Zulu Homestead Visit (exploring) Route Details

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A visit to a local Zulu homestead, via a long drive across the private game reserve and a raft crossing of the Buffalo river

Hazards and warnings

Crossing the river when in flood

Detailed description

A visit organised by Isibindi Lodge to a nearby Zulu Homestead.

Part of a trip organised by SunSafaris.


Following a long and bumpy drive across the game reserve, with sightings of giraffe, wildebeest and zebra, we arrived at the Buffalo river. After inflating the raft it was time to carefully cross the river. The thought of lurking crocodiles concentrates the mind wonderfully.

After crossing we walked up to the Zulu homestead which was home to the sangoma (witch doctor), and her extended family. The lodge occassionally bring guests to the homestead, which provides a unique experience to the visitor, and some much needed income to the residents. When we arrived, we went through the customary pleasantaries, before being invited into the homestead.

We walked around the outside parts of the homestead first. The sangoma showed us the kraal where livestock was kept, and the various huts in the homestead. Each hut was occupied by a different group within the extended family. The children slept in a hut with a shrine to the ancestors, with other huts for different parts of the family. Each hut was immaculately kept, and felt very homely and well organised. The smell of wood smoke was ever present, but as smoke helped discourage insects from the inside of the hut and thatch, it seemed a worthwhile compromise. Finally we entered the hut where the sangoma prepared her muti, i.e traditional medicine. There was a wide variety of containers holding ingredients for different medicines. Medicines for just about every possible problem were available, but stomach pains did seem to be an important part of her product lineup, prehaps due to the traditional diet of mostly maize.

As well as the muti in the hut, traditional ideas and medicine were everywhere. As well as various items placed at the entrances to deter intruders with bad intent, the precautions against lightning were everywhere. These ranged from symbols daubed on the sides of the huts, to the various bottles and charms dotted around the homestead to ward off the dreaded lightning. When we visited the sky was darkening, and the air had the feeling of rain upon it, and the reasons why you'd be scared of lightning were all too obvious. Zulu people, quite understandable, living in such a thunderstorm prone area, are deeply scared of lightning and do all they can to ward it off. Anybody who discounts this as silly superstition should stay outside in a thunderstorm and think what they'd do, if they didn't have a modern knowledge of weather.

I was deeply impressed with their ability to fix and adapt various items they had come across. A chopped up section of tyre made a feeding bowl for the dogs. A maize grinder probably made in victorian times, had been repaired many times, but still provided the village with ground maize. Various bits of old corrugated iron and chicken wire had been fashioned in to a chicken house capable of keeping raiding animals out. A metal pole was used to hold a metal kettle containcharm against lightning (and would probably make a pretty decent lightning conductor should the charm fail!).

Although it sounds quite vouyeristic seeing inside people's homes, it didn't feel that way, as the Zulu are a proud people, and happy to show you around. The Zulu people are deeply proud of their culture, history, beliefs, and ability to live of a difficult environment far from what we call 'civilisation'. I'm not sure what they thought of us, but appearently, as a person's worth is determined by how many cattle you own, we were poor by their standards. To my mind that's no less valid with our own obession over which car you drive or home much your house is worth.

Although superfically not much had changed since the days prior to the arrival of Europeans, the modern world had influences both good and bad on life in the homestead. Some people from the homestead had visited and worked in the big cities. The sangoma's husband had gone to Jo'burg to work, and been murdered. On some of the huts were scrawled various mobile phone numbers of relatives who were working elsewhere, as the sangoma had recently become the owner of a mobile phone. Even traditional healers have to move with the times. How long before she sets up a ecommerce site?




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