When I travel I like to know all I can about the locals, and when given the chance to choose from the dozen interesting destinations in Africa, I knew I had my work cut out for me. In South Africa alone there are 11 official languages. One dominant language and culture that most people are familiar with is the Zulus. The Zulu race is a big part of the country and I was excited, yet daunted to find out all I could about this proud people.
The Zulu heritage goes back many years, but they only became a unique people around the early 18th century, pulling away from the many clans that were scattered around the Southern African area.
The King of Kings
Most know of Shaka Zulu, the Zulu people’s leader, who took this people beyond anyone’s imagination. He was fearless and fought for his people for many years. Some would say that he was the first to start the vendetta against apartheid, the British being a big part of this war.
Today, there are still Zulu tribes, who live the authentic Zulu life, with all its culture, religion and traditions. I had the privilege of visiting one such village, and was amazed how they were quite oblivious to our modern ways and equipment. It was, in fact, quite breath taking and heart-warming.
I watched them cook over an open fire, with very primitive-looking utensils. I tasted their food, which was, while a little bland, quite tasty. They are a predominantly vegetarian race, although they do like their meat. As they do not go to the shops to buy their protein, they don’t always have it on tap, so the vegetation that they grow makes do.
They love their beer, and it is made from maize and course sorghum. The process takes place over a few days, and is operated by the women only. Once all is said and done, they produce a really hard-core beer, which has an alcohol content of 3%.
Amazi is a very traditional food, and made up of mostly milk. It is a sacred food, and only consumed by family members, so I wasn’t able to try it.
The Zulu’s are very proud of their attire, and most of it is made from real animal hides.
The men have very different wear to the women, and much of the accessories have deep meaning.
Cow tails are worn on the upper arms of men to give the appearance of greater muscle mass. They are called amaShoba.
IsiNene is the little front apron that covers the men’s private area, made up of weighted circles of animal skin.
The rear apron for men is called iBeshu and is only ever made from dead or stillborn calves.
InJoba is the long skins of animals worn on the hips.
Only married men wear headbands, which can be quite decorative.
The women are divided into single or married, and they dress accordingly. Single women display their “assets” as it were, by wearing very little, just a little grass skirt, with bared breasts. Married women cover up their breasts and grow their hair.
Dancing is a very integral part of the Zulu traditions, and it is a fine sceptical to see. I was able to view a few of their dances and was so tempted to join in, but not allowed to.
All of their dances have meaning, from their hunting dance to their bull dance. They are a fierce nation and express their passion well in dance. One can easily get caught up in the vibe and beat when watching.
The Zulu believe that there are spirits that exist in another realm. The spirits communicate between the dead and the living, giving messages of wisdom and often times foreseeing the future.
The Sangoma, who is their spiritual healer, will intervene when there is a situation that needs to be dealt with.
Animals are very sacred to the Zulu people, and they believe that spirits exist in animals too. You will see them put great meaning into what animals get up to. Suspicion is rife in the Zulu culture.
The Living Arrangements
The village layout is very thought-out, normally always situated on a slope, so that rainwater can drain down and through the kraal, where they keep their cattle.
The umuzi is built to protect the occupants against attack from neighbouring tribes. Although today, that rarely happens, they have kept up with this tradition.
The cattle and claves are kept in the middle, to protect from them wandering and from theft. They separate single men and women from their married counterparts, probably for obvious reasons.
The chief’s mother gets the largest hut, and the chief with his many wives are built around this. This shows the signs of respect within the tribe.
Nowadays the villages allow outsiders in, as more of a tourist thing, so I got to see the layout first hand, but we were not allowed to stay overnight.
So, I urge you, next time you are out and about on a safari in Africa, please go visit a Zulu village, and step back into a time gone by.