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Hats

The Zulus Snap

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haka's supremacy

By then, Shaka had no major rival in the area of present day KwaZulu/Natal. During his brief reign, which lasted only ten years after his final defeat of the Ndwandwe, his regiments continuously went on campaign, steadily extending their assaults further afield as the areas near at hand were stripped of their cattle. If a chiefdom resisted, it was conquered and either destroyed or, like the Thembu and Chunu, driven off as landless refugees. When chiefdom submitted, he left local administration in the hands of the reigning chief or another member of the traditional ruling family appointed by himself.

The Zulu Military System

Once in power Shaka began reorganizing the forces of his people in accordance with ideas he had developed as a warrior in Dingiswayo's army.

The assegai. He had seen that the traditional type of spear, a long-handled assegai thrown from a distance, was no good for the regulated fighting in close formation he had in mind. A group of warriors who held on to their assegais instead of hurling them, and who moved right up to the enemy behind the shelter of a barrier of shields would have its opponents at its mercy and would be able to accomplish complete victory. Having proved the advantages of the new tactics, Shaka armed his warriors with short-handled stabbing spears and trained them to move up to their opponents in close formation with their body-length cowhide shields forming an almost impenetrable barrier to anything thrown at them.

The formation most generally used was crescent-shaped. A number of regiments extending several ranks deep formed a dense body known as the chest (isifuba), while on each side a regiment moved forward forming the horns. As the horns curved inward around the enemy, the main body would advance killing all those who could not break through the encompassing lines.

Discipline. By means of much drilling and discipline, Shaka built up his forces, which soon became the terror of the land. Shaka prohibited the wearing of sandals, toughened his warriors' feet by making them run barefoot over rough thorny ground and in so doing secured their greater mobility. His war cry was `Victory or death!' and he kept his impi on continuous military campaigns until he thought they had earned the right to wear the headring ( isicoco) of manhood. Then they were formally dissolved and allowed to marry.

The male amabutho. The young men were taken away to be enrolled alongside others from all sections of the kingdom in an appropriate amabutho, or age-regiment. This produced a sense of common identity amongst them. Each of these amabutho had its own name and was lodged at one of the royal households, which became military communities as well as retaining their traditional functions. Each military settlement had a herd of royal cattle assigned to it, from which the young men were supplied with meat. The hides of the cattle were used to provide the shields of the warriors and an attempt was made to select cattle with distinctive skin colouring for each amabutho.

The female amabutho. Numbers of the young women of the kingdom were assembled at the military settlements. Officially, they were wards of the king. They were organized in female equivalents of the male amabutho and took part in ceremonial dancing and displays. When one of the male amabutho was given permission to marry, a female amabutho would be broken up and the women given out as brides to the warriors. Until such time, however, sexual intercourse between members of the male and female age regiments was forbidden. Transgressions were punished by death.

The royal women. Each settlement contained a section of royal women headed by a formidable woman, usually one of Shaka's aunts. Shaka, however, dreaded producing a legitimate heir. He never married and women found pregnant by him were put to death. His households were thus not dominated by wives but by stern senior women of the royal family. In the king's absence, administrative authority was wielded jointly by the female ruler of the settlement and by an induna who was usually a favourite of the king. The military system thus helped develop a strong sense of identity in the kingdom as a whole.

The traditional leaders of the subject chiefdoms still held local administrative authority, and on the dissolution of the amabutho the young men would return to live in their community of origin. Thus, the sense of identity of these subject chiefdoms was not entirely lost, but remained an important element in the later politics of the Zulu kingdom.

The military indunas or captains, as trusted favourites of the king, received many cattle from him and were able to build up large personal followings. These developments resulted in the evolution of powerful figures in later reigns with strong local power bases that they had been able to build up because of royal appointments and favours.

KwaBulawayo. Shaka's first capital was on the banks of the Mhodi, a small tributary of the Mkhumbane River in the Babanango district. He named his great place KwaBulawayo (`at the place of the murder'). As his kingdom grew, he built a far bigger KwaBulawayo, a royal household of about 1,400 huts, in the Mhlathuze valley, some 27 km from the present town of Eshowe.

Economic and social changes. The development of the military system caused major economic and social changes. That so much youth was concentrated at the royal barracks resulted in a massive transfer of economic potential to a centralized state. However, the cattle wealth of the whole community throughout the kingdom was greatly improved; even though most of the herds were owned by the king and his chiefs and indunas, all shared in the pride roused by the magnificence of the royal herds as well as the pride of belonging to the unequalled military power of Zulu.

Effects of Shaka's wars. His wars were accompanied by great slaughter and caused many migrations. Their effects were felt even far north of the Zambezi River. Because they feared Shaka, leaders like Zwangendaba, Mzilikazi, and Shoshangane moved northwards far into the central African interior and in their turn sowed war and destruction before developing their own kingdoms. Some estimate that during his reign Shaka caused the death of more than a million people. Shaka's wars between 1818 and 1828 contributed to a series of forced migrations known in various parts of southern Africa as the Mfecane, Difaqane, Lifaqane, or Fetcani. Groups of refugees from Shaka's assaults, first Hlubi and Ngwane clans, later followed by the Mantatees and the Matabele of Mzilikazi, crossed the Drakensberg to the west, smashing chiefdoms in their path. Famine and chaos followed the wholesale extermination of populations and the destruction of herds and crops between the Limpopo and the Gariep River. Old chiefdoms vanished and new ones were created.

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