Do you know that in Zulu tradition sacrifices are made to the ancestors for protection, health and prosperity. The Zulus are a Bantu ethnic group of Southern Africa and the largest ethnic group in South Africa, with an estimated 10–11 million people living mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Small numbers also live in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique.
People of Heavens
Known as People of Heavens the Zulu beliefs are based on the presence of ancestral spirits, which often appear in dreams, and a supreme being who is seldom involved in the affairs of mortals. The Zulu hold their culture in high esteem, observing many of their old traditions, rituals and ceremonies which are essential in their day-to-day lives.
Zulu beliefs deem birth, puberty, marriage and death as opportune times to communicate with the ancestors. And they can be called on for good luck, blessings, fortune, assistance or guidance. To beseech them they are given offerings and sacrifices, which can range from home-brewed beer to the slaughtering of animals.
The Use of Magic
Zulu culture includes the use of magic and many cases of illness or bad luck are considered to be caused by an evil spirit. A diviner will communicate with the spirits or use natural herbs and prayers to get ride of the problem. Most Zulus today give their religion as Christianity and consider their Zulu messiah as Isaiah Shembe.
In September and October KwaZulu-Natal hosts three significant Zulu festivals. These ceremonies give an authentic, non-touristy insight into various aspects of Zulu life. Ranging from healing ceremonies weddings, coming-of-age ceremonies and a visit to a Zulu gospel church.
The Royal Reed Dance
In the second week of September, the Zulu King hosts a four-day celebration at his royal residence at Nongoma. This festival attracts some 25,000 tourists across the globe to the Enyokeni Royal Palace in Nongoma which is located in the KwaZulu-Natal province in the north eastern part of the Republic of South Africa. Nongoma is 300 km north of the judicial capital Durban and also serves as the seat of the Nongoma Local Municipality in the province.
The young maidens of the Zulu nation, show off their singing and dancing talents. The festival, known as Umkhosi woMhlanga in Zulu, takes its name from the riverbed reeds that play a significant role in Zulu life. Young women carry the reed sticks, which symbolize the power of nature, to the king. According to Zulu mythology, only virgins should take part, and if a woman participant is not a virgin, this will be revealed by her reed stick breaking. A second Reed Dance takes place in the last week of September at the king’s other residence in Ingwavuma.
King Shaka Day
In honour of King Shaka, a celebration is held yearly on September 24 in KwaDukuza, Shaka’s original homestead and the place where he was murdered in 1828 by his brothers Dingane and Mhlangana. It was Shaka who brought together smaller tribes and formed them into the greatest warrior nation in Southern Africa. Today, the celebration is attended by a who’s who of South African Zulu society; there are speeches by the likes of Inkatha Freedom Party leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, along with music and fantastic displays of warrior dancing, the men decked out in full ceremonial gear and armed with traditional weapons.
Held in mid- to late October in Judea, near Eshowe, the Shembe Festival is the culmination of weeks of endless rituals, dancing and prayers held throughout KwaZulu-Natal. Some thirty thousand members of the Shembe Church return here every year to meet their leader and celebrate their religion with prayer dances and displays of drumming.
Zulu festival and dance is widely talked in the western world. A ballet called Inala meaning abundance of goodwill in Zulu, was conceived to mark 20 years of democracy in South Africa and celebrates diversity today. This ambitious production embraces an exhilarating fusion of South African and Western cultures, live on stage. INALA was created by Sisters Grimm, multi-award-winning choreographer Mark Baldwin OBE, and featured Ladysmith Black Mambazo with current and former dancers from the Royal Ballet and Rambert. INALA was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2016 for its original score, recognising what The Independent described as “stunning, contemporary South African vocal music”.
When to visit
If you are planning to visit South Africa and want to have a deeper experience of Zulu culture and festivals the best time to visit is early September and October till winters. Eshowe is an hour’s drive from Ballito, just north of Durban. Eshowe is close to great game reserves like the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the coast.
You can stay at George Hotel, Chennels Guest House. Be sure to taste some traditional beer if you are offered some, or sample the craft beers at the Zululand Brewing Company. Visit a local craft brewery, go on a safari or take a walk in the indigenous Dlinza Forest. You can buy local beaded crafts items and shop for local traditional made goods.