Southern Limits: The Country of Community

South Africa is one of the few countries people can usually name when they talk about Africa. However, no one really knows much about South Africa, so I decided I would see what this country has to offer. The first thing I realized is that two thirds of the topography of South Africa is a plateau and holds many developed cities, including their capital, Johannesburg. These areas are populated by many different groups, from British colonists to the ethnic group, Zulu. The diversity in this country leads to the citizens to know many different languages. In fact, the diversity in South Africa has led to eleven official languages. The most popular language is Africaans for everyday conversation, but English is used for commerce, education, law, government, formal communication, and the media. Along with the diversity came many different views and cultures in one area. Many different cultures have rights of passage and other notable ways to celebrate.

A South African dinner with the community

In South Africa, slaughtering of livestock and the brewing of traditional cereal bond is common. This is to ensure the goodwill of the ancestors who are considered the guardians of good fortune, prosperity, and well-being. They are adjusted for whichever community is celebrating. These celebrations are not once a year though, as they value community, so in South Africa these celebrations take place every weekend to strengthen bonds (party every weekend? Hmm, sound familiar). People usually bring dishes to these celebrations to represent that family’s contribution to the community. When seeing each other at a party, a typical greeting is to shake one’s hand and smile, but since some women prefer to not shake hands, most wait for the women to extend her hand. If a man knows a woman very well though, they kiss them on the cheek in place of a handshake (This originates from the French colonies that used to control parts of South Africa). One of the strongest communities in South Africa are known as the Zulus.

Zulu Men

The Zulus are sub-Saharan Bantu people. While they started in the 18th century, they still hold their traditions (Trust me, this is where it gets good). The first thing people will notice is the clothing. Men wear the amaShoba are cow tails worn on the upper arms and below the knees to give the appearance of greater bulk (I have to get these). They also wear the IsiNene and iBeshu, which are aprons that cover the genitals and the rears. They get longer as the men get older. Finally, men wear headbands as a sign of marriage. Meanwhile, women wear a short grass skirt embellished with beads. They also wear a hat that is made from grass and cotton and is sewn into the hair. When a woman gets married, she covers her entire body to show she is taken. She wears a cowhide skirt with a white, red, or black cloth on top. She covers her breasts with beads that have a message that only her husband understands. This is only the beginning of the Zulu culture though.

The Zulu people are known for many things. They construct many intricate baskets and beads and they have many unique foods such as amazi (they also brew a lot of beer, which is typically the women’s job to make). However, they are probably known best for their dancing and their value of family. The Zulu have many different dances for different occasions. Some of these dances include the Dance of the Small Shield (which is used to be for military unity but is now for royal occasions), the Hunting Dance, and even the umBhezuko (which is used to imitate the tides). Finally, the Zulu, like other South Africans, also value community. Their traditions are very different for community.

The Zulu find family as a very important part of society. When a child is born, they are given a pet name, which will be changed when they are seven, and again when they reach adulthood. This can be a typical name, but it can also be a name that are related to an event that happened close to their birth. The raising of men and women diverge as they grow older. Men are taught how to fight with a stick and shield, getting their first spear at the age of fifteen. Meanwhile girls are taught how to maintain a household and farm. She is given her first hoe at the age of eleven. From here, everyone follow the chief’s example and do their part to beneficial from society. Zulu have many more different traditions such as polygamy, lobola, and more.

One of the many celebrations that South Africa holds . This is Dinagyang, which takes place on their Independence Day.

This just shows the rich culture of South Africa.

South Africa is a place full of diversity. In the city, it is similar to here in an American city, but with a bigger emphasis on community. However, in the country, people hold the traditional values. Zulu is not the only tribe, there are many other cultures that I could not possibly speak of without making this blog more than a hundred pages long. Overall, South Africa is rich with variety and is a worthwhile destination.

One thought on “Southern Limits: The Country of Community

  1. I’ve never thought much about South Africa other than learning about apartheid, so reading this post was incredibly interesting. Having a diverse enough group of cultures combined into one country that there are eleven different official languages is incredibly, and just goes to hint at how many traditions the country has! Having weekly neighborhood parties seems like a great way to create a sense of community. Growing up, we might have one or two parties with our neighbors in the summer and I felt like I knew them pretty well, so changing that to weekly would definitely create close bonds. Zulu culture is also fascinating! I think I’ve heard of this tribe before, but never in so much depth. Honestly, it blows my mind that there are so many groups of people raised in traditions that seem completely unorthodox to me. I never had many traditions growing up and cultures like these are just so different. Traveling to South Africa and getting to witness any of the events you mentioned definitely seems worthwhile.

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