Zulu is the most popular tribe in Africa and also one of the largest ethnic groups in South Africa. The Zulu people see themselves as the “People of Heaven.” The tribe has an estimated eleven million people in the tribe, and they stand for union and togetherness.
Population: between 10 and 13 million
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 called the great Bantu migration.
The Zulu rose into a formidable empire under the leadership of Shaka in the early 19th century. Under his leadership, the Zulu kingdom expanded and played an important role in the history of South Africa.
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.
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.
Although the Zulu are predominantly Christian, they 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.
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 colored beads are woven into intricate patterns that 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 represents 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.