Zulu Culture and Traditions Documentary

Zulu Culture and Traditions Documentary

Today the discipline and energy that consolidated the Zulu Impis into a formidable force lives on in the structured stylised battle movements of their traditional dance, Ngoma. With vigorous leaps and thrusts the dancers show off their prowess. Kicking is regarded as a show of strength – the higher the kick , the stronger you are. The more energetic the dance the greater the cloud of dust and the more daunting for the enemy. Movements are enhanced by the impressive battle dress of feathers and animal skins. The flourish of cultural weapons incorporated into the pulsating rhythm add to the overall awe-inspiring spectacle of energetic synchronized movement. But dancing in Zulu culture is not the only associated with battle. Their love of dancing finds expression in many celebratory activities such as weddings, parties and coming of age. The use of skins has symbolic significance. Leopard skins were reserved for kings. Whereas serval skins denoted someone close to the king. Cowhide and cow tails are used extensively for leggings, headbands, beshus, shields and drums, while tails are usually taken from Angora goats. The dancing tradition has been carried through to this day and finds a platform in annual dancing festivals and competitions. The intricate dance routines of the various teams are highly structured and embody the traditions and law of the clans handed down through generations. For the tourist wanting to experience authentic dancing in a natural setting there are several cultural villages in Kwazulu-Natal where this popular tradition can be witnessed firsthand….. But perhaps the best way to experience these dances is around the open fire in a bush boma or even the open veld – where movement and sound mingled the flames take on a heightened meaning in the still night air. Adding to the mood of the pulsating rhythm is this curious instrument made from ox hide stretched across one side of a frame. The haunting sound is created by the player wetting fingers and pulling them along a smooth stick attached to the inside of the hide. But of course nothing can beat the sampling of home brewed beer and eating traditional Zulu food. The basic ingredients of the beer are maize or mealies and sorghum in equal proportions The maize is ground on a grindstone and then cooked with the sorghum into a thick porridge, which like these solids is placed in a grain basket. It’s important to respect beer and the person making it, or the ancestors become angry. After fermentation the mixture is sieved and the solids remaining are fed to the chickens or donkeys – both of them are very partial to beer. The side effects of the mixture on the animals is captured in the chiefs animated reenactment of the drunken donkey. The women who has brewed the beer goes through the final etiquette. The froth is removed and placed onto the ground for the ancestral spirits. None of the utensils are made of wood. It’s said that if you use a wooden stick the men will get angry and start fighting Once the beer is made she ceremoniously presents it to her husband and it’s a sad day for her if it’s not satisfactory. Amongst the staple foods is maize. The kernels are pounded in a hollowed out tree trunk – rather more laborious than an electric food processor, though much more picturesque! This sort of work is enough to build up a thirst! Grinding between two river stones produces the maize meals. The broken mealies (samp) are often combined with protein-rich beans….though we are warned there are certain hazards in eating beans….. “this is the kidney bean…if you don’t cook it well, you will find that you’ll be having a lot of music at night.” Ox hide was once used for making shields – the technique of shield making was perfected by Shaka. “Before Shaka’s time the two opposing armies used to hold much smaller shields and they used to throw throwing spears at each other and when he came onto the scene it changed. It became single handed combat and he had to introduce this large shield and as you can see it is rather….floppy “Floppy.” So then at the back of the shield they pushed in this stick which is musila.” Like that ….which strengthens it, you see. Now it is no longer floppy, so he walks straight up to his opponent and with the left hand side of his shield, hooks his opponent’s shield and pulls it aside to bare left chest and then stabs him with the stabbing spear!” Like their other weapons, shields continued to play an integral part in the culture of the present-day Zulu. In pre-Shaka times tribes used throwing spears or assegais to fight. Shaka himself introduced the short stabbing spear for close contact encounters. The crafts of making these spears is still carried on today by Zulu blacksmiths in remote rural areas and speciality villages. It’s in some of these remote areas that archaeological diggings have uncovered fascinating Zulu artifacts relating back to the early iron age. The uniqueness of this floor in the early Iron Age is it’s one of the very few preserved floors that have been discovered. Whether it burnt down by accident or was purposefully fired that we don’t yet know, but the clay and dung floor has baked and so survived through time. One of the most conspicuous of the artifacts that were left here are these flattened grinding stones. They don’t have any any groove in them which if they were grooved would indicate the grinding of sorghum or millet. These are suggestive more of the preparation of herbal medicines. A feature of this domestic area where women’s activities are dominant, are the large grain pits. The grain pits’ function is to preserve grain in this African environment through the stress months, and a fascinating procedure: the pits were lined with dung, husked grain was put in pots or baskets and then sealed over. The amount of debris that that came out of this pit would indicate a very rapid filling a lot of still functional grindstones as opposed to the very small amount of bulk debris that came out of this very much deeper pit which in fact was largely filled with with – let me just get down. This is over 2 metres deep filled with ash and domestic sweepings. As you notice in this pit we’ve got some cattle bones… it suggests that some form of ritual activity took place here, and by analogy probably libation of the spirits – the ancestral spirits of the people who lived in this in this household. The remains of household pots are always a valuable source of information to the archaeologists……. In the time period that we’re dealing with which is Ndondonwane – 8th, 9th century, Conspicuous by the lack of decoration in the neck and then decoration at the body neck junction of the pot. The pot would stand here….here’s the lip the neck and then the globular pot would be below. These are specifically grindstones for grains such as sorghum and millet which are small grained cereals – need to be kept close together in the grinding process and the upper grinder then develops these characteristic multi facets in grinding the grain for cereal preparation. One of the more fascinating finds in the pits that we’ve excavated in this household, little household complex, is the burial of a child in a pot. So you can see it’s not a particularly deep pit in comparison to the other two, and this is possibly a stillborn or a baby that died at birth and that’s about as far as we can take the interpretation now. One deals with with a lot of debris in excavations and this somehow brings the human element back into it again – this 1,300 year old human tragedy preserved in the pot. In the Tugela Valley deep in the heart of KwaZulu Natal archeologists have also found evidence of talc deposits that had been worked by human hands 1500 years ago. This site was discovered in the 1970’s and was one of the first indications that iron age communities in the Tugela Basin were utilising talc schist. We know of human habitation because of the grindstones that lie littered all over the site, and then, to, the talc that is here on the site which was obviously utilized by these people for we suspect, cosmetic purposes. The soft powder produced from the micaceous talc schist to give its correct name, was mixed with water and applied to the face. ….as we can see here, a lot of conical borings into the rock. The production of pieces of jewelry – this is an unfinished pendant, a small little palette…. also another unfinished figurine that leaves much to the imagination. My interpretation of these conical borings is that people were in fact grinding the talc rock to obtain a powder. The soft powder was mixed with water and applied to the face – a tradition still used in Zulu culture today for both cosmetic and ritual purposes. It not only acts as a sunscreen and moisturizer but has symbolic use as well. Young girls sent on messages to another kraal also announced their intention by the painting of white on the face. ….and then painting on the whole body with white is a tradition used in both Zulu and Xhosa adolescent initiation rites. The white clay on the bodies is a symbol of their seclusion from the community. At the end of initiation they will drop their blankets and wash the white clay from their bodies. Initiate sangomas for instance wear white ochre during their training period. Once qualified the color changes. Thus the wider community is able to recognize a qualified and competent sangoma. The sangoma is skilled in the diagnosis of ailments and the preparation of muti. Her status and profession are indicated by her headdress and costume. The beads are strung in loops so that the spirits that are called up have somewhere to sit as they speak into the sangomas’ ears. The sangoma’s bones are as essential to her as a stethoscope is to a doctor in her diagnosis. She uses them to communicate with the ancestors. The spirits of the ancestors are acknowledged as being ever-present – in return they are said to watch over the family. A place is even made for them to sleep in the hut. I want to show you something which to me is most important. As you can see here at the back of the hut….. always at the back of the hut, there is this little ridge. Now behind this ridge is the most sacred place in the Zulu culture as far as this dwelling site is concerned because the Zulus believe in ancestral worship and they believe that the spirits of the ancestors congregate behind this little ridge at night time. They believe that there’s a thin veil between this world and the next, and this is why they speak to their ancestors as if they’re living people because they can see us and hear us. And they tell them about their misfortunes and their good fortunes and when they do that, they come to the back of the hut and talk to them. On occasion they have beer drinks and feasts in honor of the ancestors and they put food and drink for them behind this little ridge. Now they know obviously that they can’t partake anymore but the ancestors because they can see us and hear us they must see that things are being done in their honor then things go right for them. Beads are used extensively for both decorative and symbolic purposes. In the beadwork the Zulus express their delight in color in an art which is original and personal. They are worn by Zulu men too – the love token contains a message for his loved one. Although the colours have generalized meanings the message woven into each article is very personal and can only be understood by the lovers and a few close friends of the maker. Although we cannot read the precise message of these love tokens, we know that white signifies purity and love, red is much love in spite of poverty, but pink indicates abject poverty, particularly the inability to pay labola the marriage price for the bride. Introduced to South Africa in the 1890s were rickshaw pullers, 10 years later the popularity of this poor man’s taxi had grown so much that 2,000 thronged the streets of Durban. The Zulu people of today may be a far cry from the war-like nation of the last century but their rich traditions live on for all to enjoy well into the next century.

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

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