African Culture of the Day – The Zulu of South Africa

The Zulu people are the largest ethnic group in South Africa . They are descended from East African origins and over centuries , migrated south during what is a called the great Bantu migration . The Zulu rose into a formidable empire under the leadership of Shaka in the early 19 th century . Under his leadership , the Zulu kingdom expanded and played an important role in the history of South Africa . Over time , the Zulu developed a fearsome reputation that is still evident today .

The Zulus of today are modern and progressive . While traditional clothing is reserved for special occasions, the Zulu retain strong connections with their ancestral and historical roots . As a people , the Zulu are said to be warm – hearted and hospitable and it is to them that we owe the concept of Ubuntu. Ubuntu states that we are people , not because of our individuality , but by virtue of our connections to other people , thus underlying the importance of relationships .

The Zulu , while predominantly Christian , have retained the belief in their supreme being, Unkulunkulu , who is the creator of all life . While Unkulunkulu is remote and detached , all fortune , misfortune , good or bad luck is attributed to ancestral spirits or amadlozi . Simply put , the ancestral spirits are the spirits of the dead , specifically , of people who were respected and successful in life. By giving sacrifices to the ancestral spirits , the Zulu people seek to influence their lives on a day to day basis and all marriages or births are marked by sacrificial offerings .

The Zulu are also renowned for their skilled craftsmanship from earthenware pottery to weaving but most notably their beadwork . Bright coloured beads are woven into intricate patterns which are highly decorative but also functional . The patterns and colours have meaning . For example, a triangle is the symbol used for a girl while an inverted triangle indicates a boy . Joined triangles tip – to -tip indicates a married man , while triangles joined base to base is a married woman.

Each colour comes replete with the duality of life and has both a negative and a positive connotation . For example, red is for love and passion but can also represent anger and heartache , similarly , blue is the colour of faithfulness and request but also of hostility and dislike . The
symbolism is complex and unique while also being functional and beautiful . It is no wonder then that curio shops from airports to cultural villages and tourist attractions around the country are all stocked with Zulu beadwork curios .

The Zulu nation is a proud one . They have opened cultural villages such as Shakaland in KwaZulu Natal, where you can experience their culture first hand . From traditional houses and dress to dancing , pottery and beadwork , you can even help to brew traditional beer . But don ’ t forget, the real Zulus are the ones you ’ ll meet at lodges , as guides and on the South African streets.