Km 13,875 – The Zulus

The Zulu people expand in the province carrying their name: Kwazulu Natal, and in some places the feeling is as if one would be part of the history. They still live in huts, their clothes are made of animal skins and they still have their ancient customs.

Shakaland is a village where over 50 natives live; many of them still use the “click sound” (sounds that formed their ancient way to communicate). Enock was one of the few who spoke English and with who I spent several days learning about his people. He told me that, before marrying, a man had to pay to the father of the bride a certain amount of cows.

According to their customs, it is 11 cows if the woman has no children, if she has one cow less for each child. But beware! If the chosen was the daughter of the chief of the tribe her price could be over 30 cows. According to tradition a Zulu doesn’t buy his wife, but compensates the effort of her father over her education and the lost of her work to him, because the woman will leave the house.

But she still can choose her husband, if she doesn’t want; she is not forced to marry. Her duty before marriage is to live at her in-laws house and serve them during a week. Once married the woman has her own work. Even though it is not permitted to her to work as a man, she is in charge of taking care of the crops, gathering wood and carry water. Their huts don’t have electricity, gas or running water.

The male of the house

04The chief of the tribe, respected by tradition, was wearing a leopard skin, which -as he told me in a poor English- he had killed by himself. He also told me that, despite his two wives, he lives alone, being able to call to anyone when he wants. According to Enock, some family chiefs have over 50 children and several wives.
Polygamy here is not seen as a bad thing. The Zulu man is free to marry as many women as he can afford according to the number of cows he has. If he has many cows and only one wife, his virility could be questioned. The more wives he has, the more respect from the tribe he will have.

When I talked to the chief’s wives, they both assured to be treated equally by their husband. Each of them lives in her own house raising their children, having their own land for crops and their cows.

This way, the great chief, while making the effort to explain to me the secrets of their customs, was trying to find out whether my family possessed cattle, for which he was prepared to hand me over a nice and robust Zulu and assure me a pleasant hut to live with her the rest of my days.

Their beliefs

05The Zulu people don’t have temples, altars, or preachers. They believe in witchcraft and the bad eye, as well as in Unkulunkulu (God). The make sacrifices to the spirits of their ancestors in exchange of health and protection. They ask for births, marriages and over funerals, as well as for rain, crops and harvests.
Enock, the guide, told me that according to their beliefs the soul lives in the spiritual world of Unkulunkulu, but has his second home with his family. When a family moves, ancient rituals have to be performed to calm and prepare the soul in their new housing, because the ancestors are considered as guardian angels.

The Sangoma

06Walking through the village I came up to a native with colored clothes and a wig. He was the sorcerer, called Sangoma. The Sangoma is a person of great knowledge. He reveals the past and foresees the future. He treats illnesses, love problems and spiritual matters. For his work he uses herbs, roots, tree barks, snake skins and parts of dead animals, amongst other things.
According to Enock, the sorcerer hides ample knowledge that leads his people to the right decisions. His studies last from 5 to 7 years: almost nothing, compared to past times where the sorcerer had to prepare for 25 years.

That same afternoon I sat in his hut. The Sangoma made a ceremony to give me protection. He took some herbs together with some stones, opened them on the floor, and among prayer in Zulu to Unkulunkulu he fanned my head with his big duster, made of hair of elephant, and asked for my trip. I don’t believe too much in witchcraft, but I just lowered my eyes, put my hands together and prayed to our God to be in that way.

A fascinating history

Halfway through the XVI century, the white man invaded the center of Africa. His goal was to capture as many black people as they could, to be used as slaves at the different places that they were settling down.
The different tribes of black race condemned to slavery, to avoid this destiny, started to emigrate from their lands leaving behind their houses and crops, but retaining their ancient customs.

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This way the population Nguni reached South Africa, where it started to reassemble again. From a small family a child was born to a recently widowed mother. His name was Zulu, meaning heaven. Together with Zulu a new clan was born and all its descendants carried that name. Little is known about Zulu and his first successors, because it was a peaceful time.

Over the end of the XVIII century, Senzangakoma (which translated means “the adventurer“), fifth successor to Zulu and chief of the tribe, had a romance with Nandi (“the sweet“) of which was born the one who was going to be the greatest Zulu leader.
Senzangakoma, married to another woman, evaded the messages that Nandi sent him about her pregnancy. He replied her that her state was caused by a parasite of the water causing her belly to grow. Therefore, when the baby was born, he was named Shaka: the parasite.

The warrior that conquered the Englishmen

Shaka´s childhood was sad and hard: turned down by his father and only loved by his mother, who had no power within the tribe, he became a target to other kids. Finally they couldn’t stand anymore that life and they fled. The agony that they both suffered was so great, that Shaka swore to survive the pain and return to revenge from all their torturers.

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People from another tribe welcomed them and gave them refuge. In time, he escalated grades in the army: beginning as a simple soldier, in little time he became a general. It was in this army that Shaka decided to change the tactics of combat. He realized that throwing spears was not an effective method of attack, and invented a spear with a short handle that enabled to enter and come out again of the body after being stabbed. The body-to-body combat in Zululand had started.

Having equipped to his army with the new spears designed by himself, he prepared them for the conquer that he had dreamed for many years. It was such the power of this combat machine, that 50 years later the heirs of these warriors at the battle of Isanlwana in 1879 defeated the English troops, in what was going to be the greatest defeat of an English army to the hands of a native tribe in all history.

Shaka didn’t sympathize with the pity. History describes him as a black Napoleon, a real military genius. He designed the attacking formation of the “ox horn“, in which a part of the warriors hided first to unfold later and surround the enemy.
Shaka was a born expert in psychological war and military intelligence, many times fighting at the front of his regiment, knowing the grade of each of his officers and calling them by name. His subordinates loved and admired him like no other leader.

Shaka strengthened his power and upon his father’s death he inherit the throne. That way he got the validity to unify everything in one reign, the reign of the Zulu, known also as “the people from heaven“.
His regiment of 1500 soldiers attacked neighbor’s tribes. His lands, reaching in the beginning only 15 square kilometers, had 11 years later a radius of 1000 kms and an army of over 50.000 warriors. He also restructured the Zulu social system, creating a strong administration.

To the present day, 7 kings have succeeded him, but none has reached the hegemony of Shaka.
His heirloom is still lived daily in the Zulu Nation, proud of its past, culture and tradition.

If you wish to know more about my trip, get the documentary: The World by Bike