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  • NRL Makaleng


This week in our series of What makes SA Great, we'll be exploring the Zulu culture. As you might know by now, we aim to Reimagine Travel in Africa and change the way you receive insights about this gorgeous continent! Learning about this deep culture is a good starting point, especially if you’re planning a trip, virtual or in-person, to South Africa!


The Zulu roots lie in the Nguni community of Central Africa that moved southwards along the East Coast, in which they eventually merged with local communities to be apart of the largest ethnic group of South Africa known as the Bantus, building the foundations of a powerful kingdom, The Kwa-Zulu Natal or “Homeland of the Zulu people”. Several ethnic groups across Africa, foreigners from Europe and even India chose to make Kwa-Zulu Natal their home, however the Zulu’s remain the main ethnic group. Today, although the Zulus live mostly in the Kwa-Zulu Natal, you will come across their tribes in other parts of Africa like Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Zambia. You can expect to hear their language isiZulu during your African vacation. Zulu people take pride in their distinctive heritage, despite close ethnic, linguistic and cultural ties with the Swazi and Xhosa tribes. After all, they are also known as the “people of the heavens”!


The Zulus like to assert their might, beginning with the exercise of authority within their households. Men play the dominant role and traditionally, they would take care of the cattle, their wives, and the family; while the women would take care of children, the health and the all-important beer-making. While men would stick to the tradition of sitting on a hide or the shield as a mark of pride in their warfare ability, boys were introduced to their warrior heritage with stick-fighting at an early age.

Beadwork is an essential part of the Zulu cultural fabric. Beads are used as a form of communication and symbolism, with varying shapes and colours to signify different meanings. For example, the direction of the tip in a triangular bead signifies whether a boy or girl is married. This means that a married woman will wear beads fashioned with two triangles put together in a diamond shape, the fertility symbol of the Zulu community; whereas married men wear beadwork with the two tips of triangles to form an hourglass shape. Beads are of seven colours, with each colour representing emotions, spirituality and status in society. So you can expect to see single women wearing beadwork in white, representing purity; while a Zulu male wearing green beadwork shows contentment. The use of colour codes and shapes of beadwork are unique to the Zulu culture and societal norms. So if you’re single and ready to mingle, make sure to buy the right pieces of beadwork when you’re at the local market doing some jewelry shopping!


Dance is very important in the Zulu culture. They have special drums called ingungu drums, used in every traditional ritual and celebration. Dances in Zulu culture are found to celebrate significant moments of life. Every special occasion has a dance dedicated to mark the moment. The hunting dance using the spear aims at providing warriors courage before they venture out to hunt. Another dance uses a small shield to mark military unity amongst the men and is performed only on royal occasions. The Indlamu is another traditional war dance featuring two dancers stomping hard to the beats of drums, carried out at weddings. The Reed dance is a unique annual event where only unmarried girls dance holding a long reed above their heads.

There are many similarities between the Zulu and Xhosa cultures, especially regarding the traditions. The clear-cut distinction made today between the Xhosa and the Zulu has no basis in culture or history but comes out of the colonial distinction between the Cape and Natal colonies. Both speak very similar languages and share similar customs, but the historical experiences at the northern end of the Nguni culture area differed considerably from the historical experiences at the southern end. The majority of northerners became part of the Zulu kingdom, which abolished circumcision. The majority of southerners never became part of any strongly centralised kingdom, intermarried with Khoikhoi and retained circumcision.


Traditional Zulu food consists mainly of vegetarian and grain dishes. Starch is a dietary staple and they take form in pap (porridge) and beer. Maize, pumpkins and potatoes are common ingredients used in traditional dishes. Oxen are only slaughtered on special occasions such as weddings and coming of age ceremonies. Traditional Zulus eat with wooden bowls and spoons. Before meals, hands are washed and after meals mouths are rinsed. The food portions of the meat dishes mirror the age and social status of the men.


Hello: Sawubona (singular)

Sanibonani (plural)

How are you?: Unjani?(singular)


Yes: Yebo

No: Cha

Excuse me?: Uxolo

Please: Ake

Thank you: Ngiyabonga

The Zulu culture is one of the largest tribes in South Africa as well as one of the most interesting cultures. Book your free concierge session with WanderfullySo to learn more about this incredible culture or contact the Concierge Gurus to arrange a customized virtual tour that you can enjoy right from the comfort of your very own home, wherever in the world that might be!


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