Traditional African Zulu Dancing – The Zulu 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. The four major ethnic divisions among Black South Africans are the Nguni, Sotho, Shangaan-Tsonga and Venda.

The Nguni represent nearly two thirds of South Africa’s Black population and can be divided into four distinct groups; the Northern and Central Nguni (the Zulu-speaking peoples), the Southern Nguni (the Xhosa-speaking peoples), the Swazi people from Swaziland and adjacent areas, and the Ndebele people of the Northern Province and Mpumalanga. Archaeological evidence shows that the Bantu-speaking groups, that were the ancestors of the Nguni, migrated down from East Africa as early as the eleventh century.

Language, culture and beliefs

The Zulu language, of which there are variations, is part of the Nguni language group. The word Zulu means “Sky” and according to oral history, Zulu was the name of the ancestor who founded the Zulu royal line in about 1670. Today it is estimated that there are more than 45 million South Africans, and the Zulu people make up about approximately 22% of this number.

The largest urban concentration of Zulu people is in the Gauteng Province, and in the corridor of Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The largest rural concentration of Zulu people is in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

IsiZulu is South Africa’s most widely spoken official language. It is a tonal language understood by people from the Cape to Zimbabwe and is characterized by many “clicks”. In 2006 it was determined that approximately 9 million South Africans speak Xhosa as a home language.

The following overview of the language was written by B.P. Mngadi for UNESCO’s World Languages Report (2000):

“The writing of Zulu was started by missionaries in the then Natal. The names J W Colenso, S B Stone, H Callaway and Lewis Grant are among the prominent. They taught the first people with whom they made contact, spreading the word of God, basic writing skills in Zulu. Magema Fuze, Ndiyane and William were among the very first who were taught communicative English and basic writing skills at about 1830-1841.

The first Zulu Christian booklet was produced by Newton Adams, George Newton and Aldin Grout (1837-8) titled “Incwadi Yokuqala Yabafundayo” which dealt with spelling of Zulu words and the history of the Old Testament. Between 1845 and 1883, the first translated version of the Bible was produced in very old Zulu orthography. In 1859 the first Zulu Grammar Book by L. Grout was produced.”

Its oral tradition is very rich but its modern literature is still developing. J.L Dube was the first Zulu writer (1832) though his first publication was a Zulu story written in English titled “A Talk on my Native Land”. In 1903 he concentrated in editing the newspaper “Ilanga LaseNatali”. His first Zulu novel “Insila kaShaka” was published in 1930. We see a steady growth of publications especially novels from 1930 onwards.

The clear-cut distinction made today between the Xhosa and the Zulu has no basis in culture or history, but arises 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.

Many Zulu people converted to Christianity under colonialism. However, although there are many Christian converts, ancestral beliefs have not disappeared. Instead, there has been a mixture of traditional beliefs and Christianity. Ancestral spirits are important in Zulu religious life ,and offerings and sacrifices are made to the ancestors for protection, good health, and happiness. Ancestral spirits come back to the world in the form of dreams, illnesses, and sometimes snakes.

The Zulu also believe in the use of magic. Ill fortune such as bad luck and illness is considered to be sent by an angry spirit. When this happens, the help of a traditional healer is sought, and he or she will communicate with the ancestors, or use natural herbs and prayers, to get rid of the problem.

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