The Zulu people call themselves as ‘the people of the heavens’. Once a disparate group of clans and chieftainships, they were melded into a great kingdom by Shaka in the early 19th century.
Because of the exploits of Shaka and his successors, the Zulu people are arguably the most recognisable in Africa. Today they number over nine million, with the majority living in KwaZulu-Natal. Their language, IsiZulu, is the most widely spoken in South Africa.
Zulu people hold their culture in high esteem, observing many of its ancient traditions, rituals and ceremonies. They believe strongly in the presence of ancestral spirits, which are essential in their day-to-day lives. Birth, marriage and death are opportune times to communicate with the ancestors in the Zulu culture.
In Zulu tradition there is also belief in a Supreme Creator. He is not intricately involved in the lives of the people and he has never been seen by anyone, which is why no ceremonies are ever performed in his name.
The typical Zulu family still exists in rural Zululand. It includes all people staying in a homestead who are related to one other. Everyone will stay in the homestead, which is often made up of circular, fenced huts with thatched roofs. A man is always the head of the household.
In Zulu culture, clothing is often intricate, carrying meaning with each outfit. Men, women and children wear beads as accessories. Men wear the amabeshu – an apron made of goat or cattle skin, but worn at the back. In addition, men decorate their heads with furs and feathers, while also wearing goatskin bands on their arms and legs.
Women wear the isidwaba, a traditional black skirt of goat or cattle skin. If a woman is not married, she will cover her upper body with a string of beads.