South Africa - Spring 2006 travel blog

KwaZulu Natal state

more countryside

going to church

bag (on head) lady

dipping my toes in the Indian Ocean

welcome to Shaka Lande

model of the village

medicine man

the Rockettes in action

Zulu child

nice hair do

handsome warrier

ready for war

serving beer

making jewelry

not quite her shade


ready to bargain

handicrafting circle

the star of the show

As we came down 7,000 feet from Golden Gate National Park to sea level, our gas mileage improved dramatically; we must have coasted most of the way. We are in the province of KwaZuluNatal, one of the poorest areas of South Africa. The roads were lush with cane fields, orchards, and thick forests and every so often we found ourselves driving 10 mph behind a lumber truck. Someone must be making money from all this agriculture. Since it was Sunday the roads were quite empty of pedestrians: everyone seemed to be at church. We passed a long procession carrying a statue of Christ celebrating Palm Sunday. Nearby a baptism was taking place in the river. Many of the homes were round rather than the square garage sized ones we've seen thus far.

We are camped at Richards Bay on the Indian Ocean, which is warm enough to swim in, although the foamy waves are somewhat daunting for a midwesterner. We hear that sharks like to hang around here, which also gives one pause. Once again we are warned to keep our RV doors closed because of the monkeys hanging around, ready to steal whatever they can. The same threat seems to loom here as regards the natives. Our campground is surrounded with high fences topped with wire coils and guards are posted at the beach and open a gate to let us drive in and out. We heard a story about a woman who walked alone on the beach and was robbed. Since she had nothing with her but the clothes on her back, the robber took those and left her with nothing, but underpants.

One of the reasons we are here is to visit Shaka Land. A Hollywood film maker built a set here for a B movie named "Shaka Zulu." The locals took advantage of a good thing and turned the authentic looking sets and costumes into a cheesy, yet charming tourist experience. King Shaka was born as a result of a liaison between the previous king and his mother a few days before the king married someone else. The kind denied that the pregnancy was his fault and attributed the swelling belly to a stomach disease named Shaka, thus the baby's name. The boy felt repudiated by his father and clan and left the community taking his hurt feelings with him. He channeled his bitterness into military conquests for the Zulu people and was eventually welcomed back to his community as king. The Zulu were especially proud of defeating the British with their guns, when all they had were swords and shields.

The guide showed us a model village of a typical family compound. In the center the most precious commodity - the cows - was kept. The holding pen was arranged so that when it rained, the manure would wash out the front door of the compound and fertilize the fields. A central building housed the bones of previous ancestors. To its right lived the father of the family, to the left his first wife. The second wife lived on the other side, the third wife next to the first, the fourth wife next to the second, and so on. In the example we were shown the father had six wives. His offspring were also segregated by sex in huts at either side of the entrance to the compound. Each additional wife involved a purchase from her father for eleven cows, the currency of the realm. Because the Zulu favored a military lifestyle and died with great regularity, there was always a significant disparity between the number of men and women. Our guide said that he grew up in such a household and regarded all the women of the compound as his mothers. It takes a village.....

After we had a chance to visit the buildings that Hollywood had artfully built and sipped their beer and smelled the incense of the medicine man, we went inside for an energetic dance performance. The high kicks of the men and women would have made the Rockettes proud. The Zulu women's bead work jewelry was also propular with the RV ladies. However, overall I was left with a feeling that the "actors" we watched in Shaka Land would have rather been doing something else. Smiles were in short supply.

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