The World’s Greatest Civilizations: The History and Culture of the Zulu

“When the Zulus Produce a Tolstoy We Will Read Him”: Charles Taylor and the Politics of Recognition
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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. Late nineteenth-century postcard of Zulu Warriors note the Europeans in the background.

The Zulu are fond of singing as well as dancing. These activities promote unity at all transitional ceremonies such as births, weddings, and funerals. All the dances are accompanied by drums and the men dress as warriors see image. Zulu folklore is transmitted through storytelling, praise-poems, and proverbs. These explain Zulu history and teach moral lessons. Praise-poems poems recited about the kings and the high achievers in life is becoming part of popular culture. The Zulu, especially those from rural areas, are known for their weaving, craft-making, pottery, and beadwork.

The Zulu term for "family" umndeni includes all the people staying in a homestead who are related to each other, either by blood, marriage, or adoption. Drinking and eating from the same plate was and still is a sign of friendship. It is customary for children to eat from the same dish, usually a big basin. This derives from a "share what you have" belief which is part of Ubuntu humane philosophy.

Long ago, before the Zulu were forged as a nation, they lived as isolated family groups and partly nomadic northern Nguni groups. These groups moved about within their loosely defined territories in search of game and good grazing for their cattle. As they accumulated livestock, and supporters family leaders divided and dispersed in different directions, while still retaining family networks. The Zulu homestead imizi consisted of an extended family and others attached to the household through social obligations. This social unit was largely self-sufficient, with responsibilities divided according to gender.

Men were generally responsible for defending the homestead, caring for cattle, manufacturing and maintaining weapons and farm implements, and building dwellings.

Collapse: Mali & Songhai

Women had domestic responsibilities and raised crops, usually grains, on land near the household. By the late eighteenth century, a process of political consolidation among the groups was beginning to take place. A number of powerful chiefdoms began to emerge and a transformation from a pastoral society to a more organised statehood occurred. This enabled leaders to wield more authority over their own supporters and to compel allegiance from conquered chiefdoms. Changes took place in the nature of political, social, and economic links between chiefs of these emerging power blocs and their subjects.

Zulu chiefs demanded steadily increasing tribute or taxes from their subjects, acquired great wealth, commanded large armies, and, in many cases, subjugated neighbouring chiefdoms. Military conquest allowed men to achieve status distinctions that had become increasingly important. This culminated early in the nineteenth century with the warrior-king Shaka conquering all the groups in Zululand and uniting them into a single powerful Zulu nation, that made its influence felt over southern and central Africa.

Shaka ruled from to , when he was assassinated by his brothers. Shaka recruited young men from all over the kingdom and trained them in his own novel warrior tactics. His military campaign resulted in widespread violence and displacement, and after defeating competing armies and assimilating their people, Shaka established his Zulu nation.

Within twelve years, he had forged one of the mightiest empires the African continent has ever known. The Zulu empire weakened after Shaka's death in One of the most significant events in Zulu history was the arrival of Europeans in Natal. By the late s, British troops had invaded Zulu territory and divided Zulu land into different chiefdoms.

The Zulu never regained their independence see Anglo-Zulu Wars.

Natal received "Colonial government" in , and the Zulu people were dissatisfied about being governed by the Colony. A plague of locusts devastated crops in Zululand and Natal in and , and their cattle were dying of rinderpest, lung sickness and east coast fever. These natural disasters impoverished them and forced more men to seek employment as railway construction workers in northern Natal and on the mines in the Witwatersrand. The last Zulu uprising, led by Chief Bambatha in , was a response to harsh and unjust laws and unimaginable actions by the Natal Government.

The uprising was ruthlessly suppressed see Bambatha Rebellion.

Early life and accession

The s saw fundamental changes in the Zulu nation. Many were drawn towards the mines and fast-growing cities as wage earners and were separated from the land and urbanised. Zulu men and women have made up a substantial portion of South Africa's urban workforce throughout the 20th century, especially in the gold and copper mines of the Witwatersrand. Zulu workers organized some of the first black labour unions in the country.

The Zululand Planters' Union organized agricultural workers in Natal in the early twentieth century. The dawn of apartheid in the s marked more changes for all Black South Africans, and in the South African Government introduced the "homelands". In the s the Government's objective was to form a "tribal authority" and provide for the gradual development of self-governing Bantu national units.

The first Territorial Authority for the Zulu people was established in and the Zulu homeland of KwaZulu was defined. The town of Nongoma was temporarily consolidated as the capital, pending completion of buildings at Ulundi. Led by Chief Minister Mangosutho Buthelezi, Inkatha worked within the NP governments system, but it opposed homeland independence, standing for a non-racial democracy, federalism, and free enterprise. Then raising the horns as levers they twisted its neck till the spinal cord was broken….

The bull was then roasted and bits of the meat were thrown into the air, and each warrior had to catch a piece and eat it. Whatever remained of the bull was completely incinerated and the ashes buried. To become King, a Zulu prince had to kill a bull with his bare hands.

He was then recognized as a hero and could lead the victory dance. Anyone who killed a dangerous snake such as a black mamba , an elephant, a lion, or a leopard was also regarded as a hero. The head of a snake or a leopard or an enemy would be crushed with heavy clubs like that of Hercules. It seems the August full moon is the brightest and most beautiful, and this is when the Greeks chose to hold their major festival: the games in Olympia.


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The Olympic Games took place every 5 th year after 4 complete years at the first , or more often the second full moon after the Summer Solstice June 21 st between the end of July and the beginning of September, and lasted five days. Every two years the festival at Isthmia was also held during the full moon at the end of August or beginning of September. The Great Panathenaea, held every four years not in the same year as the Olympic festival, but with a difference of two years , lasted nine days, and it seems this Athenian festival was also held during a full moon end of July, beginning of September , like the Karneia in Sparta.

It is probable that all Greek festivals were held during full moons. The Zulu first fruit festival little Umkosi was held every year; until then no one was permitted to eat any of the agricultural produce. This festival was held during the full moon near our Christmas, and the Great Umkosi took place during the next full moon. In Greece the first ripe fruits and wheat of the year aparchae were brought in and dedicated to the gods. Only then were the people allowed to eat themselves! Military tactics and turquoise-blue Like the Spartans, Zulus were full-time soldiers.

And like the Spartans, each had a young boy with him to carry provisions, a mat, and the heavier items. Shaka trained his soldiers hard, himself. Today, militaries all over the world stamp their right foot when saluting, as do the Evzons the ex-royal Greek guard, in their traditional costume which includes leather shoes with a tassel that shakes when they stamp. Many Shaka warriors had turquoise-blue circles painted on their chests, sharing a universal belief that this color had the power to avert evil.

It would protect Chinese children, whose partially shaved heads were painted blue, as were the teenagers on the Santorini frescoes. The blue scarab protected the Pharaohs, the turquoise stone the Native American, and the blue paint on the faces of Breton and Scotch warriors. The Zulus made extensive use of beads like the Native Americans — multicolored, but mainly blue — for their headbands, belts, necklaces, and chestbands one or two bands, in the form of an X, or many narrow ones, all with symbolic patterns.

As sentries they held a spear with both hands, one above the other along the center of the body as the Chinese held a sword. From the diamond rhombus a triangle was derived when cut in two vertically, and a zigzag when cut in two horizontally. On the huts in Zulu villages, and inside on wooden columns, painted symbolic patterns were interwoven, like on nomad tents in Tibet, on the teepees of Native Americans, and on early representations of houses in Greece.

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The Pyrrhic dance was a war dance for celebrating victories, and in Greece the dancers were divided into two groups: defenders and attackers. Sydella Blatch sblatch stevenson. After breakfast the cows were returned to the fields while the womenfolk resumed their chores and the men set about their more prestigious tasks - building and repairing the homestead, digging storage pits, clearing new ground, producing handicrafts, discussing current affairs and, when circumstances demanded, going out to fight rival clans. The largest urban concentration of Zulu people is in the Gauteng Province, and in the corridor of Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The British offered refuge to thousands fleeing his rule, employing and even training some of them in modern weaponry. Taylor rejects the neo-Nietzschean form of identity politics in favor of that which values minority cultures. Africa's Great Civilizations Lalibela Africa's Great Civilizations Explore 12 churches that were carved out of rock in the ancient Ethiopian highlands.

Snakes were coiled in relief on Zulu columns, like on Chinese dragon columns. The Zulus lived in a circle of beehive-shaped straw huts with a semicircular doorway. In the center of the hut there was a somewhat oval , slightly sunken hearth like in the palaces of Mycenai and Pylos , in which there was always a fire burning. Inside the men sat on the right, and the women and children on the left, like it is done in the Greek Orthodox Church, in some places, even today. The circle of huts had a fence around them, and in the center there was a smaller fenced circle in which the cattle were kept.

Buffalo hunting was most dangerous, but also most rewarding; killing a buffalo made one a hero. In many parts of the world hunters would do a victory dance afterwards, wearing the horns on their heads. In southwestern China it is believed by the Miao even today that buffalo horns bring luck and have the power to ward off evil. In Guizhou young girls and brides wear horns made of silver on their heads, and these people also use horns to decorate the prows of their ships. Hunters in China and Tibet hang them outside their doors, and Zulu villages had thousands mounted on poles.

They were also mounted on poles by Aborigines in Australia, as well as by the Ifugaos of Luson island in the Philippines. Necklaces out of buffalo teeth were made by the Zulus and the Native Americans. The fact that Zulus wore head-dresses made to look like buffalo horns as they did in Giuzhou betrays their country of origin, and the specific area where this custom originated.

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Zulu barns strengthen this supposition. The photo was once again from the Guizhou area, further proof of which part of China the Zulus originally came from. They used the fur as a coat to be worn over the shoulders, to sit on, and as a mattress at night.

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The patterns on leopard skin are similar to those of certain snakes; crowns and headbands were also made of otter skin water-snake , which had been stuffed. It is again a most surprising similarity that aboriginal tribes in Taiwan today wear the same kind of crown made of leopard and otter skins.

The elephant was hunted because it destroyed crops, and because of its tusks both male and female African elephants have tusks , for making necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. Shaka possessed two ceremonial axes with ivory handles, like Chinese Imperial axes. The largest and most invincible animal was the elephant. The Chinese and the Native Americans had the custom of naming people after birds and animals bear, horse, lion, eagle. A drum would sound to begin the dance like the beginning of a battle.

After the victory of the gods over the giants, Athena led the dance, as she was the only goddess who had taken part in the Gigantomachia. It was customary among the Zulus for only unmarried girls and young men to dance, alternating in separate groups. In the Don Quixote ballet today, Dulcinea holds a fan while she dances, as they do in aborigine dances in Taiwan.

Head-wreaths and the Greek Orthodox wedding The Zulu head wreath was made from parts of trees, and was regarded with respect, as a badge of honor and dignity. Usually it distinguished a married and respected man, but Shaka wore one from the age of thirteen, indicating his noble birth.

There were white and black rings on it, and the rings of leopard skin. The wreath symbolized the snake and meant protection. Wreaths connected by a ribbon are worn today by bride and groom in a Greek Orthodox Wedding. Across the chest and over the shoulder, the King would wear a band of leopard skin or of beads with symbolic patterns, as on the belts of the Pharaohs and the Native Americans. Besides wreaths, the Zulus also wore small animals on their heads, like the Chinese with the animals of the Zodiac, and the Minoan goddesses. Weasel, mink, and snow-leopard cubs decorated Chinese, Minoan, and Zulu heads.

Common body stances and acts of respect When Shaka was assassinated, one of his generals approached and, before kneeling next to the dead body, took off his feather headdress. The three Wise Men took off their hats next to the infant Christ, and today the Greek Orthodox take their hats off when passing a church.

A gentleman is supposed to take his hat off when greeting a lady, and also kiss her hand. The Zulus had no chairs, and used to sit on the floor on rocks.

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They would sit on their knees on the ground next to a superior this was probably copied from animals. Another position of respect practiced in Mongolia today is that of a soldier next to his officer, with his arms tight alongside the body like on a Greek Kouros. It seems to me all kinds of hats originated in Tibet, which is situated very high, has a clean atmosphere, and therefore the sun would beat down on the head very much. Early man observed that you can see and hear better when seated in a semicircle. This explains the configuration of theaters, of groups of monks in Tibet, of scholars, and of the Native American councils.

They held them vertically over their heads and handed them to Shaka with both hands.

African collection

This is the way of offering things respectfully even today in China, and was also the way in Byzantium. The three Wise Men held their gifts for the new-born Christ with both hands, and a Greek Orthodox priest holds the Holy Communion vessel, covered with red velvet, with both hands. The dominant rule was that of complete submission to paternal authority. The little boys revering the big boys; the bigger boys the men, and all their parents. This is how we roast the poor Easter lamb today, and how the Zulus roasted a bull killed with their bare hands.

Cronus and Zeus, and Shaka and his baby son In China every day of the month was dedicated to a bird or animal, and the fifth day of the fifth lunar month was dedicated to the owl. Shaka did not marry, and did not want children. The heir of a king would be the first son from his first wife, unless otherwise designated. Burial customs Similarities are also found in burial customs. The Zulus, like the Chinese and the Greeks, would bury their dead kings with their servants and personal guards; their necks would be twisted to cause immediate death.

The king would be carried in his coffin by people who wore no ornaments. The dead body of the king was first wrapped in a black ox-hide, and the face carefully covered and fastened with a cord because dirt was not supposed to fall on it. Still, today, the Greek Orthodox place a [red or white] handkerchief on the face of the dead before lowering the coffin into the grave.

Victims often still alive and moving were thrown into the pit.

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Achilles sacrificed many Trojans at the funeral of his friend Patroclus. Feathers on the head The universal practice of decorating the head with feathers also links the Zulus to China, the Amazon, Australia, Egypt, Crete, and the Americas. It seems the feather was given as a prize for heroic acts, and in an aborigine tribe in Taiwan today, the first winner of the traditional foot-race is given three feathers to wear on the head. Round his bare head he wore a circle of stuffed otter skin, bearing within its circumference bunches of gorgeous red loury plumes and, erect in front, a high glossy blue feather , two feet in length, of the blue crane.

Ritter who recorded the Zulu oral past with accuracy, passion, and love before it was too late, and made an important contribution to the investigation of the human past. The Zulus, isolated as they were and maintaining their traditions, unexpectedly granted us a pure, unknown story of the infancy of humanity. E-mail Matt. Have you found it entertaining as well as useful? If so please show your appreciation by booking hotels through the travel agencies and the links found on my Travel Agents Page.

You can also book at Booking. It is a huge mistake to have been examining the history of humanity piecemeal, rather than as a whole. The folded arms of Early Bronze Age ca. Zulus shared the belief with the Chinese and the Greeks that ancestral spirits take corporal form in the shape of non-venomous snakes. The Zulu shield had an oval shape, which shape has survived only with the Pyrrhic dance in Greek art. It is known that in certain parts of Africa it was customary to kill, cook, and eat the old people in order to inherit their wisdom and knowledge.

When the Persian fleet left Samos for Attica B. Like the Spartans, Zulus were full-time soldiers. All over Africa faces and bodies were tattooed or painted with patterns symbolizing snakes stripes to indicate the boa, scales for the viper, diamonds for the rattle-snake, etc.

Reorganization of the army

Dancing in general originally began as a war-dance , to celebrate a victory. The Zulu head wreath was made from parts of trees, and was regarded with respect, as a badge of honor and dignity. When Shaka was assassinated, one of his generals approached and, before kneeling next to the dead body, took off his feather headdress. In China every day of the month was dedicated to a bird or animal, and the fifth day of the fifth lunar month was dedicated to the owl. Similarities are also found in burial customs. The universal practice of decorating the head with feathers also links the Zulus to China, the Amazon, Australia, Egypt, Crete, and the Americas.