Shakaland, Polygamy, and Zulu Tribal Customs

A couple weeks ago, we went to Shakaland.   It was a really great experience.  The night before going we started watching the movie, Zulu, to warm ourselves up to the experience, and then we ended up in the same fields where the battles were fought in the movie, which was quite cool.

We started out the day by visiting some museums and Fort Nonqayi.  Inside the buildings were lots of displays and replicas and history information on the walls.  It started with a visit to a church because like so many other civilizations, Christian zeal seems to have made an indelible impression on the books of history.  The first Christian missionaries were from Norway if my memory serves me and they built a church and attempted to convert all of the Zulu people to Christianity.   They also taught the locals the proper way to dress and live as a Christian.  I’m happy to report that the Zulu culture has somehow survived the onslaught of Christianity and is still rich in its own culture and ideas. Of course, many people died along the way, but in the end it feels as if the local culture has outlasted the foreign one.   Of course, Christianity left its impact, but thankfully we can still enjoy Zulu traditions today, despite this.

Here are some pictures of the museum experience, which included the fort and a wonderful shop full of intricate and beautiful basket weaving, jewelry, pottery, and even telephone wire art pieces.   I didn’t get many pictures of the art work as we were told to use no photography in the room.  We later found out that we were only supposed to not use flash photography, but it was too late by then.


After enjoying the museum and eating a lovely lunch at the on-premise, homestead-style restaurant (delicious home made food!) we headed over to Shakaland, a Zulu Cultural Village.   I’ll post my own pictures and share my own experiences, but here’s a website that explains more about Shakaland and the pictures are from the exact place we visited.

We purchased our tickets, which included a tour and dinner, for around 500 Rand (I always convert my Rands to Dollars by moving the decimal over 1 place, so $50.   It’s actually more like 14 Rand per dollar right now, so it’s much less than this, but I like to keep things simple.) and were directed to sit in the bar and have a refreshing beverage until our tour began, about 30-45 minutes from then.  Once our tour guide showed up, he took us to an area with a large pile of stones stacked up next to a small model of a typical Zulu family village.   I say small, but it was probably about a 10% scale, we we were actually standing in the smaller version of the village.

Polygamy and Other Customs and Traditions

Our guide explained to us that Polygamy was central to the Zulu way of life.   A man’s ability to have more than one wife is based on his wealth and wealth is measured by cows.   A typical bride costs around 11 cows, and of course, some affection for each other. But if a man has many cows, he can have many wives.   The more cows, the more wives, and the implication (at least in my mind) was more kids, more warriors, more workers, and in turn, more wealth, etc.   It’s interesting to note that the daughter of a chief cost around 16 cows and the daughter of a King, a princess, costs 30+ cows.

The first home or hut built in a Zulu family village (each family builds their own little circle of homes, as can be seen in the picture above) is the grandmother’s hut.  That becomes the top of the circle, and the central place for everybody to meet, and it’s also where the husband’s mother lives.  Quite an interesting mix of matriarchal and patriarchal in this culture.  The next hut is the husband’s hut, and it’s right next to the grandmother’s hut.   Then it’s the first wife’s hut, then the 2nd wife’s hut is built on the opposite side of the circle, next to the grandmother’s hut, and then back and forth, depending on the number of wives.  Finally, the children have their own quarters (you can imagine a few children coming from this scenario), separated by sex, meaning all the boys in one hut and all the girls in another.    There is much respect given to the matriarchs in this community, as is evidenced by the first hut built in every family village, and we were told that differences are resolved there.

After explaining all of this to us he asked us if we had any questions and there were a lot of them.  One of the interesting ones had to do with the differences between our cultures. In western culture, we let a woman go in front of us (ladies first) and get doors for women, etc.  At least we’ve done that in the past and sometimes chivalry does endure. However, the Zulu tradition is to never let the woman go first because their might be an enemy in the hut, for example, and if you let the woman go first, she might be killed.  So in the Zulu tradition, the men always go first, not because men are more important, but to protect the women from what might be ahead.

He took us to the pile of rocks and explained that it is a Zulu tradition to pick up a rock that is lying around the village and throw it onto the pile.  If your rock stays on the top of the pile, it brings you good luck, if it rolls back down on either side, it brings you bad luck.  I personally think it’s just a fun way someone came up with to get all the rocks cleared from the village, but I didn’t share this with anybody but you.

We then went to an area where they were making weapons, shields, and practice clubs. And we were given presentations from how to make these items to how to use them in practice and battle.  Then we were shown how they make beer.  Beer is an important part of their culture as well and even the children drink it.  It has a low alcohol content and just like other similar fermented products, is good for us.   And it didn’t taste bad either.   They also explained the role and importance of a shaman or witch doctor in their traditions and it is often a woman who performs this role.

Finally, before dinner (which was delicious by the way, although it was normal faire and not Zulu traditional food, disappointingly), they gave us a presentation of Zulu dancing and tribal chanting, including some amazing high kicks that both the men and women do, kicking their feet high in the air, up above their heads.   It almost seemed that they were going to kick themselves in the face as they went so high and fast.   I’ve uploaded some video taken with my cell phone to my Youtube Channel, and created a playlist you can watch here:

After all was said and done it was a great day to explore Zulu traditions and customs and understand a little more about South Africa and its rich heritage.  I highly recommend a visit to see this place when you come to South Africa.    Thanks for following along in the adventure.   Subscribe to follow by email or follow on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Google+, or Instagram!



4 thoughts on “Shakaland, Polygamy, and Zulu Tribal Customs

  1. 😳
    Fantastic! What a great adventure. Thanks for sharing and writing so eleqently . Those skulls are incredible! The Zulu nation was “something and apparently still list today. I have two very dear friends who have spent the last two years living in there vehicle traveling through Africa. They are finally back in America and we get to see them on 9 December. Africa is a must on the bucket list. Thanks so much for sharing. Safe travels 🌈💦

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.