The Zulus are an ancient culture who still thrive in the Southern parts of Africa. Their gift giving traditions center mostly around sacrificial gifts to ancestors and gifts exchanged during stages of life ceremonies.
Modern day Zulus are a blend of traditional and modern. Christian missionaries have converted many Zulus and though traditional practices have declined, they are still around.
One of the best ways in which we can glimpse traditional Zulu culture is through their beadwork. Beadwork is the most common gift given and this craft is an ancient one that has been passed down from mothers to their children. The colors and even shapes of beads symbolize different emotions so it's common for a Zulu female to gift her boyfriend/husband beadwork that contains messages based on the beads she uses. Here are some meanings behind the bead colors:
Black: Mourning, loneliness & disappointment
Green: Lovesickness or jealousy
Red: Tears and desire
Striped beads: Doubt
Go to Gifts: Beadwork, livestock and barley beer are the most common gifts given.
Gifts to Ancestors: Gifting to ancestors is one of the most common ways that the Zulus traditionally gifted. Usually these gifts were beer, meat and sacrificial animals. The belief behind this form of gift giving is that their god couldn't be bothered by day to day life and problems so the ancestors served as the middle man. It was the ancestors who controlled most weather patterns and happenings in the Zulus daily life so it was the ancestors who had to be appeased.
Socially Conscious Gifting: A new trend that is spreading across our planet is socially conscious gifting. A socially conscious gift is one that is fair trade and benefits a member of society. The most common example of socially conscious gifting is traditional gifts that are made by people in poorer countries and then sold to wealthier countries for fair prices. This type of gifting helps members of society acquire wealth when they otherwise may not have many opportunities.
Today, many Zulu women are making a living for themselves by selling their beadwork in wealthier countries such as the states. Organizations work as the middle man, enabling the beadwork to make it to other countries while paying the crafters more for their art than they could get in their own country. One such organization, Thanda Zulu, even gives the proceeds to support an afterschool program in South Africa. Now that's a gift that keeps on giving!
Gift Giving Occasions: Birth, puberty and marriage are the most significant events in the Zulu culture and also the biggest gift giving occasions.
Gifts to ancestors in the form of sacrificial animals are one the most common ways that the Zulu people traditionally partake in gift giving.
* Birthday: Some Zulus celebrate their birthdays but traditionally this was not the case. The focus was on coming of age events instead of birthdays.
*Umhlonyane: Female coming of age ceremony and traditionally involved a week of seclusion with her mother and the slaughtering of a goat as a sacrificial gift. Modernly, a girls first menstruation is still a big event and she is still celebrated and given gifts.
*Dowry: Called lobola. This dowry was traditionally in the form of livestock and modernly still can be livestock but is also sometimes cash.
* Pre Wedding Ceremony: Zulu weddings start with a ceremony rich with gift giving before the actual wedding ceremony. The bride and her family arrive at the groom's house with a box full of her personal items'the box actually represents a coffin because she is transitioning in to her new family and no longer part of the family she was born in to.
The bride walks around her grooms property with her bridal party while an elder chants and asks the grooms ancestors to accept her. At the conclusion of the ceremony the bride gives the groom's parents handmade mats and blankets.
*Weddings: With the enormous influence of Christian missionaries, the actual Zulu wedding ceremonies are a blend of old and new. Often when Zulu couples are now married, they will have two ceremonies: A traditional ceremony and a Christian wedding which they call the “white wedding” because the bride changes from traditional Zulu attire in to a white dress.
During the traditional ceremony the bride and groom will wear attire made of beads and cow hide and the ceremony occurs at the groom's home. The bride sticks a knife in the ground to conclude the ceremony and seal the marriage.
Common gifts are usually livestock which can be quite expensive. Jewelry and things for the home may also be given to the couple.
*Shaka Zulu: Sept. 24 every year and is a cultural heritage day. Traditionally, a cow is slaughtered as a sacrificial gift to the ancestral founders of the Zulu kingdom.
*Christmas: Christmas was not a traditional part of the Zulu culture but now is celebrated by most. Even the Zulus that have not converted to Christianity often recognize Christmas out of fun. A gift exchange occurs and is a smaller scale version of our Christmas gift exchange in the states.
*Enjoy this article? Click here to learn about gift giving in other parts of the world.