Among the Zulu people music is highly regarded, enabling the communication of emotions and situations that cannot be explained verbally.
Zulu music incorporates rhythm, melody and harmony. The latter is usually dominant and is known as isigubudu (converging horns on a beast, with tips touching the animal); a ‘spiralling inward’ that reflects inner feelings.
Held in August or September of every year at the Enyokeni Royal Palace in Nongoma, the umhlanga is a traditional Zulu ceremony for unmarried and childless girls and women. Girls are expected to undergo a virginity test during the eight-day ceremony, aimed at encouraging them to delay sexual activity until marriage.
As part of this event, the young women dance for the King while carrying a long reed, which is deposited as they approach him. The girls pick only the longest and strongest reeds, carrying them up the hill to the palace in a procession led by the chief Zulu princess. If a reed breaks, this is considered a sign that the girl has been sexually active.
Zulu mythology contains numerous deities, all of which are associated with animals or general classes of natural phenomena.
Unkulunkulu is the highest god; the creator of humanity. He was created in Umhlanga, a huge swamp of reeds, before he came to earth, and is also called the Sky Father, Umvelinqangi, or ‘He who was in the very beginning’.
Other deities include Mamlambo, goddess of rivers, and Nokhubulwane, is the goddess of the rainbow, agriculture, rain and beer (which she invented).
Uhlakanyana is an evil, dwarf-like being; Intulo is a lizard. Unwabu was a chameleon sent to humanity to grant it immortality, but he was too slow – which is why human beings are mortal and the chameleon changes from green to brown as a sign of regret.