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umGcaleka, amaGcaleka
Regions with significant populations
Transkei, Eastern Cape ( South Africa)
Christianity, African Traditional Religion
Related ethnic groups
Xhosa, other Bantu peoples

The AmaGcaleka are a major subgroup of the Xhosa found in the former Transkei area of the Eastern Cape. Their counterparts in the former Ciskei are the Rharhabe (of which the primary tribe is the Ngqika).

The Gcaleka kingdom was founded by Gcaleka kaPhalo, who became King in 1775.

History of the Gcaleka[edit]

The Xhosa royal blood line stretches from Ntu, whose heir was Mnguni, the father of Xhosa.

The whole division within the Xhosa nation stretches to the time when King Phalo had both of his intended wives arriving on the same day, and for whom he had already paid lobola, one from the Mpondo royal family[1] and one from the Thembu royal family.

As both brides were from royal houses of high standing, Phalo had caused a dilemma within the Xhosa nation by marrying two princesses at the same time. This great dilemma was that, where the king to marry and make the one princess his great wife from whom the heir would be born; it would cause great insult to the one family whose daughter had been demoted to a lesser status. Generally in such instances war would ensue.

The Kingdom of the Xhosa called upon its wise men, one of whom was Majeke from the great Nqabara region under the Willowvale district in the Eastern Cape. He advised that the princess which set foot first within the Xhosa Royal home (Komkhulu) should give birth to the heir. The Mpondo princess set foot first and she was then announced the Great wife of the Xhosa nation (mother to the heir). The Thembu princess was then announced Right Hand house, which is second most senior but independent of the Great House.

Phalo had two 'first born' sons from each house, Rharhabe, the eldest but from his Right House and Gcaleka, the first born from the Great House. As both princes grew, each could not be so different from the other; Gcaleka was always by his mother's side, quite and introverted, while Rharhabe was a fearless warrior prince.

Because of Rharabe's increasing popularity and fearing that he might lose his birth right to his brother, Gcaleka attempted to overthrow his father and seize the throne for himself, but failed. Rharhabe was advised by his father to leave the great place and was granted a great number of followers to cross the river Kei and rule over the various Xhosa tribes who were resident there. Gcaleka remained and upon his father's death succeeded him as the King of all the Xhosa.

The current King is Mpendulo Zwelonke Sigcawu whose great place is located in Nqadu, Willowvale.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nongenile Masithathu Zenani; Ndumiso Bhotomane (2006). South African voices: The way we travelled : oral history and poetry. UW-Madison Libraries Parallel Press. p. 22. 
  • Beck, Roger B. (2000). The history of South Africa. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-313-30730-0.