Meet Shakaland, the charming cultural village where Shaka Zulu was shot (filmed)

By Solomon M. Oleny

Apart from being an ardent advocate for freedom, Bob Marley had graceful character that still commands a lot of respect, decades after his death. It is partly for this reason that he has a very special place in the hearts of many World over, including those in South Africa’s Kwazulu Natal Province. However, there is someone more special to them. A legend after whom different initiatives and settings are named. That would be King Shaka Zulu.

Born in 1787, Shaka was a great Zulu who lived in South Africa between present day Drakensberg and the Indian Ocean. A region then occupied by many independent Nguni chiefdoms which he brought together in a Zulu kingdom during his brief reign.

Since his assassination by his half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana on September 1828, on a rock near the Barracks of his Capital Dukuza, hundreds of books and documentaries about his legacy have been profiled.

Above: From Left to right, a monument erected in memory of King Shaka Zulu and the rock where he was murdered.

Chances are high you must have watched or read the mentioned books by now. While most of these documentaries go a long way in giving an insight about this great conqueror, they don’t give a full picture of him. They ignore other interesting bits that influenced the person he became. And that’s where a visit to the places where his history was made comes in. To know Shaka better, you need to hear what his people say about him and places where his history was made.

A Zulu Warrior sharing he history of Shaka with tourists at Shakaland--

Kwazulu Natal Province has a couple of these places ranging from where life was given to him to where it was taken. Most of them have been turned into fully fledged museums, some with regalia used by him. Such include the Shaka Memorial, a provincial heritage site in Stanger where he repeatedly stabbed to death with spears. Then there is Shakaland Zulu Cultural Village, a replication of a Zulu homestead, featuring over 50 comfortable beehive huts. It is here that the famous Shaka Zulu, 1986, a renowned television series directed by William C. Faure and written by Joshua Sinclair was shot. At these two historical places, the spirit of this tall and powerfully built warrior, still lives even in his afterlife.

At first glance, the Memorial might not seem like an astonishing place as it is worn down. However a visit inside will leave you enchanted by an outstanding presentation on Zulu history and life.

Tourists having a self guided tour inside Shaka's memorial museum

The guides in this place, just like those in Shakaland are enthusiastic story tellers who know how to paint a picture with just words. Watching them do their thing, you can feel Shakas’ strong arms reaching out to you for a warm welcome. You can hear his hoarse voice cheering his warriors as they crashed their enemies at the respective battle fronts. You can see him smelling the pain and hate of being born by a father who wanted nothing to do with him. By the same token, you can see him working so hard at being a better man to make his mother proud.

A visit to Shakaland is incomplete with sampling umqombothi, a nourishing local brew.

A guided tour of the village is a must if you want to experience how the Zulus lived in the olden days. You will get to see their foot stomping tribal dance, how they make the thatched roof. You will also have the pleasure of sampling umqombothi, a local brew with a soothing taste. It is made of maize and is thick and creamy. While the Memorial features a mix of both modern and indigenous Zulu houses, Shakaland exclusively features eco-friendly huts built of grass thatch, reeds and firm acacia trees. All of these locally available materials that do not conduct heat. As such, even at times of the year when temperatures are as hot as 33º C as is the case between September and April, on the inside they as cool as a building served by a state of art air conditioner.

The cozy restaurant where local Zulu dishes are served at Shakaland. Above is it's exterior, below is its interior

Surrounding this gem is a thick fence made of firm acacia trees. For extra strength, they are interlocked to bar the penetration of rival tribes who might have come for counter raids. In most cases, such villages were built next to high hills atop which guards were deployed 24/7 to watch out for confrontations.

In the event of sensing danger, they would blow trumpets to alert the warriors on duty. By the time they arrived, they would be armed to the teeth, ready to fight to the last drop of blood.

This isn’t to say that the lives of the zulu people where all about bloodshed. Far from it, they were fun loving people who partied themselves helpless, probably due to the uncertainty of seeing tomorrow.

Every single victory whether the birth of a baby or bumpy harvest occasioned a triumphant celebration in which bulls were slaughtered and different dances reigned. And that’s where the entertainment arena at the cultural village comes in. In here you’ll see lots of Zulu dances.

The one thing most of these share in common is the energy with which they were executed.

During your visit, Zulu warriors will fire up your experience with enthusiastic traditional dances that have been passed on from generation to generation.

For folks in need of arts and crafts, at the village there are several handmade regalia customized into souvenirs. There is something for every wallet.

Above, aerial view of Shakaland. Below, the poolside

Where to stay

Shakaland is a fully fledged destination with accommodation options ranging from single rooms to family suites. There are also cottages for persons with disabilities.

Travel Tip

Shakaland is found in Kwazulu Natal Province, South Africa. The best time to visit is between May and September when the weather is at its best behavior.

Tag along with enough warm clothing. 

How to get there

The nearest international airport to Shakaland is King Shaka Airport. Over 50 planes jet in here on a daily from different parts of the world. Among the options available, I am happy to recommend South Africa Airways considering their rational prices and heartwarming customer care.

Have any inquiries about Shakaland, don't hesitate to get in touch with fathima@southafrica.net or Shakaland or weddingguideuganda@gmail.com

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