Today we will see all aspects of Zulu Mythology. Learn about their traditions, myths and legends surrounding this exciting culture.
Zulu mythology comes from South Africa and is characterized by a wide variety of divinities. However, there are few gods that stand out among its most famous myths and legends. These deities have the peculiarity of being associated with animals or natural phenomena, with physiognomies or very strange events in their environment.
Politics played a very important role in their mythology, due to the great territorial wars they had in their origins.
History of Zulu mythology
Since politics had a great influence in Zulu mythology, it is essential to know the history of the Zulu empire; and thus to know the origin of their myths and legends.
The Zulu empire was very famous for holding back European conquest attempts, causing fear in its surroundings. Its leader called “Shaka” and his warriors are the protagonists of the many legends that this mythology presents.
Dutch settlers discovered the beautiful lands of Zulu, located in what is now known as eastern South Africa; they called it Zululand. Today that area is called Kwazulu-Natal.
The settlers, believing they had found the promised land, tried to take possession of these lands, but they did not count on Shaka and his warriors.
The Zulu troops commanded by Shaka were well known in history for their incredible ability to repel the European advance.
A territorial struggle began and Shaka was an essential part of thesocioeconomic structure of Zulu history; he completely restructured the traditions and promoted combat and military careers among the Zulu people.
Although the history of Zulu mythology, its beginnings and heroes is difficult to get right due to the lack of records; there is no doubt that it is of great admiration to the world for the resistance they presented.
These facts can make them be seen by the world, either as liberators or as barbarians. He became a legend throughout South Africa and his stories are widely used for political purposes.
Beliefs of Zulu mythology
The Zulu ancestors made a call known as “Amadlozi”; it was a religious call that they believed human beings could make to request help from their ancestors from the spiritual world. A very traditional belief in Zulu mythology was that human beings were composed of three parts:
- The physical body: they called it yomzimba inyama or also umzimba.
- The breath: they defined it as the vital force of each human being; they called it womphefumulo UMOYA or simply UMOYA.
- The shadow: they called it isithunzi, they associated it to the personality of each person or the prestige they had in life.
In Zulu mythology it was believed that when people died, their vital force left their physical body; in order to continue living as an “idlozi”. This is what they called the ancestral spirits. However, to achieve this elevation of the vital force, each human being had to fulfill two conditions in life; to have been respectful and generous.
If they had been negative and did not fulfill these conditions, their vital force would have diminished a lot; even to the point of disappearing completely. In the Zulu people there is a great diversity of languages; they believe that it is due to a legend that narrates how in the beginning the sun and the moon could not be seen due to a very thick fog that covered all their lands.
There were also no winds or words, so people communicated through their minds. Until one day, the god Chattily descended to earth. He appeared as tongues of fire and gave them the ability to speak.
But each tribe adopted its own language, and the difference of ideas among them caused the division of the Zulu people. These differences led to wars among their community, which have lasted even to the present day.
Gods of Zulu mythology
Within Zulu mythology, his name means “ancestor” or also “the greatest of the great”. In some legends he has been given the name “u Thixo”. He is considered as the supreme divinity of the Zulu, defender and protector of the warriors and could dispose over life and death.
It is believed that he came out of the zone of the reeds and brought with him human beings and cattle. He created the land and the seas; he taught them to hunt, cultivate and make fire. He was the first man and is considered the father of all Zulus.
When the Christian missionaries arrived, Unkulunkulu became the supreme being, because for them his name meant “God”. They also gave him other names such as uMdali, which means “creator”; and uMvelinqandi which means “before all”.
He is considered the father of heaven and was also called “Mvelinqangi”. He manifested himself through earthquakes and thunder. It is said that he descended from the sky to the great swamp Uthlanga, also called Uhlanga; and he was the creator of the main reeds from which Unkulunkulu emerged.
He was also called Hili or Tokoloshe, and represents a very dwarf aquatic goblin. He is described as an evil spirit who was very mischievous and had the ability to be invisible when drinking water. Evil people invoked them to cause trouble to others; their power ranged from just scaring children to causing serious harm such as disease or even death.
These spirits could be expelled from the area with a sorcerer who was called “n’anga”.
Myths and legends of Zulu mythology
Umvelinqangi brought from the reeds all existence, humans, animals, grains and fruits. However, men had nothing to eat or drink; the crops were prosperous but became useless to them.
One day, one of the village women fell ill, they did not know what to do. It occurred to them to feed the woman from all the crops they saw growing, and when they saw her recovery, everyone else began to eat the crops and the meat of some animals.
Origin of death
Umvelinqangi sent a message to the human beings through a chameleon, telling them that after death they could be reborn. But the chameleon was very slow in its journey and stopped in some bushes to feed, so Umvelinqangi decided to send now a lizard; but this one would carry a second message, “now death will be the end and they will not be reborn”.
As the lizard arrived before the chameleon, the humans, not knowing that it was death, accepted the message without any opposition. Then when the chameleon finally arrived, they could no longer hear his message.
Legend of Unkulunkulu
In the mythical swamp of Uhlanga, there were the reeds where mankind was born. According to the legend, Unkulunkulu grew in those reeds and remained so for a long time until one day he fell to the ground under his own weight. In some versions of the Zulu, it is believed that it was he who sent the messages to mankind about death described in the legend of the origin of death.
However, he is considered to be a kind god and granted the Zulus marriage, so that the great warriors could have children. He also endowed them with medicines for their illnesses and taught them how to make fire.
Legend of the Tokoloshe
The Tokoloshe was created by the South African shamans, to send to all those who have offended them. But they can be wandering around, causing problems mainly to children; they describe him with his eyes gouged out and with an appearance similar to a gremlin.
However, Zulu shaman Credo Mutwa, says the Tokoloshe can take many forms; where it can also be seen as a humanoid that has the appearance of a bear.
In other South African tribes he is described as a hairy beast, which was created by a magician to use against his enemies. It is also known to rape women and even eat the toes of sleeping people.
Legend has it that the only way to keep the Tokoloshe away is to place a brick under each leg of the bed; although this action would only protect the one who sleeps, leaving the rest of the inhabitants of the house unprotected.
Curiosities of Zulu mythology
- Gender of the god Unkulunkulu: In many occasions the Christian missionaries, in their biblical translations made in the South of Africa show the god Unkulunkulu belonging to the masculine gender; but it is worth mentioning that in reality he is a deity that has no gender.
- Confusion between deities: it is a very common confusion that the god Unkulunkulu is believed to be the god Umvelinqangi; therefore, it is necessary to clarify that Umvelinqangi is the god who was at the beginning, who manifests himself through thunder and creator of the reed from which the god Unkulunkulu came out.
Zulu mythology is full of myths and legends that enclose the mystical history of its creation through an all-powerful god. It was well known for being a warrior people, the historical reviews of their people and their political and socio-economic influence in the area of South Africa influenced their mythology in an essential way.
Despite containing numerous deities, all their myths are based on their creator god who gives life and death. And they are strongly associated with animals and/or important natural events.