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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Information provided by Silversea’s Cruises
- South Africa, the People by Dominic Clark
- Discovering the Battlefields of the Anglo-Zulu War by Ken Gillings