April 14, 2019, Durban, South Africa — Durban is the largest city (600,000 with its suburbs) in the province called KwaZulu-Natal, and the Zulu influence blends with Indian and the remnants of colonial Britain, visible in the city’s stately Victorian buildings. I wish I’d had time to see the Botanic Gardens, the oldest in Africa, founded by British colonials in 1849 as an extension of London’s Kew Gardens. Durban’s shoreline is a protected conservation area, and the highways are lined with huge flowering Tibouchina and other floriferous trees.
In the 1860s, some 1500 Indians from the British Raj were brought here as indentured servants to work in the sugar cane fields. The native Zulus considered themselves warriors, and did not want to work in the fields. Today, Durban’s Indian population is the largest outside of India, and the markets are filled with the vibrant allure of silk saris and the redolent smell of cooking spices such as cumin, turmeric, masala and cardamom, and healing herbs of Zulu medicine.
The main industries here are machinery and auto manufacturing, including RVs, and agriculture (30 sugar cane mills, cereals, bananas, plantain, citrus, pineapples and papayas). Our guide told us South Africa is agriculturally self-sufficient — they do not need to import any food.
Natal (in the province’s name) is Christmas in Portuguese, the day those wide-ranging explorers landed here in 1497. They thought it was uninhabited — they didn’t see the bushmen living in forests and caves. The bushmen taught the Zulus how to survive in this terrain.
The Valley of 1,000 Hills, where I went on my excursion, is the Zulu homeland — and it is breathtaking.
Zulu became a powerful state in the early 19th century under Zulu king Shaka, who brought all the Zulu clans together.
I chose to visit the PheZulu Safari Park (a misnomer). Part of it is a croc- and snake-filled wildlife display. These are Jesus Lizards, called that because since they can scurry very fast on two legs without sinking, they can ‘walk on water...’
These Nile crocodiles have no teeth. They will eat anything — even rotten meat — and are fed just once a month in the winter, and once a week in the summer. They get energy from the sun — which is why you always see them basking in it. The open jaws are their cooling mechanism. In the wild, a croc can live to be 80. In captivity, from 120 to 160 years! But it’s the 5- to 9-year-olds whose softer skin is used for shoes, bags and jewelry.
A very exclusive neighborhood, less than an hour from Durban, as viewed from the park. We asked our guide, can anyone live there? Anyone who can afford it, she said. Apartheid is over, but I doubt many non-whites could afford to live here (unless they’re crooked politicians). The purple tree on the left is the afore-mentioned Tibouchina.
Thatched roofs are not uncommon in regular neighborhoods. This house, just on the other side of the electrified fence from the safari park, is surrounded by ‘open range,’ where zebra and other local wildlife can visit at will.
All the nice homes in the more densely populated areas are fenced and gated.
Enough with crocs, snakes and lizards. I came to see the model Zulu village and cultural center, designed like a traditional Zulu homestead, and to meet the Zulus and see them perform.
Backed by exuberant drumming, they enacted first a courtship and wedding... then a hand-to-hand fight among warriors. While all the females were fully dressed, until not long ago unmarried (i.e., virgin) Zulu women wore mimi skirts and went topless. Once married, their skirts got longer, their tops got covered, and they put on a hat — which they never took off: their pillows are designed to accommodate the hats. Zulus are polygamous: the number of wives is determined by how many cows you can offer your potential fathers-in-law for their daughters. Eleven is a popular number. At the wedding, a cow is slaughtered to feed the many guests.
I don’t remember if the man who hosted the event had a title (maybe he is an ‘elder’) but he explained the rituals we were watching. (His grandfather had 5 wives; the present Zulu king has 5.) Afterwards, several of us spent a while talking with him in the largest communal grass hut, asking questions about the Zulu past, present and future. One of the Vikings had experience with a Navaho reservation, so she asked a lot of good questions.
Here is a Zulu version of Love Story as our host presented it.
Boy meets girl at the river, where she has gone to fetch water...
Boy consults with fortune tellers to ask if he’s got a chance — will her father and uncles agree to let him marry her? Which means, how many cows can you offer us for her?
However many cows they settled on, her father and uncles agreed she can marry him. Here he adjusts her hat — the hat she will never take off.
After the ceremony, let the dancing begin!
On a whole different subject, these young men demonstrated hand-to-hand combat followed by a dance. Instead of spears, in this simulation they appear to be using feather dusters.
Speaking of virgins, I was amused by this sign, which I saw in numerous locations and cities: Virgin Active Heath Club. Then I was told it’s a Richard Branson enterprise. #