Afrocentrism requires that we examine aspects of African culture from an African perspective. Professor Molefi Keta Asante argues that the purpose of Afrocentrism is to “encourage black nationalism and ethnic pride as a psychological weapon against destructive and depilating effects of universal racism”. By extension, Afro centrism offers an alternative view of the world that analyzes the popular western view proposed by European scholars. Although the premise of Afrocentric ideas is the argument the genesis of civilization from Egypt was a black civilization, it also proposes for the reexamination of some of the traditions and way of life of traditional African people. This document will entail in detail on the Zulu culture by elaborating in detail on their primary mode of subsistence and their aspects of cultural culture. This will be made possible in that it will illustrate in detail on their political, social and economic organization feature. This is based on the fact that the Zulu are the most well known in the sub-Saharan Bantu people.
The Zulu constitute the largest ethnic group in the Republic of South Africa. The latest South African census estimated the Zulu population to be ranging between 10-11 million people. Most of the Zulu people inhabit the province of KwaZulu –Natal but an extension of the Zulu population also lives the countries of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and even Tanzania. The Zulu speak the Bantu language and members of the class called Nguni. The Zulu are famed for the important role that they played in South African independence struggle (Cornell, 2008).
In the Zulu language, Amazulu refers to the Zulu people. The word Zulu is synonymous with heaven and implies that the Zulu people came directly from heaven. The Zulu people have been present in South African history for generations dating back to pre 1500. However, the Zulu rose to prominence under the leadership of Shaka in (1787- 1828). Shaka was a military genius who built the Zulu empire from a chiefdom based in the Eastern cape to an extensive empire that was thorn to the hearts of the settler colonialists. By 1800, the Zulu empire controlled a lot of South African East Coast. Shaka increased the place of Zulu empire by incorporating weaker chiefdoms who shared similar cultures, languages and customs.
Prior to the nineteenth century, the Zulu society premised on agriculture and cattle keeping. The Zulu people also planted maize which was the staple food. While the Zulu like most African societies practiced subsistence farming, they engaged in trade of cattle and crops with neighboring communities. During this time, a dual economy of subsistence horticulture economy emerged even as the market economy was taking hold of the Zulu society with the settlement of the British and the Dutch. As colonization took hold, the Zulu were forced to settle as laborers in European farms for the settlers.
The land became insufficient and most of the youth worked for money to pay heavy taxes.
Beside the horticultural economy, the Zulu also engaged in cattle and goat keeping. The Zulu’s key industrial tool was the hoe which was a result of the experiment with iron smelting prior to the arrival of the colonialists. The grinding stone was also used for grinding maize into flour which was regularly used as stable food for most families. Apart from agriculture, the Zulu also engaged in hunting with short spears that were used in battles (Gleimius, Mthimunye, & Subanyoni,2007).
The Zulu Cultural Practices
The Zulus dress in varieties of attire that is both traditional and ceremonial. Each of the clothes hold special place in the culture of the people. The Zulu women specially dress on different clothes that signify their social status as to whether they are engaged, married, single or widowed. In the Zulu culture, unmarried women in the Zulu culture do not feel shy showing their body. The unmarried young maiden can wear sisal skirts or beaded cotton strings while spicing her body with lots of beadwork. The engaged woman would let her natural hair grow and cover her bosom with a decorated cloth that signifies her respect for her future husband. The married woman completely covers her body that signifies that she is completely taken.
The Zulus are also famous for the fine crafts that they make. Zulu pottery includes containers of many different shapes. Still made today, these pots are shaped by hand from wet clay, decorated by engrained designs and then backed into homemade ovens. Zulu guards are also popular with collectors today. The pots are used to hold finely ground tobacco called snuff. The pots are decorated with metal wire, beads or designs engrained on the surface (Ngwane, 1997). The Zulu women continue to use wild grass weave baskets food containers, and mats. The grass is often colored with natural dyes and woven into very beautiful designs.
The Zulus also have special cultural practices that are undertaken for the purpose of honoring an individual’s life progress. The practices often embody a closer connection between the living individual and the ancestor. When babies are born, they are named and introduced to the ancestors in a process called “Imbeleko”. This meant to exercise continuation of the lineage of the Amazulu. When a girl experiences her first menstruation, the process is called “Umhlonyane”. In both cases, a goat has to be slaughtered and people feast. After this process, the young ladies are then declared adults and signified as ready for adult life that includes marriage. The marriage is celebrated by a wedding ceremony called “umemulo”. Soon after “loloba” the bride price or dowry is paid to the bride’s family by the groom The Zulu people also honor death. In Zulu culture, death is considered an important rite of passage and must be honored with full ceremonies just as the other rites of passage. The Zulu’s consider each of these rites offensives to the ancestors if passed ( Klopper, 2009).
In addition to the important rights, the Zulus also have important ceremonies that are usually preserved for the royals. Perhaps the most famous of these practices is the reed dance ceremony which is called “umkhosi womhalanga”. In this ceremony, the young maidens from the Zulu society celebrate womanhood by parading at a carnival at the king’s palace in full glare of the whole community. The king is given the important task of choosing an addition the wives’ count by choosing the precious of all maidens. Every twenty fourth of Septembers, the Zulu’s celebrate a holiday to honor the founder of the Kingdom Shaka Zulu.
Economic Organization of the Zulu Society
The economy of the Zulu people originates from the important unit of the family. In the family, the parents of the man of the house hold the most important seat in decision making. By extension, the parents make the economical and social decisions of the family. In Zulu culture, inheritance follows a patrillineal pattern. However, inheritance of the chiefship follows the pattern of primogeniture. Zulu tradition holds that children respect the division of labor. Male children were bestowed the responsibility of herding cows, gathering vegetables and providing security for the family. The men do jobs that require intensive physical input. The rule applies that women ran the house while men manage the economy outside the household. In current Zulu culture, the school occupies a central role for most children.
In the Zulu culture, social status is embedded in the respect for the kingship and leadership. The social structure of the Zulu people borrows heavily from the household unit that is headed by the oldest male in the family. In the Zulu society, there is a general respect for men as the principals of the society. The men carry the lineage. “The inko” is the chief whose primary role is royal and preserves the identity of the Zulu people.
The Zulu society also holds great pride and identity that comes from the use of surnames. The surnames in the Zulu society praise names that mark special events that a particular family is famed for. In most cases, people with same surnames have the same ancestor which makes them belong to one clan. Even with the advent of capitalism, the Zulu people still take great pride at the use of clan names when people of the same clan meet for the first time in big cities such as Johannesburg and Durban ( Klopper,2009).
Political Organization of the Zulu
There was a chief who was invested with power that was based on his genealogy as he played an imperative role in internal governing of the Zulu homeland and as a voice for his people. The Zulu monarch commanded a tremendous amount of power from people who lived under his immediate watch. The Zulu leader had a council of chiefs called “Amkhosi”. The leader had a traditional organization set up that acted as a parliament. The house of traditional leaders was usually in charge of organizing fest ivies, settling inheritance disputes, and mobilizing support for decisions made by the king. The chiefs had a sub division called the “zigodi” who looked after headmen also called “zinduna”. The separation of power within the Zulu society ensured that decision making was a process that was collective and the role of the King was to formalize legislations (Cleary & Beth 2000).
The Zulu is no doubt one of the most influential communities in black Africa. It is worthwhile to examine the Zulu culture from an objective and African viewpoint. The paper has presented a vivid analysis of Zulu culture while highlighting some of the most important elements of the culture.The paper illustrates in detail on the Zulu of South Africa and their implication on the society. This has been based on social, political and economic organization.
References Gleimius, N, Mthimunye, E & Subanyoni, E (2007) The Zulu of Africa, Lerner Publications. Klopper, S (2009) The Zulu Kingdom, Franklin Watts. Cornell, C (2008) The Zulu of Southern Africa, The Rosen Publishing Group. Cleary, Beth M (2000) The Zulu (review), Theater Journal, ISSN 0192-2882, Volume 52, Issue 4, pp.571-57