The Zulu Kingdom

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The Zulu kingdom of the 19th Century was ruled by a monarchy and extended along the coast of the Indian Ocean from the Tugela River in the south to Pongola River in the north. It had an estimated population of 250,000. It covered 30,000 square kilometres (11,500 square miles). Its main currency was cattle. The Zulus had their own martial art called Nguni stick fighting. Although it could involve using up to two sticks, the martial art could be performed with fighter also carrying a shield.

A contemporary sovereign state was the Republic of Texas in North America which had a population of 70,000 people and covered an area of 1 million square kilometres (390, 000 square miles).

Modern day Zulus live in South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The native language of the Zulus is isiZulu. 9 million South Africans are native speakers and a further 15 million speak isiZulu as a second language. There was no specific customary attire. The historic Zulus wore a variety of outfits.

Modern day Zulus were forced under apartheid to live in KwaZulu-Natal and were not eligible to have South African citizenship from 1981 to 1994. KwaZulu means “place of the Zulus”. Today, the majority of Zulus in South Africa still live in KwaZulu, about 10-12 million people.

Shaka Zulu is considered the first leader of the Zulu Kingdom, which emerged in 1816 and existed until 1897. Although prior to his leadership, a smaller society called the Zulus existed and they were led by Senzangakona, King of the Zulus. The Zulu clan was originally founded by Zulu kaMalandela around 1709.

What made the Zulu kingdom noticeable is its transformation of some smaller kingdoms and some king-less communities into a centralised kingdom led by a Zulu king. The Mthetwa Paramountcy, a Southern African confederacy of roughly 30 Nguni chiefdoms were absorbed into the Zulu state. The Nguni people are believed to have migrated to Southern Africa from the Great Lakes of Central Africa between 200 AD and 1200 AD.

The creation of the Zulu kingdom also had some terrifying effects for populations that fled from the territories of the Zulus to avoid living under a different culture and to avoid becoming second class citizens under the Zulus. They fled with what they could carry and had to rebuild their lives in places like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana.

The Zulu Kingdom is famous for its clashes with the Voortrekkers, and then the British Empire during its expansion around the globe and invasions of various African states. After early victories in some battles followed by severe losses in certain key battles with the British, the kingdom was divided into 13 kinglets. This was followed by infighting and instability among the Zulus.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Key developments on the path to war with Britain included the discovery of diamonds in the Cape Colony in 1867, the invention of the Gatlin gun by Dr. Richard J. Gatlin in 1861 which could fire 200 rounds/min in .58 calibre and 400-900 rounds/min in .30 calibre, and the invention of dynamite by Alfred Nobel in 1867. Within a century South Africa would provide the world with more diamonds than had been mined in the preceding 2,000 years, the Gatlin gun reduced the number of European soldiers needed by the British to fight states not equipped with rapid-fire weapons, askari provided more bodies to throw at the Zulu massed attacks and dynamite improved mining productivity.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Zulu religion includes belief in a creator God (uNkulunkulu) who is above interacting in day-to-day human life, although this belief appears to have originated from efforts by early Christian missionaries to frame the idea of the Christian God in Zulu terms. Traditionally, the more strongly held Zulu belief was in ancestor spirits (amaThongo or amaDlozi), who had the power to intervene in people’s lives, for good or ill. This belief continues to be widespread among the modern Zulu population.

Traditionally, the Zulu recognize several elements to be present in a human being: the physical body (inyama yomzimba or umzimba); the breath or life force (umoya womphefumulo or umoya); and the “shadow,” prestige, or personality (isithunzi). Once the umoya leaves the body, the isithunzi may live on as an ancestral spirit (idlozi) only if certain conditions were met in life. Behaving with ubuntu, or showing respect and generosity towards others, enhances one’s moral standing or prestige in the community, one’s isithunzi. By contrast, acting in a negative way towards others can reduce the isithunzi, and it is possible for the isithunzi to fade away completely.

The defeat of the African kingdoms within South Africa reduced the black population to unfree, cheap labour, living under laws that benefitted the British and European settlers, and working in an economic system that disproportionately distributed wealth to the British and European settlers. The intergenerational wealth created since the 19th century has created an unequal society in South Africa.

Books about Zulu thinking

Axel-Ivar Berglund, Zulu Thought-patterns and Symbolism. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 1976.

Henry Callaway, “Part I:uNkulunkulu”. The Religious System of the Amazulu. Springvale, 1870.

Books about the Zulu wars

Colenso, F.E. History of the Zulu War and Its Origin, London, 1880.

Military Heritage discussed Rorke’s Drift and the politics of the Victoria Cross (Roy Morris Jr., Military Heritage, August 2005, Volume 7, No. 1, p. 8).

Greaves, Adrian, Rorke’s Drift, Cassell, London, 2002.

Laband, John (1992). Kingdom in Crisis: The Zulu Response to the British Invasion of 1879. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-3582-1.

Lock, Ron; Quantrill, Peter. Zulu Victory: The Epic of Isandlwana and the Cover-up. Greenhill Books. 2005, ISBN 1-85367-645-4.

Morris, Donald R. The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879 Da Capo Press, 1998, ISBN 0-306-80866-8.

Knight, Ian, Rorke’s Drift 1879, “Pinned Like Rats in a Hole”; Osprey Campaign Series #41, Osprey Publishing 1996, ISBN 1-85532-506-3.

Knight, Ian, The Zulu War 1879, Osprey, 2003, ISBN 1-84176-612-7

Porter, Whitworth (1889), “South African Wars, 1847–1885”, History of the Corps of Royal Engineers, II, London: Longmans, Green, and Co, pp. 24–43, retrieved 2008-08-14

Snook, Lt Col Mike, Like Wolves on the Fold: The Defence of Rorke’s Drift. Greenhill Books, London, 2006. ISBN 1-85367-659-4.

Thompson, Paul Singer. Black soldiers of the queen: the Natal native contingent in the Anglo-Zulu War, University of Alabama Press, 2006, ISBN 0-8173-5368-2.

Whybra, Julian. England’s Sons, Gift Ltd., 2004.

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The Zulu Kingdom

by Editorial Team time to read: 4 min