The stories which are handed down by word of mouth through Zulu generations are an essential part of their tradition. These stories both educate and entertain. They form the backbone of Zulu folklore which keeps them united in their strong sense of belonging within the realms of their ancestors.
Two examples of short stories, that have been recorded by writers over the years, are shown on this page:
THE ORIGIN OF DEATH The Zulu have many stories about how Nkulunkulu created the universe. Nkulunkulu, the Great One, was the first man and is regarded as the great ancestor:
This story tells of how in the beginning, when there was nothing but a vast swamp full of many-coloured reeds, Unkulunkulu created himself from one of them. He then broke off pairs of reeds, each a different colour, and made the first men and women.
Then, after some time, he sent a chameleon to deliver a message to tell man that he would live forever. The chameleon is by nature a slow walker, but despite the importance of the message, it dawdled on its way, eating berries and catching flies with its long, sticky tongue. It often stopped to admire the frequent changes in the colour of its beautiful skin.
Meanwhile, the Creator sent another messenger, a lizard, to tell man that he would not live forever. The lizard travelled swiftly and delivered its message before the chameleon arrived.
When the chameleon finally reached his destination, it was too late. The lizard had returned to Nkulunkulu, having delivered its message and some of the people were already dying. The fate of the rest could not be changed.
Some Zulu people who remember the trick played on mankind by the lazy chameleon, regard it to this day as an unlucky animal.
Zulu pictograms can be used to summarise the story.
Many Zulu stories explain why things are the way they are and the reasons behind animal behaviour and appearance as we see in the following story:
THE COUNCIL OF THE BIRDS
One day all the birds gathered together to decide which of them should be king. They agreed to hold a contest and the one who could fly the highest was to get the position.
Just before the competition began, the smallest of the birds hid underneath the wings of the eagle. When the eagle had soared high above the others, the small bird flew out from his hiding place, and flew even higher.
All the birds were very angry at the small bird’s trickery and decided to punish him. But before they could catch him, he flew into a hole in the ground where the other birds could not follow.
The owl was appointed to keep watch over the hole so that they could capture the little bird when he came out. But, after a while, the owl grew sleepy. First he closed his left eye and kept watch with his right, then he opened his left eye and closed his right. Once, however, he closed one eye and forgot to open the other and this is how the small bird managed to escape.
The owl was disgraced and this is the reason why the owl hides during the day and only comes out at night.