The Zulu People of South Africa

Zulu People

Zulu is part of the northern Nguni groups and the largest ethnic group in South Africa with an estimated 10 million Zulu residents in KwaZulu-Natal. These people who at one time only consisted of 1,500 people under the reign of Shaka from 1816 until 1828 also refer to themselves as ‘the people of the heavens’.

Talking about the Zulu Language, the following overview of the language was written by B.P. Mngadi for UNESCO’s World Languages Report (2000):

“The writing of Zulu was started by missionaries in the then Natal. The names J W Colenso, S B Stone, H Callaway and Lewis Grant are among the prominent. They taught the first people with whom they made contact, spreading the word of God, basic writing skills in Zulu. Magema Fuze, Ndiyane and William were among the very first who were taught communicative English and basic writing skills at about 1830-1841. The first Zulu Christian booklet was produced by Newton Adams, George Newton and Aldin Grout (1837-8) titled “Incwadi Yokuqala Yabafundayo” which dealt with the spelling of Zulu words and the history of the Old Testament. Between 1845 and 1883, the first translated version of the Bible was produced in very old Zulu orthography. In 1859 the first Zulu Grammar Book by L. Grout was produced”.

When it comes to dressing, the traditional attire for men is Umqhele (warrior’s headband), Amambatha to put over the shoulders, Ibheshu (acts as a trouser) around the waist, Umcedo (used as underwear) to cover the genitalia, and Imbadada for his foot while their women dress according to their marital status. An eligible and single Zulu woman shows the pride she has in her body by flaunting it and wearing skirts made of grass or beaded cotton strings. A married woman will cover her body to indicate to others that she is taken. An engaged Zulu woman will naturally grow her hair and cover her chest with a decorative cloth as a sign of respect to her in-laws.

Some of the Zulus’ traditional foods are mainly vegetarian dishes that predominantly consist of vegetables and grain. Starch is a dietary staple and they take form in pap (porridge) and beer. Maize, pumpkins and potatoes are common ingredients used in traditional dishes.

The belief system for this ethic when it comes to burials like many cultures, the Zulu people believes that life doesn’t end with death but continues in the spiritual world. Death is seen as a person’s deeper connection with all creation. Every person who dies within the Zulu tribe must be buried traditionally. If not done the traditional way, the deceased may become a wandering spirit. An animal is slaughtered as a ritual. The deceased’s personal belongings are buried with them to aid them in their journey. Ancestors’ presence is believed to come in the form of dreams, sickness, and snakes. Opportune times to communicate with ancestors are during birth, puberty, marriage and death. Contact with ancestors is made to ask them for blessings, good luck, fortune, guidance, and assistance.

Many Zulu people converted to Christianity under colonialism. However, although there are many Christian converts, ancestral beliefs have not disappeared. Instead, there has been a mixture of traditional beliefs and Christianity. Ancestral spirits are important in Zulu religious life, and offerings and sacrifices are made to the ancestors for protection, good health, and happiness. Ancestral spirits come back to the world in the form of dreams, illnesses, and sometimes snakes. The Zulu also believe in the use of magic. Ill fortune such as bad luck and illness is considered to be sent by an angry spirit. When this happens, the help of a traditional healer is sought, and he or she will communicate with the ancestors or use natural herbs and prayers, to get rid of the problem.

Sources: Wikipedia and Kruger2canyons

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