South Africa: Zulu History                                                

  • The Zulu are the largest ethnic group in South Africa.
  • It is estimated that there are between 10–11 million Zulu people living mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Small numbers also live in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique.
  • The Zulu language is also called Zulu.
  • They Zulu well known for their beautiful brightly colored beads and baskets as well as other small carvings.
  • The Zulu believe that they are descendants of a chief from the Congo area, and in the 16th century migrated south picking up many of the traditions and customs of the San who also inhabited this South African area.
  • During the 17th and 18th centuries many of the most powerful chiefs made treaties and gave control of the Zulu villages to the British. This caused much conflict. The Zulu had a strong patriarchal village government system in place that was threatened. The Zulu resisted British rule but lost. 

  • Finally, after much of the Zulu area had been given to the British, the Zulu people decided as a whole that they didn't want to be under British rule and in 1879 war erupted between the British and the Zulu. Though the Zulu succeeded at first, within 6 months, they were conquered by the British who exiled the Zulu Kings and divided up the Zulu kingdom.
  • In 1906 another unsuccessful Zulu uprising took place when the Zulu tried to gain back their ancient kingdom.
  • The Zulu believe in a creator god known as Nkulunkulu, but this god does not interact with humans and has no interest in everyday life. Therefore, most Zulus interact with the spirits. In order to interact with the spirits the Zulu must use divination to interact with the ancestors. All misfortune is a result of evil sorcery or offended spirits. Nothing just happens due to natural causes.
  • Today, the Zulu are divided in half with about 50% living in cities and engaging in domestic work and another 50% working on farms. 

Zulu Dress:

  • The chief wears a leopard skin and bright colored feathers of the bishop bird adorn his headdress. The shield and spear is for protection.
  • The heard boy's traditional everyday work clothing consist of a loin cloth and skin to cover his rear, brightened by bearded hoops and necklaces. 


  • This is a young Zulu maiden dancing costume. The entire outfit is made of beads. This costume is worn during festivals or dancing ceremonies.
  • Zulu diviners (priest/cleric) wear special clothing designed to please the snake. The Zulu takes its name from their chief Shaka Zulu who founded the royal line in the 16th century. The complicated Zulu etiquette was refined during his reign.