Shakaland, Kwazulu Natal – The Greatest Zulu Experience in Africa

Richard’s Bay is the gateway to the land of the Zulu, one of Africa’s most fascinating tribal peoples, and is approximately one hour by car from Shakaland, one of the most famous cultural attractions in South Africa. Richard’s Bay was founded in the 1880s, during the Anglo-Zulu colonial wars and was named after British Rear Admiral Sir Frederick William Richards, who landed a naval force in the area. Today the area is a major port in the region and is adjacent to several signifiant mineral deposits, which have contributed to its growth.

Shakaland is a cultural village build amid thorn trees and aloes, billed as the greatest Zulu experience in Africa. The resort, which offers accommodation and dining, was originally the set of the Shaka Zulu mini-series. The true story of the legendary warrior and his struggle to unite his people against the largest empire in the world was aired in 1986. Several authentic Zulu umuzi (homesteads) were constructed for the film and all but one were set alight after the shoot. The remaining umuzi was that of Shaka’s father and today it is known as Shakaland. The surroundings of the village are idyllic with incredible views over the Mhlatuze Valley, where Shaka’s military stronghold once stood, and Goedertrou Dam.

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The zulu tribe is the largest of the tribal groups in South Africa. They live in the Kwazulu-Natal province and have a population of approximately 3.2 million. The Zulu’s ancestors were the Nguni people who, over thousands of years, migrated down the east coast of Africa as part of the Bantu migrations. They eventually reached South Africa, where a small Zulu clan formed. In the early 1800s the famous Zulu warrior, Shaka kaSenzangakhona, united the Zulu tribes into a powerful kingdom. During the reign of King Shaka the Zulu tribe became the mightiest military force in southern Africa and increased land holdings from 100 square miles (259 square kilometres) to 11,500 square miles (29,785 square kilometres).

The zulu experience begins with an explanation of the zulu way of life and the structure of the umuzis. Until the late 1800s, Zulu people lived with members of their extended family in small groups, scattered across the countryside. Each settlement was called an umuzi in isiZulu in the language of the Zulu people (or kraal in Afrikaans). The umuzi was a circular group of beehive shaped huts (indlu), that were usually surrounded by a fence. According to Zulu custom, a man could have many wives and each wife would have her own hut, in which she and her children would sleep. All of the children within the umuzi would be considered brothers and sisters and all of the father’s wives would be considered mothers. The largest hut, which would be located across from the entrance, would belong to the chief’s mother. Unmarried girls would live in huts to the left of the entrance and unmarried boys would live in huts to the right of the entrance. This strategic placement would allow the young warriors to emerge from their huts holding their protective shields and wielding their weapons in their right hands, ready to defend the entrance should the umuzi be under attack.

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Entering into the set of the Shaka Zulu, visitors can see zulu people going about their daily tasks, such as weaving baskets and making pottery. The chief demonstrates how the zulu spears are used and explains the difference between the ‘iziJula’ and the ‘Iklwa’. The traditional Zulu speak was the iziJula, a long throwing spear. It was King Shaka who reinvented the Zulu weapon as part of his military reforms, realising the problems of the iziJula – once thrown the spear could not be retrieved until after the battle and the lack of precision and flexibility when fighting at close-range. Shaka created a shorter spear with a dagger-like blade that was about half the length of the overall spear. The spear was primarily designed as a thrusting weapon and was given the name ‘Iklwa’ from the sound the spear made as it stabbed into the body and the sucking sound as it was withdrawn.

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Women demonstrate how traditional Zulu beer, known as utshwala, is made. Beer is the foundation of every Zulu ritual, including funerals, wedding and feasts. It is drunk to commune with ancestors, to remember family that has passed on and to celebrate. It is believed that the ancestors will not recognise a ritual if it is done without Zulu beer. The beer is made by cooking maize and sorghum to form a thick porridge and brewed for three days. The host of the event takes the first sip to test the quality of the brew. If he approves the guests are invited to drink from the gourd in order of their status. Drinking is always done in a sitting or squatting position and men must remove their hats beforehand.

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Inside the largest hut, members of the tribe perform traditional Zulu dances for an audience of visitors. The Zulu dance is one of the most common types of Zulu community rituals that has been passed from generation to generation. There are several types of dance that occur throughout the year to celebrate important occasions including weddings, childbirth, coming-of-age initiations, inaugurations of Zulu kings and war victories. There are many types of dance and the Ingoma dance is considered to be one of the purest forms. The dance is frantic and performed to a chant with lots of high kicking motions. It is a traditional male-warrior dance, and shows off muscular strength and mock fighting.

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TOP TIPS: The souvenir shop is substantially overpriced – most items can be found in Richard’s Bay for half the price. Shakaland is a reproduction, not an authentic Zulu village, so expect the experience to be a little ‘touristy’ – nonetheless, it is very informative and provides a great insight into the Zulu way of life.

CRUISE:  Silversea‘s Silver Cloud from Mombasa to Cape Town.

SOURCES:

  • http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086798/
  • http://aha.co.za/shakaland/attractions/
  • Information provided by Silversea’s Cruises
  • http://www.gateway-africa.com/tribe/zulu_tribe.html
  • http://interesting-africa-facts.com/Africa-People/Zulu-Facts.html
  • http://www.gateway-africa.com/tribe/zulu_tribe.html
  • South Africa, the People by Dominic Clark
  • http://www.zulu-culture.co.za/zulu_kraal_layout.php#.Vrcci3gijdk
  • http://www.southafrica.net/za/en/articles/entry/article-southafrica.net-shakaland
  • http://www.ehow.com/about_6559534_history-zulu-dance.html
  • http://deadliestwarrior.wikia.com/wiki/Iklwa
  • Discovering the Battlefields of the Anglo-Zulu War by Ken Gillings
  • http://enanda.co.za/2012/11/zulu-beer-2/
  • http://www.worldofbeer.co.za/blog/entry/beer-making-forms-an-integral-part-of-zulu-tradition
  • http://www.ehow.com/about_6559534_history-zulu-dance.html

8 thoughts on “Shakaland, Kwazulu Natal – The Greatest Zulu Experience in Africa

  • February 7, 2016 at 3:22 pm
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    This reminds me of the Lesedi Culture Village in Jo’burg. Although there they tell you about other tribes as well, not just Zulu. Have you had a chance to visit that?

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    • Profile gravatar of Uncover Travel
      February 7, 2016 at 4:56 pm
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      Not yet, we actually only stopped very briefly in Jo’Burg but I would very much like to see more of the city! We visited Shakaland and the Valley of a Thousand Hills between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, which we will be blogging about soon. So far Shakaland has been the best but we will add the Lesedi Cultural Village to our list of places to go!

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      • October 24, 2016 at 8:14 am
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        What made Shakaland better, in your opinion, than Valley of a Thousand Hills? I will be visiting in 2 weeks, and am having a hard time deciding between those 2 and PheZulu Village.

        Thanks!

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        • Profile gravatar of Uncover Travel
          October 24, 2016 at 7:57 pm
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          The Valley of a Thousand Hills Zulu Park that we visited in PheZulu Village.

          In Shakaland we took a tour that led us through the village and into one of the huts to watch a part Shaka Zulu, which helps to understand how Zulu warriors live. We then were shown the layout of the village and a young ‘warrior’ explained to us why the huts are set out the way they are and we learned about some aspects of the zulu life. We were led into the ‘set’ of Shaka Zulu, where ‘warriors’ and women were carving wood and weaving. The ‘king’ demonstrated how the spears were used and then invited us to watch the zulu beer being made and then to taste some before we entered the largest hut to watch a performance which included the zulu warrior and wedding dances. We could feel the beat of the music vibrating through the hut as the warriors played the drums and performed the most energetic of dances, leaping in the air and throwing themselves on the floor – it was wonderful. I believe you need to take a tour in order to visit the set of Shaka Zulu.

          The Valley of a Thousand Hills is set in a really beautiful area with a wonderful view over the valley, however the whole visit seemed a little half-hearted. When we arrived the ‘warriors’ were deep in conversation with each other and so we had to wait about 15 minutes for the ‘show’ to start. It felt much more like a ‘show’ than the one in Shakaland, which felt more authentic. The warrior dances were performed but not with the same enthusiasm as in Shakaland and then, as we were sitting in a semi-circle, the audience were heavily encouraged to give tips, as there did not seem to be much option to leave without doing so (in Shakaland we left tips also, however it felt like it was out choice, as there was no-one blocking the exit with a ‘tips’ bucket). We were then invited into another hut to watch a watered-down version of the beer making process by a woman who appeared to be a little bored with the whole thing. The rest of the visit consisted of seeing the captive crocodiles and snakes, which are kept in an artificial ‘pond’ and glass enclosures – we prefer to see these animals on safari, not in zoos. Aside from the moral reasons behind this, snakes and crocodiles don’t do very much and seeing them lying in a pool is not very exiting. On the plus side, the cafeteria has a lovely view (and apparently sells crocodile burgers) and the souvenir shops is much more affordable than that in Shakaland.

          Valley of a Thousand Hills is a really lovely place and if you haven’t done anything similar before then PheZulu Village would probably be a good experience but if we were to choose to do one of them again, it would be Shakaland without a doubt. Hope this helps!

          Reply
  • February 8, 2016 at 5:13 pm
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    Great post!

    Apart from 3 weeks hitch-hiking with another traveller I’d met in a hostel, I backpacked through Africa in 1985 on my own for 2 months. What an amazing experience back then, but I can honestly say, I’d never attended once of these dances.

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    • Profile gravatar of Uncover Travel
      February 9, 2016 at 9:25 pm
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      Thanks Nilla! Three weeks hitch-hiking through Africa in 1985 must have been amazing… The zulu dances were fascinating and very energetic – we were exhausted just from watching them! Hoping to post a video here soon.

      Reply
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Shakaland, Kwazulu Natal – The Greatest Zulu Experience in Africa

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