Zulu Tribe

The Zulu tribe, or "the people of the heavens" are the largest ethnic group of South Africa. They have an estimated number of 10 million Zulu residents in KwaZulu-Natal. The Zulu people speak isiZulu and almost all 10 million residents are fluent in this language. Although they do speak English, Afrikaans, Portuguese, Shangaan, and Sesotho as well. Most Zulu people are Christian. Although they do still practice their ancestors traditional worship. Ancestor worship is the belief that ancestor spirits exist and could affect the lives of people in positive or negative ways. There is a diviner which communicates with the ancestor and a herbalist that creates a mixture called muthi which can be eaten to help influence ancestors. There are two forms of muthi, black and white. The black muthi is used for negative purposes like causing others to become sick. Those who use this black mixture are considered witches in Zulu. The white mixture was accepted by society and used for positive purposes such as healing.

The type of clothing women wear is selected by their marital status. A single woman will wear a short skirt and will also wear amazing bead work. An engaged woman will let everyone know she is engaged by covering her chest with a pretty decorative cloth. Married Zulu women cover their bodies completely. The above pictures compare what a women would wear if married (left) and what a women would wear if single (right).

Zulu children


Before the mid-nineteenth century the Zulu depended completely on horticulture and raising livestock. Their most important livestock were cattle, goats, and poultry. Today they eat what they grow and buy such as beans, potatoes, pumpkins, spinach, and other vegetables. Zulu people do love meat but most of them do not have enough money to buy it. Trade was not a big traditional part of the Zulu culture. However, commercial trade is now available through sea, air, and road in KwaZulu-Natal Province. Traditionally, men were the ones who provided the economic security to the family, such as protecting the household, tending to livestock, and leading the ceremonial activities. Women are faced with the running of the household, including cleaning, cooking, washing, and fetching water, and taking care of the children. Women are able to take on a job to help provide for the families economic needs but they have to assure that the household is in routine either before they leave to work or when they get home. They can also hire someone to do the house work while they work if needed.

Art and Music

Zulu are best known for their beadwork. Their bead work was always done with bright colors and worked into amazing geometric patterns. Although beads were used to decorate themselves, they did also convey messages. Men would wear beads to show that he was married. Different color beads had different meanings. Black means marriage or separation, blue means trust or hatred, red means love or heartache, etc. The beaded triangle is one on the main focuses, it represents father, mother, and child.  

Zulu music is done in a group, similar to many other tribes. The Zulu produce music for the ritualistic dance. They will all circle around the performers of the dance and play instruments. The Zulu use alot of instruments that are similar to African music. Such as, the djembe drum, the ngoma drum, rain sticks, ankle rattles, and many more.

The Triangle of Love

Father, Mother, and Child

Djembe Drum

Rites of Passage

Child birth is one rite of passage. After a child is born, the mother and the baby are isolated for awhile, usually until the naval string of the child falls off. During this, the mother is seen as unclean and weak and a possible source of evil influences. After about a month, a ceremony is held to show off the baby to it's ancestors. Another rite of passage is the umemlo, or the puberty ceremony. This is the full transition to adulthood. This ceremony is usually held for girls. The person who is entering adulthood is separated from others to mark the changing from child to adult. Some other rites of passage are love, dating, and death.


Zulu people mark their faces and bodies for a handful of reasons, one would be ethnic identification. The cuts on the face will show the person belonging to a specific tribe or clan. Where the person is marked and which way they are marked all help identify that person belonging to one group or another. Zulu people also scar their bodies for protection.


The Zulu religion is an ancestor worship. It is based on a belief that when a person dies, he or she will continue to watch his or her people from the spiritual world. There are many Christian Zulus, however they do mix their "Christianity" with the ancestor worship. The full bible has even been translated into the isiZulu language.

Zulu Bible

Tribal Literature

One Zulu myth is that the first man came from a seed that grew into a reed, his name was Unkulunkulu. This myth is on going, saying that Unkulunkulu then went about pulling other people and animals from reeds. It was said that he then created everything around us. Including, mountains, lakes, wind, rain, and much more.

Another myth is the Inkanyamba, which is a freshwater eel found in South Africa that grow to around six feet long. To the Zulu saw this  as a huge carnivorous eel-like animal. It is one of the legends of the Zulu people of South Africa. The ancient legends say Inkanyambas can controled the weather. They are said to have fins and/or flippers and grow to tremendous size. There are actually freshwater eels found in South Africa that grow to around six feet long,.