Ndebele, ShonaShow more Etymology obscure: probably introduced into South Africa by ANC exiles returning from military training in Zimbabwe, where it is found in both Ndebele (see last quotation 1993) and Shona. The original source language is unknown.
A similar-sounding invocation, Tayi (one of the traditional titles accorded to the supreme being) was used by the Xhosa during the 19th century: ‘They (sc. the Xhosa) advanced almost to the muzzles of the British guns...Some of them, shouting “Tayi! Tayi!” as they ran — the word they had been taught by Nxele to use as a charm against all manner of evil — actually reached the cannon.’ (B. Maclennan, A Proper Degree of Terror, 1986, p.193, writing of the frontier war of 1818–19).
The etymology suggested in quotation 1988 is unsubstantiated, although many ANC cadres underwent military training in eastern European countries. See also quotation 1990 (Sunday Times), which is probably an example of folk etymology.
1.A quasi-military dance-step characterized by high-stepping movements, performed either on the spot or while moving slowly forwards, usually by participants in protest gatherings or marches, and accompanied by chanting, singing, and the shouting of slogans. Also attributive, and occasionally shortened form toyi.
Adapted from a training exercise performed in military camps by ANC guerillas.
1985Probe Oct. 20The crowd changed tune from the freedom songs and the ‘toyitoyi’ war cries to ‘mayitshe’ (let it burn) ushering in a new element.
1985Probe Nov. 24This was some kind of new revelation..for whites — more especially the performance of the war-cry or emotive dance, ‘itoyi-toyi’ by the youths.
1986Evening Post 21 Mar. 3People sang freedom songs honouring Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, and danced the ‘toyi-toyi’.
1986E. Prov. Herald 12 May 1Brig. Schnetler’s conditions included that toyi-toyi dancing not be allowed...He explained that toyi-toyi dancing was a war dance which was used in the townships to incite crowds.
1988P. Baneshik inSunday Star 7 Aug.The words [toi-toi] were a simple verbalisation of the sound made by people of Eastern European cultures when spitting (‘Ptui-ptui!’) to ward off the ‘evil eye’. Since many ballet dancers and ballet conventions stem from those climes, the expression became common among dancers when wishing fellows good luck. (Similar to the other theatrical ‘good luck’ wish: ‘Break a leg!’)...‘Toyi toyi’ is the name of a form of black protest dance, in which phalanxes of protesters chant while prancing forward and punching the air with the right fist in rhythm with the chant.
1990Weekly Mail 11 May 13The PAC has produced few substitutes to the songs, toyi-toyis and other symbols of the ANC.
1990R. MalanMy Traitor’s Heart 141They were dancing the toi, the township war dance, running on the spot, their feet thundering in unison.
1990Sunday Times 18 Feb. 21My UDF source said: ‘The toyi-toyi was introduced to townships..by trained ANC infiltrators from up north. It simply means toying — or practising — the military drill. In the guerilla training camps it is performed with military precision and discipline, but locally it has evolved as a dance aimed at pepping up the mood of militant youths.’
1990M. KentridgeUnofficial War 24The toyi-toyi is particularly associated with the amaqabane, but Inkatha members use it as well, the two forms being distinguished by the slogans shouted.
1991A. Klaaste inRace Rel. News (S.A.I.R.R.) Apr. 13The toyi-toyi..this trance-like, almost zombie-like chant and shuffle.
1991P. Storey inStar 1 Nov. 13The toyi-toyi, and the often insulting songs which go with it, is an invitation to mob hysteria. Its association with some of the worst political violence in the past makes it a liability.
1993J. Maluleke inDrum Aug. 32The toyi-toyi was first performed inside South Africa in a rudimentary fashion in 1979 during the launch of Cosas.
1993J. Maluleke inDrum Aug. 33The toyi-toyi has moved from its purpose as a physical training exercise in the emaGojini [mountains] to the dynamic freedom dance of the 90s...The toyi-toyi, according to [Mkhululi] Dliwayo, means in Ndebele ‘moving forward while remaining in one place’.
1987M.G. Whisson inRusa Reporter (Rhodes Univ.) June 10I must confess that the thought of seeing G—..performing a Tyrolean toyi toyi..is appealing.
1989Sunday Times 13 Aug. 16Perhaps the [reform] situation is best described as a boere toyi-toyi — one can see there is movement, but it is difficult to make out where it is all going.
A quasi-military dance-step characterized by high-stepping movements, performed either on the spot or while moving slowly forwards, usually by participants in protest gatherings or marches, and accompanied by chanting, singing, and the shouting of slogans. Also attributive, and occasionally shortened form toyi.
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