October 12, 2012

Respecting the dead

How Zulu people remember, respect and commune with the dead

Zulu people believe that their deceased loved ones are their ancestors which are highly respected. When a person dies, it is believed that they are going to their family members who had also died, that they will be together and watch over those who are still alive. Some people believe that ancestors are the middle people between them and God, that they work hand with God. Zulu people respect ancestors and believe that ancestors should be obeyed for things to go well in everyday life, as they are closer to God. Traditional healers help people to know what their ancestors want from, like if there is a certain ritual required and they may come through a dream. The older people can interpret dreams, and are able to say what they mean.

If you dream of a deceased family member or even a friend telling you that they are hungry or cold, than a certain ritual is required, and if it is a friend, you tell their family and they would have to do the ritual. If the deceased come to you in a form of a dream and they are in a good condition, smiling and laughing with you; than it is believed that they came to bring you good luck. If you are having too many dreams of dead family members or dreams that you don’t understand than you may consult a tradition healer and they will be able to tell you what needs to be done.

Zulu people visit gravesites mostly when they are going to have rituals but they do sometimes visit them without a special occasion; like for just cleaning up the gravesite. When the unveiling of the tombstone is going to be done, it is necessary to visit the gravesite. When Zulu people unveil the tombstone, they do the unveiling together with the tradition known as bringing the deceased back home. This tradition is usually done a year or 2 after the deceased has died. When this tradition is going to be done, the family members first go to gravesite and speak to the deceased, tell them what they are about to do and they may also talk about their troubles. The day before the unveiling, the family slaughters a cow, burn incense and speak to the ancestors.

The burning of incense is used to communicate with ancestors, sometimes if one has a headache, they may burn incense or sometimes if one is getting nightmares to chase away evil spirits but it is usually used for ancestors. Sometimes incense may be burnt as a form of remembering the dead and is usually accompanied with Zulu beer. A ritual is not complete without Zulu beer and incense is essential when doing a ritual particularly for ancestors.

An animal is slaughtered at different occasions and for different reasons, only cows, goats and chicken are slaughtered for ancestors. Another cultural tradition is ‘iladi’, which is for remembering the dead. I remember when it was done at; it started when my late mother’s close friend had dreams about her. She said that when she came to her in a form of a dream, she told her that she cannot come home because she wasn’t told to come in. My mother’s friend first told her sister, who is a traditional healer and that’s when we knew that ‘iladi’ had to be done. For ‘iladi’ we first went to her grave, burnt incense to speak to her and the other family members and asked for forgiveness, than slaughtered chicken. We also prepared her favourite food, fruits and Zulu traditional food (including Zulu beer). All of that was done on Friday afternoon and on Saturday, people were called to join us and all the food prepared was only eaten on Saturday. Before burning of incense, we prayed to God, for everything to go well, together with the traditional healer.

Zulu traditions have slightly changed, they may be done a little different from family to family and it may also depend on the community you are from. But there are some aspects of the traditions that do not change.

Ayanda Ngcobo

My name is Ayanda Siphesihle Ngcobo, I am 19 years old but will be turning 20 this November. I grew up in Inanda Newtown A and still residing there. I belong to the Zulu culture; my home language is isiZulu so I am very familiar with traditional Zulu culture. Cultural traditions may shift over time, they don’t completely change but ways of performing rituals slightly change. That makes it a little bit difficult for a young person like me to know all the traditions of the Zulu culture. I may observe when rituals are being performed and usually ask my grandparents about most traditions but they may sometimes disagree on certain traditions.

August 2012