The Zulu are a people of southeast Africa who comprise the largest ethnic group of the country of South Africa. With a population of nearly 11 million, the Zulu are found most predominantly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, and have played a large part in South African history. They are a member of the Bantu peoples of Africa that share a common history and family of languages, and the smaller group of Nguni pastoralist peoples that have occupied southern Africa for over 2000 years. The Zulu are also prominent in Zimbabwe and Mozambique and gave Africa one of its most influential figures in Shaka Zulu.
Speaking a language known as isiZulu, the Zulu have been a major clan in the area that is now South Africa for centuries, since at least the 800s. As a non-industrialized society, the Zulu rely on farming and agriculture for their economy and their food. They adhere to traditional forms of clothing, often scant and revealing, that feature many beads, which are important to the Zulu culture. They also follow traditional forms of healing and many family customs remain from the 9th century.
Like many primitive African religions, many Zulu today maintain the teachings of ancient Zulu religionists. They believe in the existence of a God, and that the misfortunes of people are due to evil spirits, omens, and actions. Many Zulus have accepted other religions, most notably Christianity, though traditionalism remains the most popular. The Zulu people, with their emergence as a major African empire in the 19th century, also brought with them a distinct style of music, featuring dominant harmonies known as isigubudu. Their music has permeated Western sounds and has found a niche among American and British pop performers since the 1970s.
Zulus emerged as a major South African power in 1816 with the beginnings of the Zulu Empire under the leader Shaka Zulu. Shaka united a mixed group of Zulu tribes into a powerful, unified Zulu confederacy. With an empire of near 250,000 people and an army of around 50,000, Shaka gained his first military victory at Gqokli Hill early in his rule, and continued to gain power until he was assassinated in 1828. Fifty years after Shaka’s death, the Zulu people would be defeated by the British in battle at Ulundi, and absorbed into the Cape Colony, thus ending their decades of power and independence. Under the legal segregation of apartheid, the Zulu would have created for them a Zulu homeland called KwaZulu, where they remained until the first free national elections in 1994. Since 1994, the Zulu people have seen many important members of their population prominent in South African politics.