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Amazing Facts about the Zulu People of Africa Revealed at Last!

For as far as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by the African cultures, and more specifically, by the Zulu people of Africa. I have therefore decided to share some interesting facts about the Zulus.

I will go over some basic facts such as their origins, the Zulu family structure along with their beliefs, and of course, some additional facts to impress your friends at your next gathering. However, you will have to keep reading to the end!

Zulu People of Africa A Woman Smiling

A Bit of History…

First off, to get a better understanding of the Zulu people, it is important to know how the Zulu tribe came to be. The Zulus are the descendant of the Nguni people.

As part of what is called the Bantu migrations, the Nguni people migrated to the east coast of Africa to reach South Africa. As a result, around the ninth century AD, a small Zulu clan settled down in South Africa.

During the 1800s, the Zulus were a powerful enemy, mainly because of their leader, King Shaka Zulu. Under his reign that spanned from 1816-1828, all the Zulu tribes were united into one mighty Zulu Nation with the most potent military force of the time in Southern Africa.

After the death of King Shaka Zulu, who incidentally was murdered by his brothers, the Zulu nation ceased to exist and was divided into many tribes by the British. To this day, the Zulu never regained their independence.

Where Are the Zulus?

The largest concentration of Zulu people is in South Africa, and more precisely in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, where their numbers range between 10-11 million. Smaller clusters of the Zulus population are present in the following countries: Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland.

Language

The language of the Zulus is the isiZulu that is part of the Bantu language. The Zulu language has many click sounds and harbors many respect terms. For instance, it is considered to be a lack of respect when younger people address their elders by their first names! Therefore, it is viewed as a good practice to use the following terms, Baba (father) and Mama (mother) when talking to the elders of the Zulu community.

The isiZulu constitutes one of the 11 official languages of South Africa.

Many Zulus are also able to converse in other languages that include English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and Portuguese.

Zulu People and their Holiday

Apart from all the National Holidays in South Africa, there is one holiday that is dear to the Zulu people, and it is called Shaka Day.

In recent years, this holiday was renamed Heritage Day and takes place each year on the same date, which is September 24.

The Heritage Day commemorates the founder of the Zulu Kingdom, King Shaka Zulu.

The Zulus wear their traditional clothing for the occasion and gather at the KwaDukuza in Stanger where the tombstone of the famous King is located.

There are much dancing and singing during Heritage Day to honor the founder of the Zulu Kingdom as well as all the kings that came after Shaka Zulu.

King Shaka
Sketch of King Shaka from 1824. Courtesy of James King

The Zulu Family Structure

The Zulus are very patriarchal. Therefore, the head and authority figure of the family is always a man.

The family unit is as follows, a man with his wife or wives (if he can afford it) and their children. Sometimes the family unit also includes the man’s parents who end up being in charge of the household.

There is a division of labor between the men and women of the Zulu community.

The men are mainly in charge of providing for the family as well as taking care of all the physical tasks, such as, building houses and taking care of the livestock if they are living in the rural area.

Whereas the women are responsible for all chores, taking place inside the house, such as cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the children. Furthermore, in rural areas, women are in charge of planting and harvesting the crop.

Nowadays, women can join the workforce just like men. However, they are still in charge of all the household chores! As a result, if a wife wants to work outside the home, she needs to do all the housework either before or after her workday or hire someone to do these chores for her.

Rural and Urban Settings

Nowadays, most of the Zulu people are still living in the rural communities of the KwaZulu Province. Moreover, their subsistence relies primarily on agriculture and livestock.

They do not have the luxury of essential amenities, such as clean water and electricity. Their houses are either of circular shape (rondavels) or rectangular.

Houses of the Zulus

The materials, mostly used to build their homes are mud or concrete blocks, and a thatched roof made of grass or iron sheets.

The town of Durban located in the KwaZulu Province has the largest concentration of Zulus living in an urban setting. The urban Zulu are found mostly in the so-called ‘black townships’ set up by the government in the 1950s and 1960s.

Clothing

The Zulu people are no different from us when it comes to clothing; they wear western clothing for everyday use. The traditional attire is worn only on special occasions, like for instance, Shaka Day and during rites of passage ceremonies.

The traditional clothing for men includes an “Amabheshu“, a waist apron made of cattle skin or goatskin along with goatskin bands on their legs and arms.

However, traditional clothing for women varies depending on their marital status. If the woman is single, she wears a skirt made of cattle skin or goatskin along with strings of beads to cover the upper part of her body.

On the other hand, if the woman is engaged, her attire includes not only the skirt but also a colorful piece of clothing to cover her breasts. Finally, a married woman is wearing clothing to cover her entire body.

Religion, Beliefs, and Rituals

Religion

Many Zulus are facing a duality when it comes to their religion. Most of the Zulu people are Christian, but at the same time, have kept a strong belief in ancestral spirits.

Beliefs

For the Zulu tribes, there is a supreme being or a creator God called an “Unkulunkulu.” The creator God does not interact directly with people. The ancestral spirit (Amadlozi) is the entity with whom the people interact to help them to resolve their everyday problems.

The way to communicate with the Amadlozi is through divination processes. To do so, you will need a diviner and a herbalist. The diviner will call upon the ancestral spirit whereas the herbalist prepares a mixture of herbs named a muthi to influence the ancestral spirit.

There are two types of muthi: white and black.

The white muthi is used to sway the ancestral spirit in a positive way, to heal and protect.

On the other hand, black muthi is used to cause pain and misery. According to the Zulu people, illnesses and misfortunes are the results of summoning spirits with the black muthi.

Consequently, the usage of black muthi is considered to be an act of witchcraft within the Zulu society.

Rites of Passages

There are four critical stages in the Zulus’ life:

  • Birth
  • Puberty
  • Marriage
  • Death

A ceremony commemorates each of these milestones. Offerings and sacrifices of animals to the ancestral spirits are made to ensure a successful passage to the next stage in their lives.

Conclusion

The Zulu people are the largest ethnic group in South Africa. Moreover, the Zulu language: the isiZulu, is one of the official languages of South Africa.

Most of the Zulus live in the KwaZulu-Natal province in the rural communities and still rely on agriculture and livestock for their subsistence. However, many Zulus looking for a different life, have chosen to move into the black townships in the town of Durban.

Even though a large number of Zulu will tell you that they are Christian, many of them retain a firm belief in ancestral spirit and use this system based on ancestor worship to help them solve various issues in their lives.

If you have any questions or stories that you would like to share about the Zulu People of Africa, please leave a comment below and I will be sure to get back to you.

Sonia Zannoni - CEO of My Affiliate Toolbox, Inc.
Sonia

My name is Sonia, a traveler enthusiast and the CEO of Wildlife Safari Adventures. My goal with Wildlife Safari Adventures is to provide you insightful information to help you better plan your African travels. Are you ready to uncover the many facets of the Dark Continent?

12 thoughts on “Amazing Facts about the Zulu People of Africa Revealed at Last!”

  1. Hi Sonia.

    I am South African just doing research on the Zulu culture and traditions, and I am a Tswana girl, but I just wanted to find out how come the Lobola wasn’t mentioned?

    Reply
    • This post is a general overview of some facts about the Zulu culture. It wasn’t my intention to describe every custom and ritual of the Zulu culture in great detail. So I only chose a few, and unfortunately, the Lobola didn’t make the cut.

      However, if you are interested in learning more about the customs and rituals of the Zulu people, you should get the following book:
      The Zulu: An A-Z of Culture and Traditions from Ulrich von Kapff available at Amazon.

      Thanks for your input.

      Reply
  2. Hi Sonia,

    Thank you so much for your post. I was born in Zululand and have lived in Zululand my entire life.

    Some Zulu’s actually around my town STILL wear their traditional dress every day and not just for special occasions. So please feel free to contact me if ever you are coming to Zululand, and we would love to take you around. You will love it. I agree the Zulu people are amazing and our Zulu King!

    Thank you for writing about us.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your input. Much appreciated! A visit to Zululand is on my bucket list! So, for sure, I will let you know to get a guided tour of the Zululand.

      Reply
  3. Hi Sonia

    I find the Zulu people of Africa very fascinating. We studied about the Zulu culture and history at school.

    I loved learning about Geography and the different cultures, anthropology, and I did enjoy it thoroughly. You seem to know an awful lot about the Zulus! Have you ever been to South Africa and amongst a Zulu community?

    Holly

    Reply
    • I never stayed within the Zulu community. I simply read many books about their history, cultures, and I decided to share what I learned about them! Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  4. This is a terrific overview of the Zulu culture and people. I had the opportunity to visit and live in SA for a while and was amazed at the strong traditions that remain within even urban Zulu communities.

    I certainly gained a great deal of respect for the people and their struggles because of the overwhelmingly positive outlook in quite trying and challenging conditions.

    Reply
  5. Hi Sonia,

    I must say I thoroughly enjoy your website. I was fascinated by your story about the Zulu people. I had no idea and were thinking I am going to spend some time to find out more.

    In the past, I have heard about the Zulu’s on TV and such but didn’t give much thought as to their origins and/or history. Your article was well written and researched.

    I was wondering more about King Shaka Zulu. I hope that you might, one day, write an article specifically about him?

    Honestly, I do not know a lot about Africa, and if I were to ask for one more thing from your present article, it would be that I would love to see a map of the continent and where the Zulus reside. Just a thought.

    Thanks for educating us!

    Reply
  6. Hi Sonia,

    Firstly, I want to say that it was very enjoyable to read your article.

    I have been interested in Africa’s people for quite a long time and watch much tv programs about Zulu people included.

    However, reading your article I learn, even more, now I want to visit Africa to see how they live.

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

    Can you recommend me any book to ready about them?

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Yes, I can recommend a few books about the Zulu People of Africa. Although, without knowing what you are looking for, I will give you general book recommendations to get you started.

      The first book I recommend is an overview of Zulu history and culture. It called: The Zulu: An A-Z of Culture and Traditions. This book will give a good insight into the history and the Zulu Culture.

      Another book that I recommend, especially if you are planning to visit South Africa one day is, South Africa – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture. The book will give you a great introduction to South African culture. The book also offers tips on how to behave, so that you do not end up in awkward situations!

      Hope its help,

      Happy reading!

      Reply

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