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The Zulu Women Of South Africa- Culture, Dressing, Heritage

The women in Zulu society often perform domestic chores such as cleaning, raising children, collect water and firewood, laundry, tend to crops, cooking, and making clothes. Women can be considered as the sole income-earner of the household. A woman’s stages of life lead up to the goal of marriage. As a woman approaches puberty, she is known as a tshitshi. A tshitshi, reveal their singleness by wearing less clothing. Single women typically do not wear clothing to cover their heads, chest, legs and shoulders. Engaged women wear hairnets to show their marital status to society and married women cover themselves in clothing and headdresses. Also, women are taught to defer to men and treat them with great respect. The women are always bound by a male figure to abide by.

Zulu people have a system called ilobolo. This term is particularly used by Zulu people when it comes to the bridewealth. Every African ethnic group has different requirements when it comes to the bridewealth. In pre-capitalist Zulu society, ilobolo was inextricably linked to the ownership of cattle. During that time, there was not a fixed amount of cattle required for the wedding to happen. It could be paid before the marriage or during the marriage. The groom will be taking the cattle from his father’s herd in order to perpetuate the family heritage. Nonetheless, this ritual has changed during colonization because in 1869, Theophilus Shepstone, then Natal Secretary for Affairs, formalized the ilobolo payment to 10 cattle for commoners (plus the ingquthu cow for the mother1), The payment of ilobolo can be sometimes difficult for some families but it is a symbol of pride and respect. Consequently, this is the reason some are willing to maintain it as long as possible.

The women dress differently depending on whether they are single, engaged, or married. The men wore a leather belt with two strips of hyde hanging down front and back.

In South Africa, the miniskirt has existed since pre-colonial times. In the African cultures, such as the Basotho, the Batswana, the Bapedi, the Amaswati and the AmaZulu, women wore traditional miniskirts as cultural attire. These skirts are not seen as shameless but used to cover the women’s genitals. The skirt is called isigcebhezana and is essential in Zulu ceremonies. For example, Umemulo is a ceremony for women who turn 21 years old of age. It represents a huge transition in the woman’s life because it is a symbol of her being ready to accept a boyfriend and even get married. Additionally, each stage of a Zulu’s life is determined by a specific type of clothing. For an unmarried woman, she wears the skirt and nothing on the top, but as she grows up, the woman starts to cover her body because a time will come in which she will be a married woman and old. Nonetheless, a special type of clothing is reserved for pregnant women. When a woman is pregnant she wears an ‘isibamba’, a thick belt made from dried grass, covered with glass or plastic beadwork, to support her swelling stomach and its additional weight.



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