« QUIZ: Which Of The African Big 5 Are You? | Main | Reintroducing New Species: Yes Or No? »

An Introduction To The Zulu

Travelling is more than just self-formation; it’s about meeting others and the different forms of exchange and interaction that ensues. What draws you to a place may be the fantastic sights, but what keeps you there, brings you back and remains forever in your memory is the people.

Nowhere are people more diverse than the incredible country of South Africa! With nearly 53 million inhabitants, people of many different cultures and faiths share in this pluralistic society, and the constitution recognises 11 different official languages. It’s no wonder the country is known as the Rainbow Nation! The South African flag aptly and proudly represents this metaphor of multicultural unity.

flickr | flowcommThe largest ethnic group in South Africa are the Zulu people, numbered at around 10-11 million, with smaller populations living in neighbouring countries. As the Zulu belong to the greater Bantu ethnic group, so is the Zulu language, isiZulu, a Bantu one. As an official language, it is the most widely spoken in South Africa, however many speakers also speak English, Portuguese and Afrikaans. Zulu means heaven or sky.

A majority of Zulus adhere to the Christian faith, however many combine their religious practices with some aspects of the pre-Christian belief system and ancestral worship. Traditional Zulu thought revolves around the idea that the human being is comprised of three primary elements: umzimba, the physical body, umoya, the life force, and isithunzi, the “shadow” or personality.

Choices made in life can either increase or diminish one’s isithunzi, which can be seen as a social marker of prestige in the community. Because the link between the present generation and ancestors remains strong, the lines of communication are well maintained also. This is achieved through the important role of mediums, or people who have the capacity to invoke the ancestors, and herbalists, those that have the necessary know-how to concoct mixtures for ritual consumption.

Zulu cuisine is one of the best ways to experience this vibrant culture. Most cultures owe the foundation of their diets to some form of starch, and the Zulu diet is built primarily on sorghum and maize starches. These grains are even used to brew Zulu beer, a local specialty! Meat and dairy are regularly consumed, especially a delicacy known as amasi, which is fermented milk that is traditionally believed to make a man strong and healthy. Meat is typically served with chakalaka, a spicy vegetable relish. Porridge is a staple dish of Zulu cuisine and comes in a variety of forms: phutu, a crumbly maize porridge typically eaten cold with amasi, and isibhede, a tasty fermented version.

There are a number of well-known Zulus, but probably the most famous is Shaka Zulu, a great warrior king of the Zulu Kingdom under whom many different Nguni tribes united in the nineteenth century. Today, the figure of
Shaka Zulu garners both admiration and controversy, yet there is no dispute however, that his legacy is firmly imprinted on the South African culture and consciousness.

flickr | triciahealeyNow that you know a little about Zulu culture and history, it’s up to you to discover more! We have one completely dedicated project; The South Africa Zulu Community Project and Adventure

We also have plenty of other projects in South Africa that you can explore here;

By Frances Lai  Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs conservationdevelopmentteaching and adventure travel projects in over 50 countries worldwide - so join us and explore the world!

See more from our volunteers #Frontiervolunteer