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Zululand - Culture and Village Experience

SOUTH AFRICA | Thursday, 14 August 2008 | Views [2317] | Comments [2]

After tasting the hot curries and enjoying the water rides in Durban, it was time to go back to the very reason we crossed the Atlantic - to see the real AFRICA and experience the pulsating culture of its innumerable tribes, their peculiar lifestyle and rich traditions and rituals!

A short 2 hours drive north along the Elephant Coast of KZN state (so named as hoards of Elephants used this coastline to migrate in the past) we arrived in ‘Eshowe’, in the heart of Zululand. You may remember hearing references made to ‘King Shaka’ in folklores or jungle book stories from childhood. Anyway, the Zulu King Shaka, the Great formed a powerful army and for the first time tried to establish a black empire in Africa, by conquering other weaker tribes. The city of Eshowe and most of the Elephant coast territory is steeped with Zulu history and their battles, conquests and colonization by the English. Probably most important events which shaped the Zulu empire were the Difaquane (the forced migration of weaker tribes running away from the Zulus), and the Anglo-Zulu wars. One of the main sites in Eshowe is a very well preserved British fort which has been turned into a museum depicting the most important battles of the war. While at first, I was under the impression that the British with their technical supremacy had an easy victory but it was interesting to learn that in fact, the Zulus managed to enjoy important victories of their own, as they outnumbered the Brits easily. The front-loaded British bayonets of the time could not shoot quickly enough to stop a full charge of the Zulu army, and before a second load could be prepared the soldiers were already engaging in a man to man fight in which the Zulus were mostly at advantage. The turning point of the war was the arrival of a few machine guns. In one of the most important battles of the war, the Zulus could have inflicted a decisive defeat on the British, but they turned away due to the use of these lethal machine guns. Ironically, early in the battle the machine gun got jammed, but at that time the Zulus were already overwhelmed by its shooting power and retreated anyway.


After visiting the fort / museum, we also went for a walk on an aerial boardwalk in the forest. The walk goes as high up as 20 meters and boasts an impressive and unique view of the forest canopy. As we finished our day traversing this boardwalk , precariously hanging above the tree-line,  we scanned the agricultural fields of rural Zululand in the distance and the ‘kraals’ (small villages) which we will be visiting on an early morning hike the next day.


 Our travel adventure recipe is never complete without the touch of the essential ingredient, the local human experience. How could we leave Zululand without meeting the Zulu tribe? With an early morning start, we started hiking up the hilly terrain from one Zulu village to another with a local guide, who was very eager to tell us all about his tribe’s culture and way of life, only for an exchange of learning how to speak better English with our help! Everyone in the village was very friendly (except for a big group of cows who were ready to charge at me with their horns while the herdsman struggled to control them) and using few phrases in their local language,’Siya-bonga’ went a long way. We were invited to the villagers home where we chatted with a 96 year old Zulu woman who looked healthy enough to live past 100; learnt the technique to build the traditional Zulu huts (conical shaped called ‘Rondavels’) and then helped them with their project of installing a thatched roof; shared some laughs with an old Zulu man as Fernando made some good aim sharing his sling shot; danced in the sun with another old but young at heart Zulu woman, who apparently knew one English song and insisted that we all dance with her as she sang it out loud! An interesting fact about the Zulu marriages is that a man has to ‘pay’ the bride’s family with 11 cows or equivalent amount in local currency in order to betroth her! We also visited the local school, met the local ‘sangoma’ (‘witch-doctor’) and a Norwegian missionary church. Exchanging goodbyes and some English-Zulu vocabulary words, we headed back feeling good about leaving our footprints in Zululand and bringing back stories to share about their culture with all of you.





Sounds Heaps Fun...Hope You Enjoyed Your Time There, I Wanna Go There Some Day...Would You Mind Sending Me An Email (If You Have The Chance...) With Some Of Your Pictures... Thanks So Much :)

  Mel Jul 26, 2009 2:14 PM


Hi! I'm planning a trip to south africa, including a day and overnight at zululand. All i'm looking for is to experience the true local culture. Could you share how you went about arranging your trip at zululand, how you get a local tour guide? Did you also stay at zululand? Thanks a mil. :)

  Rachel Jul 8, 2010 2:01 AM

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