Zulu People

Zulu men in traditional clothing.

The historic Zulu people form the largest South African ethnic group of around 10 million people. While modern times find half of the Zulu population living in urban cities, many still live in rural settings and practice the ancient traditions and customs of their ancestors.

The Zulu are believed to be a people, descended from a great chief in the Congo area, who migrated to the south and picked up some San traditions along the way. In 1816, they formed a powerful state under the rule of Shaka Zulu, a Zulu hero still celebrated today in on Heritage Day. Shaka Zulu was a great leader and a warrior and many of the customs and traditions from his time remain cornerstones of Zulu culture today.

Best known aspects of Zulu culture include their basket weaving and bead work. The women traditionally wear this elaborate beading while men wear animal-hide loincloths tied around their waist. Women do many of the domestic chores in the rural areas, which can include gathering firewood and water. Although the population is large and many Zulu believe in different forms of Christianity, there is a traditional, common belief in ancestor spirits who have the power to intervene in peoples lives, whether for good or for ill. Through these beliefs, diviners and herbalists play an important role in the daily lives of the Zulu.

Zulu women are known for their beautiful bead work.

There have been times in Zulu history of great war and discrimination. In the late 1870s, the Zulu went to war with the British and, although they appeared to have the upper hand in the beginning, lost the war at the Battle of Ulundi. Apartheid marked another difficult time for the Zulu. In 1970, the Bantu Homeland Citizenship Act forced them to become citizens of KwaZulu, effectively nullifying their South African citizenship. Today, they have equal rights with other South African citizens and remain the largest ethnic group in the country while playing an important role in South African politics.

Interact with the Zulu people on our South Africa Bush and Beach Safari and the Earth Organization Eco Safari Adventure.