Armchair Adventures: Dancing in South Africa with Beautiful Zulus 

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Zulu dancers in South Africa

By Evelyn Kelly, PhD 

South Africa is one of the most interesting African countries for geology, beautiful land formations, and culture. We are in Durban, a cosmopolitan city on the east coast of Africa. This diverse city has beautiful unspoiled beaches, and we Floridians are at home in the pleasant sub-tropical land caressed by warm ocean currents. However, we are advised not to walk anywhere at night but to take a taxi for even a short block to the mall. 

Like all cities in South Africa, after apartheid was dismantled, men from the bush tribes flocked to town to find work, but little is available. South Africa is the richest country on the African continent, but dark clouds of unemployment, lack of education, and health issues are threatening. In each city, lines of men gather along the road waiting for buses or vans to take them to construction sites; most will be disappointed. However, we did not see a spirit of despair; people we speak to have pride about the “New South Africa.” 

The bus leads us to our next adventure: Zululand. Men dressed in loincloths and with calves covered with shaggy white wool surround us as we step onto the land of the Zulus. Holding tightly to their spears and shields, the men beckon us to meet a charming young woman who speaks flawless English. Her corona-like crimson hat indicates she is married. The men and women sing a haunting melody as they escort us along a rocky path through the village. The plaintive sound is familiar; we have attended many African-American churches in Central Florida.

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We move along to a large, thatched beehive hut and are not sure if the role we were playing is that of friend or foe. In the meeting hut, a tribal leader presides over the ceremonies. The dances of Zulu men and women require a high level of fitness that involves gyrations, clapping, and stamping. The rigorous performance is not unlike break dancing. Dances of the Zulu tribe transport us into a time when this tribe of strong, fierce warriors conquered surrounding tribes and fought both the Dutch and English. 

And then they calm the dance down and bid us to join them. The unmarried girls are topless. We join them shuffling in a circle but with shirts on, of course. 

We are brought back to reality with a large screen television that runs a video of Shaka-Zulu, the brilliant warrior who brought the nation together into a great military force. Many of us remember a popular television series “Shaka-Zulu,” set at the time of the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879. 

Zulus in the village live in traditional grass-thatched huts called beehives. The natives sleep on the floor. However our beehive hut was climate controlled with fine beds, toilets, running water, and all the comforts of home except television. We do hear goats wandering around at night and crowing roosters wake us up. 

Zulus are renowned weavers of baskets and mats made from palm fronds and other colored grasses. We buy a set of fertility dolls with charming tiny beads although we really don’t need the dolls for fertility. Our visit to Zululand captured the essence of Africa to us.  

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