Zulu – A Culture of Dance
Words by Khwezi Nkwanyana
It’s no surprise why South Africa continues to be one of the top tourist destinations for many worldwide. With a pristine, untouched and unique habitat; a diverse and majestic wildlife; and a history so robust and rich it caters to a diverse tourist market.
However, what makes South Africa particularly unique is that the country is home to 11 official languages and even more traditional tribes. The most iconic and well-known South African tribes is the Zulu tribe.
To many, the word Zulu often sparks thoughts of power, strength, and unity. Originating from the endless green pastures of KwaZulu-Natal, the Zulu population has come a long way from their humble beginnings. History has marked the Zulu people as strong territorial warriors – a lesson the British learnt the hard way. However, too few people are aware of the Zulu’s robust and colourfully culture. And with a native population totalling over 10 million, the Zulu people celebrate their culture the best way they know how: through dance.
Dancing has long been an integral part of Zulu culture. Accompanied by the beating of African drums, vibrant singing and traditional clan attire, dancing is regarded as a true performance which captures the attention of all viewers. There are six separate Zulu dances:
The Ingoma is regarded as one of the purest remnants of Zulu tradition. It’s traditionally performed before a hunt or battle. Now the dance is performed by young boys and girls – accompanied with a traditional chant – to celebrate coming of age ceremonies.
The Indiamu is a war dance and is also heavily thought of “as a touchstone of Zulu identity.” The loud, rhythmic beating of traditional drums alongside the full traditional attire worn by the dancers has made this dance the most iconic of the many Zulu dances. This dance is performed by men of any age wearing animal skin, ceremonial belts, head-rings, shields and spears. This dance is marked to highlight the Zulu warrior’s strength, with the dancers often maintaining strong eye contact with the audience as well as showcasing their muscular strength.
This dance was created to showcase the traditional attire of a Zulu woman or man, and is performed by a single person at a time. In Zulu culture traditional dress is determined by gender, rank and age. Women wear bearded aprons and leather skirts and men wear amabeshu (a calf-skin flap used to cover genitals and the buttocks).
Isicathamiya is considered to be the most modern of all traditional dances. Performed by men standing in a single straight line, the music and lyrics are designed to address modern issues with the use of ancient melodies. The music often symbolises life in rural Kwa-Zulu-Natal and townships, and issues such as migrant labour, crime and HIV/AIDS are often discussed. This dance has become internationally recognised for addressing strife issues through song and dance.