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Commodification and the Zulu Culture

Commodification and the Zulu Culture Commodification is often seen as the process by which raw materials are extracted, packaged and eventually turned into a product of value that can be sold. Now days because of the growth of globalization and commodity fetishism; commodification has become the transformations of a variety of things (things that may have had no previous value) including different goods, services and ideas into something of value that may even be sold. In other words commodification is when products, services or ideas are turned into a commodity.

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Now days just about everything is being commodified, including cultures and their practices. Culture is where a community or group of people, be it a national community, a religious community or even a sporting community share values, beliefs and rules. It is also important to note that it is still possible for two people to be a part of the same national community and have the same national culture but still be a part of different religious communites and have different religious cultures.

This is because the two different communities are categorized in different genres and thus the values, beliefs and rules of these genres are not related. Therefore there shouldn’t be much contradiction or limit in the values, beliefs and rules of different types of communties and cultures. The fact that different cultures of the same genre all over the world all practice their values, beliefs and rules differently has created a large market in the tourism industry.

Many tourists are more than willing to spend their money on travelling to specific destinations to see and experience specific cultures and authentic cultural practices. The problem is that with the commodification of cultures and their practices; which ironically is the consequence of the same market that looks for authenticity; a loss in the authenticity of the culture and its commodified practices can be expected. In this essay I will be looking at commodifiction in the Zulu culture and the effects it has on certain practices authenticity as well as the customers perception on commodified Zulu products.

Before I discuss commodification in the Zulu culture and the effects it has on specific practices, it is important to have a basic understanding of the Zulu culture and its characteristics. The Zulu culture is made up of men, women and children who all speak Zulu and have originated from KwaZulu Natal, known as home of the Zulu. The Zulu people are still very strongly linked to their culture and not much has changed in their cultural practices since the traditional and authentic practices the native Zulu people of KwaZulu Natal practiced hundreds of years ago.

The Zulu treasure their heritage and are known to be conservative, friendly and very hospitable people. They display an unquestioned loyalty to their Inkosi, which is their traditional leader. Zulu people’s lives have for a long time revolved around their cattle. This has reflected in creating a slow paced and relaxed culture, they also do not see the need in rushing, and may even find it rude. Zulu people have a very strong spiritual belief where ancestral spirits and demons being apart of their everyday life. They have large religious ceremonies where they communicate and pay their respects to the spiritual world.

Dancing and singing is very much a part of the lifestyle of the Zulu people, and each dance formation or movement symbolizes an event within the clan. Zulu people also express themselves in arts and crafts very well and often these crafts have messages in them and play important rolls in the society’s culture. For example Zulu bead work has encoded messages where an individuals tribal status, feelings and moods can be expressed as well as messages of love and affection. Zulu husbands also receive wooden headrests (izigiki) from their new wives which are used as stools during the day and as pillows during the night.

These decorated headrests are full of variety in shape and are carved from a single piece of wood. As we can see from this brief look at some Zulu culture characteristics it is clear that there could be a large market of tourists travelling to KwaZulu Natal to see and experience the unique practices and cultural characterisitics of the Zulu Culture, creating large potential and need for the commodification of certain Zulu cultural practices. So much so that it could generate a large amount of tourism for not only KwaZulu Natal but on a national scale as well.


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