Zulu tribes were warlike, and conflicts could start from everything: cattle stealing, border violations, pasture usurpation. The wars were violent and short: the attackers surrounded the enemy village during the night and at the sunrise they hastened towards the inhabitants of the village, launching loud yells to cause panic. During the fight, Zulu attempted to kill as many men as possible;
the women were shared between the winners and the children taken to Zulu villages as slaves. These attacks triggered the revenge of the other villages from the same tribe with the defeated one and the hostilities could last for long periods.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Zulu chief Shaka converted the Zulus into a military power, with an organization relied on armies grouped on age categories and perfectly disciplined and trained; this way, the Zulus dominated all the neighboring and could reunite and army of 100,000 troops that stood victorious against the Whites in various occasions. In the fight with one of the successors of Shaka, Chitiwayo, the son of the French emperor Napoleon III was killed.
The Zulu settlement was called kraal. A kraal joined various related families. Each family was made by a man and his wives (the men could have as many wives as they could take care of) and the sons of each one. All the members of the ample family lived together in a large cupola-shaped house, made of branches and large grasses. Its interior was divided in compartments, each one for a wife and her sons. The house used to have one to several courtyards with fences made of pressed clay.
In the middle of the settlement, there was a large enclosure, surrounded by a palisade, guarding all the herds of the village. The palisade was reinforced with walls of pressed clay and covered by lime, painted with adornment motifs, in vivid colors and geometrical lines.
Magic and religion were interconnected in Zulus’ life. The Zulus adored a supreme god, creator of the Universe, some minor divinities and the spirits of the ancestors. At the death of a person, its soul turns into a spirit with supernatural powers; this belief is stronger in connection to the deceased chiefs, who are, allegedly, able to help their subjects, if their favors are attracted through magic.
The most important property of the spirits is to attract the rain. One magic rite for rain attraction is to spill a magic liquid (achieved after boiling a piece from the body of a dead chief) over the field, while reciting magic formulas and spills.
The Zulus are relatively tall (the average height is over 1.7 m or 5.6 ft), with relatively light skin and wide nose. The body is robust and strong. From the age of 7, Zulu boys separated from their mothers, living in the Common House. At the age of 8, they formed the first class of warriors, receiving military instruction and helping the warriors in small tasks, carrying their weapons and so on. Until the age of 18, they learn the handling of the weapons, fight at close range and attack methods. From 20 to 40, the Zulu man dedicated their lives mainly to war, cattle husbandry being abandoned, and the men incorporated when required. Even in peace time, each army body had its own objectives: animal husbandry, hut building, child teaching, messenger services, administration, and so on.
With the polygamy system, chiefs had large harems. Women had to farm, take care of the house and children (at least until they are 7 years old) and later they have to provide them food and care when they live in common houses, even if without direct contact.
The mother, the first wife, and the daughters of a chief enjoyed great privileges, governing the village and having their own armies who obeyed only their orders. The daughters had the right to choose their desired husband, to whom they would be considered the first wives, even if the man was already married. Young women too made army bodies assigned to ages, fought as fiercely as the men and had their own celebrations and rites which men could not participate in. Between the various wives of a man, there was no rivalry, but they made united groups.
While man cared of the livestock (grazing, milking, butter processing, washing the recipes for milk, cattle butchering), women farmed plots cleaned by men. The property of the plots and their products belonged to the women, with the unique condition of sharing with the other wives of their husband. Women divided farming tasks between them; water transport or wood gathering was made in common; so was the harvesting of millet, corn, squash, vegetables and others.
Zulu women wore high, big conic hairdos, made by intertwining their hairs, curly and woolly, with plant fibers. On the hair, they fixed various adornments made of glass pearls of various colors. The same glass beads were used for making collars, earrings and chest bands. The bride was adorned with a wicker hat adorned with glass beads.
The marriage was not established freely between the spouses, but between their parents; usually, the first wife used to be the daughter of a brother of the mother. The bride came with a great dowry, represented by cattle and land plots, and sometimes negotiations of the dowry could last for months. Thus, having more wives was a good trade.
The Zulus hunted more for sport. Leopard skins was very appreciated by chiefs and kinglets, who used them as royal mantles; the claws and the fangs of the panther were also used for making magic amulets. The Zulus hunted using spears, maces, axes (for finishing the animal), and, as protection, unprocessed buffalo or rhinoceros skin shields. The hunt used to be made collectively, involving all the men of the village. Men and dogs surrounded a game rich area and, by tightening the circle, they shot down the animals.