Early leader of Xhosa indigenous Christianity in South Africa.
The son of a hereditary councilor to the chief Ngqika, Ntsikana had a traditional upbringing and was renowned as an orator, singer, and dancer. As a youth, he was probably influenced by the preaching of Johannes Van der Kemp. In 1815 he experienced a divine call in his cattle kraal and subsequently organized daily Christian worship with a small band of disciples. While attending services at the Kat River mission, he continued to live among his people. He composed the first Xhosa hymns, which were praise songs, with images and symbols rooted in his people’s experience, and music drawn from Xhosa singing. His inculturation of the gospel in an African context was the genesis of an authentic indigenous theology.
Following Ntsikana’s death, his disciples joined a Western mission yet kept alive his teaching, prophecies, and hymns in oral and written traditions. Africans came to revere him as their own saint, which is reflected in the naming of the St. Ntsikana Memorial Association, founded in 1909 as a cultural and ecumenical Xhosa movement. In recent years he has become a symbol of a much broader African cultural identity.
Janet Hodgson, “Ntsikana: History and Symbol. Studies in the Process of Religious Change among Xhosa-speaking People” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Cape Town, 1985), Ntsikana’s Great Hymn: A Xhosa Expression of Christianity in the Early 19th. Century Eastern Cape (1980), and “Fluid Assets and Fixed Investments: 160 Years of the Ntsikana Tradition,” in R. Whitaker and E. Sienaert, eds., Oral Tradition and Literacy: Changing Visions of the World. (1986).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.