalist, broadcaster and author of “Being a Black Springbok: The Thando Manana Story.”

“They are songs that have been sung for generations at coming-of-age initiation rites, weddings, funerals and at times of celebration and struggle. They are songs of love, of mourning, of challenge and ritual.”

But they were never heard in rugby stadiums, at least not with this much confidence and so many voices."...

From The rousing singing of the Gwijo Squad fast becoming synonymous with SA rugby

04 November 2019, By Alex Patrick
"Captain Siya Kolisi may not have been able to hear them when he ran onto the field with his teammates in Tokyo on Saturday‚ but the rousing singing of the Gwijo Squad back in SA was no doubt reverberating in his heart.

The group‚ who sing traditional Xhosa amaGwijo songs‚ are fast becoming synonymous with SA rugby.

Founded by Johannesburg financial advisor Mzwandile Riba‚ the size of the group [ the Gwijo Squad] varies between 200 and 2‚500‚ depending on the match.

It started off as a small group of friends going to enjoy the rugby together in 2017.

Riba said Gwijo was a word that described the folk singing used to bring groups of people together.

“They are songs of encouragement‚" Riba said."...



E039 - iGwijo: healing anthems for South Africa

Vocal Liberation

Nov 23, 2020



 Amagwijo is a particular Xhosa practice of collective singing deeply embedded in African culture. It takes the form of call and response (“I say something//You say something I hear you//You hear me. We’re in dialogue together”). Because Gwijo uses no instruments (other than the voice), it could be described as a cappella. For the amaXhosa people of South Africa, Gwijo songs have traditionally been sung to accompany weddings, funerals, initiations and other rites of passage and sacred moments.

Part of these songs’ potency resides in their being so cathartic across a range of human emotions: they can express joy, determination and victory, but also devastation. A Gwijo ‘performance’ can celebrate, protest, resist or reclaim. Ultimately though, it draws on the power of the collective to attain a kind of fierce grace, a coming together in intensity.



In South Africa, Gwijo is becoming pervasive at sporting events. It seems to have been born, at least partially, out of an instinct for harmonising discordant energies in the national history and culture. You see, sporting events in South Africa have a history of being segregated and racially charged.

Enter the Gwijo Squad, who turn up to rugby and cricket events to reclaim a sense of shared ownership and create safety. The Gwijo effect in stadiums fosters belonging, raises feel-good energy, and, ultimately imbues the sporting fixture with a sense of communal joy.

Why does it work? All South Africans – whether consciously or subconsciously – carry the intergenerational trauma of their country’s recent history. But when South Africans of all stripes experience the electric co-regulation of Gwijo, the resulting atmospheric shift is irresistible.


Gwijo is South Africa’s current movement of song and togetherness. Watch this space.”


Noba bethi ndale published by GwijoSquad, July 5, 2018


Siyathandwa Gomo, September 7, 2021
…"I think perhaps other languages do have their own gwijos, however most gwijos that are well known and  have the best vibe are Xhosa. Some gwijos are struggle songs that were made during apartheid in prisons and in protests. Some gwijos are songs made by young Xhosa men while they are in their initiation period and also these gwijos are sung when they come back. There are alot of sources or inspirations behind gwijos.

Plural term for gwijos is amagwijo."

10. [Added Sept. 12, 2021]
comment exchange from "
Zonke Izono - Chester [FULL VIDEO]😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭" published by Gwijo RSA, May 17, 2021
Owami Khubisa, 2021
"I was gonna be here long time but I did not know soccer songs were called amagwijo πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚"

Gwijo RSA, 2021

Gwijo RSA, 2021
"How did you find us then 😭😹"

Owami Khubisa, 2021
" @Gwijo RSA  my sister plays soccer and she sent me the song "Story of my Life" and the cover said Gwijo and I searched it then BOOM πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯😎"

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  1. Here's an October 2014 invitation to a University of Camp Town (South Africa) cultural event that I found which uses "Amagwijo" in its title:

    Amagwijo: songs of the people
    The Director of the South African College of Music, Dr Rebekka Sandmeier, invites you and a partner to
    AMAGWIJO – (Songs of the People)

    Personal songs, introspective and narrative, represent the intimate inner core of African music.For this concert the UCT Ibuyambo Orchestra has invited veteran Mpondomise songstress,umrhube, uhadi and isitolotolo player Mantombi Matotiyana to teach our students the art of traditional Xhosa song and dance.The concert will feature older-traditional musical and dance styles from the rural areas of the Eastern Cape, such as, ingophe, mxhentso, imfene dance, mtyityimbo.
    Presented by Dizu Plaatjies, with special guests Mantombi Matotiyana and Matchume Zango.
    Sat, 11 Oct 2014”…
    Contact us
    Faculty of Humanities
    University of Cape Town"...

  2. The author of the Nov. 2020 video given as #7 in this pancocojams post [iGwijo: healing anthems for South Africa ] wrote that "Because Gwijo uses no instruments (other than the voice), it could be described as a cappella".

    While the overwhelming number of YouTube videos of amaGwijo that I've watched don't include any musical instruments, I've seen a few YouTube videos in which a djembe player accompanies the group singing a gwijo. For instance, in the 2014 original video of the children singing "Basithathela Abazali Bethu" there are two djembe players (a young girl and a young boy).

    Also, in the Apr 20, 2021 video "Jobe + Fire + Corona + Hosana + Kabza & Maphorisa(Gwijo Tracks Combined)", a young man plays a djembe as accompaniment for the singing.

    I also watched a YouTube video of a man playing "drums" on a table while another man played a gourd while others sang a gwijo, but unfortunately I can't locate that video at this time.

    Furthermore, that article doesn't mention that (individual) hand claps, foot stomps, and (perhaps less often) finger snapping) and foot stomps also serve as accompaniment for many uptempo gwijos.

    It'll be interesting to see if in the future more videos of gwijos will feature djembes or other percussion instruments.

    1. Here's the link to the video that shows a man hitting a drum and another man holding a gourd instrument while others sing a gwijo:
      Beyonce ukhalelane Gwijo song❤️πŸ‡ΏπŸ‡¦

  3. As an African American growing up in the 1950s, the contemporary South African custom of singing gwijos reminds me of the custom of teenage boys singing doo wop on street corners. I'm referring to the custom of gwijos being sung by school students, not those songs being sung during sports events by the Gwijo Squad and others.

    (Yes, I know girls also sing gwijo, and I know that girls also sang doo wop. But female doo wop groups were much less common than male doo wop groups and there are many more YouTube videos of South African male school students singing gwijo than of South African female school students singing those songs.

    Besides, my memories from the 1950s and early 1960s are of boys gathering on street corners singing doo wop.)

    I don't think that gwijo influenced doo wop or vice versa, but I believe that the two music forms share certain elements such as the fact that the songs have a call and response pattern and the songs can be sung (or-in the case of gwijos are almost always sung) without musical instrumentation. Furthermore, male doo wop groups and gwijos usually have a tenor lead.

    Since I don't speak Xhosa, I don't know whether gwijos include nonsence syllables and there are probably other differences between the American and the South African music forms.

    I hope someone who speaks Xhosa and knows about African American originated doo wo

  4. Some comments in the discussion thread for a 2019 YouTube video of the gwijo "St Stithians Boys College Gwijo - Thina SiyazalanaπŸ”₯" emphasized that gwijos aren't supposed to be rehearsed and performed like choral music.

    1. lwazi juta, 2019
    "They forgot what I gwijo is... Busy here is composing and ish.. QUEENS COLLEGE... any day... You don't practice igwijo... Ii lapha kuwe"
    Google translate from Zulu to English
    "Ii lapha kuwe" ="It's here for you"

    Queens College is another South African College that sings this song.

    2. Pakamani Ndwandwa, 2020
    "What in the mamamia is this... This is utter disrespect to igwijo... This is flippen choral music not igwijo. An absolute wast of data, watching these boys reduce the spirit of igwijo."

    3. Nkosi Zulu, 2020
    "Gwijo shouldn't be rehearsed and preformed. Even the clapping was rehearsed 😴boring"

    4. Zikhona Nkabi, 2020
    "Also for such songs, imigwijo there are no lyrics. The beauty of these songs they were sang from the heart & free hand. It’s never planned. It’s really just a repetition of one line."
    Several commenters referred to this gwijo as St. Stithian's war cry.

    In the South African school context, I believe "war cry" means the song or anthem that the school uses to "hype up" the students in that school before sports events.