The dancing feet of a Zulu tribesman
The dancing feet of a Zulu tribesman

Native to South Africa, the Zulu tribe has many rituals that have been passed from generation to generation over time. Dancing is one of the most common types of community rituals, and it is incorporated into most Zulu ceremonies. Zulu dances are signs of happiness and they occur when any significant event takes place.

Historical Significance

Young Zulu female with painted face.
Young Zulu female with painted face.

According to Zulu Culture.com, thousands of Zulu virgins dance at the Enyokeni Zulu Royal Palace each September at the Reed Dance Festival, or Umkhosi Womhlanga. The tradition begins with the virgin maids gathering reeds from the river and bringing them to the Zulu king. The girls dance with the reeds in front of the king, and then he chooses his bride. Besides the bride choice, one of the main purposes of this ritual was to encourage girls to remain virgins until marriage.

Occasions

Women putting on accessories for tribal dance.
Women putting on accessories for tribal dance.

There are several types of Zulu dances that occur throughout the year and many occasions that call for a dance. Some examples of these significant time periods include weddings, childbirth and coming-of-age initiations. Other dancing occasions include inaugurations of Zulu kings and war victories.

Types of Zulu Dances

Tribe gathered to dance.
Tribe gathered to dance.

There are many types of Zulu dances besides the reed dance. The Ingoma dance is considered one of the most purist forms of Zulu dance, according to Zululand Ecoadventures. This dance is performed to a chant and during transition ceremonies, such as coming of age, weddings and pre-hunt or pre-battle time periods. The Ingoma is frantically danced and incorporates high kicking motions. The Indlamu dance is the traditional male warrior dance, and it shows off muscular strength and mock fighting. The Imvunulo dance only has one dancer and is done to show off traditional Zulu attire and place in society. Isicathamiya is a dance performed by a group of men or boys standing in a straight line to symbolize community life and issues. At weddings, both the Ingoma and Indalmu dances are done, along with Umbholoho dances. These types of dances feature both families of the newly married couple.

Music

Man playing African drum.
Man playing African drum.

Ingoma dances are done with the sounds of the dancers’ chants. In the Isishameni form of Ingoma, the boys and girls dance separately, and the opposite genders clap along for each other. The Indalamu dance is done with drums and whistles. The Isicathamiya and Umbholoho dances are danced to both drums and songs.

Clothing

Zulu men posing.
Zulu men posing.

Girls are bare-chested and wear wool skirts and ankle rattles during the Ingoma dances and reed dance. Boys and men typically only wear cowhides that cover their genitals and backsides during the Ingoma dance. Men wear full warrior attire, such as cowhides, head rings, ankle rattles, ceremonial belts and shields during the Indalamu dance. In the Imvunulo dance, women wear leather skirts and beaded aprons, while men wear amabeshu (cowhides). Only married women may wear red beads.