Updated January 17, 2021

Ethnography of Max Gluckman at the Zululand

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Ethnography of Max Gluckman at the Zululand essay
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Ethnography is defined as a “qualitative methodology that lends itself to the study of the beliefs, social interactions, and behaviours of small societies, involving participation and observation over a period of time, and the interpretation of the data collected” (Naidoo, 2015:01). This paper will analyze the ethnography of Max Gluckman (1940) titled Analysis of a Social Situation in Modern Zululand. The ethnography is based on Gluckman’s study of sixteen months at the Zululand between the years of 1936 and 1938. Furthermore, this paper will show some findings of Gluckman from his sixteen months study beginning with the claims that he make on the ethnography which will be supported by evidence.

Therefore, this paper will highlight the broader social and political context of the ethnography respectively. This paper will also look at the voice of the author which has to do with the way the author presented his narrative ethnography. Furthermore, the empirical as well as the theoretical interest of the author will be highlighted. The writing style of the author as part of the analysis will be touched on lightly. Finally, Some of the key words that will be encountered in this paper will include Zulu; Europeans; Ceremony; Government; Chiefs; and Bridge.

There are a number of claims that the ethnography of Max Gluckman (1940). The claim made by Gluckman is that there is a very high level of hegemony that existed between the European groups and the Zulu. This can be seen on the ethnography that most of the Nongoma Europeans where already informed about the ceremony of the opening of the Bridge mean while only a few Zulu of Nongoma had knowledge about the opening of the bridge ceremony.

The local magistrate which is administered by Europeans determined the form of ceremony that was going to take place at the Zululand after the tradition at similar European communities. In addition, they only enabled the Zulu to participate by adding elements of Zulu where it was possible in order to bring excitement to the celebration. Therefore, it shows that the Europeans had more power that the Zulu on the opening of the Bridge ceremony and dominated the Zulu as most of the Europeans knew about the event and followed a European tradition.

The author also added to the claim that there was a division between color-groups which are black and white, Zulu and European. The relationship between the two color groups was mostly marked by separation and reserve. Moreover, both groups assembled in at different places which makes it extremely difficult for the two groups to meet on equal terms. Furthermore, Gluckman added on the dominance of whites over blacks was maintained through separation which emerged on the policy of the so-called segregation and parallel development.

Gluckman cemented the claim of separation by pointing out that the two color groups did not separate into equal status and the Europeans being the dominant. The evidence of this claim is drawn from when the Zulu could not enter the White group’s reserves, unless they had permission as domestic workers making tea. On the other hand, the Europeans had power to move freely among the Zulu, watching them and taking pictures.

In addition to that claim, at the labour centers, the legal authorities are magistrates, police, employers, location superintendents and compound managers who are White. The Zulu chiefs have to proclaim their presence on their visits. Furthermore, the order and control on the work, passing laws and enforcing contracts is maintained by the Whites.

Moreover, the dominant position of the whites is evident when the two groups meet on the bases having a common interest. For example when the Government Veterinary Officer (G.V.O) would have a meeting to discuss the dipping with the two indunas or the way in which the Regent would address the Europeans even when they had no official rank, he would address them as numsana, which means important man; nkosana, which means little chief if they are young; or nkosi which means chief.

Furthermore, another claim that is made by the author is that separation characterizes the social situations of people residing in Zululand. That claim can be backed up by the evidence from the ethnography whereby H.C. Lugg who is the Chief Native Commissioner for Zululand and Natal, after speaking he was sent beer but instead of drinking the beer to symbolize unity he drank tea with the White group while the Regent sat with the Blacks talking to them while drinking beer.

Furthermore, the segregation of the Black and White was socially rooted such that the Blacks would migrate for some time to work for White industrialist, farmers and householders, after the work is finished they will then go back to their homes. This illustrates the economic power and dominance that the White have over Blacks during that time.

The other claim that the author makes is that an event such that of opening a Bridge can bring segregated communities together on the bases of having a common interest. The claim is supported by the evidence found from the ethnography whereby the groups (White and Zulu) as well as the individuals that were present at the ceremony behaved the way they did at the ceremony due to the center of their interests. Which in this case it was the Bridge that brought them together and associates them in that common celebration. As a result of the common interest of the two separated groups, they act according to the customs norms of cooperation as well as communication even though they are racially divided by the patterns of social structure.

Moreover, the dress code or attire of the people who attended the ceremony hinted a little bit of unity as the important Zulu were dressed in almost in European attire. The ordinary people were dressed in motely combination of European and Zulu Attire.

The social context of the ethnography can be drawn from the bridge that has been opened providing the people of the Zululand with the ability to cross to the other side of the river during times of floods to access medical facilities, particularly the midwifery for pregnant women giving birth at Ceza Hospital.

Moreover, the building and the opening of the Bridge has brought the people of the two colors together even though they were segregated on the bases of color. Max Gluckman studied the territorial section of the union’s social system then after he traced the relationship of the territorial section to the entire system. The findings revealed that the relationship presented certain analogies with other areas within heterogeneous states, whereby the groups that were socially inferior in the form of race, politics and wealth resided separately from the dominant groups even if they were interrelated.

In the Zululand crime was one acts that was not tolerated as it caused social destruction. This is seen when the delay of the author and Matolana’s departure from the homestead was caused by the Zulu Government police officer who arrested, handcuffed and brought a stranger in their district who was accused of stealing sheep somewhere else. Matolanas’ response to that was that he would not have thieves translated into Zulu as izigebengu in his district.

The political matters of the Zululand are discussed and addressed in the meetings of the Chiefs, their indunas and the magistrate. The meeting that was held after attending the ceremony of opening the Bridge was to address the fights amongst the three tribes which are: the Usuthu, which is the tribe of the Royal House ruled by the Zulu King or Regent, followed by the Amateni, which is the tribe ruled by one of the King’s classificatory fathers, then the last tribe being the Mandlakazi, which is ruled by a prince of a collateral Zulu House.

During the meetings, various indunas spoke on their defence trying to justify themselves and shifting the blame to others. However, on those discussions, there would be one Zulu man who would carry favours of the magistrate with an expectation of political promotion in return, the man would consume the time given for his speech trying to praise the magistrates’ kindness and wisdom instead of addressing the matter at hand. Furthermore, Max Gluckman pointed out that the social structure of Zululand that is functioning is seen in the political activities. In addition, the ethnography shows that it is politically clear that the dominant power is entrusted in the government of the White group, whereby the chiefs are subordinates of the white government.

The government of the Zululand had a political task of mainly maintaining and controlling the flow of labour in such a way that it pleases the Whites as much as possible. Contradictorily, as much as the author points out that the labour needed Whites, the prevention of labour flow would result in a huge amount of Blacks living in towns.

The author portrayed the ethnography in a voice of a participatory observer. That can be determined from how certain events are narrated, for example, he pointed that as they drove along to the ceremony location with the Government Veterinary Officer, they passed various places. On the side of the road they passed the car of Chief Mshiyeni as well as the Regent of the Royal house of the Zulu who appeared to be driving from Nongoma which is where his home is to the ceremony location. Moreover, the author added that the presented sample of field data consisted of a number of occurrences that are linked with his presence as an observer, even though they took part in various locations of Northern Zululand in different times and with different groups of people.

The writing style of the author in this ethnography is mostly narrative because he portrays the ethnography in such a way that he is telling a story which he part of it. Evidence for this is found when he mentions at the beginning of the ethnography that as a starting point of his analysis, he described a chain of occurrences as he recorded them on a single day. Furthermore, the author also displays a descriptive style of writing which can be seen on how he describe the opening bridge ceremony and every occurrence. For example, Max Gluckman described how almost all the important Zulu at the ceremony were dressed in European riding clothes. The author further descriptively elaborated how the armed warriors marched across the bridge and passed their salutations to the Chief Native Commissioner with the Royal Zulu salutation of ‘Bayete’ then after saluted the Regent. Furthermore, the author continued to show how the Chief Native Commissioner and the Regent acknowledged the salutation in the form of raising their right arms.

The empirical interests of the author are seen on the practices of the Zulu on the opening of the bridge. The ways in which the warriors where dancing while moving across the bridge and pouring gal on the bridge and saluting the chief and governors of the district.

The theoretical interests of the author from the ethnography can be seen on the ideas that where shared during meetings. The way in which the author describes the processes that had to be undertaken and the planning involved whereby the districts had meetings discussing the proceedings of the ceremony. In addition, the meetings were the indunas and the chiefs would have to discuss the conflicts that arose between the three different Zulu tribes.


Ethnography as a very curtail part of anthropology is used to express certain ideas. Gluckman used ethnography to express ideas about, segregation, interrelationship, hegemony, and celebrations that occurred in the Zululand during the 1930s. This paper has analyzed the ethnography of Max Gluckman (1940) which is based on the authors’ study of sixteen months at the Zululand between the years of 1936 and 1938. This essay further elaborated the findings of Gluckman of his study of sixteen months beginning with the claims that he made on the ethnography which were later on supported by evidence from the ethnography. Furthermore, the broader social and political context of the ethnography has been respectively discussed in this paper. In addition, the voice of the author was not left out on this paper which entailed the ways in which the ethnography was presented or narrated. This paper has touched on the authors’ writing style and how he presented his findings on his study. Lastly the essay has highlighted the empirical and the theoretical interests of the author. The essay was channelled and directed by a number of key words which included Zulu; Europeans; Ceremony; Government; Chiefs; and Bridge.

Reference list

  1. Gluckman, M. 1940. “Analysis of a Social Situation in Modern Zululand.” Bantu Studies 14 (1): 1–30.
  2. Naidoo, L. 2015. Ethnography: An Introduction to Definition and Method. Australia. University of Western Sydney, NSW.

Ethnography of Max Gluckman at the Zululand essay

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