Skip to main content



ETHNONYMS: Bamaroteng, Bapedi, Basotho, Marota, Northern Sotho


Identification. "Pedi," in its broadest sense, has been a cultural/linguistic term. It was previously used to describe the entire set of people speaking various dialects of the Sotho language who live in the northern Transvaal of South Africa. More recently, the term "Northern Sotho" has replaced "Pedi" to characterize this loose collectivity of groups. The Northern Sotho have been subdivided into the high-veld Sotho, which are comparatively recent immigrants mostly from the west and southwest, and the low-veld Sotho, who combine immigrants from the north with inhabitants of longer standing. The high-veld Sotho include the Pedi (in the narrower sense), Tau, Kone, Roka, Ntwane, Mphahlele, Th wene, Mathabathe, Kone (Matlala), Dikgale, Batlokwa, Gananwa (Mmalebogo), Mmamabolo, and Molet e. The low-veld Sotho include the Lobedu, Narene, Phalaborwa, Mogoboya, Kone, Kgakga, Pulana, Pai, Kutswe. Groups are named by using the names of totemic animals and, sometimes, by alternating or combining these with the names of famous chiefs.

"Pedi," in the narrowest sense, refers more to a political unit than to a cultural or linguistic one: the Pedi polity included the people living within the area over which the Maroteng dynasty established dominance during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Even this narrower usage should not be understood in a rigid sense because many fluctuations occurred in the extent of this polity's domination during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and processes of relocation and labor migration have occasioned the widespread scattering of its former subjects during the twentieth century. The present entry will consider the Pedi in this narrower sense.

Location. The present-day Pedi area, Sekhukhuneland, is situated between the Olifants River (Lepelle) and its tributary, the Steelpoort River (Tubatse). It is bordered on the east by the Transvaal Drakensberg range and crossed by the Leolo Mountains. At the height of its power, however, the Pedi polity under Thulare (about 1790 to 1820) launched raids on an area stretching from the site of present-day Rustenburg, in the east, to the low veld, in the west, and ranging as far south as the Vaal River.

The area in which Pedi could reside was severely limited when the polity was defeated by British troops in 1879. A reserve called Geluks Locationroughly coinciding with the core area of the Pedi heartland and including the village of Mohlaletse, where the paramountcy had been basedwas created for them, and reserves were created for other Northern Sotho groups that had been subjugated with less effort, by the Transvaal Republic's Native Location Commission. Over the next hundred years or so, these reserves were then variously combined and separated by a succession of government planners. By 1972, this planning had culminated in the creation of an allegedly independent national unit, or "homeland," named Lebowa. Part of the government's plans to accommodate ethnic groups separately from each other, it was designed as a place of residence for all Northern Sotho speakers. Many Pedi had never resided in the reserve. During the period since the polity's defeat, they had become involved in a series of labor-tenancy or sharecropping arrangements with White farmers, lived as tenants on Crown land, or purchased farms communally as freeholders. Many had moved to live in the townships adjoining Pretoria and Johannesburg, on a permanent or semipermanent basis.

Demography. Given the changing extent of Maroteng domination, the fluidity of these subsequent residential arrangements, and the ambiguities about who the Pedi really are, it is difficult to make statements about population with any certainty. The 1961 census put the total population of Sekhukhuneland at 118,743. What can be stated incontrovertibly, however, is that the population of the Lebowa homeland increased rapidly after the mid-1950s, owing both to the forced relocations from rural areas and cities undertaken by apartheid's planners and to voluntary relocations by which former labor tenants sought independence from the restrictive and deprived conditions under which they had lived on the White farms.

Linguistic Affiliation. Sepedi, also known as "Sesotho sa Leboa" (Northern Sotho) is a southern Bantu language. The term "Sesotho" is used locally to describe not only a language but also a set of customary practices and moral codes conceived of as traditional. Whatever cultural and linguistic uniformity came to exist between the diverse peoples living in the northern Transvaal area was blurred at its geographical edges, through a variety of dialects and practices, into other languages and customs. Northern Sotho is thus closely related both to dialects not officially recognized, such as setlokwa, and to the officially recognized tongues of Setswana and Sesotho sa Borwa (Southern Sotho), with both of which it shares common origins.

History and Cultural Relations

The complex multiplicity of groups described under "Identification" was already coexisting in the northern and northeastern Transvaal by the end of the eighteenth century, and some concentration of political authority was already in place. In the course of their migrations into and around this area, clusters of people from diverse origins had come to center themselves around a series of dikgoro (sing. kgoro ), or ruling nuclear groups. The people clustered together in this way identified themselves through their shared symbolic allegiance to an animal, sometimes called a totem in the literaturetau (lion), kolobe (pig), kwena (porcupine), and others. The Maroteng or Pedi, with their symbolic animal noko (porcupine), were an offshoot of the Tswana-speaking Kgatla. By about 1650, they had settled in an area to the south of the Steelpoort River and of their present heartland. Here, over several generations of interaction, a degree of linguistic and cultural homogeneity developed. It was only in the latter half of the eighteenth century that they extended control over the region, establishing the Pedi paramountcy by bringing powerful neighboring chiefdoms under their sway.

Pedi power, at its height during Thulare's reign (about 17901820), was undermined during the period of the difaqane by Ndwandwe invaders from the southeast. A period of dislocation followed, after which the polity was reestablished under Thulare's son Sekwati, who engaged in numerous negotiations and struggles for control over land and labor with the Boers who had subsequently settled in the region. Sekwati's success in these struggles, and later that of his heir, Sekhukhune I, owed in part to the firepower enjoyed by the polity, purchased with the proceeds of early labor migration to the diamond fields of Kimberley. During this period, the power of the Pedi paramountcy was entrenched through the insistence that the chiefs of groups subordinate to the Pedi take their principal wives from the ruling dynasty. A system of cousin marriage resulted, which perpetuated hierarchical marriage links between ruler and ruled, and which involved the paying of inflated bride-wealth to the Maroteng house.

By the 1870s, the Pedi represented one of three alternative sources of regional authority, alongside the Swazi and the ZAR (Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek) that the Boers had established. Intensifying struggles between Boers and Pedi over land and labor resulted in the war of 1876, in which the Boer aggressors suffered a resounding defeat. British annexation of the Transvaal followed in 1877, partly spurred by the Boers' failure to subjugate the Pedi. The defeat of the Pedi was finally accomplished by British troops under the command of Sir Garnet Wolslely in 1879.

The Berlin Missionary Society established the first mission to the Pedi, west of the Leolo Mountains, in 1861. Resistance from Sekhukhune led a missionary named Merensky to establish a village for converts, Botshabelo ("the place of refuge"), to the southwest of the polity, from which several groups of independent Christians later left to purchase land and found their own communities, independent of both paramount and missionaries. Here Christian Pedi continued living until they were forcibly removed into the Pedi reserve during the 1960s and 1970s, in the interests of "ethnic consolidation." In more recent times, Catholic, Anglican, and Dutch Reformed missionaries have been active.


In preconquest times, people settled on elevated sites in relatively large villages, divided into dikgoro, groups centered around agnatic family clusters. Each consisted of a group of households dwelling in huts built around a central area that served as a meeting place, a cattle byre, a graveyard, and an ancestral shrine. Households' huts were ranked in order of seniority. Each wife of a polygynous marriage had her own round thatched hut, joined to other huts by a series of open-air enclosures encircled by mud walls. Separate huts housed the older boys and the older girls. Practical demands, and aspirations to live in a more modern style, have led many families to abandon the round hut for rectangular houses with flat tin roofs. In addition, as a result of forced and semivoluntary relocation, as well as of a government planning scheme implemented in the name of "betterment," many newer settlements and the outskirts of many older ones consist of houses built in grid formation, occupied by individual families unrelated to their neighbors.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Preconquest Pedi combined cattle keeping with hoe cultivation. The principal crops were sorghum, pumpkins, and legumes, which were grown by women on fields allocated to them when they married. Most major tasks were done by communal work parties. The chief was entrusted with, and was depended upon to perform, rainmaking for his subjects. The introduction of the animal-drawn plow and of maize was later to transform the labor division involved in cultivation in significant ways, especially when combined with the effects of labor migration. Men's leaving home to work for wages was initially undertaken by regimental groups of youths in order to satisfy the paramount's firepower requirements, but later became increasingly necessary to individual households as population increase within the reserve and land degradation made it impossible to subsist from cultivation alone. Despite increasingly long absences, male migrants nonetheless retained a keen commitment to the maintenance of their fields: plowing now had to be carried out during periods of leave or entrusted to professional plowmen or tractor owners. Women were left to manage and carry out all other agricultural tasks. Men, although subjected to spiraling controls in their lives as wage laborers, fiercely resisted all direct attempts to interfere with the sphere of cattle keeping and agriculture. Their resistance erupted in open rebellionultimately subduedduring the 1950s. In subsequent decades, some families have continued to practice cultivation and to keep stock, but these activities are a long-term commitment to the rural social system in order to gain security in retirement, not a viable form of household subsistence.

Division of Labor. In preconquest times, women hoed and weeded; made pottery, sleeping mats, and baskets; built and decorated huts with mud; ground grain; cooked; brewed; and collected water and wood. Men did some work in fields at peak times, hunted and herded animals, did woodwork, prepared hides, and were metal workers and smiths. In the early 1960s it was estimated that about 48 percent of the male population was absent as wage earners at any given time. Between the 1930s and the 1960s, most Pedi men spent a short period working on nearby White farms, moved to employment in the mines or in domestic service, and laterespecially in more recent timesto factories or industry. Female wage employment began more recently, and is rarer and more sporadic. Some women work for short periods on farms; others have begun, since the 1960s, to work in domestic service in the towns of the Witwatersrand. But in the late twentieth century there has been a rise in levels of education and of expectation, combined with a sharp drop in employment rates. Many youths, better educated than their parents and hoping for jobs as civil servants or teachers, stand little chance of getting employment of any kind.

Land Tenure. The precolonial system of communal or tribal tenure was retained by the colonial administration. In this system, a man would be granted land by the chief for each of his wives. Unused land was reallocated by the chief and was not inherited within families. Massive overpopulation resulting from the government's relocation policies has led to a modification of this system. A household's fields, together with its residential plot, are now inheritable, ideally by the youngest married son. Christian Pedi communities that owned freehold farms were removed to the reserve without compensation, but, since the advent of the postapartheid era in South Africa, many have reoccupied their land or are preparing to do so. The few Pedi who still live as labor tenants on White farms have been promised some security by a 1995 law passed by the government of national unity elected in 1994.


Kin Groups and Descent. The kgoroa loose collection of kin with an agnatic cluster at its corewas as much a jural as a kinship unit, given that membership was primarily defined by acceptance of the head of the kgoro's authority, rather than by descent. Royal or chiefly dikgoro sometimes underwent rapid subdivision as sons contended for positions of authority.

Kinship Terminology. Pedi use a bifurcate merging system of classificatory terminology. Agnatic kin are distinguished from maternal kin. Within both groups, there is some distinguishing of relatives by age and sex. In the agnatic group, relatives of the parental generation are distinguished thus: father's older and younger brothers are ramogolo (big father) and rangwane (small father), respectively; and father's sisters, who are called rakgadi (female father), are treated with immense respect. In the maternal kin group, relatives of the paternal generation are distinguished thus: mother's older and younger sisters are mmamogolo and mmangwane (big mother and small mother); mother's brother is malome (male mother) and is treated with familiarity. Cousins within the agnatic group are distinguished by sex and given the same term as siblings: mogolle (for boys) and kgaet edi (for girls), whereas cousins outside the agnatic group are referred to as motswala and are undistinguished by sex. The use of this terminology appears to be for the most part unchanged, although terms deriving from Afrikaans are sometimes substituted (e.g., buti [brother]; sisi [sister]).

Marriage and Family

Marriage and Domestic Unit. Residence after marriage was traditionally patrilocal. Polygyny was practiced mostly by people of higher, especially chiefly, status. The preferred marriage partner was a close or classificatory cousin (especially, for a man, a mother's brother's daughter), but this preference was most often realized in the case of ruling or chiefly families: practiced by the ruling dynasty, during its period of dominance, it represented a system of political integration and control (see "History and Cultural Relations"). The preference for cousin marriage was based on an idea that the two sets of prospective in-laws were closely connected even before the event of marriage, and with an ideology of sibling linkagethe bohadi (bride-wealth) procured for a daughter's marriage would in turn procure her brother's bride, and he would repay his sister by offering a daughter to her son in marriage. Cousin marriage is still practiced, but is far less frequent than before. Polygyny is infrequent, many marriages end in divorce or separation, and a large number of young women remain single and raise their children in small (and often very poor) female-headed households. But new forms of domestic cooperation have come into being, often between brothers and sisters, or matrilineally linked relatives.

Inheritance. Previously, the oldest son of a household within a polygynous family would inherit the house and property of his mother, including its cattle, and was supposed to act as custodian of these goods for the benefit of the household's other children. With the decline of cattle keeping and the sharp decrease in the availability of land, there has been a switch to a system of lastborn inheritance, primarily of land (see "Land Tenure").

Socialization. The stages of the life cycle for both sexes were differentiated by important rituals. Boys spent their youth looking after cattle at remote outposts, in the company of peers and older youths. Circumcision and initiation at koma (initiation school), which was held about once every five years, socialized youths into groups of cohorts or regiments bearing the leader's name, whose members then maintained lifelong loyalty to each other and often traveled together to find work on the farms or in the mines. Girls attended their own koma and were initiated into their own regiments, usually two years after the boys' koma. Initiation is still practiced; it provides a considerable income to the chiefs, who license it for a fee or, in the late twentieth century, to private entrepreneurs who have established initiation schools beyond the chiefs' jurisdictions.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practitioners. Ancestral worship (phasa ) involved animal sacrifice or the presenting of beer to the shades, on both the mother's and father's side. A key figure in family ritual was the kgadi (father's older sister). The position of ngaka (diviner) was formerly inherited in the patriline but is now commonly inherited by a woman from her paternal grandfather or great-grandfather. This is often manifested through illness and violent possession of the body by spirits, the only cure for which is to train as a diviner. There is a proliferation of diviners at present, and many are said to be motivated only by the desire for material gain.

Arts. Important crafts included pottery, house building and painting, woodworking (especially the making of drums), metalsmithing, beadwork. Pedi music (mmino wa setso: traditional music; lit., music of origin) has a six-note scale. Formerly played on a plucked reed instrument called a dipela, its musicians now make use of trade-store instruments such as the Jew's harp, and the German autoharp (harepa ), which have come to be regarded as typically Pedi. The peak of Pedi (and Northern Sotho) musical expression is arguably the kiba genre, which has transcended its rural roots to become a migrant style. In its men's version it features an ensemble of players, each playing an aluminum end-blown pipe of a different pitch (naka ; pl. dinaka ); together they produce a descending melody with richly harmonized qualities. In the women's version, a development of earlier female genres that has recently been included within the definition of kiba, a group of women sings songs (diko a ; sing. ko a ) in which individuals improvise on older lyrics. Both are accompanied by an ensemble of drums, previously wooden but now made of oil drums and milk urns.


Delius, P. (1980). "The Pedi Polity under Sekwati and Sekhukhune, 1828-1889." Ph.D. thesis, University of London.

Delius, P. (1983). The land Belongs to Us: The Pedi Polity, the Boers, and the British in the Nineteenth-Century Transvaal. Johannesburg: Ravan Press.

Delius, P. (1989). "Sebatakgomo: Migrant Organisation, the ANC, and the Sekhukhuneland Revolt." Journal of Southern African Studies 15(4).

Delius, P. (1990). "Migrants, Comrades, and Rural Revolt: Sekhukhuneland 1950-1987." Transformation 13.

James, D. (1983). The Road from Doornkop: A Case Study of Removals and Resistance. Johannesburg: South African Institute of Race Relations.

James, D. (1985). "Family and Household in a Lebowa Village." African Studies 44(2): 159-187.

James, D. (1987). "Kinship and Land in an Inter-Ethnic Community." M.A. dissertation, Witwatersrand University.

James, D. (1988). "Land Shortage and Inheritance in a Lebowa Village." Social Dynamics 14(2): 36-51.

Kuper, A. (1975). The Pedi. Pretoria: J. L. van Schaik.

Preston-Whyte, E. (1974). "Kinship and Marriage." In The Bantu-Speaking Peoples of Southern Africa, edited by W. D. Hammon-Tooke. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Sansome, B. (1970). "Leadership and Authority in a Pedi Chiefdom." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Manchester.


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Pedi." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 18 Aug. 2018 <>.

"Pedi." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (August 18, 2018).

"Pedi." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved August 18, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.