South Africa – Land of the Zulus

This morning we woke up in Richards Bay, South Africa. Were we half-way through our cruise already? How the time flies. The Voyager would be staying here today and tomorrow, as we were not scheduled to sail until 10.30pm tomorrow night.

After breakfast we went along to the Darwin Lounge to wait to be called for our excursion. Today we were due to spent the whole day exploring the land of the Zulu warriors, so we were really looking forward to it, as we haven’t been to South Africa before.

Once we disembarked the Voyager we looked around at our surroundings with interest. The ship was docked next to a marina and we could see a small sandy beach across the bay. Several local craft vendors had set up their stalls opposite the ship, ready to attract the passengers coming down the gangplank into buying their wares.

We boarded the bus and set off. The landscape was very diverse; we saw fields of sugarcane and other crops, with herds of cattle, lush grassland and mountains in the distance. Once again, we noticed that they drive on the left the same as in Britain.

We enjoyed the passing scenery until, after about an hour and a quarter, we arrived at Shakaland, the traditional village named after the famous Zulu King Shaka (Shaka kaSenzangakhona). This consists of a resort and complex in which visitors can stay in huts similar to those used by Zulus; there was also a large, open-air dining room and a bar. The complex was situated amid tropical trees and plants overlooking a reservoir and was very picturesque. We were greeted by some men dressed in the traditional Zulu warrior constume, consisting of animal skin loin coverings and lower-leg covers, as well as various amulets tied about the upper arms.

In the bar area we were giving a cold glass of guava juice, and we decided to purchase a bottle of the local “Castle” beer each at 18 rand a bottle; about a pound. The beer went down very well in the heat.   🙂

Once we’d had our drinks our Zulu guide introduced himself and we went outside where he took us around the site, explaining to us the Zulu culture and the fact that the men are allowed to have several wives. In the village each kraal (homestead) consisted of the man’s hut with his various wives’ smaller huts in a circle, with the closest huts belonging to the more ‘senior’ wives. There was a scale model of a typical Zulu village constructed to show us how the village would look.

In the various huts we could see some of the traditional crafts such as beadwork, wood carvings and shields and drums make of stretched cow skins as well as the short-handled but fearsome Zulu spears, with long, wicked-looking blades. At one point we were invited to pick up a stone or pebble from the dirt and throw it onto a nearby cairn of stones; if your pebble stayed put it was a good sign, but if your pebble rolled back to the bottom, it meant that the same would happen to you – you’d end up at the bottom. Luckily mine stayed where I threw it.  🙂

Our next stop was to sit in a circle, ladies on the left and men on the right, where a calabash was filled with Zulu ‘beer’ and passed around for us to have a taste. It wasn’t really beer as such, it was a partially-fermented liquor and was not particularly pleasant.

We then went into a small, darkened hut with seats around the perimeter to watch a short film about Shaka, and how he rose from insignificance (indeed he was bullied as a boy) up through the ranks to be a mighty Zulu general, and finally king of his people. In fact, we learned that the film Shaka Zulu had been filmed here in Shakaland; I think I will have to get the DVD as this trip has whet my appetite so far and it was so interesting and fascinating.

Next we were taken along to the Medicine Man’s hut where we learnt about the various plants and herbs from which traditional cures were made. The medicine man’s hut contained an elephant skull as well as other bones and snake-skins adorning the pillars. It was cool and dark in the hut.

Emerging into the sunshine it was time for us to go and see the highlight of this trip; a display of authentic Zulu dancing and singing. We made our way to the Chief’s hut which was very large and contained a couple of rows of terraced seats around the perimeter. The Chief sat in a large high-backed chair, or throne, with his colourfully-dressed maidens on either side of him, and at his feet.

I managed to get the prime viewing seat with an unimpeded view of the area where the dancing and singing would commence. There were no pillars in the way and any photos I took wouldn’t show other people in the background doing the same thing. Often the trouble with being part of a group of tourists is that your photos would contain pictures of other people taking photos; thank goodness for image-editing software.  🙂

We had about 15 minutes to wait for the show to start and, during that time, the Chief’s hut filled up rapidly. Our guide asked us to move to the seats at the back to leave room for the latecomers to sit at the front! No way, José. If I’ve made the effort to be here on time then I get the prime seat, and I’m certainly not going to move for people who’ve arrived late.

The show began with a tremendous beating of drums and the Zulu warriors jumping into the middle with a fierce cry. The first few minutes of the show were spoilt by inconsiderate people arriving late and walking across in front of us to look for a seat. Personally I don’t think anyone should have been allowed into the hut once the show had started.

Nevertheless the dancing and rhythmic drumming and chanting was fantastic. There were dancers of all ages, including some little boys of about eight or nine years of age. There were also ladies dancing, kicking up the dust with the fast rhythm of their feet; they wore anklets made of shells so that these created percussion of their own in time with the dancing.

We were also treated to some African singing, and this really was a treat. Accompanied only by drums the singers’ voices soared in perfect harmony and the effect was truly hypnotic – it was simply beautiful.

The dancing and singing display lasted for half an hour and was absolutely brilliant; well worth coming to see. Everyone left the Chief’s hut on a high, and we had the chance to look at some local handicraft stalls before making our way to the large open-air dining room for our lunch.

Lunch consisted of a selection of salads, and typical African cuisine such as lamb stew and a type of bean casserole, as well as fish and an array of fresh vegetable, including sweet potato. We were also given a couple of complimentary bottles of beer to wash it all down.  🙂

After lunch we just had enough time to go to the curio shop where I bought myself a hand-made ethnic necklace containing oxen bone carved into the shape of elephants, interspersed with beads made from seeds. It looked very African and only cost me about £14.00. We also got some more postcards to send.

The bus-ride back took about an hour and a half, including a short stop to a petrol station with an ATM, as some people hadn’t had the time to get any African rand. Because of the beers a lot of people napped on the coach back to the port. We arrived back at about four o’clock after a great day.

We decided not to go back ashore, as we had all day tomorrow to explore Richards Bay, so instead we got showered and changed, rested a while, then went for dinner.

Tonight the Voyager was hosting a deck party instead of the usual entertainment, so we went along and enjoyed a few drinks in the warm night air, where they had live music and dancing. At one point the Voyager Theatre Company put in a half-hour slot called “Red Hot Country” which was a bit like a hoe-down showdown. Then there was a bit more singing and dancing as we partied under the South African stars until midnight.

Back in our cabin we settled down for the night; as we were in port it was nice and quiet and we were asleep almost immediately.

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