The Zulu Tradition of Naming Nguni Cowhides

All Zulucow’s Nguni cowhides and products are unique as they are a derived from some of the most beautiful cattle in the world: the indigenous Nguni cattle of Southern Africa. (All our hides are sustainably sourced bi-products.)


Nguni cowhide rugs, bags, nguni cowhide belts

The Nguni are renowned for their many varied markings and dramatic, multicoloured hides. They also form an integral part of Zulu culture.  Not only are they interwoven in the lives of the Zulus, past and present, on a political, social, economic and spiritual level, but they also play a role in the linguistic tradition of the Zulus. Indeed, the Zulus have evolved a poetic naming practice for the cattle. They have named the various Nguni cowhides according to the way in which they reflect aspects of the natural world around them. Hence the names the Zulus give to the different hides are inspired by imagery of the birds, animals and plants in their world. Here are some examples:

The Zulus call this creamy hide spotted with fine rust speckles: “Imaqandakahuye” (The Eggs of the Lark)


Nguni cowhides


They call a predominantly white coat with flecks of black: Imasenezimpukane” (The flies in the butter milk)

Nguni cowhides


The Zulus name this hide below: Izikhalazemithi”  (Gaps between the branches of the trees.)

Nguni cowhide rugs


The Zulus call a grey beast tending to white and resembling an old grey-haired person: “Engabantubeguile” (Like old people.)

Even horn shapes determine names like: Bafazibaphikicala”  (The women dispute the court case.) This is where the cattle’s horns resemble the woman’s hands, thrown up in despair.)

According to Marguerite Poland and David Hammond-Tooke, authors of the excellent book: ‘The Abundant Herds. A Celebration Of The Nguni Cattle of the Zulu People’; “Cattle imagery also abounds in Zulu oral history, poetry and in tales….The fascinating system of classification reflects the richness of Zulu linguistic versatility and the creative imagination of the Zulu people… where the colour and pattern of a hide is linked to images in nature.” Leigh Voigt’s pictures in the book, illustrate this theme beautifully.

So as well as being visually eye-catching, all our sustainably sourced Nguni cowhides at Zulucow, have a rich cultural history too, which makes them unique and very special indeed!

Hamba Kahle, Lucy

Nguni cowhide rugs