Zulu Crafts

Written by rachel gussin
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Zulu Crafts
Many African groups, including the Zulu, are known for their beadwork. (Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Based in KwaZulu-Natal, the Zulu ethnic group is one of the largest in South Africa. Their crafts serve both household and ceremonial purposes. As modern alternatives to these items become more common, Zulu crafts have become decorative pieces in Zulu homes and are produced as popular tourist souvenirs.


Zulu beadwork is known for its cultural significance as well as its beauty. Using the basic shape of a triangle and seven colours, beaded pieces are traditionally created to convey messages. The points of the triangle represent the father, mother and child, and red, blue, yellow, black, white, pink and green each have positive and negative meanings which shape the beadwork's message. Beaded pieces indicate marital status, social status, emotions, warnings and male-female relationships.


Basketmaking is a cultural tradition passed down through Zulu women for generations. Baskets are woven from iLala palm fronds and dyed with berries, roots, clay and bark. Zulu baskets are used to hold water, beer, grains or herbs. They are woven and decorated according to their specific purpose, such as holding water, beer, grains or herbs. Once a commonplace in Zulu kitchens, today woven baskets are being replaced by kitchenware made from modern materials.


Clay pots serve many daily and ritualistic purposes in the Zulu culture. Pots are most commonly used for making and serving beer, which is consumed at social events and ceremonies. Pots are also used for carrying water, storing food and for drinking sour milk. As with other many cultural artefacts, today pots have become a popular craft item, sought after by collectors and tourists.


Admired for their size and decorations, Zulu shields are popular collector's items. The shields are made from Nnguni cowhide and vary in pattern depending on whether the shield is intended for a chief or a warrier. Zulu shields were once used in battle, though today as the Zulu become more modernised the shields are more commonly used in ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.

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