Colour Metaphor in Zulu Culture: Courtship Communication in Beads
Biyela N. G.

This paper is based on Ong’s theory (1982), which looks on how the shift from primary orality to literacy dramatically changes the way humans think and how this shift affects the language itself. ‘Oral culture’ is a term that Ong uses when referring to people who are at an oral-based stage of consciousness. These are people who are totally unfamiliar with writing and whose communication is achieved mainly through word of mouth or symbols. The paper concentrates on colour metaphors. The colours on beadsgive an account of the traditional lifestyle and open a window on the Zulu nation of yesteryear. These colours maysignify different meanings in different societies, texts and eras. Characteristics attributed to the beads are not necessarily real characteristics of the particular colour; they are rather perceived characteristics according to folk models, which speakers borrow from the cultural environment to create new facets of meaning and to reflect human social relationships. This enriches the imagery bank for eloquent communication, especially, during courtship. From the Zulu perspective, beadwork flows from females who through special ‘Zulu love letters’ are able to send powerful messages to their male clients. The meaningful communication in beads depends upon the design, patterning of colours and the colour coding in which women outshine men. Standards for moral conduct vary depending on the social and political context of each society. In Zulu culture, there are certain basic principles of ethical behaviour that are required from young people of both genders so that they act with integrity in their romantic relationships. The white colour in particular, embodies the ideal values the Zulu society strives for.

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