The Zulu, write Nita Gleimius, Emma Mthimunye, and Evelina Sibanyoni in "The Zulu of Africa," are a proud African people, living mostly in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. Led by various warlords – including Shaka Zulu – the Zulu enjoyed a long history of independence. European colonization and the system of apartheid, however, led to a loss of Zulu freedom.
Toward of the end of the 20th century, apartheid was finally dismantled and the Zulu people became full citizens of the Republic of South Africa. They still, the authors remind us, "face discrimination and are struggling for economic, educational, and political equality."
Some Zulu have opened up their homes and villages to tourists who want to learn about traditional Zulu culture. The villagers offer unusual vacation packages. Tourists sleep on reed mats in traditional beehive huts (iQukwane), and eat traditional Zulu meals cooked over open fires.
You'll find that a Zulu village, or umuzi, is invariably oval-shaped. A clan of between five and twenty families call it home. The typical village is built on a small hill, to dissuade would-be invaders but also so that rainwater can run down the hill through the cattle kraal (izibaya), cleaning it quickly without soaking the ground and huts.
That's important, because the kraal has underground storage pits for grain. It's the safest and most important area in the village, and is used for religious ceremonies; and, sometimes, as a burial place for chiefs.
The chief's hut sits to the right of his mother's home, which stands opposite the village entrance and is the largest hut in the village. Like all Zulu grandmothers, the mother of the chief is greatly honored.
The chief's two eldest sons work as the village gatekeepers. Not only do they welcome important visitors and send unwanted persons away, but they also need to be able to sing, welcoming guests with ballads regaling their father's achievements.
When a chief meets another Zulu person, he greets them with "Sawubona" ("I see you"). The other person responds, "Yebo, sawubona" ("Yes, I see you too"). The Zulu avoid eye contact. It is a sign of disrespect to look a superior in the eyes.
Unmarried teenage girls live together in a large hut on the left side of the entrance to the village, with unmarried teenage boys placed at the right. A bridegroom must give his future father-in-law a payment, or lobola, to repay the father for money he spent raising his daughter, and to pay for the loss of her help in his household.
It bears noting that the brewing of tshwala, traditional Zulu beer, is entrusted to the women of the village.
Traditional Zulu pierce the ears of both males and females. They first make a tiny hole in the earlobe and insert a small object to keep it open. Larger and larger objects are inserted over a period of time. This practice is said "to open the ears of the mind."
Those interested in immersing themselves in the Zulu culture may find it instructive to look up Shakaland, the most famous Zulu tourist village. For children, Gleimius, Mthimunye, and Sibanyoni's "The Zulu of Africa" is recommended reading, for its photographs and insight.