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Zulu is the name given to a large group of over 8 million people. They have lived in southern Africa for around 2,000 years and they speak a language called Zulu. Zulu people have their own culture and are known for their brightly coloured beadwork. The pattern of the beads can have different meanings such as warnings or love messages.


The traditional Zulu homeland is a region in South Africa known as Zululand. Before the Zulu arrived in southern Africa, they probably travelled from further north in Africa. Archaeologists have found evidence that distant ancestors of the Zulu were farmers from north of the Zulu homeland. These ancestors moved to an area on the east coast of South Africa that is now in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. They then spread along the river valleys and into the grasslands.

The Zulu traditionally lived in villages of a few thousand people. Each village was called a chiefdom and had a chief. The people grew grain and bred cattle, goats, and sheep in order to survive. As trade with other countries began to grow, so did the chiefdoms. In the 1820s, the separate Zulu chiefdoms were turned into one big kingdom, with one ruler—the Zulu king Shaka. The name “Zulu” now became known to more people.

The Zulu Kingdom was destroyed in civil wars and invasion by the British about 60 years later. Many Zulu people left their homes and moved to the cities to find work. Some travelled long distances to work in the cities and return home to their villages at night.

Today, there are around 8 million Zulu people living mainly in South Africa. Some Zulu live in the nearby African countries of Malawi, Mozambique, and Swaziland. About half of the Zulu live in cities and the other half live in the countryside. Zulu people raise cattle and grow corn in the countryside. Unemployment is high in South Africa, especially for black people. Zulu people may find it hard to get good education and training, so they often work in unskilled jobs. These include working as maids and servants in cities or working on farms or in mining in rural areas.


Traditionally, Zulu families live in huts made from small trees and grass. The huts are shaped like beehives. The floor of the hut is made from clay and cow dung. In the centre is a fire for cooking. Huts are built in a circle to form a small village called a “homestead”. In the centre, the cattle are kept in pens.

Zulu boys and girls living in homesteads have different daily tasks. The boys look after the farm animals, herding and milking them. Girls fetch water, clean the hut and collect wood for the fire. Families are normally quite big and older children help to look after their younger brothers and sisters. While the older boys help their fathers with the animals, older girls help their mothers with the cooking.

Zulu are well known for their beadwork and weaving. The women weave grasses to make baskets and mats. Zulu also make clay pots and decorate them with paint in different colours.


Young Zulu women wear colourful beadwork as the traditional costume. Older Zulu women wear more clothes to cover their bodies, and a wide hat made from straw and decorated with beads. Zulu women wear a pleated skirt, called an isidwaba, made of cow skin, which the younger women sometimes cover with beads. Beadwork is also used for jewellery, masks, and other accessories.

Zulu men wear a loose piece of cow skin around their waists, which covers the front and back. Men and women do not wear shoes when wearing their traditional costume and instead walk barefoot.

When a Zulu boy or girl reaches a certain age, a special ceremony is held to celebrate. Ceremonies are also held for marriages and funerals. There is a lot of dancing and singing at these ceremonies, and traditional costumes are worn. Nowadays, many Zulu tend to wear Western clothes (such as trousers, skirts, T-shirts, and shirts) the rest of the time.


The Zulu traditionally believe in one God called Nkulunkulu, who created the universe. They also worship the spirits of their ancestors. Holy people called sangoma can call up the spirits and talk to them. The Zulu believe that offending the spirits or the god will cause bad things to happen. Some Zulu people now follow Christianity. Many still practise some of the traditional religious customs.

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