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The Rharhabe (Xhosa pronunciation: [xaxaːɓe]) are a Xhosa sub-group found in the former Ciskei section of the Eastern Cape. Their counterparts are the Gcaleka which are found in the former Transkei section of the Eastern Cape. The major and most well-known component of the Rharhabe are the Ngqika ("Gaika") tribe.

History of the Rharhabe[edit]

The Xhosa royal blood line stretches from King Xhosa, who fathered Malangana, who fathered Nkosiyamntu, who fathered Tshawe, who fathered Ngcwangu, who fathered Sikhomo, who fathered Togu, who fathered Ngconde, who fathered Tshiwo, who fathered Phalo.

The reason the Xhosa nation is divided stretches to the time King Phalo had both of his intended wives arriving on the same day for their wedding, as he had already paid lobola, for one from the Mpondo royal family and one from the Thembu royal family. Since in the Xhosa nation the first wife, as was declared on her arrival, was the one whose sons would be heirs to the throne. This situation caused a great dilemma and a great out cry - some called this the ancenstors' punishment- because a first wife could not be declared. As the two young princesses were of equal status, by choosing one as the Great Wife, King Phalo stood to offend the father of the other. This dilemma was solved by an old wise man called Majeke, who said: "What is greater than the head of the king, and what is stronger than his right hand? Let the one be the head wife and the other the wife of the right hand".

So a secondary yet autonomous house was then created, being the Right Hand House. The Mpondo princess was chosen as his Great Wife and the Thembu princess as his Right Hand Wife. So there was a Right Hand House and the Great House.

Phalo had two sons, Rharhabe, the eldest son born from his Right Hand House and Gcaleka, born from the Great House.

Rharhabe was by birth older than Gcaleka having been born around 1722, with Gcaleka born in 1730. He displayed signs of bravery and wisdom from a very young age, which traits made him by far the superior of Phalo's sons. This caused great friction between the brothers, as Gcaleka feared that his brother with his popularity may one day seek to claim the throne for himself. After Gcaleka had reached manhood, conflict arose when Gcaleka tried to usurp the throne from his father but failed.

Rarabe who had assisted his father against his brother's designs for the throne, decided to leave Phalo's Great Place with a group of followers and crossed the Kei River and settled at Amabele, near present-day Stutterheim. This move had the blessing of Phalo, as he accompanied his son in his search for a new home.

On arrival in these new lands he encountered the KhoiKhoi (whom the Dutch named the Hottentots) and against whom fierce battles were fought over cattle and land. In the end and after killing the KhoKhoi leader Hinsati, Rharhabe reached an amicable arrangement and negotiated with Hinsati's widow, Queen Hoho for sale of land between the Keiskamma and Buffalo rivers. The Amathole Forests and Hoho Hills between Middle Drift and King William's Town were also sold to Rharhabe. Thus the Xhosa monarchy was, and still is, divided into the AmaGcaleka and the AmaRharhabe kingdoms.

Rarabe's children from his great wife Nojoli kaNdungwana of the Thembu are Ntsusa ka Rharhabe (daughter), Mlawu ka Rarabe (his great son), Ndlambe ka Rarabe, Nukwa ka Rarabe and Khinzela ka Rharhabe (daughter). In the Right Hand House he fathered Cebo ka Rarabe who died without male heirs, but whose house was placed under Mdushane, Ndlambe's eldest son, to be the successor of Cebo.

Rharhabe's other sons are Mnyaluza ka Rharhabe, Siko ka Rharhabe, Sigcawu ka Rarabe, Nzwane ka Rharhabe and Hlahla ka Rarabe.

In 1782 his great son Mlawu ka Rharhabe died, but he had fathered two boys Ngqika and Ntimbo, who were infants at their father's death. Mlawu's councillors (amaphakathi) were then placed under Ndlambe who then became regent for the young Ngqika.

Rarabe's daughter Ntsusa married the Qwathi chief Mdandala, who as dowry sent a miserable hundred head of cattle to Rharhabe. This was seen by Rharhabe as a great insult for someone of his stature, that he sent his Right Hand son Cebo to Thembuland to demand more cattle. When Cebo arrived at Mdandala's homestead to demand the cattle as instructed by Rharhabe, the Qwathis fell upon this prince and killed him.

These events enraged Rharhabe that he at once entered Thembuland to remedy the affront at the tip of an assegai (spear). War broke out where Rharhabe scattered the Thembus and seized many of their cattle. But at the affair near the Xuka River, Rharhabe was fatally wounded and died.This battle is estimated to have occurred around 1787.

Rharhabe's grave is near present-day Dohne in the Eastern Cape Province.

The Rharhabe today[edit]

The Rharhabe are currently under the leadership of their regent Queen Noloyiso Sandile Aah! Noloyiso, daughter of King Cyprian Bhekuzulu Nyangayezizwe kaSolomon and sister to the current reigning Zulu monarch King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu. She was married to King Maxhob'ayakhawuleza Sandile Aah! Zanesizwe who died in July 2011. She is regent for her son Prince Jonguxolo Sandile and has 40 Traditional Councils under her jurisdiction, stretching out from King Williamstown, Peddie, Whittlesea and the Great Fish River areas, including Alice.

See also[edit]


  • Peires, J.B. (1981). The House of Phalo. University of California Press, USA.
  • Soga, J.H. (1930). The South-Eastern Bantu. Cambridge University Press, USA.
  • Bennie, W.G. (1970). Imibengo. Lovedale Press, South Africa.
  • Mqhayi, S.E.K., Opland, J et al. (2009). Abantu Besizwe. Wits University Press, South Africa
  • Laing, J. (1836). A Missionary Life Among The AmaXhosa. (1830 - 1836). Cory Library, South Africa

External links[edit]

Rharhabe Kingdom [1]