African ancestors, or Zulu 'amadlozi', are African ancestral spirits, and you'll find them revered in the lush province of KwaZulu-Natal, the stronghold of the Zulu nation. Here, they guide and direct their descendants in a rustic life that hasn't changed much over the centuries, and you can get a taste of this spiritualism by visiting a sangoma or traditional healer.

Did you know?

The Zulus defeated the British at the Battle of Isandlhwana on 22 January 1879.

The AmaZulu, meaning 'people of heaven', are the largest ethnic group in South Africa and Zulu culture draws on a strong heritage of pre-Christian traditions and beliefs called ancestor worship or amatongo.

The spirits of the African ancestors are known as amadlozi and they play a very important role in the lives of their living descendants. An ongoing Zulu tradition is to make offerings and sacrifices to the amadlozi so the Zulu can secure a good life.

But it's not a matter of dialling a number and reaching the amadlozi. The ancestral spirits speak to believers through a sangoma, a designated diviner, who has to go through many years of training to qualify as a medium.

In Africa, ancestor worship is very popular and it is not only Zulus who consult their ancestors. At least 80 percent of South Africans visit a sangoma about three times a year, and you can too by visiting a Zulu cultural village.

Many of them are in southern Zululand between Eshowe and Empangeni in the KwaZulu-Natal province.

Kwabhekithunga Zulu Cultural Village and Shakaland, originally built as a set for the movie Shaka Zulu, are some of the open-air museums where visitors can experience traditional Zulu life.

Arts and crafts, including intricate beadwork, carvings and woven baskets make beautiful and unusual souvenirs while you can watch cultural demonstrations of stick-fighting and the throwing of short spears, which King Shaka, who united the Zulu nation, elevated to a fine art.

Traditional beer and food is also usually available.

Another popular Zulu tradition is the Royal Reed Dance held every September at Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini's palace. Only virgins are allowed to participate in the dance, known as uMkhosi woMhlanga.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Shakaland
Tel: +27 (0)35 460 0912

How to get here

The most impressive of these villages in KwaZulu-Natal is Shakaland. To get there take the N2 north from Durban and veer off at Dokodweni Toll Plaza onto the R66/Melmoth/Ulundi. 14km past Eshowe, turn off left to Shakaland, which is well signposted. Or take a three hour Zulu cultural tour from The George Hotel in Eshowe, also northwards on the N2. Take the N34 via Vryheid and Melmoth so you can also explore the Battlefields Route.

Best time to visit

KwaZulu-Natal is warm all year around, but spring is ideal.

Around the area

Northern KwaZulu Natal is also popular for its battlefields, where you can walk in the footsteps of famous military strategists like Shaka, Winston Churchill and General Louis Botha.

Get around

A tour guide will introduce you.

Length of stay

Cultural villages also offer traditional-style accommodation, so make a night or two of it.

What to pack

Walking shoes, sunblock and a hat.

Where to stay

Either at the cultural village or at a hotel, guesthouse or B&B.

What to eat

Try traditional Zulu fare, downed with traditional sorghum beer.

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