What’s in a name? Kwa Zulu-Natal, South Africa.

Kwa Zulu-Christmas.

That doesn’t sound quite right, does it?

What if the history books wrote about Port Christmas?

Or the Colony of Christmas?

Natal means Christmas in Portuguese, and if the name had been translated into English, the above is what it would have been.

The Portuguese explored the world in their ships.

The Portuguese on one of their epic sea voyages, were the first Europeans to spot what is now the greater city of Durban. With Vasco da Gama in charge, they spotted it on a Christmas Day, some centuries ago, and named it as such. Natal.

Then it became Port Natal, then the Colony of Natal followed, then the Natal Province, which originally incorporated Zululand. It was only in the 1990s that it became Kwa Zulu-Natal. ‘Kwa’ means ‘home of’ in Zulu – it was high time that the historic, if not original residents had their home incorporated into the name.

An early photograph of Zulu Warriors, ca 1885.

As an aside, the Portuguese spotted a number of places on Christmas Day, and named them Natal – one being what is now the Inhambane area in Mozambique.

A map of the Colony of Natal early 1900s.

As South Africa was never a Portuguese colony or protectorate; it is interesting that the original Portuguese name was retained, and was not translated into a language of a people / nation that did live there.

Durban – the settlement that became a city, was named for a colonial Brit – Sir Benjamin D ’Urban who was the Governor of the Cape Colony (I know – the Cape Colony? This was the Natal Colony, it had its own governors, why not name it for one of them? Sigh.). D’Urban is a French name; really an Occitan name (Occitan is only spoken in the regions of Spanish Catalonia and the French Languedoc)  – so Kwa Zulu-Natal and Durban have names in languages from countries that had zilch to do with its colonial history.

Sir Benjamin D’Urban
The City of Durban today, with the harbour wall in the foreground.

By Kathryn Costello

I travel. I read. I get up to mischief. I write about what I have been up to. I also have fun writing down the stories that I told my daughter when she was little about a dolphin named Michaela. I am a tourism consultant. Owning and managing a successful guesthouse, working for tourism organizations and travelling has given me a lot of insight about what makes a tourism orientated business successful.

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