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Great Celebrities in Ancient History: The Rise and Fall of the Zulu King Shaka

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Large Statue Representing Shaka at Camden Market in London, England

Shaka was one of the most influential monarchs of the Zulu Kingdom. He is widely credited with uniting many of the Northern Nguni people, specifically the Mthethwa Paramountcy and the Ndwandwe into the Zulu Kingdom, the beginnings of a nation that he

Shaka was one of the most influential monarchs of the Zulu Kingdom. He is widely credited with uniting many of the Northern Nguni people, specifically the Mthethwa Paramountcy and the Ndwandwe into the Zulu Kingdom, the beginnings of a nation that he

Shaka Zulu

Statue of Shaka in Stanger, and it should be noted that his spear was not that long, but short with a large blade taking up most of the length of the spear for close combat

Statue of Shaka in Stanger, and it should be noted that his spear was not that long, but short with a large blade taking up most of the length of the spear for close combat

Artistic impression and portrait of Shaka

Artistic impression and portrait of Shaka

Shaka, the Zulu King

Shaka, the Zulu King

The main actor in Shaka Zulu is holding on to a spear akin to the one used by Shaka in real life-Large blade and short handle for close combat and maneuverability

The main actor in Shaka Zulu is holding on to a spear akin to the one used by Shaka in real life-Large blade and short handle for close combat and maneuverability

This image is used to show the length of the spear that was called the 'Ixwa', used by Shaka and his warrior. so that, in Zulu, we say: "u-Shaka wa kwa Zulu(Shaka of the Zulus). Shaka had it shortened for close quarters combat

This image is used to show the length of the spear that was called the 'Ixwa', used by Shaka and his warrior. so that, in Zulu, we say: "u-Shaka wa kwa Zulu(Shaka of the Zulus). Shaka had it shortened for close quarters combat

Zulu men dressed in full Zulu traditional regalia, note their shoes,"mbatata" made of car tires

Zulu men dressed in full Zulu traditional regalia, note their shoes,"mbatata" made of car tires

The spear in the background with a large blade might be more closer to the "Ixwa", with an even shorter wooden or steel handle. It was indeed menacing and intimidating

The spear in the background with a large blade might be more closer to the "Ixwa", with an even shorter wooden or steel handle. It was indeed menacing and intimidating

Shaka's Painting

Shaka's Painting

Depiction of Shaka's Image and character by Actor (Henry Cele) in this picture

Depiction of Shaka's Image and character by Actor (Henry Cele) in this picture

Shaka place at  Kwabulawayo

Shaka place at Kwabulawayo

Zulu Dance troupe

Zulu Dance troupe

Zulu Man dressed in Zulu Traditional wear worn during the times of Shaka

Zulu Man dressed in Zulu Traditional wear worn during the times of Shaka

Shaka the Zulu King and Military Genius

Life's Hard Knocks

One of the most fascinating leaders of early Africa was Shaka, born in 1786 and died in 1828. Some people have called him a conqueror and despot. His story was that of being brought-up the hard way. His mother Nandi, who was seduced by a chieftain called Senzangakhona, was broiled in scandal about their love affair. When the chief of Elangeni, closely related to the Zulu clan, died, he left one his children, a strong-willed Nandi orphaned, caught the eye of Senzangakhona.

They could not get married because Senzangakhona's mother was from the Elangani people, and he already had two wives. Nonetheless, as a chieftain, he had no qualms flirting and flaunting the rule of exogamy respected among the clans. Shaka's father and mother were blood relatives, and their relationship was frowned-upon by both clans. When Nandi became pregnant, the clan was feeling humiliated because they had expected that the chief would show better judgment.

When Shaka's mother asked the chief Senzangakhona to send for her, the elders sent back a word that this was not a case of pregnancy but that her child was an 'ishaka' (a convenient intestinal beetle on whom menstrual irregularities were usually blamed) The chief sent fro her and made her his third wife around 1787. The presence of Nandi created a lot of friction around the kraal.

As a growing-up herdboy, Shaka lost a pet goat of his father, and his father, because of the pressure from the clan, sent her packing along with Shaka and his sister, back to her Elangeni people. Their stay with her mother's people was very disastrous for all them. The eLangeni people felt disgraced by her and they were forced to return the chiefs dowry, and her stubborn personality did not help better their situation whilst living with them.

For the next ten years, Shaka looked after the cattle and was abused, taunted, beaten and tormented by his peers. They used to make fun of is crinkly ears and his short and stumpy phallus. He grew up alone, fatherless and very bitter. He was intelligent, and this was fueled by the abuse and meanness around him to make himself better. He was also conscious of his royal blood and the ordinariness of his tormentors. He retained a deadly hatred for the people of Elangeni until his death. They would later regret it very much, because Shaka never forgot about it.

He grew up to become a very hardened and unfeeling person. In the 1802 a heavy famine struck the area and they were thrown out of the people of Elangeni, and his mother too, was seen as quarrelsome, both were turned adrift, they went to live Shaka's grandfather, Gedeyana. He grew into puberty and was beginning to show signs of physical prowess, and both the Zulusand the eLangeni people vied for his return and services where, because of more family strife, they chased them out.

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Finally, Shaka's father, asked a headman of the Mtetwa clan, Ngomane, to give them a home, which Ngomane did, and was very kind to Shaka and his mother and sister. Shaka never forgot that, and when he became the supreme ruler of the Zulu people, he made Ngomane his second in command.

It has been told that only two people mattered and were loved by Shaka, his mother and Ngomane. After seven years living with Ngomane, Shaka was put into the service of Dingiswayo, a famous Mtetwa chief, and when his father, Senzangakhona wanted him, and Shaka was due for his puberty ceremony, Shaka's arrogance and hostility caused them to have a very serious and horrible quarrel.

Shaka grew to six feet and three inches, and he earned his first cow for killing a leopard on a tree. He learned how to throw a light spear. He did not like the light throwing spear, so he redesigned it into an offensive weapon, with a sort handle and a broad blade. His shield was also made and offensive weapon of his shield, hooking with it left edge over the left edge of his opponents shield, spin his foe to the right with a powerful backhand sweep, Shaka's left was covered, and his opponent off balance and askew, could find no opening for his spear, hampered by his own shield which has been dragged across his front.

The shield dragged the left arm over with it and turned his left armpit to Shaka, who could sink his spear in it in a movement that was a natural continuation of the shield hooking. As the victim slid off the assegai blade, Shaka would shout, "Ngadla!(I have eaten)." He threw away his ox-hide sandals, he hardened his feet on rocks and thorns, which added to his speed and surety of his footing in battle. These were the techniques he developed earlier on, and he would later apply them to his Zulu Army.

The Zulu War Mean Machine

Under the Mtetwa clan, as a young soldier and leader, Shaka defeated and slew The Buthelezi Clan under Pungashe. He was awarded with a herd of cattle and was given charge of the Izicwe. He was also allowed to partake in the councils where they re-made the policy for military expeditions, and he taught his army ho to advance with their shields held at a proper angle at a proper angle. He created the Udibi , boys who were fifteen or sixteen, and they were used to herd the cattle.

One to every three warriors were assigned the role of carrying sleeping mats, cooking pots, extra assegai and small amounts of grain and water. Senzangakhona was summoned to the court of Dingiswayo and it was suggested to him to make Shaka the chief after his death, at that time Senzangakhona was old and fat. But his great wife, Mkabai, dissuaded him into appointing Shaka, and she suggested her eldest son to be chief-Senzangakhona agreed with her.

In the Council with Mtetwa, Shaka was now known as a ferocious warrior, but in the council knew him as a sage, giving sound and quiet advice which Dingiswayo, the Mtetwa chief approved-of. Shaka's concern was with the morale of his soldiers, a trait he learned from Dingiswayo and passed-on to his soldiers. When Senzangakhona died in 1816, Dingiswayo dispatched Shaka (who was now twenty-nine) to the Zulu kraals with a strong regiment of Izicwe .

When the Great Wife put her son on the throne, Shaka came, had him killed and took the reins of a clan that had not seen him since he was six(more or less a quarter century had passed) and he rebuild the nation into one of the most powerful nations on earth. It was at this time, Shaka's younger half brother, Dingane, came along to dispute the chieftainship. Shaka met him and did not kill him, which was one of the most fatal mistakes Shaka ever made.

Shaka built a new kraal which he called kwaBulawayo(at place of He Who Kills, or the Killing Place). He improved the material culture and social system of the Zulus. Shaka started building the Zulu Army from scratch. He formed Izicwe into a standard formation requiring four groups, and these four tactical groups could be formed into numerous subdivisions. Their strongest techiqqe/formation was the "chest," the one that closed in once onto the enemy and held it fast.

The other two were the "horns" that surrounded the enemy until their tips met The fourth group was the reserve and known as the "loins," and they were placed behind the chest and remained seated with their backs to the fight so as not to become excited. This all depended on several movements which were carried-out over broken ground at top speed, silently while maintaining perfect formation and alignment.

He then let the Izicwe to go back to the Mtetwas and proceeded to form the Amawombe, composed of old men with head rings and married. He allowed them to keep their wives but built them a new kraal (by then he had executed and persecuted all those who had treated him and his mother, and abused him in his childhood,and those who treated Nandi badly, and those that had called him an iShaka).

The thirty year olds with a headring but not yet married were banded together and called uJubingqwana (The of the Headring Ukase), made them shave and they were made boys again). The rest of the mature men were created into a regiment, and since they were not so many, were brigaded into the izimPohlo (Bachelor boys' Brigade).

Those who were left, were the herdboys who were fresh from the years tending cows and sheep, and the youngest of the bachelors, who had just come from being herdboys themselves, and he fashioned the uFasimba (The Haze and or Shaka's Own). These were the soldiers he trained in the methods of fighting he used earlier on in his career. He greatly relied on them and they became a prototyped for all the regiments he created thereafter.

Shaka drilled his men very hard, taught them movements until they could cover fifty miles in a day. He made his army discard the sandals from cow skin. It is reported that European soldiers could cover up to fifteen miles on a paved road in a day. Shaka always led by example, and his soldiers learned songs and war cries, made various ornaments fashioned from feathers and fur, thus creating their own uniforms. Shaka never married.

He started attacking the smaller clans and rounded up all the young men. Most of them submitted without a fight. He used many deceitful techniques like bunching his army, and made his men carry their shields which made the enemy think they were few in number until when the horns raced out, then the men turned their shields towards the enemy, and his army would seem to double in an instant.

His army would smash into the enemy, who when they ran into the women and children standing nearby to watch the fight, they would be butchered there too. By 1817, Shaka had grown and increased the Zulu population to four times its size. When he started, his army was made of 350 men.

Now he had 2,000 trained men and those in uFasimba numbered more than 800 men. He did not allow three of his regiments to marry and they were forced into celibacy. Shaka, by then, was able to form other regiments provided for by the captives his four regiments. The ranks of his army swelled, and they still retained their original names. As the newcomers were incorporated into the Zulu army, they were subjected to Zulu drill and discipline.

Shaka's Attempt to Create one Zulu Nation

As Shaka became more respected by his people, he was able to spread his ideas with greater ease. Because of is background as a soldier, Shaka taught the Zulus the most effective way of becoming powerful quickly was by conquering and controlling other clans. His teachings greatly influenced the social outlook of the Zulu people. The Zulu nation soon developed a "warrior mindset", which made it easier for Shaka to consolidate his armies.

Shaka's hegemony was primarily based on military might, smashing and incorporating scattered remnants into his own arm. He supplemented this with a mixture of diplomacy and patronage, incorporating friendly chieftains, including Zihandlo of the Mkize clan, Jobe of the Sithole clan and Mathubane of the Thuli clan. These people were never defeated in battle by the Zulus.

They did not have to be because Shaka won them over by subtler tactics of patronage and reward. The ruling Qwabe clan, for example, began re-inventing their genealogies to give the impression that Qwabe and Zulu were closely related in the past, and in this was a greater cohesion that was created, which, if one knows Zulu history, was not far from the truth, because each clan emerged, as far as Zulu lore goes, from 'isigodi' area, in accordance to the clan name.

After killing Sigujana, Shaka was accepted by the Zulus and still recognized Dingiswayo and his larger Mthetwa clan as overlord and Shaka returned to the Zulu clan. Some years later, Dingiswayo was ambushed by King Zwide of the Amandwandwe and killed. It has often been postulated that Shaka betrayed Dingiswayo, but this was not true because the Zulu core had many-a-times retreated from the Mthetwa incursions, and the Mthethwa were the most aggressive of the whole Zulu peoples, and the whole Sub-region of South Africa.

Shaka was able to form an alliance with the leaderless Mthetwa clan and was able to establish himself among the Qwabe, after Phakathwayo was overthrown with relative ease. With the Qwabe, Mkhize and Hlubi support, Shaka was finally able to summon a force capable of resisting the Ndwandwe(of the Nxumalo clan)/. He was able to destroy Zwide of the Ndwandwe clan at the Battle of Gqokli Hill, and it was where he was able to hone and improve their encirclement tactics.(Donald Morris)

Another decisive fight eventually took place on the Mhlatuze river, at the confluence with the Mvuzane stream. In a two-day running battle, the Zulus inflicted a resounding defeat on their opponents. Shaka then led a fresh reserve some seventy miles to the royal kraal of Zwide, ruler of the Ndwandwe clan, and destroyed it. Zwide escaped with a handful of followers before falling foul to Queen Mjanji, the ruler of the Ba-pedi clan. Zwide died mysteriously afterwards. Shaka's General, Soshangane (of the Shangaan) moved northwards to what is now Mozambique to inflict further damage on less resistant foes and took advantage of slaving opportunities, obliging the Portuguese traders to give tribute to him

Shaka moved on into the Hlubi(Xhosa clan) under Matiwane and after a week's long battle, the Hlubis, in 1823, were defeated and they broke-up into smaller bands. Manthatisi continued up north and kept on engaging the Basotho, who, under their leader, Moshoeshoe, who had gathered about 2,000 of his people onto the mountain top called Thaba Bosiu (Mountain of the Night), and this plateau had only three access trails and on top a 150 acre of pasture.

Moshoeshoe instructed his people to supply large boulders which he rolled down the mountain on the Manthatisi attackers, whom he finally defeated in 1852, under the leadership of Sikonyela, Manthatisi's son. Moshoeshoe also gave Matiwane, his enemy sanctuary after he was overrun by the British, the Boers and 18,000 Tembu soldiers. Finally, Matiwane got homesick and went back to Shaka, who in the end killed him. There was an African Queen or the Basothos(the baTlokwa stock) -- who fought the amaHlubi by lining up unarmed children and women, causing the amaHlubi to run.

Shaka went south up to the great Kei River and very close to British Kaffraria, where he nearly perilously close to British and Boer regulars. They had a close brush with the Griquas, who had clashes with Manthatisi and her people until she veered north into the African hinterland, where her power declined. These wars and movement of populations caused total chaos in the interior. Many clans crumbled and ran, mostly to the south of the country, where they came across the Xhosa people who were embroiled in wars with the Europeans in what was dubbed the Frontier Wars.

The whole region was in total chaos and was known as the "Difaqane" in Sotho language or in Zulu language "Mfecane"(Scattering or wanderings). This was a time of cannibalism and no one dared built kraals nor tilled the land. The whole landscape was strewn with rotten carcasses and bones, and there was general chaos and disorder everywhere.

Shaka was pursuing Dingiswayo's Grand Design: this was a dream of political union of the whole country. Shaka had this idea too, but he blindly struck out at the smaller clans or smaller nations throughout the country. He waged war for the sake of war and with Dingiswayo's idea in mind. The Zulus became rich form the hundred of thousand of cows his army brought back from the raids. He also waged war so that his army did not become idle.

In 1822 he invaded Natal. Because of this push, hundreds of thousands of refugees streamed and spread southwards and right up to the Tugela River. Shaka sent his General Mzilikazi to attack Moshoeshoe, who defeated him and Mzilikazi, then betrayed Shaka by creating his own Matabele nation and headed north(Today's Zimbabwe) where he got entangled with the Boers who ended defeating him in 1836.

By 1820, four years into his reign, and at age thirty-four, Shaka was ruling the land the size of France. His people were wealthy. His enemies had been subdued, and his people began fighting amongst themselves. He put thousands to death. Ngomane and his mother tries hard to dissuade him from slaughtering people. When his mother died, 7,000 people were put to death. Among the dead were those who did not cry or came to his royal city to mourn.

Henry Fynn writes about these period as follows:"After his mother passed away, Shaka went into his hut, and came out wearing his full war regalia. He was crying and he let out some frantic yells. The signal was enough. The chiefs and people, to the number of about fifteen thousand, commenced the most dismal and horrid lamentations. The people from the neighboring kraals, male and female, came pouring in, each body as they came in sight, at a distance of half a mile, joining to swell the terrible cry.

Through the whole night it continued, none daring to rest or refresh themselves with water; while at short intervals, fresh outbursts were heard as more distant regiments approached. The morning dawned without any relaxation, and before noon the number had increased to about sixty-thousand. The cries now became indescribably horrid. Hundreds were lying faint from excessive fatigue and want of nourishment; while the carcasses of forty oxen lay in a heap, which had been slaughtered as an offering to the guardian spirits of the clan.

At noon the whole force formed a circle with Shaka in the center, and sang a war song,which afforded them some relaxation during its continuance. At the close of it, Shaka ordered several men to be executed on the spot; and the cries became, if possible, more violent than ever. No further orders were needed; but, as if bent on convincing their King of their extreme grief, the multitude commenced a general massacre.

Many of them received the blow of death while inflicting it on others, each taking the opportunity of revenging his injuries, real or imaginary. Those who could no more force tears from their eyes- those who were found near the river panting water - were beaten to death by others who were mad with excitement. Towards the afternoon, It was calculated that no fewer than seven thousand people had fallen in this frightful indiscriminate massacre.

The adjacent stream to which many had fled exhausted to wet their parched tongues, became impassable from the number of dead corpses which lay on each side of it; while the kraal in which the scene took place, was flowing with blood." These were some of the cruel indiscretions Shaka indulged in to the consternation of his close cohorts, family and nation.