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TThe cultural calendar in Zululand has particular ceremonies of interest to visitors who can attend these events as part of a guided tour.
If you visit the town of Eshowe in February you can witness a festival known as the 'first fruits ceremony', which was done by early Zulu kings. This particular event is held by the family of a sangoma (traditional healer) called Khekhekhe and involves snakes.
Khekhekhe (whose birth name was Zizwezonke Mthuthwa) was a great sangoma who died in 2014. He had 14 wives and over 100 children. The family still live in his homestead close to the Tugela River and they still host the annual first fruits ceremony on 23 February every year.
After the feast, several of Khekheke’s adult children handle the snakes, even putting the heads of the snakes in their mouths, and they tell the story of how Chief Dingiswayo (Shaka Zulu's mentor) gained power over snakes as a young man.
Visitors to Zululand in September can sign up to attend another Zulu festival of note. This is the Zulu reed dance that takes place in September at the royal palace of King Goodwill Zwelithini, where thousands of young Zulu women gather to celebrate the custom of retaining their virginity before marriage.
If you visit the town of Eshowe between 15 and 31 October, you can attend a gathering of the Shembe, a religious group who gather in the thousands at a town called Judea at this time of the year.
On Saturdays they hold traditional prayer dances and on Sundays they observe a day of prayer with an emphasis on traditional dress, dance, singing and the blowing of the Horns of Jericho.
If you visit Zululand outside of these particular times, you can organise to visit a Zulu homestead, attend a wedding, meet a sangoma or go to a coming-of-age ceremony with Zululand Eco-Adventures, an initiative specialising in real Zulu cultural experiences.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)35 474 2894
How to get here
Eshowe is an hour's drive from Ballito, just north of Durban.
Best time to visit
Winters (June to August) are pleasantly warm while summers can be hot and sticky.
Things to do
Eshowe is close to great game reserves like the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the coast.
If you want to be fully immersed in Zulu culture, you can sign up for a ‘Sangoma experience’ or go on a Zululand outback tour where you will sleep in villages and visit local projects.
For the less adventurous you can visit a local craft brewery, go on a safari or take a walk in the indigenous Dlinza Forest.
What to pack
Comfortable shoes, camera and a sun hat.
Where to stay
There's something for all pockets. Choose from the George Hotel, Sugar Hill Manor Guesthouse and Zululand Backpackers.
What to eat
Be sure to taste some traditional beer if you are offered some, or sample the craft beers at the Zululand Brewing Company.
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