South African Population: The Zulus


Figure 1.--Here are Zulu children in modern South Africa wearing traditionl clothes. Killing wild animals were an important accomplishment for Zulu boys.

Perhaps the best known African tribal groups is the Zulus in South Africa. The Zulu now live in the KwaZuluNatal province of South Africa. The Zulus (about 20 percent of the South African population) are the largest ethnic hroup in South Africa. They are the southern branch of the Bantu speaking people. The Mantabele are a group of the Zulu. The Zulu had polygamous marriages and was normally contracted by gifts of cattle to the father of the bride. The Zulu lived in fenced compounds called kraals. The warlike Zulu moved into southern Africa during the early 19th century and with their superior tactics and organization subdued local tribes. They came in conflict with the Afrkaaners fleeing British rule on the Long Trek (1830s). Andries Pretorius led reprisals raids against the Zulu, killing large numbers. The Zulus were finally subdued by the British in the Zulu War (1879). Zuiluland was annexed by the British (1887) and was made part of Natal (1897).

History

Perhaps the best known African tribal groups is the Zulus in South Africa because of their history. Zulu legend trace their origins to the patriarch Zulu, the son of a Nguni chief in the Congo basin of central Africa. The Zulu people began to migrate south towards Natal where they eventually settled (16th centuty). ccounts vary as to just when they arrived in southern Africa. The Zulu were not a people with a strong central organization, but rather many relared clans. The most admired figure in Zulu history is King Shaka (1816-28). Shaka was a gifted political and military leader. He united the various clans into a single centralized tribe which as they were no longer fighting each other, emerged as the most powerful tribal group in sothern Africa. Shala developed effective battle tactics and innovative infantry formations. He demanded unbending loyalty and discipline from his soldiers, including celibacy. Violations of his discipline could mean death. Not only were the Zulu clans united, but other conquered tribes were incorporated into the Zulus. The Zulus had 1,500 soldiers when Shaka became king and at the time of his death there were 50,000 soldiers. The warlike Zulu moved into southern Africa during the early 19th century, although there is some difference of opinion on this. With their superior tactics and organization subdued local tribes. The Zulu came to dominate much of the eastern coastal regions and interior of South Africa. They came in conflict with the Afrkaaners fleeing British rule on the Long Trek (1830s). Andries Pretorius led reprisal raids against the Zulu, killing large numbers. Later they had to face the British. The Zulu War was the most serious challenge the British faced from an African tribal group (1879). What the Zulu did not have, however, was modern weapns--rapid fire rifles and artillery. Despite initial victories, the Zulu were completely defeated. The War ended the Zulu's existence as an independent kingdom. Zululand was annexed by the British (1887) and was made part of Natal (1897). Chief Bambatha led the final Zulu uprising against the British (1906). The Zulu like other South African tribes were subjected to an increasingly harsh series of racist laws under South Africa's Apartheid system.

Economy

The Zulu like several other African tribes had a cattle-based economy. This was supplemented by agriculture. Wealth was, however, more determined by cattle possession than any agricultural measure. The principal Zuklu economic and social unit was the village, And the villages supported by agriculture and cattle raising were econinically self-suficent. There was a sharp gender divide. The women and girls worked in agriculture. The crops raised included: mealies, Kaffir maize, pumpkins, watermelons, calabashes, native sugar reeds, and various kinds of tubers and beans. The Zulu like other tribes developed ceremonies, rituals, and magic as part of the agricultural process. Especially important was the First Fruits ceremony (late-December) in which the king partakes of the new crops. As South Africa is in the southern hemisphere, December is not the begiining of winter but the late-Spring, rather like June in the northen hemisphere. An importanht part of the ceremony is the magical strengthening of the king and a larger military review. The men and boys were responsible for tending the livestock, especially the cattle. Cattle were important because they provided the most important food stuffs (meat and amasi--soured milk). The hides were used for both clothing and shields. Cattle were especially important because they were how wives were acquiring wives through lobola--the bride price. Cattle also has religious importance. The Sacrifice of cattle was the central religious rite and the means of propitiating ancestors. Zulu life has changed substabntilly in modern South Africa. The Zulu like most rural black South Africans are poor. Traditional economic patterns do not do not generate adequare income. The women continue to remain at home and pursue subsistence agriculture. The men seek work in the cities, but because their educational achievements are commonly limited, the opportunities are commonly limited to low paying jobs. Cattle coninue to be the primary symbol of wealth, although modern Zuklus often have only a few head. As a result, they are now rarely slaugtered for meat, but primarily for ritual purposes.

Location

The Zulu now live in the KwaZuluNatal province of South Africa.

Population

The Zulus (about 20 percent of the South African population) are the largest ethnic group in South Africa.

Ethnicity

They are the southern branch of the Bantu speaking people. The Mantabele are a group of the Zulu.

Culture

The Zulu had polygamous marriages and was normally contracted by gifts of cattle to the father of the bride. The Zulu lived in fenced compounds called kraals.

Clothing

The Zulu today mostly wear Western clothing. They are very proud of their traditions and on festive occassions and holidays wear traditional clothing. People that usually wear European clothing will wear the traditional styles, especially for folks festivals. High school girls will replace their their school uniforms and dance bare-breasted. he Zulu have a range of identifiable traditional clothing for both men and women. This includes a variety of destinctine garments. Several items convery status. The leopard is a particularly revered animal--the king of predators and only Zulus of elevated social status wear leopard skin. Married men wear headbands An induna may only wear one headband, but the king may wear multiple headbands. . The "amaShoba" are cow tails which men wear on their upper arms and below the knees to give the appearance of larger physique. The "IsiNene" is the front apron and is made of coin sized circular skin patches sewn closely together to add weight and cover the front. The "iBeshu" is the rear apron made from calf skin (stillborn or dead calves). Active young men wear them to knee length while older men may wear them to the ankle. The "inJobo" consist of long animal skins which are worn on the hips. Beads are very important in Zulu clothing, especially for women. Women do give men beaded items they have made. Bead work has been described as "the pride of the Zulu nation". Their beadwork encompasses a symbolic language that includes reprimands, warnings, and love messages. Younger children wear little clothing. Mothers may do beadwork for them. Boys as they grow older begin to wear items like their fathers. Some items are reserved for those boys who nhave passed through manhood rites.







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Created: 1:45 AM 8/8/2004
Last updated: 11:53 PM 7/12/2011