In September and October KwaZulu-Natal is host to three significant Zulu festivals that until recently were only attended by the actual participants, though it’s now possible to witness these with the Eshowe-based Zululand Eco-Adventures. If you’re not around in September or October, Zululand Eco-Adventures can arrange for you to attend several lower-key Zulu ceremonies that give an authentic, non-touristy insight into various aspects of Zulu life. These range from sangoma healing ceremonies (Wed & Sun), Zulu weddings (Sat & Sun), coming-of-age ceremonies (Sat & Sun) and a visit to a Zulu gospel church (Sun).

The Royal Reed Dance

In the second week of September, the Zulu King hosts a four-day celebration at his royal residence at Nongoma. The event is both a rite of passage to womanhood for the young maidens of the Zulu nation, and a chance for them to show off their singing and dancing talents. The festival, known as Umkhosi woMhlanga in Zulu, takes its name from the riverbed reeds that play a significant role in Zulu life. Young women carry the reed sticks, which symbolize the power of nature, to the king. According to Zulu mythology, only virgins should take part, and if a woman participant is not a virgin, this will be revealed by her reed stick breaking. A second Reed Dance takes place in the last week of September at the king’s other residence in Ingwavuma.

King Shaka Day

In honour of King Shaka, a celebration is held yearly on September 24 in KwaDukuza, Shaka’s original homestead and the place where he was murdered in 1828 by his brothers Dingane and Mhlangana. It was Shaka who brought together smaller tribes and formed them into the greatest warrior nation in Southern Africa. Today, the celebration is attended by a who’s who of South African Zulu society; there are speeches by the likes of Inkatha Freedom Party leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, along with music and fantastic displays of warrior dancing, the men decked out in full ceremonial gear and armed with traditional weapons.

Shembe Festival

Held in mid- to late October in Judea, near Eshowe, the Shembe Festival is the culmination of weeks of endless rituals, dancing and prayers held throughout KwaZulu-Natal. Some thirty thousand members of the Shembe Church return here every year to meet their leader and celebrate their religion with prayer dances and displays of drumming.

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