The Changing Functions of Traditional Dance in Zulu Society: 1830–Present

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Abstract. Dance, though an integral part of most non-Western societies, is rarely investigated in the context of historical inquiry. This article seeks to demonstrate that changes in dance practices can inform both our understanding of social and political developments over time as well as our conception of what constitutes ‘tradition.’ Through an exploration of how political and religious leaders have used dance practices (or disallowed them) at various points in time in Zulu history, this article identifies patterns that reflect not only the effects of the colonial state and subsequent governments on indigenous dance practices, but also the reverse; namely, how Zulu dance practices linked with the precolonial past have impacted the functions and forms of governments that have existed in the modern KwaZulu Natal region since the days of Shaka Zulu.