Zulu traditions are extremely important for the proud people of KwaZulu-Natal.
These are the 'people of the heavens', once a disparate group of clans and chieftainships melded into a mighty kingdom by Shaka in the early 19th century. Today they number 9,2 million people and their language is the most widely spoken in South Africa.
The Zulu hold their culture in high esteem, observing many of their old traditions, rituals and ceremonies. Zulu beliefs are based on the presence of ancestral spirits (amadlozi or abaphansi), which are essential in their day-to-day lives. These often appear in the form of dreams, illnesses and sometimes snakes.
Zulu beliefs deem birth, puberty, marriage and death as opportune times to communicate with the ancestors. And they can be called on for good luck, blessings, fortune, assistance or guidance. To beseech them they are given offerings and sacrifices, which can range from home-brewed beer to the slaughtering of animals.
Zulu traditions include a supreme creator, known as uMveliqangi (the one who came first) or uNkulunkulu (the very big one). This supreme being is not intricately involved in the lives of the people and has never been seen by anyone, which is why no ceremonies are ever performed for uMveliqangi.
Zulu culture includes the use of magic and many cases of illness or bad luck are considered to be caused by an evil spirit. A diviner will communicate with the spirits or use natural herbs and prayers to get ride of the problem.
Most Zulus today give their religion as Christian, with many belonging to the Zionist Christian and Apostolic churches. One of the most fascinating churches is the Nazareth Baptist Church founded by Isaiah Shembe, who many believe to be the Zulu messiah. Part of its popularity is based on the fact that it incorporates traditional customs within a Christian framework.