Amazing as it seems to us from the West—especially living in LA, there are still very traditional Zulu villages throughout the KwaZulu-Natal—an area outside of Durban, South Africa, which seem to go back in history for hundreds of years…. Members of the Zulu Tribes retain much of their traditions and culture from that time. Though they have been updated with small outdoor square cinderblock showers, and some have a little electricity occasionally—those are usually the kitchens, most still don’t have any modern conveniences at all…. And the amazing thing is I don’t think they mind in the least!
We took a tour out of Durban called The Valley Scene—which was a journey into the the Valley of 1000 Hills. They picked us up in a very modern 10 seater van with a most charming young man named Lwazi—which translates to Knowledge—so that is what we called him and Justice was our driver. He was so knowledgeable about the history of his country and gave us great insights into the life and history of the Zulu. He was also very funny and self deprecating. Obviously, he had left the Zulu native life because he was more immersed in western culture, and the references he made to himself and us were very modern. But he did encourage us not to judge the Zulus from our American standards—that we might look down on them and feel poorly for them. I believe the Zulus are a proud people and I just asked the lovely woman who works for this hotel and is Zulu if she thought that. She said they are jubula acoulo—Happy too much…. So they love their lives just as people everywhere do. Obviously, they don’t miss what they have never had.
The ride up is beautiful and the immense views overlooking these hills and valleys, is really breathtaking! As we approached the Village, we saw mostly round structures with different kinds of roofing —some had a window or two, some had none. Some were thatched and some just looked like dried mud. These are called rondavels—which is a circular building. Many of the men have 2 to 3 wives and they live together in several different rondavels—each wife has her own.
It was Sunday when we came there so there were many women we passed on the road wearing bright white dresses and caps. Apparently everyone from each little church wears similar clothing. Our first stop was into a Church where 4 women were singing and clapping and occasionally the preacher who was their local Medicine Man was leading the service…. Great singing… women sit on the left and men on the right. We clapped along with the others—so interesting. The Medicine Man is an important village leader and influence in daily life.
We went with the Medicine Man who just left his few congregants to go into his little round building where he keeps his various herbs and different gowns he wears for different occasions. It was all very funky, little left over bottles on a shelving unit that looked woozy, and little wood crosses hanging from the ceiling. He is the one they go to if there is a problem with the family—or if a physical problem cannot be handled by a more traditional doctor. Then he and he alone speaks with the ancestors and finds out what to do about the problem. Apparently the ancestors are always watching and they know what the real source of what the problem is and the Medicine Man doles out the solutions. We of course made a contribution to his church (or him) and he seemed pretty darn happy with that!
We had another tour guide once we got to the Village who lives there with his family. He was a sweet young man, and was very knowledgeable about the culture and history of his people. He provided answers to our questions and also took us down to a delightful river which runs through part of the more undeveloped part of the town and told us about the courtship rituals of his people. We made promise bracelets from some weeds growing there and tradition has it that you give one to your sweetheart so everyone else knows she’s yours.
We were served a traditional hot lunch of maize while sitting on the floor of a rondavel (women on the left, men on the right) and it was surprisingly tasty. Cooking is done the old fashioned way by creating a fire in the middle of the rondavel floor and the smoke exits thru the thatched roofs. We had to eat with our hands and were presented with warm water and a towel to clean our hands before and after.
We all gained insight into what it’s like to be Zulu in Modern South Africa and one can’t help but wonder what we would be like if instead of being born in Europe or the Americas, we had been born into a tribe like this one—certainly different than chasing the almighty dollar, or worrying about a new car, or trying to keep up… with anyone or anything. Just a completely different approach to a life—they have a community, they are loved, they feel safe, and they do whatever work they can to get by. They live very close to the earth, growing their own vegetables—and life is just laid out for them.
All the Safari guests that chose to go on this tour found this peak into modern Zulu life and culture fascinating. It triggered lots of questions and discussions. I highly recommend this particular tour if you choose to go on one of our Eco-Safaris.