Zulu People of South Africa

Zulu people are a nation of Nguni speaking people, the largest ethnic group, in Southern Africa.

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The Zulu people are the largest ethnic group in South Africa, with an estimated population of 12 million people, living mainly in Kwazulu-Natal province. Originally, the Zulu were a part of many large Nguni communities, before being brought together under the leadership of Shaka.

Under the reign of Shaka, Zulu nation grew based on its military organization and skills. The young men of Zulu were enrolled into the military through an initiation ceremony (Ukubuthwa), with each age-set assigned to the same regiment. The girls were also subject to Ukubuthwa, but they were usually assigned to an age group instead of a regiment.

The language widely spoken by Zulu is isiZulu, a Bantu language, although they are able to speak and understand other South African native languages.

Annually, the Zulu people celebrate what is called the Umhlanga or Reed dance. Adorned in their beadworks (prominent attire at the Umhlanga), young women from all parts of the kingdom perform in front of the monarch and his guests, to promote pride in virginity and to encourage sexual purity.

Traditionally, each stage of a Zulu life is determined by a specific type of clothing. Although, Zulu wear a variety of attire, both cultural and modern clothes. The men wear leather belt with two strips of hide hanging down front and back, while women of Zulu dress according to their marital status. Young girls of Zulu dress in what is called Isigcebhezana, which are worn for their Umemulo ceremony (transitioning ceremony into womanhood) when they turn 21. Pregnant women are dressed in Isibamba, a thick belt made from dried grass, covered with glass or plastic beadwork, to support her bulge.

The Zulu people rule under a patriarchal social order. Men are the authoritative heads of home, while women are trained to perform domestic chores. Manhood is celebrated through stick fighting which is learned from as early as five years old.

Like every other African culture, Zulu have traditional religious practices. They use a diviner (sangoma) to invoke the spirit of the ancestors. They also practice a ceremony called Ukweshwana, where a bull is killed to celebrate the new harvest and pray to the ancestors. Christianity has now gained a foothold in modern Zulu society.

The act of bride price payment is called Ilobolo in Zulu, where a token is offered to the bride’s family as a symbol of pride and respect.


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Written by Monsurat

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