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March 31, 2016

Learn About The Zulu Way Of Living

Text by Maria Louis. Photographs by Sejal Purohit

At the Phezulu Cultural Zulu Village and Safari Park, visitors are invited to revel in a riot of hues and the lively abandon of beats as they get a glimpse of the way African tribes live

Zulu immediately conjures up images of brightly garbed African tribals dancing with energetic abandon to the rhythmic beats of foot-thumping music. You can see them on the small or big screen anywhere; but if you’re visiting the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, it’s the perfect opportunity to see them in person. This feast of colours and sounds is available to all who visit the Phezulu Safari Park, around 35 kilometres from central Durban in Botha’s Hill overlooking picturesque views of the Valley of 1000 Hills. Thanks to the Gasa clan, who have been sharing their culture over the past three decades, we can feel the beating heart of Africa.

The Zulu dancing show is a dramatic start to a morning of heart-warming infotainment, and it’s impossible not to get carried away by the infectious energy, spirit and laughter of the graceful and agile tribal people. Naturally, the colour and pageantry that unfurls makes shutterbugs in the group trigger-happy; and it doesn’t end when the music and dancing stops. Photo opportunities continue, as you are then invited to pose with the dancers dressed in all their regalia, complete with chunky necklaces designed to cover the breasts of the unmarried girls who are traditionally bereft of garments on their upper bodies.

The Zulus are a strong, proud people from KwaZulu-Natal and comprise a population of around eight to 10 million — making them the largest ethnic group in southern Africa. Traditional Zulu shields, earlier used in battles for hundreds of years, date back to the times of King Shaka. You could, if you like, watch them being crafted, using ancient techniques handed down through generations

Your ticket includes a visit to the Crocodile and Snake Park, where specially trained guides take you on a tour. Apart from learning interesting facts about these dangerous creatures, you could meet a 90-year-old Nile crocodile and feel the skin of a Burmese python that weighs 42 kilos. Here’s your chance to pose with a three-year-old python draped around your neck. The snakes are in glass cases and the crocodiles are in enclosures fenced by barbed wire, so worry not.

Phezulu boasts one of the best curio shops in KwaZulu-Natal. Here, you could find almost any African artefact conceivable — from stone and wood carvings to ostrich eggs, pottery, jewellery, beadwork, spears and shields, even large-format prints and paintings. This is where we bought our miniature Zulu houses. They are great mementoes of our trip and make perfect gifts too.

The Tribal Way of Living

Nothing speaks more eloquently of South Africa than the sight of a cluster of tribal huts baking in the sun. While the cities are filled with gleaming high-rise buildings, you can see traditional African architecture in villages flanking the roadside as you drive inland. Each tribe has its own distinctive style of building. Zululand, located along the eastern coast of South Africa, is characterised by traditional ‘beehive’ dwellings; where layers of grass cover a wooden framework. These huts are laid out in a circle around a central cattle kraal, a similar layout to the Xhosa huts in the south-east of the country, although those tend to be made of painted mud.

At Phezulu village, visitors are ushered into replicas of the traditional thatched huts, where the guide explains the various beliefs and rituals associated with the lifestyle of the inhabitants of Zululand. Various artefacts used for cooking are displayed, and their uses are demonstrated by a woman, giving foreigners fascinating insights into Zulu culture. Patrick Ngcobo, manager of Phezulu Cultural Village, explains that a Zulu homestead is just for one family — a man and all his wives.

“A Zulu man can have as many wives as he wants; but if he wants to live happily with his family, he will have to build two huts for each wife — one to sleep and one to cook in,” he says. “And there must be a grandmother’s hut. If the grandmother is no more, you still have to build a hut for her. To build a hut, everybody must get involved — men, women, children, families, friends, neighbours, even enemies will come to help. There’s a Zulu saying that means: for the sake of building a hut, just get involved — get your hands dirty, even if you are an enemy!

“To build the hut, men gather the sticks and grass and women make the floor. To compress the floor and make it hard, they use anthill soil and then polish the floor, smearing it with cow dung. Each hut must have a fireplace — you make a fire for warmth when it is cold; you need fire for light at night; you need smoke from the fire because when smoke goes through the thatch, it seals it — so the rain won’t come through. This is why the houses don’t have chimneys.”

Burnt offerings

Native South Africans use the term shisa nyama to describe a barbecue or braii, where friends or families gather together to grill meat on an open fire in the outdoors. It would earlier take place near a butcher’s shop, and those who buy meat from there would be welcome to use the facility. Shisa nyama is a Zulu phrase that, translated literally, means ‘burn meat’.

Meats are the mainstay of the shisa nyama served in township restaurants today. Also known as the South African braai, it typically includes sausages of different flavours and thicknesses, marinated chicken, pork, ox liver, lamb chops, steaks and possibly even racks of spare ribs.

The other main part of the meal in some townships is pap, which is made from finely ground and thickened corn/maize (a version of polenta) and is a staple of local African communities. It may be eaten with a tomato and onion sauce (similar to salsa) or the spicier chakalaka (beans cooked with chilli) at a braai. Steamed bread is generally served along with these dishes.

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