Zulus are decended from the Ngunis who migrated south from central or east Africa to settle in what is now known as KwaZulu-Natal. They are known across South Africa as a tribe of warriors with strond fighting spirit, but are just as famous for their beautiful beaded crafts.
In 1787 a boy, Shaka, was born out of wedlock to the chief of the Zulus, a small group of about 1500. Shaka had big dreams for his peopleand on his fathers death set about realizing them.
Starting with the limited men available to him, Shaka revolutionised military tactics and orginization, and over 12 years built a formidable force that subdued many of the neighboring groups. The Zulu chiefdom grew into the mighty Zulu empire.
Shaka was betrayed and assassinated by his half-brothers, resulting in the gradual weakening of the empire due to to factors, infighting within the Zulu nation and the arrival of the Afrikaaners, followed by the British.
The biggest defeat of British colonial history was inflicted by the Zulus at Isandlwana, however, their eventual deafeat at Ulundi resulted in the loss of their independance.
Zulu leadership has four heirarchy levels:
• The chiefs or amakosi, who report to the king. The title is inherited by the eldest son, now women can assume the role of amakosi.
•The headman, known as induna who is elected by the village elders, acts as the village arbitrator on village issues, allocates land and reports to the inkosi (chief).
•The homestead heads, known as umunumzane, resolve domestic disputes and local issues.
Zulu dress is only worn in rural areas or at cultural celebrations.
Men's clothing is generally made from cow hide and includes:
• Isinene - front apron which covers the privates.
• Ibheshu - rear apron, knee length for young men and ankle length for older men.
• Umqhele - headband worn by married men.
• Amashoba - cow-tails bands worn on upper arms and below knees.
To round of traditional dress, the zulu man would normally add his isihlangu (cow-hide shield), and umkhonto (stabbing spear).
To the Zulu, leopard is considered king of the predators, and only inportant people can wear its skin. An induna or a sangoma (diviner) may wear a headband, but the king may wear as much as he wishes.
Woman's clothing is dependant on marital status:
• An unmarried, single girl, would wear a short beaded grass skirt.
• An unmarried, but engaged girl, would cover her breasts and let her hair grow.
• A married woman covers her entire body and wears an isicholo (a woven grass hat that is sewn into her hair.)
Zulu beadwork is used to convey messages. Color, pattern, order, and relative amounts of color all have meaning. The exact meaning depends on where the item originated, but certain meanings are shared by all Zulus:
• white - purity of love
• pink - poverty
• yellow - wealth
• blue - dove
• black beads in quantity - widowhood
Widows use beads to show thier interest in remarrying. Married women wear a beaded cover over their breasts with a message understood only by their husbands.
Zulu art was for many years overlooked as the Zulu people did not make art in the form of sculptures and paintings. Rather, the art was seen in the embellishment of utensils used in the home such as carved wooden meatplatters, milkpails, spoons, walking sticks and headrests.
Inherant in Zulu art is a strong sense of geometric design. The patterns are usually related to some notion of masculinity, femininity, fertility or cattle. For example, the nodules - called amasumpta- seen on beer pots, meatplatters, milkpails and headrests are suggestive of the cows udders.
As with many African cultures, clothing is of paramount importance to the collector as it embodies the essence of the culture. The Zulu people are renowned for their beautiful beadwork which sometimes carries symbolic messages of love, peace or fertility in the use of geometric patterns. Traditionally, Venetian glass beads were used, but today the use of plastic beads is more common. Anklets, bracelets, armbands, necklaces, cross-bands, waistbands, beaded capes and headrings are all still commonly used to adorn the leather undergarments.
Earplugs, usually worn by men, are also of importance to the collector and are becoming very rare.
Zulu weapons are of great interest to both collectors of African artifacts and collectors of militaria. The Zulus were great warriors, and under the leadership of Shaka they were a formidable force. Shaka introduced the stabbing spear - a short shafted, long bladed spear which was more effective that its counterpart - the throwing spear. The spear was used in conjunction with a shield or assagai which was made of cowhide. Axes were also commonly used but are a rare find these days.
Zulu homes and homesteads
The umuzi (homestead) has two concentric rings of fencing. The outer ring contains the huts and the inner circle is the cattle kraal or enclosure. The umuzi is usually built on a hill with the main entranceat the bottom, for two reasons; 1) so that rainwater cleans out the cattle enclosure, and 2) so that the enemy would have to fight uphill.
The traditional huts are dome shaped, constructed out of grass, and are called iQhugwane (beehive huts). The floor is made by mixing cow dung with mud and water and polishing it to a hard finish. iQhugwane can still be found in rural areas today, but have generally been replaced by round mud-brick huts with grass roofs, known as rondavels.
Umsamo - The umsamo is a sacred place inside a Zullu homestead where the family conducts ceremonies to communicate with the ancestors. These ceremonies would normall involve burning impepho (incense), offering food, or slaughtering animals.
When a new house is built, they have a ceremonial house opening, welcoming the ancestors to the new home. For the ceremony, traditional beer is prepared and the elders in the family burn insense to communicate with the ancestors. A sheep or goat will be slaughtered and its bile is poured into the head of the household's mouth and rubbed into his arms ans legs.
The traditional homestead contains all generations and everyone has a role.
• the men provide protection, deal with outsiders, prepare the fields and have the final say in decisions.
• women tend to thecrops, cook, brew beer, maintain the household, make pottery, do beading and look after children.
• boys herd the family cattle and goats.
• gorls fetch water and assist their mothers.
• elders provie advice, maintain traditions, look after grandchildren and consult ancestors.
• daughters-in-law and grandchildren look after the elderly.
• The eldest son must stay in the homestead, so he can take over from his parents, Younger sons my leave to start a new umuzi on land located by the induna or given by their father.
in Zulu culture, the number of wives indicates a man's wealth, social standing and virility. There are seldom clashes between wives, with each having an appointed role and her own independence. Each wife has her own home and is given resources such as cows or fields.
Although Zulus recognize the existence of a supreme being, uNkulunkulu (Very Big One), ceremonies aren't performed specifically for uNkulunkulu. Instead, Zulus belive that the spirits of the ancestors mediate between uNkulunkulu and those on earth.
Ancestors play an important role in Zulu life and offerings are made for protection, happiness and well-being. communication with the ancestors is carried out by the elders and sangomas (diviners). Ancestral spirits come back to the world in the form of dreams, illness and sometimes snakes.