The Africa continent is made up of 54 countries, with over 1.3 billion people with not less than 3,000 tribes. Among the tribes, the Zulu tribe is the most famous tribes in Africa.
Zulu is one of the most famous tribes in Africa, and it makes up around 20% of South Africa’s population, the largest ethnic group in Southern Africa. The tribe is so widely known because of Shakaland, which is acknowledged worldwide as the legendary chief Shaka Zulu’s birthplace.
Their history accelerated in 1818 when Shaka, nicknamed the “Black Napoleon”, conquered new territories and founded a united kingdom. Their traditions are still alive today and are expressed in particular through music, dance and crafts.
Who are the Zulus?
They are farmers and herders who master the iron technique and speak the Bantu language. The Zulus, the “people of the sky”, were then a minor tribe of a few thousand souls established in what is now called KwaZulu-Natal.
Shaka, king-founder of the nation in 1818, also nicknamed the “Black Napoleon” for his thirst for conquest. He sets up a formidable army: he enlists men by age group in regiments, imposes discipline and rigour in the ranks, to serve a very advanced military strategy.
Shaka thus conquers many territories, assimilates the new populations until transforming a confederation of tribes into a unified and homogeneous kingdom, which extends from the Drakensberg chain to the Indian Ocean. All this in 10 years! He is stopped on the way by his half-brothers, who assassinate him.
In the 19th century, the British Empire and the Boer colonists also sought to gain ground. The Zulu nation resists the British protectorate established in 1887 and even inflicts a severe defeat on the British, at the Battle of Isandhlwana in 1879, without a gun: only with spears, puzzles and ox skin shields.
If the Zulus’ notoriety has gone beyond South Africa’s borders, it is not only thanks to its warlike past but also thanks to its culture. Paradoxically, it is a “white Zulu”, Johnny Clegg, who made their music and dance known worldwide. With guitarist Sipho Mchunu, he founded the group Juluka, which delivers mixed-race music, mixing African songs and electric guitar, little to the local authorities’ taste who censor the group.
Also, the success of rendezvous in South Africa contributed to the popularity of the Zulu tribe. In the 80s, “Asimbonanga”, in homage to Nelson Mandela, became hits worldwide, giving a media showcase to Zulu culture.
Today, tourists who want to immerse themselves in Zulu culture will head to Shakaland, a village reconstituted in 1984 for the needs of a South African TV movie. The “inhabitants” adorn themselves with traditional costumes as during ceremonies. Women generally wear a pleated cowhide skirt, covered with a pearl apron, and a simple pearl necklace on their bare bust (when they are young girls), which covers their breasts (when engaged). The men put on a warrior’s outfit, which consists of a loincloth, a skin belt, a headband sometimes decorated with feathers, an ox skin shield, and a leopard skin – symbol of power – for the richest.
You will be able to attend dances where the men, accompanied by songs and percussions, raise their legs very high and hammer the ground energetically. You will also be able to observe the traditional making of spears, beer, pottery, woven rush baskets and – for which Zulu craftsmanship is famous – beaded objects.