You probably have heard the word ‘Zulu,’ especially on your South African television channels; it’s not just a word but one of the largest tribe in Africa. Zulu translates as either ‘heaven’ or ‘weather’ in the Ngani language. The people are majorly found in South Africa with over 12 million population. They belong to the Bantu ethnic group of Southern Africa and are the largest ethnic group in the country.

They live mainly in the Province of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. Zulus are also found in other parts of the continents such as Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Malawi, Botswana, and Mozambique.

Zulu People

An individual from this tribe is known as ‘UmuZulu’, the people at large are called ‘amaZulu’ while the main language spoken is ‘isiZulu’.


There are over 12 million speakers of Isizulu in South Africa; 324,000 speakers in Lesotho; 167,000 in Zimbabwe; 107,000 in Eswatini; 66,000 in Malawi; 5,900 in Botswana and 6000 speakers in Mozambique. Many Zulu people also speak Xitsonga, Sesotho, and others from South Africa’s 11 official languages.


The people were originally a major clan in today’s Northern Kwazulu-Natal, founded by Zulu KaMalandela. The Zulu formed a powerful state in 1818 under the leader Shaka. Shaka was the most famous & powerful ruler of the Zulu tribe. He was the commander in the army of the powerful Mthethwa Empire. Shaka is being celebrated annually until today among the amaZulu. The month of September is used to remember the famous founder of the Zulu Kingdom. The people wear their full traditional attire which includes the weapons and then gather at KwaDukuza in Stanger, where he was laid to rest.


The Zulu economy depended for many years on livestock and crops, making them predominantly farmers. Today, they grow vegetables as well as focus on horticulture. They are also involved in hunting while the women make cooking and strong pots which are sold and traded. They also weave industrial arts such as baskets and mats for commercial sale.

Traditional Dressings

Zulu People

The people wear a lot of colorful dresses. They also have a traditional wear that is worn on special occasions. Women in different stages of their lives wear different attires. An unmarried girl (intombi) wears only short skirts made of grass or bead cotton strings. Nothing is worn on top, regardless of her size, weight or bosom. Beadwork is an essential part of the clothing accessories as well as keeping short hair. Engaged women let their hair grow and covers their breasts with decorative clothes as a sign of respect to their future families. Married women cover their bodies completely to show that they’re off-limits. They tend to wear vests or beaded vests. Pregnant women wear an ‘isibamba,’ which is a thick belt made from dried grass, covered with glass or plastic beadwork, to support their swelling stomach and it’s additional weight. The men’s wear consists of animal skins and feathers; the kind of skin depends on the status of the person wearing them. Leopard skin is worn only by the royal family called ‘izinduna’ (generals) and chiefs. Men also wear an apron to cover their buttocks called ‘ibeshu’ which is made from calf-skin.

Traditional Dance

The people are also famous for their various traditional dances. Dancing is performed during a traditional Zulu ceremony which is accompanied by singing/chanting and sometimes the beating of drums. Zulu dances include Ingoma (isizingili) which is a dance performed by boys and girls without drums and accompanied drums. Ingoma (ishishameni) also involves boys and girls but dancing separately with the boys clapping while the girls dance and vice versa. Indlumu is another major dance performed with drums and full traditional attire. This is derived from the war dances of the warriors. Imvunulo is a dance performed by one participant and is a parade to show off the traditional attire of the Zulu men and women. Isicathamiya is performed by men or boys standing in a straight line or arc.


Most Zulu people are Christians. Traditionally, they have a strong belief in ancestor spirits (amaThongo or amaDlozi) who is believed to have the power to intervene in people’s lives, for good or evil.

Notable People

Famous people from the Zulu tribe include Chief Albert Luthuli (Nobel Peace Prize laureate), Moses Mabhida (Political activist), Rolfes Dhlomo (author), Phuthuma Nhleko (former CEO of the MTN group), Mandla Langa (poet), Henry Cele (actor), Linda Sibiya (broadcaster), Leleti Khumalo (actress), Shadrack Ngema (Sport commentator), Doctor Khumalo (Footballer), Siyabonga Nomvethe (Footballer), Sibusiso Zuma (Footballer), Lucas Radebe (Footballer), Okmalumkoolkat (Rapper), Lucky Dube (Musician), Nasty C (Rapper), Siphiwe Tshabalala (Footballer) , and several others.

Do you know that?

All rites of passages such as birth, adulthood, marriage, and deaths are marked by slaughtering of animals as sacrifices to ancestors in the Zulu Kingdom.

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