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The Zulus are the largest and most well known South African ethnic tribe, mainly because of the vital part they played in the continents history. The Zulus are known for their strong fighting spirit and the history of South Africa would not be complete without mentioning the Zulu Tribe.

The Zulus arose in the late 18th century from the hundreds of small clans occupying the northern regions of kwaZulu-Natal on the eastern seaboard of South Africa.  There was always a struggle between the clans for grazing rights and conflict was commonplace . They merged into a great kingdom In the 19th century under the leadership of Shaka.  

Today there is an estimated  10 million Zulu residents in KwaZulu-Natal. 

Zulu Culture


As with most cultures, the Zulu marriage process has now become modernised in urban societies, starting off with an engagement, followed by the payment of lobola. Once lobola has been paid Izibizo will follow, this is where gifts are given to the brides family followed by Umbondo where the bride will in turn give gifts to the grooms family. Finally the actual Zulu Traditional Wedding will take place, Umabo.

The traditional Zulu wedding will usually take place at the grooms family home. The bride is required to leave her family home early in the morning, covered in a blanket given to her by her mother. The bride’s father or a close member of the fathers family will lead her to her new family home. She is not allowed to look back, this is believed to cause her bad luck. The bride’s father will call out the family’s clan names, telling the ancestors that his daughter is officially leaving home to join another family. On arrival at the groom’s house the bride must walk around the house so as to be introduced to her huband’s ancestors, before entering the home through the kitchen while nobody is noticing her the groom’s family will pay a penalty for not being aware of the bride they as should have gone to fetch her. The bride’s family also comes early in the morning, with the wedding ceremony starting at around midday.

The Zulu Traditional wedding - Umabo is a very important ritual in Zulu culture. Zulu culture, no marriage is considered complete until until they’ve carried out the ritual of Umabo. Because of this, couples who experience difficulties in their marriages, or struggle to have children, will go through the umabo years after they first got together, as a way of appeasing the ancestors because it is strongly believed that it is only through umabo that the ancestors will recognise the union.




Historically the Zulus were a rich and powerful nation with large cattle herds. Zulu cooking reflects this history with high levels of beef and dairy in the traditional diet. Milk is consumed in a soured form known as amasi while meat is stewed or grilled over an open fire. 

Traditionally meat portions are allocated according to gender and age with adult men eating high status portions such as the head, liver and right-front leg. Young boys are allocated the feet, lower leg portions and lungs. Tripe and ribs are considered suitable for women. The liver is perceived to be the site of human bravery much as the heart symbolically stores this character trait in Eurocentric food culture.

Meat is commonly eaten with a spicy vegetable relish known as chakalaka, providing evidence of the cultural and culinary fusion legacy of Zulus living and working closely with the large number of South Africans of Indian origin who also live in the KwaZulu-Natal province.

Traditional Zulus also hunted and gatherd wild foods.

The foundations of Zulu cuisine are sorghum and maize starches, which are generally eaten as polenta-like porridges or drunk in the form of beer. Isibhede is a fermented porridge, which tingles on the tongue,while phutu is an unfermented, crumbly porridge.

Sibhede is a fermented porridge, which tingles on the tongue,while phutu is an unfermented, crumbly porridge. Amahewu is a non-intoxicating grain beer while utywala is a highly alcoholic brew. Of secondary starch status in Zulu food are amandumbe, fibrous root vegetables similar to the sweet potato. 




Traditional Zulu Clothing

Traditional Zulus made their clothing with animal skins. 

Women dress according to their marital status. An eligible and single Zulu woman shows the pride she has of her body by flaunting it and wearing skirts made out of grass or beaded cotton strings. A married woman will cover her body to indicate to others that she is taken. An engaged Zulu woman will naturally grow her hair and cover her chest with decorative cloth as a sign of respect to her in laws. 

The traditional attire for men is umqhele (warrior's headband) , amambatha to put over the shoulders, ibheshu (acts as a trouser) around the waist, umcedo (used as underwear) to cover the genitalia, and imbadada for his foot.

The modern day Zulu tribe only wear their traditional attire on special occasions like traditional weddings, cultural gatherings and traditional family events.


In Zulu beadwork every colour and shape has its own intricate cultural meaning. All colours except white (which only represents love and purity), have both positive and negative meanings dependant on what bead is stitched alongside it. The colour of the beadwork one chooses to wear can even symbolise mood, with black indicating one is in mourning and green depicting contentment or bliss in marriage.

Traditionally, Zulu men would rely on these messages for certain information such as whether a woman is married or not. Beadwork is indicative of gender, and told others how many children the wearer had, what region she/he hailed from, and how many unmarried sisters she/he had.

Women also rely on beadwork as a way of forging bonds amongst themselves. The time spent beading together strengthens the bond of community and is passed down from mother to daughter.


The Zulu tribe has always believed in ancestral spirits referred to as amadlozi or abaphansi, spirits of the dead. They also believe in the existence of a higher being who is called Umveliqangi, meaning the one who comes first. Like many cultures, the Zulu people believe that life doesn't end with death but continues in the spiritual world. Death is seen as a person's deeper connection with all creation. Every person who dies within the Zulu tribe must be buried the traditional way. If not done the traditional way, the deceased may become a wandering spirit. An animal is slaughtered as a ritual. The deceased's personal belongings is buried with them to aid them in their journey.

Ancestors are believed to live in the spirit world unKulunkulu (the greatest of the great) and are regarded as intermediaries between the living and the spirit world and they work hand in hand with God. Zulu beliefs are formed around the presence of ancestral spirits, known as amadlozi and abaphansi. Ancestors' presence comes in the form of dreams, sickness and snakes. Opportune times to communicate with ancestors are during birth, puberty, marriage and death. 

Contact with ancestors are made to ask them for blessings, good luck, fortune, guidance and assistance. Ancestors are implored through offerings and sacrifices. Home-brewed beer and slaughtering animals are some of the common forms of offerings. 

Bad luck is considered to be the work of an evil spirit and to rid with the issue a traditional healer, known as a sangoma, communicates to the spirit with the help of prayer and herbs.


Zulu Traditional Wedding Dresses