Zulu Beliefs


Zulu people are by nature very superstitious. The ‘sangoma’ (Diviner / spiritual healer) has to satisfy a demand for ‘umuthi’ (medicine), to prevent misfortune, lightning, to win the lottery, good luck when job hunting or finding a girl-friend — the list is endless.


Traditional Zulus believed that all disease, misfortune and unexplained deaths were brought on by witchcraft. A sangoma would be consulted and the evil doer (umthakathi) would be ferreted out and killed, which led to many deaths, some probably wrongful.

It was believed that an umthakathi could cast a spell on a person simply because they were jealous of their possessions, success, or children, or for many other reasons.

Demons are also a very real belief in the life of Zulus. These demons are called ‘tokoloshe’ and are wizards’ slaves that are sent out to spread disease, bring misfortune etc. There are various ways of ‘creating’ them. A popular method is for the wizard to gouge out the eyes of a corpse, cut out the tongue and drive a hot iron through the brain.  The wizard then blows medicine into the cavity and this ‘resurrects’ the body, but the tokoloshe is always child size. It is sent out mostly at night time to carry out its master’s orders. Adults rarely see them, but children and animals such as dogs can always see them.

In South Africa, most football teams have a sangoma who is taken very seriously and travels with the team to all matches. He asks his ancestors to help them win, and when they arrive at the field where they will be playing, he puts a magnet behind the opponent’s goalposts to attract the goals and attaches a padlock to theirs to ‘lock out’ the opponents goals. This is changed around at half time.


Like most African tribes, the Zulus pay tribute to the souls of the dead. In Zulu they are called ‘abaphansi’ (roughly translated – those in the ground) or ‘amadlozi’ (ancestors). In western terms, one could compare them to guardian angels. Those ‘left behind’ go to great lengths to keep them happy by making sacrifices and offerings to them; they also ensure that the souls are brought back from the place where the body died to the family home. They are given a special place to ‘live’ in the hut, this place is called ‘emsamo’, and this is where one goes to communicate with them and sacrifices and offerings are placed there for them. It is considered a sacred place, women may go there on occasion, but men are the ones that communicate with them as they are the head of the family and know what is needed from the ancestors at any given time.

If many negative incidents happen, such as members of the family becoming sick without any medical explanation), many members of the same family dying, or continued misfortune etc, then a sangoma is consulted in order to find out whether this has been caused by ancestors who feel neglected or are angry, or whether it is caused by witchcraft. Once the cause has been determined then either a witch hunt takes place or the ancestors are appeased by making a sacrifice to them.


The Zulu people believe in a higher power called ‘uNkulunkulu’ (greatest of all great) but they also share their world with the spirits of their ancestors. Christianity was brought by the missionaries from America and Europe and was not accepted easily by the Zulus. Nowadays, however, traditional beliefs and Christianity are often combined.

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