King Shaka’s Warriors

Sketch of King Shaka from 1824 (found in Nathaniel Isaacs’ book ‘Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa,’ published in 1836)

Below is a description of King Shaka’s warriors. King Shaka is known for the military and social innovations he brought to the Zulu people unifying them into a formidable empire admired by some, and feared by others. What stands out is the great discipline of his warriors.  The Zulu army or Zulu impi was the most powerful war machine the British ever faced in Southern Africa.  The Zulu combat strategy was perfected by King Shaka himself, who added great organization and discipline to the traditional qualities of courage and mobility cultivated within African armies.  During the battle, the Zulu army would organize itself as an arc facing the adversary. This arrangement was known as the “bull horn” formation. At the center (known as the chest in Zulu) were found the most seasoned regiments; on the wings (or horns) were found the regiments of younger warriors.  The latter used their speed and agility to outflank the enemy by attacking him on the flanks while trying to encircle him, while the chest warriors engaged him in the front.  Behind the chest, and with their back turned so as to keep their calm, were the veteran regiments (also known as the kidneys) who will wait as reserves, intervening only to switch the battle to victory. Every man knew his place, moves, and maneuvers with extreme precision. Shaka’s methods reached their high point during the Zulu victory at Isandhlwana against the British forces in 1879.

Zulu warrior in 1913

Although Isaacs’ account below of his visit to Shaka’s palace is a biased view from a European who saw everything African, Black, as inferior, it is still good to note the number, the order of the troops, the strength of the king (who was not just complacent, but an active member of his troops), and much more. This also gives a better idea of the dressing of the warriors and girls, as well as the living structure in the kraal. This account can be found in N. Isaacs, Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa volume 1.

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Reception of the Zulus for Chaka from Isaacs’s book Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa. Descriptive of the Zulus, their manners, customs, with a sketch of Natal.

This morning three regiments of boys arrived to be reviewed. There appeared to be nearly 6000, all having black shields. The respective corps were distinguished by the shape and ornament of their caps. One regiment had them in the shape of Malay hats, with a peak on the crown about six inches high, and a bunch of feathers at the top. Another wore a turban made of otter-skin, having a crane’s feather or two on each side ; and the third wore small bunches of feathers over the whole head, made fast by means of small ties. Thus accoutred and distinguished, they entered the gate, ran up the kraal, halted in front of the palace, and saluted the king.

Zulu kraal near Umlazi in Natal 1849

One boy stepped in front and made a long harangue. When the orator had concluded, the whole of his comrades first shouted, and then commenced running over the kraal, trying to excel each other in feats of agility and gesture, regardless of order, regularity, or discipline. After this exhibition, which lasted three hours, a regiment of men arrived with white shields, having on them one or two black spots in the center; they saluted Shaka, then retired to put away their shields, and assembled again in one body to dance. They formed a half circle; the men in the center and the boys at the two extremities. The king placed himself in the middle of the space within the circle, and about 1500 girls stood opposite to the men three deep, in a straight line, and with great regularity. His majesty then commenced dancing, the warriors followed, and the girls kept time by singing, clapping their hands, and raising their bodies on their toes. The strange attitudes of the men exceeded anything I had seen before.

Zulu warrior in full regalia 1860: carrying the large isihlangu war shield. The upper body is covered in cow tails, the kilt is of spotted cat, genet or civet skin and the shins are decorated with cowtails. The elaborate headdress consists of a browband and face-framing flaps of leopard skin with another band of otter skin above. There are multiple ostrich feather plumes and a single upright crane’s feather.

The king was remarkable for his unequaled activity, and the surprising muscular powers he exhibited. He was decorated with a profusion of green and yellow glass beads. The girls had their share of ornaments, in addition too they had each of them four brass bangles round their necks, which kept them in an erect posture, and rendered them as immovable as the neck of a statue. This ceremony was performed with considerable regularity, from the king- giving, as it were, the time for every motion. Wherever he cast his eye, there was the greatest effort made, and nothing could exceed the exertion of the whole until sunset, when Shaka, accompanied by his girls, retired within the palace, and the warriors to their respective huts. Many, however, first went to the river and performed their evening ablutions.

A Praise to the Great King Shaka, the Founder of the Zulu Empire

Sketch of King Shaka from 1824 (found in Nathan Isaacs’ book ‘Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa,’ published in 1836)

To celebrate South Africa’s Heritage Day which used to be known as ‘Shaka Day‘ before 1996, we share with you this beautiful praise for the great king. KwaZulu (“Place of the Zulu” in Zulu)-Natal is an important province of South Africa, and the birthplace of the Zulu kingdom.  It is the second-most populous province in South Africa, after Gauteng, and the land of the Zulu people. Before 1996, 24 September was known as Shaka Day, in commemoration of the Zulu King, Shaka, on the presumed date of his death in 1828. Shaka kaSenzangakhona (Shaka, son of Senzangakhona) was the Zulu King who played an important role in uniting disparate Zulu clans into a cohesive nation; he is known as the founder of the Zulu Empire. . Each year people gather at King Shaka’s grave to honor him on this day.

King Misuzulu ka Zwelithini (Source: yahoo news)

King Shaka was murdered by his two half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana at kwaDukuza in 1828—one date given is September 24. Dingane assumed the throne after the assassination. Thus, September 24 is known as Shaka Day, and nowadays has become ‘Heritage Day’. This year’s celebration will mark the official public coronation of the new Zulu King, Misuzulu Siqonbile ka Zwelithini, who inherited from his father, King  Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu (Traditional Coronation of a New Zulu King).

Shaka Zulu

He is Shaka the unshakeable,
Thunderer-while-sitting, son of Menzi
He is the bird that preys on other birds,
The battle-axe that excels over other battle-axes in sharpness,
He is the long-strided pursuer, son of Ndaba,
Who pursued the sun and the moon.
He is the great hubbub like the rocks of Nkandla
Where elephants take shelter
When the heavens frown…

Traditional Zulu praise song, English translation by Ezekiel Mphahlele

Portrait of Shaka, the Great Zulu King

Sketch of King Shaka from 1824 (found in Nathaniel Isaacs’ book ‘Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa,’ published in 1836)

King Shaka, Shaka kaSenzangakhona (Shaka son of Senzangakhona), or Shaka Zulu, is known today as the founder of the Zulu Empire or Zululand. He ruled from 1816 to 1828, and was one of the most influential monarchs of the Zulu, responsible for re-organizing the Zulu military into a formidable force via a series of wide-reaching and influential reforms; thus he was responsible for uniting small Zulu clans to form an impressive Empire which was a real threat to European advances in the region. Shaka was a master military strategist who revolutionized the Zulu military by dividing his army into components, sometimes on the basis of age and fighting strength. For example, he tasked young boys, perhaps in their early teens, with transporting military supplies. This allowed his fighting machine to move very quickly during raids or conquests. When Shaka first became king, the Zulu were a cluster of tribes of less than 2000 people; by the end of his reign, the population was 250,000 people, an impressive growth for a 12-year reign.

Nathaniel Isaacs, a British explorer met King Shaka. Below is a portrait he made of King Shaka found in N. Isaacs, Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa Vol I, 1836.

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Reception of the Zulus for Chaka from Isaacs’s book Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa. Descriptive of the Zulus, their manners, customs, with a sketch of Natal.

“In the evening, at the request of the king, we joined in their amusements, and could not … avoid singing: we commenced with ‘God save the King.’ On our explaining its literal meaning, Chaka was highly pleased; in fact, there was nothing but good humour to be observed in the countenances of every one present. The party broke up at a late hour; and, as is usual, in the morning we paid the king an early visit. We now expressed a wish to see him in his war dress; he immediately retired, and in a short time returned attired: his dress consists of monkeys’ skins, in three folds from his waist to the knee, from which two white cows’ tails are suspended, as well as from each arm; round his head is a neat band of fur stuffed, in front of which is placed a tall feather, and on each side a variegated plume. He advanced with his shield, an oval about four feet in length, and an umconto, or spear, when his warriors commenced a war song, and he began his maneuvres. Chaka is about thirty-eight years of age, upwards of six feet in height, and well proportioned: he is allowed to be the best pedestrian in his country, and, in fact, during his wonderful exercises this day he exhibited the most astonishing activity.”

Why the Name: Bulawayo ?

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Map of Zimbabwe

I always loved the sound of the name Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe, after the capital Harare, and the largest city in the country’s province of Matabeleland. BU-LA-WA-YO… Doesn’t it roll on your tongue? Doesn’t it sound like thunder ? … like something big must have happened there? Well, …

Flag of Zimbabwe
Flag of Zimbabwe

Bulawayo was founded by the Ndebele king, Lobengula, son of Mzilikazi, when he settled in Zimbabwe in the 1840s, after the Ndebele’s people great trek from northern Kwazulu, in South Africa. The name Bulawayo comes from the Ndebele word bulala which translates to “the one to be killed.” It is said that at the time of the city’s founding, there was a civil war due to a kingship succession dispute. The dispute was between Mbiko ka Madlenya Masuku, a trusted confident of King Mzilikazi and leader of the Zwangendaba regiment, and Prince Lobengula who he (Mbiko Masuku) thought was not a legitimate heir because Lobengula was the son of the king born to a Swazi mother, of a lesser rank.

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King Lobengula of Matabeleland

At the time Lobengula, was a prince fighting to ascend the throne of his father Mzilikazi. It was common at the time for people to refer to Bulawayo as KoBulawayo UmntwaneNkosi, “a place where they are fighting or rising against the prince” or the “the place where the prince shall be slain“. The city of Bulawayo coincidentally has the same name as the capital of the great Zulu warrior king Shaka ka Senzangakhona in Kwazulu, where Mzilikazi and his Khumalo clan and other Nguni people came from.

In the 1860s, the city was highly coveted by Europeans, because of its land, wealth, and strategic location. Cecil Rhodes tried different tactics to trick King Lobengula. Lobengula once described Britain as a chameleon and himself as the fly. The fact that Lobengula was a force to reckon with is not to be ignored. Cecil Rhodes himself confided to Rothschild saying, “I have always been afraid of the difficulty of dealing with the Matabele King. He is the only block to central Africa, as, once we have his territory, the rest is easy … the rest is simply a village system with separate headmen …” So trickery was the only resort for Rhodes in order to get Lobengula. Thus, the treacherous Rudd Concession – 30 October 1888 (British Colonial Treaties in Africa: The Ruud Concession in Zimbabwe 30 Oct 1888).

Zimbabwe_Cecil Rhodes
Cecil Rhodes

During the 1893 Matabele WarBritish South Africa Company (BSAC) troops invaded and forced King Lobengula to evacuate, after first detonating munitions and setting fire to the town. BSAC troops and white settlers occupied the ruins. On 4 November 1893Leander Starr Jameson declared Bulawayo a settlement under the rule of the British South Africa Company. Cecil Rhodes ordered the new settlement to be founded on the ruins of Lobengula’s royal kraal,a typical action by a conquering power. This is where the State House stands today.

Zimbabwe_Bulawayo principal street in 1905
The principal street of Bulawayo in 1905

Historically Bulawayo has been the principal industrial centre of Zimbabwe (former Southern Rhodesia – after Cecil Rhodes); its factories produce cars and car products, building materials, electronic products, textiles, furniture, and food products. Bulawayo is also the hub of Zimbabwe’s rail network and the headquarters of the National Railways of Zimbabwe. Thus its nickname: “City of Kings” and also “kontuthu ziyathunqa” – meaning “smoke arising” in Ndebele, because of its large industrial base, and the large cooling towers of its coal-powered electricity generating plant situated in the city center which once used to exhaust steam and smoke. Today, as the rest of Zimbabwe, it slowly pushes through the steam.

Zimbabwe_Bulawayo in 1976
Bulawayo in 1976 (Wikipedia)

Bulawayo is seen as the door of tourism to the Matabeleland province, as its capital. Matabeleland boosts of Victoria FallsMatopo National ParkHwange National ParkKhami Ruins and a bigger share of Lake Kariba. As a side note, the infamous Cecil Rhodes‘ grave is said to be at World’s View, a hilltop located approximately 35 km (22 mi) south of Bulawayo, which is part today of Matobo National Park.

Well, if you visit the city of Kings, remember King Lobengula, remember his fire, and his fight for his people’s freedom from western domination… remember the greatness of the Ndebele king, and remember the fire that burns dormant in the people of Bulawayo, fanned by their ancestors. Enjoy the video below on Bulawayo.

Praising an African King: Praise Poem for Mzilikazi

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Mzilikazi, Matabele King

Mzilikazi (meaning The Great Road), was a Southern African king who founded the Matabele kingdom (Mthwakazi), Matabeleland, in what became Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe. He was born ca. 1790 near Mkuze,  Zulu Kingdom (now part of South Africa). The son of Matshobana whom many had considered to be the greatest Southern African military leader after the  Zulu king, Shaka. In his autobiography,  David Livingstone referred to him as the second most impressive leader he encountered on the African Continent. He was also the father of Lobengula.

Shaka-Zulu
King Shaka

The territory of the Northern Khumalo was located near the Black Umfolozi River, squeezed between the lands of two strong rival groups: the expanding Mthethwa empire of Dingiswayo and the land of the equally ambitious and much more ferocious  Zwide of the Ndwandwe. Mzilikazi’s boyhood was spent in the household of his grandfather Zwide. Inevitably, as he grew to manhood he observed the less powerful Khumalo being drawn into the conflict between Dingiswayo and Zwide.

IZIBONGO ZIKAMZILIKAZI KAMATSHOBANA

Bayethe!  Hlabezulu!
Untonga yabuy’ ebusweni bukaTshaka.
Utshobatshoba linganoyis’uMatshobana.
Intambo kaMntinti noSimangele-
Isimangele sikaNdaba
Intambo kaMntinti noSimangele,
Abayiphothe bakhal’imvula yeminyembezi.
Ilang’eliphum’endlebeni yendlovu,
Laphum’amakhwez’abikelana.
UMkhatshwa wawoZimangele!
Okhatshwe ngezind’izinyawo,
Nangezimfutshazanyana.
Wal’ukudl’umlenze kwaBulawayo.
Inkubel’abayihlabe ngamanxeba.
Unkomo zavul’inqaba ngezimpondo,
Ngoba zavul’iNgome zahamba.
Inyang’abath’ifil’uzulu
Kant’ithwasile;
Ithwase ngoNyakana kaMpeyana.
Inkom’evele ngobus’emdibini.
Uband’abalubande balutshiy’uZulu.
Inkom’ethe isagodla yeluleka

THE PRAISES OF MZILIKAZI, THE SON OF MATSHOBANA

Bayethe! Ndebele Nation!
You are the knobkerrie that menaced Tshaka.
You are the big one who is as big as his father Matshobana.
You are the string of Mntinti and Simangele
Simangele son of Ndaba.
You are the string of Mntitni and Ndaba
The string they made until they wet tears
You are the sun that rose from the ear of the elephant,
It rose where upon the birds announced to each other.
You are the son of Simangele who was kicked!
Who was kicked by long feet and by the short ones.
You refused to eat the gift of meat in Bulawayo.
You are the fighter who has marks of fighting,
You are the cattle that opened the closed pen with their horns,
Because they opened the Ngome forests and left.
You are the moon the people said had set
Yet it was just rising;
It rose in the year of Mpeyana.
You are the cow that showed its face from the crowd.
You are the log from which the Zulus cut firewood until they left it.
You are the cow that, while it was just emerging made progress.

Great Quote on Shaka Zulu by Miriam Makeba

Shaka-Zulu
King Shaka, of the Zulu people

The British often talk of Shaka Zulu as the ‘Black Napoleon’, but I think that Napoleon was a white Shaka!” Miriam Makeba

Napoleon
Napoleon

Les Britanniques parlent souvent de [Chaka Zoulou] comme du ‘Napoléon noir’, mais je dis que Napoléon était un Chaka blanc.” Miriam Makeba