Zulu people, South Africa, early 20th century, private collection from Netherlands.
Zulu people are a Bantu ethnic group, probably the largest single population group in South Africa. They originated from Nguni-communities who took part in the Bantu migrations. The word Zulu means "sky" or "heaven". The Zulu was originally a minor clan in what is today Northern KwaZulu-Natal, founded c. 1709 by Zulu Kantombhela. They are known for their strong fighting spirit which has fashioned renowed warriors in history including the likes of Shaka Zulu who played a prominent role in various Zulu wars.
Shaka was the illegitimate son of Senzangakhona, King of the Zulus. He was born c. 1787. He and his mother, Nandi, were exiled by Senzangakhona, and found refuge with the Mthetwa. Shaka fought as a warrior under Jobe, and then under Jobe's successor, Dingiswayo, leader of the Mthethwa Paramountcy. When Senzangakhona died, Dingiswayo helped Shaka become chief of the Zulu Kingdom. Shaka was ruled from 1816 to 1828, when he was assassinated in September by his half-brothers, Dingane and Mhlangana, together with an officer (induna) named Mbopa. During his reign, Shaka recruited young men from all over the kingdom and trained them in his novel warrior tactics. Like all the clans, the Zulu were armed with oxhide shields and spindly throwing spears. Shaka first rearmed his men with longbladed, short-hafted stabbing spears (Iklwa or Umkhonto we Sizwe), which forced them to fight at close quarters. He then institued the regimental system based on age groups, quartered at separate villages (kraals) and distinguished by uniform markings on shields and by various combinations of headdress and ornaments. After defeating competing armies and assimilating their people, Shaka established his Zulu nation. Within twelve years, he had forged on of the mightiest empires the African continent has ever known. During the reign of King Shaka, the Zulu became the mightiest military force in Southern Africa, increasing their land holdings from 100 square miles to 11,500.
Majority of the modern day Zulus are living in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Related ethnic groups are Xhosa, Swazi and Nguni. The rural Zulu economy is based on cattle and agriculture. They grow maize and vegetables for subsistence purposes. The men and herd boys are primarily responsible for the cows, which are grazed in the open country, while the women do most, if not all, of the planting and harvesting. The Zulu village is a great circle, made up of a spherical homestead (umuzi), which is a cluster of beehive-shaped huts arranged around a cattle kraal (isibaya). Each homesteads is a self-contained economic and legal unit with its own cattle and crops, ruled by the homestead head (umnumzana).
Traditional Zulu religion includes belief in a supreme God or a supernatural being called Unkulunkulu (the greatest of the great), who "sprang from a bed of reeds" and created all wild animals, water and mountains, as well as the sun and moon. The strong belief are also formed around the presence of ancestral spirits (amadlozi, amathongo and abaphansi) who had the power to intervene in people's life, for good or ill. It is believed that all bad things, including death, are a result of evil sorcery or offended spirits. No misfortune is ever seen as the result of natural causes. Traditionally, the Zulu recognize several elements to be present in a human being: the physical body (umzimba) the breath, or life force (umoya) and a spirit, or soul (idlozi). In addition, there is (inhliziyo) "heart or feelings", the brain, mind and understanding (ingqondo) and the shadow or personality (isithunzi). Once the umoya leaves the body, the isithunzi may live on as an ancestral spirit (idlozi), but only after important ceremony (ukubuyisa) has been performed, during which the spirit is "brought back home".
Zulu people are best known for their beautiful brightly colored beadwork and basketry. Beadwork is a form of communication for the Zulu people. Typically when one is wearing multiple beads, it is a sign of wealth. The more of beads one is wearing, the wealthier they are perceived. The beads have the potential to convey the information about a person's age, gender and marital status. The design and the colours of the beads often conveys a particular message. Beadwork can be worn everyday use, but is often worn during the important ceremonies such as weddings, rituals (like umemulo) or dances.
This beautiful, aged necklace are made of thousands of small glass "seed" beads sewn onto a fabric rope. The vocabularity of Zulu beads extends to colors, with both positive and negative meanings. Black color (Obumnyama) symbolizes marriage and rebirth, but also death and mourning. Yellow (Obuphuzi/Obuncombo) means wealth and may also symbolize fertility, but can also means badness. Pink (Obumpofu) indicates privileged wealth but can also means laziness and poverty. Only white is always positive: spiritual love. purity, virginity and chastity. Lovely patina. Good condition. Intact but partially stretched. Missing beads. Signs of handling and wearing over many years. Dirt, dust and soil. The circumference of the necklace are approx. 75,0cm and the thickness c. 0,9cm.
References, citations and sources:
The Language of Beads, Bob Burch, Africa Direct/Travel Africa Edition Eleven, Spring 2000.
The Zulu of Africa, N.Gleimius, E.Mthimunye, E.Subanyoni,Lerner Publications Company, Minneapolis, 2003.
Meaning Behind The Use And Wearing Of Traditional Beadwork At Msinga Area, Bonisile Pretty Khethiwe Zungu, Faculty of Arts, University of Durban-Westville, September 2000.
Colour Metaphor in Zulu Culture: Courtship Communication in Beads, Biyela N.G. University of Zululand, American International Journal of Contemporary Research, Vol.3, No. 10, October 2013.
Zulu Beads and some Ngoni Beadwork, Ngoni People, July 2011.