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Get to Know the Zulu Culture

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The Zulu handshake
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The Zulu warrior stood at the entrance to his kraal, or family village. He is the oldest son of the chief, and decides who can and cannot enter his home. With a smile and a traditional Zulu handshake, Shawn and I were allowed into the traditional village of DumaZulu!

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This man is in traditional skins and playing a handmade instrument.
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This region of South Africa is populated by the Zulu people, descendants of the great warriors under the rule of Shaka Zulu. Today, the old and the new exist side by side. While most people don't still wear their "skins," or traditional clothing everyday, they all still use them for rituals. As kids, they learn the traditional dances and songs, and the Zulu language is always spoken except when dealing with people like Shawn and me, who wouldn't understand!

In the living area are beehive-shaped grass huts that form a circle around the inner area in which the cattle are traditionally kept. Cattle are very important and a large herd is a sign of wealth, status, and power. Without cattle, a man cannot feed himself and his family, get married, or appease angry spirits!

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The unmarried Zulu women are called maidens and do not wear tops.
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Today's Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, and five Zulu families founded DumaZulu as a home and cultural center. The sixty-four people who live here open their homes to tourists to make a living. They wear their traditional clothes as costumes for the tourists. The maidens (unmarried women) go topless, wearing only short beaded miniskirts and other beaded necklaces and headbands, yet they seemed perfectly comfortable.

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These Zulu women work magic with colorful beads!
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Married women cover their heads with a hat and their bodies completely. The colors and patterns of the beads worn by both married and unmarried women tell a lot, such as if the woman is of marriageable age, if she is engaged, pregnant, or grieving. The men wear "skins" that hang from their waists. Only the royal family and chiefs can wear leopard skins. The Zulu warriors wear the tufts of cows' tails around their upper arms and knee joints... to make them look bigger and more frightening. They also carry leather shields.

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DamaZulu's female sangoma, or spiritual healer.
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Two Zulu healers live at DumaZulu. One is a female sangoma, who is chosen by the spirits and deals more in the spiritual world. Sangomas can be male or female, and are respected as healers, counselors, or priests in the community. The traditional training period is 25 years! The other healer in the community is an Inyanga (literally "the man of the trees"), who is more like an herbalist or pharmacist.

Dancing, drumming, and singing is a daily activity in traditional Zulu life. The men showed us stick fighting, which was used as training for the Zulu warriors. Then the men and women took turns strutting their stuff in energetic, almost acrobatic dances. They are really awe-inspiring! The dances also have different symbolism, such as the bull dance, in which the dancer imitates a bull by kicking his or her leg high in the air, and then forcefully stomping the ground. The men wore rattles made of dried cocoons around their ankles!!

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Our new friends say
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By the time the dancing had ended, the lid on the pot of sorghum beer was turned upside down. This is how the host lets you know that it is time to leave. I wish we had something like that in my culture! We thanked our hosts, shook their hands Zulu-style, and said good-bye: "Sawubona".

Abeja
 

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