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The Zulu (/zl/; Zulu: amaZulu) are a Bantu ethnic group of Southern Africa and the largest ethnic group in South Africa, with an estimated 10–12 million people living mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Zulu people
Total population
~ 12,159,000[1]
Regions with significant populations
 South Africa10,659,309 (2001 census)
to 12,559,000[1][2]
Christianity, Zulu religion
Related ethnic groups
Nguni, Xhosa, Swazi, Ndebele, other Bantu peoples



The Zulu were originally a major clan in what is today Northern KwaZulu-Natal, founded ca. 1709 by Zulu kaMalandela. In the Nguni languages, iZulu means heaven, or weather.[3] At that time, the area was occupied by many large Nguni communities and clans (also called the isizwe people or nation, or were called isibongo, referring to their clan or family name). Nguni communities had migrated down Africa's east coast over centuries, as part of the Bantu migrations.

Shaka, king of the Zulu. After a sketch by Lt. James King, a Port Natal merchant


The Zulu formed a powerful state in 1818[4] under the leader Shaka. Shaka, as the Zulu commander of the Mthethwa Empire and successor to Dingiswayo, united what was once a confederation of tribes into an imposing empire under Zulu hegemony. Shaka built a militarised system known as Impi featuring conscription, a standing army, new weaponry, regimentation, and encirclement battle tactics. Zulu expansion was a major factor of the Mfecane ("Crushing") that depopulated large areas of southern Africa.

Conflict with the BritishEdit

In mid-December 1878, envoys of the British crown delivered an ultimatum to 11 chiefs representing the then-current king of the Zulu empire, Cetshwayo. Under the British terms delivered to the Zulu, Cetshwayo would have been required to disband his army and accept British sovereignty. Cetshwayo refused, and war between the Zulus and African contingents of the British crown began on January 12, 1879. Despite an early victory for the Zulus at the Battle of Isandlwana on the 22nd of January, the British fought back and won the Battle at Rorke's Drift, and decisively defeated the Zulu army by July at the Battle of Ulundi.

Absorption into NatalEdit

Zulu warriors, late nineteenth century
(Europeans in background)

After Cetshwayo's capture a month following his defeat, the British divided the Zulu Empire into 13 "kinglets". The sub-kingdoms fought amongst each other until 1883 when Cetshwayo was reinstated as king over Zululand. This still did not stop the fighting and the Zulu monarch was forced to flee his realm by Zibhebhu, one of the 13 kinglets, supported by Boer mercenaries. Cetshwayo died in February 1884, killed by Zibhebhu's regime, leaving his son, the 15-year-old Dinuzulu, to inherit the throne. In-fighting between the Zulu continued for years, until in 1897 Zululand was absorbed fully into the British colony of Natal.

Apartheid yearsEdit

KwaZulu homelandEdit

Zulu man performing traditional warrior dance

Under apartheid, the homeland of KwaZulu (Kwa meaning place of) was created for Zulu people. In 1970, the Bantu Homeland Citizenship Act provided that all Zulus would become citizens of KwaZulu, losing their South African citizenship. KwaZulu consisted of many disconnected pieces of land, in what is now KwaZulu-Natal. Hundreds of thousands of Zulu people living on privately owned "black spots" outside of KwaZulu were dispossessed and forcibly moved to bantustans – worse land previously reserved for whites contiguous to existing areas of KwaZulu. By 1993, approximately 5.2 million Zulu people lived in KwaZulu, and approximately 2 million lived in the rest of South Africa. The Chief Minister of KwaZulu, from its creation in 1970 (as Zululand) was Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. In 1994, KwaZulu was joined with the province of Natal, to form modern KwaZulu-Natal.

Inkatha YeSizweEdit

Inkatha YeSizwe means "the crown of the nation". In 1975, Buthelezi revived the Inkatha YaKwaZulu, predecessor of the Inkatha Freedom Party. This organization was nominally a protest movement against apartheid, but held more conservative views than the ANC. For example, Inkatha was opposed to the armed struggle, and to sanctions against South Africa. Inkatha was initially on good terms with the ANC, but the two organizations came into increasing conflict beginning in 1976 in the aftermath of the Soweto Uprising.

Post ApartheidEdit

Modern Zulu populationEdit

Zulu mother and child

The modern Zulu population is fairly evenly distributed in both urban and rural areas. Although KwaZulu-Natal is still their heartland, large numbers have been attracted to the relative economic prosperity of Gauteng province. Indeed, Zulu is the most widely spoken home language in the province, followed by Sotho.


Map of South Africa showing the primary Zulu language speech area in green

The language of the Zulu people is "isiZulu", a Bantu language; more specifically, part of the Nguni subgroup. Zulu is the most widely spoken language in South Africa, where it is an official language. More than half of the South African population are able to understand it, with over 9 million first-language and over 15 million second-language speakers.[5] Many Zulu people also speak Xitsonga, Sesotho and others from among South Africa's 11 official languages.


Zulu village women in traditional clothing.
Interior space of a traditional beehive hut, or iQhugwane

Zulus wear a variety of attire, both traditional for ceremonial or culturally celebratory occasions, and modern westernized clothing for everyday use. The women dress differently depending on whether they are single, engaged, or married. The men wore a leather belt with two strips of hide hanging down front and back.

In South Africa, the miniskirt has existed since pre-colonial times. In the African cultures, such as the Basotho, the Batswana, the Bapedi, the Amaswati and the AmaZulu, women wore traditional miniskirts as cultural attire.[6]These skirts are not seen as shameless but used to cover the women genitals. The skirt are called isigcebhezana and are essential in Zulu ceremonies. For example, Umemulo is a ceremony for women who turn 21 years old of age.[6]It represents a huge transition in the woman's life because it is a symbol of her being ready to accept a boyfriend and even get married. Additionally, each stage of your life is determined by a specific type of clothing. For an unmarried woman, she wears the skirt and nothing on the top, but as she grows up, the woman starts to cover up her body because a time will come in which she will be a married woman and an old woman. Nonetheless, a special type of clothing is reserved to pregnant women. When a woman is pregnant she wears an ‘isibamba', a thick belt made from dried grass, covered with glass or plastic beadwork, to support her swelling stomach and its additional weight.[7]

Religion and beliefsEdit

Zulu worshippers at a United African Apostolic Church, near Oribi Gorge

Most Zulu people state their beliefs to be Christian. Some of the most common churches to which they belong are African Initiated Churches, especially the Zion Christian Church, [Nazareth Baptist Church] and United African Apostolic Church, although membership of major European Churches, such as the Dutch Reformed, Anglican and Catholic Churches are also common. Nevertheless, many Zulus retain their traditional pre-Christian belief system of ancestor worship in parallel with their Christianity.

Zulu religion includes belief in a creator God (uNkulunkulu) who is above interacting in day-to-day human life, although this belief appears to have originated from efforts by early Christian missionaries to frame the idea of the Christian God in Zulu terms.[8] Traditionally, the more strongly held Zulu belief was in ancestor spirits (amaThongo or amaDlozi), who had the power to intervene in people's lives, for good or ill.[9] This belief continues to be widespread among the modern Zulu population.[10]

Traditionally, the Zulu recognize several elements to be present in a human being: the physical body (inyama yomzimba or umzimba); the breath or life force (umoya womphefumulo or umoya); and the "shadow," prestige, or personality (isithunzi). Once the umoya leaves the body, the isithunzi may live on as an ancestral spirit (idlozi) only if certain conditions were met in life.[11][12] Behaving with ubuntu, or showing respect and generosity towards others, enhances one's moral standing or prestige in the community, one's isithunzi.[13] By contrast, acting in a negative way towards others can reduce the isithunzi, and it is possible for the isithunzi to fade away completely.[14]

Zulu sangomas (diviners)

In order to appeal to the spirit world, a diviner (sangoma) must invoke the ancestors through divination processes to determine the problem. Then, a herbalist (inyanga) prepares a mixture (muthi) to be consumed in order to influence the ancestors. As such, diviners and herbalists play an important part in the daily lives of the Zulu people. However, a distinction is made between white muthi (umuthi omhlope), which has positive effects, such as healing or the prevention or reversal of misfortune, and black muthi (umuthi omnyama), which can bring illness or death to others, or ill-gotten wealth to the user.[10] Users of black muthi are considered witches, and shunned by the society.

Christianity had difficulty gaining a foothold among the Zulu people, and when it did it was in a syncretic fashion. Isaiah Shembe, considered the Zulu Messiah, presented a form of Christianity (the Nazareth Baptist Church) which incorporated traditional customs.[15]

Furthermore, Zulu people are also practicing a ceremony called Ukweshwama in which they praise their creator but also their ancestors. In this ceremony, bulls are killed but more specifically, these warriors are inheriting their power until it evaporates, and that power is believed to be transferred into the Zulu King. Penned up in the royal kraal, the bull trotted around for a while, looking nervously for an escape.[16] Then it hesitated, and the warriors -- all in their late teens or early twenties -- moved in, their hands reaching for anything to grasp, the tail, the legs, those horns.[16]

Bride wealthEdit

Zulu people have a system called ilobolo. This term is particularly used by Zulu people when it comes to bride wealth. Every African ethnic group has different requirements when it comes to bride wealth. In pre-capitalist Zulu society, ilobolo was inextricably linked to the ownership of cattle.[17] During that time, there was not a fixed amount of cattle required for the wedding to happen. It could be paid before the marriage or during the marriage. The groom will be taking the cattle from his father’s herd in order to perpetuate the family heritage. Nonetheless, this ritual has changed during colonization because in 1869, Theophilus Shepstone, then Natal Secretary for Native Affairs, formalized the ilobolo payment to 10 cattle for commoners (plus the ingquthu cow for the mother1), 15 for hereditary chief siblings and 20-plus for the daughters of a chief.[17]They found it too lenient to let the groom give whichever amount he wants so they decided to instore specific amount of cattle that will be needed this time before or at the start of the marriage. This decision that had been taken by Zulu men who were educated in mission schools but according to the other people, this ritual became “untraditional”. Additionally, with the instauration of the Natal Code,some Zulu men decided to settle another way in which they could decrease the ilobo: offer a token payment or bring a present for the father of the prospective bride in order to decrease the ilobolo amount to be paid.[18] The payment of ilobolo can be sometimes difficult for some families but it is a symbol of pride and respect. Consequently, this is the reason why some are willing to maintain it as long as possible.

Traditional Zulu dance

Notable ZulusEdit


  • Nathaniel Isaacs, Travels and adventures in eastern Africa, descriptive of the Zoolus, their manners, customs, etc. etc. : with a sketch of Natal, Edward Churton, Londres, 1836, 2 vol.
  • (in French) Adulphe Delegorgue, Voyage dans l'Afrique Australe : notamment dans le territoire de Natal dans celui des Cafres Amazoulous et Makatisses et jusqu'au tropique du Capricorne, exécuté durant les années 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842, 1843 & 1844, A. René, 1847, 2 vol.
  • Henry Callaway (R. P.), The religious system of the Amazulu : izinyanga zokubula, or, divination, as existing among the Amazulu, in their own words, J.A. Blair, Springvale (Natal), 1870, 448 p. (rééd. ultérieures)
  • David Leslie, Among the Zulus and Amatongas : with sketches of the natives, their language and customs; and the country, products, climate, wild animals, &c. being principally contributions to magazines and newspapers, Wm. Gilchrist, Glasgow, 1875, 436 p.
  • James Anson Farrer, Zululand and the Zulus : their history, beliefs, customs, military system, home life, legends, etc., etc., and missions to them, Kerby & Endean, Londres, 1879, 151 p.
  • (in French) Paul Deléage, Trois mois chez les Zoulous et les derniers jours du Prince impérial, E. Dentu, 1879, 370 p.
  • (in French) Bénédict Henry Révoil, Les zoulous et les cafres : mœurs, coutumes, guerre avec les Anglais, etc., Librairie de J. Lefort, Lille, 1880, 196 p.
  • Walter Robert Ludlow, Zululand and Cetewayo : containing an account of Zulu customs, manners, and habits, after a short residence in their kraals, with portrait of Cetewayo, and 28 illustrations from original drawings, Simpkin, Marshall, and Co, Londres, 1882, 219 p.
  • (in French) Émile de La Bédollière, Au pays des Zoulous et des cafres, Barbou, Limoges, 1882, 88 p.
  • Josiah Tyler (Rev.), Forty years among the Zulus, Congregational Sunday-school and publishing society, Boston, Chicago, 1891, 300 p.
  • Donald R. Morris, The washing of the spears : a history of the rise of the Zulu nation under Shaka and its fall in the Zulu War of 1879, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1971, 1965, 655 p.
  • Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa, Zulu shaman : dreams, prophecies, and mysteries, Destiny Books, Rochester (Vt), 2003 (éd. 1996 : Song of the Stars), 224 p.ISBN 978-0-89281-129-8
  • Jonathan Sutherland et Diane Canwell, The Zulu kings and their armies, Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley (South Yorkshire, England), 2004, 198 p. ISBN 978-1-84415-060-1
  • Alex Zaloumis, Zulu tribal art, AmaZulu Publishers, Le Cap, 2000, 301 p.
  • (in French) Véronique Faure, Ethnicité et stratégies nationalistes : les Zoulous et l'Inkatha, Université de Bordeaux 4, 1996, 2 vol., 712 p.
  • (in French) Philippe Gervais-Lambony, L'Afrique du Sud et les États voisins, Paris, Masson & Armand Colin Éditeurs, 1997, 253 p.
  • (in French) François Lafargue, Les Zoulous en Afrique du Sud : Éveil d'un pays, réveil d'une ethnie, Centre de recherches et d'analyses géopolitiques, 1996, 708 p.
  • (in French) Tidiane N'Diaye, L'Empire de Chaka Zoulou, L'Harmattan, Paris (Collection Études africaines) 2002, 250 p.
  • (in French) Tidiane N'Diaye, L'Éclipse des Dieux, Éditions du Rocher, Paris 2004, 317 p.
  • (in French) Sylvain Guyot, Rivages zoulous : l'environnement au service du politique en Afrique du Sud, Karthala, 2006, 250 p. ISBN 978-2-84586-767-3
  • (in French) John Mack, Les Zoulous, Granger frères, 1981, 48 p. ISBN 978-0-88551-503-5
  • (in French) Jean Sévry, Chaka, empereur des Zoulous : histoire, mythes et légendes, L'Harmattan, 1991, 251 p. ISBN 978-2-7384-0836-5
  • Ian Knight, Zulu Rising: The Epic Story of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift, Macmillan Edition, 2010 ISBN 978-1405091855



See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Zulu people group are reported in 7 countries". Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  2. ^ International Marketing Council of South Africa (9 July 2003). "South Africa grows to 44.8 million". Archived from the original on 22 May 2005. Retrieved 4 March 2005.
  3. ^ "izulu in English | isiZulu to English Translation - Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Global Languages. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  4. ^ Bulliet (2008). The Earth and Its Peoples. USA: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 708. ISBN 978-0-618-77148-6.
  5. ^ "Ethnologue report for language code ZUL".
  6. ^ a b Sanders, Mark (22 March 2016). Learning Zulu. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691167565.
  7. ^ "Traditional Zulu Clothing". Eshowe. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  8. ^ Irving Hexham (1979). "Lord of the Sky-King of the Earth: Zulu traditional religion and belief in the sky god". [Studies in Religion]. University of Waterloo. Retrieved 26 October 2008.
  9. ^ Henry Callaway (1870). "Part I:uNkulunkulu". The Religious System of the Amazulu. Springvale.
  10. ^ a b Adam Ashforth (2005). "Muthi, Medicine and Witchcraft: Regulating 'African Science' in Post-Apartheid South Africa?". 31:2. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ Molefi K. Asante, Ama Mazama (2009). Encyclopedia of African religion, Volume 1. Sage.
  12. ^ Axel-Ivar Berglund (1976). Zulu thought-patterns and symbolism. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers.
  13. ^ Abraham Modisa Mkhondo Mzondi (2009). Two Souls Leadership: Dynamic Interplay of Ubuntu, Western and New Testament Leadership Values (PDF) (Thesis). submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctorate in Theology, University of Johannesburg.
  14. ^ Nwamilorho Joseph Tshawane (2009). The Rainbow Nation: A Critical Analysis of the Notions of Community in the Thinking of Desmond Tutu (PDF) (Thesis). submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctorate in Theology, University of South Africa.
  15. ^ "Art & Life in Africa Online - Zulu". University of Iowa. Archived from the original on 31 May 2007. Retrieved 6 June 2007.
  16. ^ a b "New York Times New York State Poll, June 2008". ICPSR Data Holdings. 3 December 2009. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  17. ^ a b Rudwick, Stephanie; Posel, Dorrit (2 January 2014). "Contemporary functions of ilobolo (bridewealth) in urban South African Zulu society". Journal of Contemporary African Studies. 32 (1): 118–136. doi:10.1080/02589001.2014.900310. ISSN 0258-9001.
  18. ^ Posel, Dorrit; Rudwick, Stephanie (18 August 2014). "Marriage and Bridewealth (Ilobolo) in Contemporary Zulu Society". African Studies Review. 57 (2): 51–72. doi:10.1017/asr.2014.47. ISSN 0002-0206.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Zulu at Wikimedia Commons