Dark Origins: African myths and legends, The Zulus – Part 1

The Zulu are the largest ethnic group in South Africa, with a population of between 10 and 12 million people living mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The Zulu tribe originated from the Ngunis who inhabited central and eastern Africa. They migrated to Southern Africa as part of the ‘Bantu Migration’ which occurred centuries ago.

One of the most famous Zulu chief was Shaka (1816 to 1828) who founded the Zulu empire. He is credited with uniting more than one hundred independent Nguni chiefdoms into a formidable fighting force. Shaka armed his warriors with short-handled stabbing spears for close-contact fighting and trained them to move up to their opponents in close formation with the body-length cowhide shields forming an almost impenetrable barrier to long-handled assegai thrown by enemy forces.

This is the theme song from the Shaka Zulu TV show called We are Growing:

The first interesting Zulu cultural belief I want to share is about the Buffalo Thorn tree.

Like many other cultures, the Zulu people believe that a person’s life continues in the spirit world after death. Every person who dies within the Zulu tribe must be buried traditionally or the deceased may become a wandering spirit. An animal is slaughtered as a ritual and the deceased person’s personal belongings are buried with them to help them on their next journey.

Ancestors, known as amadlozi and abaphansi, are believed to live in the spirit world, unKulunkulu, and are regarded as intermediaries between the spirit world and the world of the living. Ancestors make their presence known through dreams, sickness, and snakes. At opportune times like birth, puberty, marriage, and death, the ancestors are asked for blessings, good luck, fortune, guidance and other assistance. Sacrifices of animals are made to appease the ancestors and offerings of home-made beer and other things are given as offerings.

The buffalo thorn blooms in southern Africa from October to Zulu. It is a deciduous tree and sheds its silvery-grey leaves annually. It is unusual in that its thorns grow in pairs with one thorn being straight and the other hooked. This makes this tree an effective perimeter barrier.

In Zulu culture, a twig from the Buffalo Thorn is used to collect the spirit of a deceased person from their place of death, and taken to their final resting place. If the transporter of the spirit travels, the branch will have its own seat in the vehicle.

This is a branch of a Buffalo Thorn. You can clearly see the two types of thorns from each node.

In a traditional Zulu kraal, the beehive hut on the highest point, furthest from the entrance, is occupied by the chief’s mother and is also home to the family’s ancestors. Modern Zulu settlements all have a beehive shaped traditional spirit hut.

This is a random picture of a Zulu home near Fugitive’s Drift Guest Farm. You can see the ancestor hut at the back with the conical thatched roof

It is also common for the Zulu people to plant a Buffalo Thorn tree at the site of a graveyard or mass burial site.

This Buffalo Thorn tree was planted at the burial site of the warriors who fell during the Battle of Isandlwana. You can read my post about this battle here: https://robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com/2021/01/22/thursdaydoors-isandlwana/
This Buffalo Thorn tree was planted as the site of the warriors who fell at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. You can read my post about this battle here: https://robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com/2021/01/30/thursdaydoors-the-battle-of-rorkes-drift/

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Roberta Eaton Cheadle is a South African writer and poet specialising in historical, paranormal, and horror novels and short stories. She is an avid reader in these genres and her writing has been influenced by famous authors including Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, Amor Towles, Stephen Crane, Enrich Maria Remarque, George Orwell, Stephen King, and Colleen McCullough.

Roberta has short stories and poems in several anthologies and has 2 published novels, Through the Nethergate, a historical supernatural fantasy, and A Ghost and His Gold, a historical paranormal novel set in South Africa.

Roberta has 9 children’s books published under the name Robbie Cheadle.

Roberta was educated at the University of South Africa where she achieved a Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1996 and a Honours Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1997. She was admitted as a member of The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2000.

Roberta has worked in corporate finance from 2001 until the present date and has written 7 publications relating to investing in Africa. She has won several awards over her 20-year career in the category of Transactional Support Services.

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5


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40 Comments on “Dark Origins: African myths and legends, The Zulus – Part 1”

  1. BERNADETTE says:

    Such an interesting article. Thank you Robbie

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on and commented:

    I am over at Writing to be Read with April’s Dark Origins – African myths and legends post. This month, I am featuring the Zulu people and the famous Zulu king, Shaka. Thanks for hosting, Kaye Lynne Booth.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The information about the Buffalo Thorn is fascinating. Those are some big thorns!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The Buffalo Thorn tree is vicious looking! It must be difficult to work with without getting injured. Very interesting article, Robbie.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Darlene says:

    Fascinating, thanks Robbie.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks for sharing this information about the Zulus and their traditions, Robbie. I enjoyed learning about the Buffalo Thorn Tree and its importance in their funeral rituals. I do like how the world of nature plays a role in connecting the living with those passed.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Chris Hall says:

    Fascinating, Robbie!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Mae Clair says:

    As always, a very intriguing post, Robbie. I especially loved learning about the Buffalo Thorn tree.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. memadtwo says:

    I can see why this tree would be considered magic. It’s not a bad idea to honor spirit and ancestors either. (K)

    Liked by 2 people

  10. JT Twissel says:

    It’s sweet how much their culture involves rituals for their ancestors. I have trouble getting my children interested in even knowing theirs.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Carla says:

    Another great post Robbie. Is this television show one supported by the Zulu people. Is it for people to learn about their history. The song and video were wonderful.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Dan Antion says:

    Reblogged this on No Facilities and commented:
    These people have such a rich culture. Thanks for making us aware of it.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Zulu warriors are known for their fierceness, it’s interesting to read about their spirituality, as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. They have lived, and appear to continue to live their lives with such intensity. I can tell you this much, one would have to be more than somewhat crazy to mess with the Buffalo Thorn bush or anything that it protects! Thank you another provocative history lesson, Robbie. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I enjoyed your artcle about the Zulu people. The part about their spiritual beliefs and how they respect their ancestors is amazing! That thorǹ bush is scary. Thanks Robbie

    Liked by 2 people

  16. […] Last month for Dark Origins, African Myths and Legends, I shared an introduction to the Zulu people of South Africa, the Great Zulu King Shaka and the legend of the Buffalo Thorn tree. If you missed it, you can read it here: https://writingtoberead.com/2022/04/27/dark-origins-african-myths-and-legends-the-zulus-part-1/ […]

    Liked by 1 person

  17. […] Last month for Dark Origins, African Myths and Legends, I shared an introduction to the Zulu people of South Africa, the Great Zulu King Shaka and the legend of the Buffalo Thorn tree. If you missed it, you can read it here: https://writingtoberead.com/2022/04/27/dark-origins-african-myths-and-legends-the-zulus-part-1/ […]

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Excellent history

    Liked by 2 people

  19. olganm says:

    What a fascinating post! Many thanks, Robbie!

    Liked by 2 people

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