The Zulu People

The Zulu traditions and culture are as much a way of life as they are a tourist attraction. The Zulu, which means people of heaven, are a proud nation that treasure their heritage, are friendly and always hospitable; displaying an unyielding loyalty to their inkosi (traditional leader). The Zulu language is rich and expressive, very often punctuated with distinctive click sounds.

The Zulu are descended from the Nguni people, who lived in central or east Africa - a mystical land called Embo, according to the tribal storytellers. During the 16th and 17th centuries the Nguni moved south, and a small group settled in the fertile valleys of Zululand. One of the settlers was Malandela, whose wife Nozinja bore him two sons, the second of which was named Zulu (Heaven). He was, by all accounts, a spirited and determined young man, and his marriage signalled the beginning of a new clan, with all their descendnts proudly perpetuating the name of Zulu. 

It was the emergence of the warrior King Shaka that united the amaZulu, forging feuding farmers and cattle herders into a proud and powerful nation. 

A popular souvenir for visitors is Zulu beadwork. One of the most fascinating manifestations of this traditional craft is its unique language. Every colour has a different meaning and a Zulu women can weave a message of love, grief, jealousy, poverty or uncertainty into her patterned creation. Young Zulu girls, in particular, use the vocabulary of the beads to send sweet (or bitter) thoughts to their loved ones. The military influence of the Shaka regime is reflected in demonstrations of stick fighting (umshiza), with which the male teenagers and men settle their personal differences in a public duel; while a spirit healer (sangoma) plays a respected and meaningful role in the life of a Zulu community by using roots, herbs, bark, snake skins and dried animal parts to reveal the past, predict the future and cure ailments. 

Dancing and singing is very much a part of the lifestyle of the Zulu people, and each dance formation or movement symbolizes an event or happening within the clan. There is the rhythmical dance of the smal shield, the fiery motivation body movements of the hunting dance, the symbolizing of the tidal ebb and flow in the Umbhekuzo, the snakelike motion of the umchwayo and the challenging war dance /umghubha) with traditional shield and spear. Also captivating for visitors is the opportunity to witness the disciplined and dignified social structure of a Zulu homestead (umuzi). Customs pertaining to food and the brewing of beer, ancestoral worship and places of burial, the dress code for men, women and children, the trole of the traditional healer (inyanga), the importance of a man's cattle, the system of compensating a father for the loss of his daughter in marriage (lobola), courtship, witchcraft and superstitions are still observed.