Tag Archives: King Cetshwayo

Shaka Zulu (3)

Last time, I finished by mentioning how the regiments of the Zulu army were distinguished by differently coloured shields and the number of marks on them. Shields might be brown, white or black and might have black spots, brown spots, white spots or no spots at all. Here’s a display in a South African museum:

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It occurred quite frequently that the Zulus would use the captured shields of their enemies as a ruse, causing confusion or even panic among the ranks of their adversaries. Chaka actually owned his own army’s warshields, the isihlangu, and they were handed out only in times of war. Men were punished for losing them.

Years later, when the Zulus were fighting the Boers,  Bongoza, a General in the Zulu army of King Dingane, even showed his men how to hide behind their shields and pretend to be grazing cattle.

Funnily enough, that was actually the only innovative idea that I came across that did not come from Chaka, the most brilliant military thinker ever in  sub-Saharan Africa. I found this coloured version of what is usually a black and white illustration of him on the internet:

Chaka was the one, for example, who changed his men’s diet, having them consume a fairly constant mixture of beef and cereal porridge. The existence of a new, fitter, stronger, army, would, of course, ultimately create more wars, but at the same time it would allow free access to further supplies of beef and cereals from the territories of the conquered tribes.

I don’t know if this dietary régime really did keep the Zulus leaner, fitter and more able to march long distances but that was the widely held belief among non-Zulus in Natal and Zululand in the 19th century. The problem, of course, was that the Zulus themselves left no written accounts and that all we have to go on are the accounts of one or two white traders such as Francis Farewell and Henry Fynn. And any books written by men who merely want to make money, of course, tend to exaggerate, just to make even more money.

For that reason, we shall never know for certain just how bloodthirsty and crazy Chaka was after his mother, Nandi, died on October 10th 1827. Did he really order every Zulu mother-to-be to be executed? Did he really seek out more than 7,000 people who were not sufficiently grief stricken and have them all killed? And even more crazily, did he really have every cow with a calf to be killed so that their offspring would all know exactly what it felt like when your mother died?

Only written records from an unbiased source can tell us such things. We are, for the same reason, still unsure about how far a Zulu regiment, an impi, could  run in a day. In 1879 the whites firmly believed that the answer to that question was FIFTY miles. It is even quoted in the film “Zulu”.

South African historian, John Laband, however, thought the idea was ridiculous. He gave 12 miles per day as the absolute maximum with only nine miles per day as the normal distance.
A very similar example would be the use of sandals by Zulu warriors. In the absence of written records, it has been handed down over the years that in order to toughen his warriors’ feet, Chaka had them stop wearing sandals and then any who refused were executed. Nowadays, we just don’t know if that is true or false.

Modern Zulus, especially the politicians, wear spotless, bright, white trainers. Their followers  frequently wear very brightly coloured jeans and carry golf umbrellas :

Some other aspects of bygone Zulu life we do know about through photographs. Across the world, many kings wear crowns. Zulu kings were slightly different and we have photographs from the nineteenth century to prove it. Here is King Cetshwayo:

He is wearing an “isiCoco”, an emblem of rank in pre-colonial days, meaning variously “the king”, “married man” or “warrior”, depending on the person wearing it. It was originally made from a mixture of beeswax, charcoal and snake skin, the latter being a symbol of African royalty and kingship. Warriors would wear leopard skin, because that was the animal they usually hunted. Nowadays, the isiCoco is made more easily, perhaps, by twisting a fibre ring into the hair. The ring has been covered in charcoal and gum and then polished with beeswax.

One final Zulu speciality weapon was the “knobkerrie”, a type of club with a large knob at one end. It can be thrown at the enemy like a javelin, or at animals while out hunting, or it can be used to club an enemy at close quarters. Sometimes it was used in stick fights as young boys practiced their combat techniques. In the Zulu language, it is called an “iwisa” and nowadays is not considered a weapon.

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I have always been fascinated by the Zulus. As a little boy, I was an avid reader of books by H Rider Haggard. It began when “Allan Quartermain” was given to me as a Christmas present, and then I bought “King Solomon’s Mines” and “She” with my pocket money. I was entranced by the heroic Zulu warrior, Umslopogaas, who appears in “Allan Quartermain” and in its sequel “Nada the Lily” a book unique in the nineteenth century in that all of its characters are black. Absolutely remarkable for that era.

I even tried to learn some Zulu phrases, but I never really had the chance to use the phrase “Kill the white wizards” so I soon forgot it. In actual fact, the only one I do still remember is “Amba gachlé ” which means “Go in peace”. Not a bad phrase to be the only one you know.

Here’s Umslopogaas :

 

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Filed under Africa, History, Humour, Literature, military, Politics

They win. Zu Lus (1)

Recently we looked at how names have been given to the streets and roads of England. I told you too about the Egyptian quarter of Nottingham, where the streets are paved with compacted sand and camel droppings. All of this was in one particular working class area of Nottingham called New Basford, if you remember, and it had Cairo Street, Delta Street, Egypt Road, Rosetta Road and Suez Street.

I voted to have a “Hutt-hutt-hutt” Street, because “Hutt-hutt-hutt” is what you always say if you are riding a camel and you want it to go a lot, lot faster, rather like fighter pilots always say to themselves “light those afterburners NOW”. My suggestion of “Hutt-hutt-hutt” Street was turned down by the Nottingham City Planning Department (Street Names) because they said that it would cause total chaos if there was ever a person riding a camel at the T-junction with Nottingham Road and a pedestrian who was slightly deaf went up and asked the rider loudly :

“Excuse me, mate, but do you know where HUTT-HUTT-HUTT Street is please?”

Arguably though, the streets further to the north are even more interesting, not least because they are almost completely free of references to any of the Camelidae or indeed, the Giraffidae . Instead, the street names there commemorate the stunning victory by the Zulus over the British Army at Isandula or Isandlwana, during the Zulu War of 1879. It was the greatest victory by a native army over a Western European army since the Germans beat Quinctilius Varus in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD. This map has Egypt Road and Suez Street at the very bottom left, along with the other Egyptian streets,  but then, there are five references to the Zulus a little further to the north:

These six streets in New Basford, then, are again connected with Africa, but this time with the south of the continent rather than the north. The names are perhaps a little more difficult to understand, and they require a fairly detailed knowledge of the war that the British fought against the Zulus under King Cetshwayo in 1879. Common place knowledge in some households, of course, but let me just refresh everyone’s memory. Here is the king, full name “Cetshwayo kaMpande”.

So, how did the war break out?

Well, basically, the British wanted to add Zululand to their Imperial Portfolio, so, on December 11th 1878, they gave the Zulu King Cetshwayo a set of demands which they knew he would never agree to. These included that the Zulu army be disbanded and the men allowed to go home and that the Zulu military system be discontinued. That was like asking the Irish to give up Guinness.

Meanwhile Lord Chelmsford had assembled an army of 18,000 men which marched into Zululand on January 11th 1879. On January 22nd 1879, part of that force, around 2,000 men, were attacked by 20,000 Zulus in what came to be called the Battle of Isandlwana, although it is also called the Battle of Isandula. The Zulus had their traditional, iron, assegai  spears and cow-hide shields, and the British had the outstanding Martini–Henry rifle and two seven pounder field guns, as well as a Hale rocket battery. The Zulu wars are beloved of wargamers, and this is the plastic model version of a rocket battery:

Normally, in a contest between rifles and spears and arrows, the European army would be expected to cope quite comfortably with odds of up to 200-300 to one, depending on the circumstances. Not here though. And people have been arguing ever since,

“Why?”, “Why did the British lose?”

The Zulus triumphed though, and Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony William Durnford is the man who is frequently blamed for the fact that this was the greatest defeat ever suffered by British soldiers against a native force armed with their traditional weapons.

After the battle, some 4,000 men of the Zulu “impi” (or regiment) called the “Undi impi” crossed the river and went off to attack Rorke’s Drift. The 150 or so men at this fortified mission station were commanded by Lieutenants John Chard of the Royal Engineers and Gonville Bromhead, the latter an Old Boy of Newark Magnus School in Nottinghsmshire.

The events there were subsequently portrayed in the film “Zulu”. Stanley Baker played John Chard:

And Sir Michael Caine played Gonville Bromhead. Not many people know that.

After Isandlwana, the British army was heavily reinforced and invaded Zululand for a second time. Sir Garnet Wolseley was sent to be in charge, but Chelmsford deliberately avoided handing over command to him. This time, Chelmsford managed to defeat the Zulus in a number of engagements, the last of which was the Battle of Ulundi on January 4th 1879. Soon afterwards, Chelmsford’s British army captured King Cetshwayo. At last, the British were victorious, although everybody was well aware who the real warriors were.

Next time: “The Mean Streets of New Basford in Nottingham” aka “The British salute the gallant losers”.

Incidentally, my Australian friend, John Corden, recently wrote a blog post about street names in Australia. It is a really good read and you can find him here. And, if you like his post, try writing something in his Comments section.

 

 

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Filed under Film & TV, History, Humour, Nottingham, Politics