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Lingual Info: The Sepedi (Northern Sotho) Language

Sepedi is also sometimes referred to as Sesotho sa Laboa or Northern Sotho. The language of Sepedi is spoken by approximately 4.7 million individuals and it is one of the 11 official languages in South Africa.

The Sepedi language is spoken most commonly in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Limpopo provinces. However, smatterings of it can even be heard as far afield as Botswana. It is part of the Bantu group, which belongs to the Niger-Congo sector and it is very closely connected to the Setswana and Sesotho languages. As with many religions and cultures, the Sepedi culture has its own defined set of traditions.

The wedding ceremonies of the Sepedi have earned them respect and popularity amongst those interested in African cultures. The closest family members of the bride and groom meet together ahead of time to discuss the wedding and, more importantly, the lobola (or bride price).

The bride’s family (usually her parents) request certain items from the groom’s parents in exchange for their daughter. The usual items include money and livestock, but they are not limited in the variety of things for which they can ask (whether premium liquor, property, gift vouchers or appliances).

A Sepedi wedding is not held in a church but at the home of the bride or groom. Once the bride is dressed for her wedding, she will go down to the river and collect enough water and wood for the ceremony. Her dress will be made from cow hide and is called a dintepa. The groom may choose to wear a suit for the big day.

When the bride has collected enough water and wood, and completed other tasks set for her, she is ready to walk to her husband-to-be. As she walks, her grandmother sweeps the floor in front of her to “clear her way”. The ceremony and performance makes or very exciting celebrations.

Once the couple has been married, the guests will rush to congratulate them. Then, a cow or sheep is slaughtered and the meat divided equally among the two families. When these formalities are over, the fun begins. Music, dancing, eating and drinking are typical of the Sepedi wedding celebrations.

A member of the North Sotho tribe, the legendary Rain Queen, Modjadji, was the most famous rain-maker on the subcontinent, believed by many to be immortal.


Useful Words / PhrasesA few words that might be useful should you visit a place where Sepedi is spoken:
Hello – “Dumela”
Goodbye – “Gabotse”
How are you? – “O kae”
I am fine – “Ke Gona”
Yes – “ee”
No – “aowa”
How much is this? – “Ke bokae”


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