Customs

Zulu customs vary region to region with the Zulu Kingdom but there are some generally constant customs in most parts of the Zulu Kingdom such as these:

BEADS


These are made by girls of courting age, and sent by a friend to the favoured boy. He will come courting, and at the appropriate time ask the girl to explain the meaning of her letter. Each bead colour is associated with a particular meaning: 

Red:
Intense and jealous passion
Eyes red with watching for the beloved
Love
Blue:
Thoughts that fly to the loved one
Loyal and true
Loneliness
Yellow:
Jealousy
White:
Purity and faithfulness
Black:
A wish to wear the black leather skirt of marriage
Anger
Pink:
Poverty, coolness
Green:
Young, pining
Grey-blue:
Send a message

MARRIAGE:

The wedding celebration is a fairly complex process. It begins with the lobola agreement. A man may have many wives (polygamy) as he can raise lobola for. He can even have unmarried ‘sweethearts’, but a wife may only be married to one man, and should she have an affair, the consequences are dire.

Lobola:

This is commonly known as the price paid by the bridegroom’s family for a wife, but is more correctly a compensation for the loss of the girl by the father and his kraal. It is also a way of the bridegroom and his family to lay claim to any children produced in the marriage. In fact, if the wife is barren, lobola may be returned to the bridegroom, and the wife returned to her father. In other circumstances, the bride’s father may send a sister to provide children for the husband. Lobola is usually paid in head of cattle – an amount agreed upon by the two families.

After a formal engagement has been made, and the terms of lobola settled, the cattle begin to be delivered in ‘instalments’ to the father. This may continue for a year or two until the bridegroom’s family insists on wedding.

The Wedding Ceremony:

The date of the wedding must be a night when the moon is bright, because a faint moon signifies bad luck, and also makes the celebrations less festive. The wedding is held in the open in the bridegroom’s kraal. The parents of the bride do not attend, as the occasion would be too sad for them.

A few days before the wedding, the bride arrives with a retinue of bridesmaids, all carrying parts of her trousseau on their heads. She often brings gifts from her father to the bridegroom’s father with her. On the morning of the wedding, she and her bridemaids bathe naked in a river, which is a sign of cleansing from impurity. She now works through two or three days of complex rites. She eventually carries her sleeping mat and other goods to the bridegroom’s hut. When the guests arrive, the two families stand on opposite sides to each other, and there is great tension between them. This continues for two or three days, and is eventually dissipated with the slaughter of two head of cattle. The clans are now united through the symbolic exchange of meat.

RELIGION AND BELIEFS:

The Zulu respect and fear the dead. Their spirits are said to wander after death and must be ritually brought back after a year with the eating of maize and a sacrificed animal, and a special ‘calling of the spirit’ ceremony. Restless ancestors are said to be the source of many ills. Zulus believe in sacrifices of animals (e.g. goats or oxen) to the dead. They also offer their ancestors beer. There are two kinds of sacrifices. The thanksgiving sacrifice is in celebration of good crops, and life going well (ukubonga). The scolding sacrifice is after many unexpected deaths, or a bad spate of events (ukuthetha).

The Zulus also believe in a God-type figure called Unkulunkulu. He ‘sprung from the reeds’ and created all animals, water, mountains, the sun and the moon.