The Zulu kingdom, the Zulu nation!
This brief write up is my understanding of the forming of the Zulu nation into a great kingdom over the years. We have to always keep in mind that almost all that is written on the Zulu nation is from word of mouth of Oral history and this could mean that it has been twisted over the years.
The Zulu nation like any other in its early days was illiterate and it took the missionaries which came to South Africa in the 1840’s to begin with educating the Zulu people about God and Jesus as well as the other western ways.
It always amazes me in conversation with many westerners that they seem to feel that you are uneducated or beneath them if you haven’t what is referred to as a formal education. In my opinion this is very wrong! I almost feel the opposite that learning from other family members to hunt to survive, fight and communicate with nature is quite an education. It obviously wont stand you in good stead to get a regular job but its a heck of an experience!
The Zulu nation have a history which is incredible to learn about.
The Zulu nation was believed to have originally formed in about 1550 by a Chief called Malandela with a small following on the Southern banks of the Umhlatuze river. He had two sons Zulu and Qwabe who as most brother do, did not get along. They were split up and Zulu was sent to the area North of the White Umfolozi river which runs through the Hluhluwe Imfolozi game reserve where I always take my clients to see the Big 5.
Prominent rivers of KwaZulu Natal in Zululand
We have to make mention that the Zulu nation had it origins in central east Africa and became nomadic farmers moving down from this area into Southern Africa hugging the coastline as they moved. They brought with them the Nguni cow which you still find in Kenya and Tanzania (east Africa).
This would have been a slow process but it is said that by the time the British colonized Durban, in 1823 the Zulu kingdom had filtered down as far as Rio De Natal or what became the Durban harbour.
From my understanding the Zulus arrived in the area of Durban in the early 1800’s meaning they would have not arrived much before the British in the Durban harbour area. Taking into consideration that Durban harbour or Rio De Natal was discovered in 1497 by Vasco De Gama(Portuguese explorer) this means that no Black African person in South Africa is a true South African or originated in South Africa.
The true South Africans as far as I am able to tell are the San (aka the Bushmen) who have lived off the land in South Africa for at least the past 40 000 years. Bushman paintings found in the Drakensberg mountains date back as far as 28 000 years.
Bushman paintings that are 800 years old seen on a hike in the Northern Drakensberg.
Back to the Zulus:
Most people only seem to think that Shaka kaSenzangakhona ( Shaka son of Senzanagakhona) was the former of the Zulu nation. He was not, he was the “bastard” child of Senzanganakhona and Nandi a maiden from the Elengeni tribe who rose above his humble beginnings to become the greatest leader the Zulu nation has ever seen.
Shaka did invent the short stabbing spear the Iqwa or Assagai as some of us call it as well as the bulls horns formation of attack. He was a leader which grew his Zulu nation and Kingdom by force and would not let anyone stand in his way. It took the hand of his half brother Dingane to remove him from power in 1828.
Prior to King Shaka there was 8 kings going back to Malandela in approx 1550. Shaka reigned from 1816 – 1828.
Zulu Warfare demonstration
Again many people think king Shaka was involved in the Anglo-Zulu wars in 1879. All that Shaka had to do with these battles was to share the weapons he invented and the tactics.
It was king Cetshwayo kaMpande (son of Shakas half brother Mpande).
Cetshwayo meets with Queen Victoria of England on 14th August 1882
Cetshwayo kaMpande sailed to England and probably to the Queen Victoria’s surprise presented himself as a well groomed man in a Suit!
Cetshwayo was capture during the 1879 Anglo-Zulu battled and exiled to Cape town and requested from the Queen to return to lead his Zulu kingdom, she obliged.
Back to King Shaka:
Shaka never sired any children as far as we know, it is said that he never wanted to have someone stronger than him so if any of his Concubines fell pregnant he would send them away from the the Zulu nation to abort the baby or they could not return.
To abort a child in those days before modern medicine you could use the roots of the Wild Veronia or herbs, roots etc in a ground form as a oral medication which would bring on a miscarriage.
The great king Shaka truly was a dominant leader of the Zulus.
Shaka lost all the respect he had earned when he began to destroy his own Zulu nation.
Upon the death of his mother Nandi in 1827, Shaka was out hunting Elephants with the British who had taught him how to use a single shot rifle and showed him the value of trade. When Shaka heard about his mothers death he legged it back from the Umhlatuze river to Eshowe for her burial.
He loved his mother so much due to the fact that he was a bastard child and not accepted by many other Zulus as being born out of wedlock was frond upon in those days. King Shaka was abused as a child due to his illegitimate arrival into this world and after other Zulu women burned the home on Nandi they both fled to here original tribe the Elangeni people.
It was through this that Shaka loved his mother so much for protecting him. Shaka began to destroy his Zulu nation, he entered into a year of mourning which is still practiced today amongst Zulus.
He destroyed food storage, Slaughtered men and women who were found having intercourse. No woman was allowed to bare a child during this time, if discovered Shaka would removed the child and kill the mother!
No one was allowed to drink alcohol, sing or dance it was a year that all Zulus would mourn Shakas lose and it became to much.
In 1828 Dingane; Shakas half brother stabbed him in the back with his own invention the Iqwa or Assagai, Shakas body was thrown into an old maize storage pit believed to be near where the present day King Shaka international airport is situated.
Dingane became King of the Zulus from 1828 -1840 when he met his death in the Lebombo mountains by the Swazi, Nyawo who was an old enemy. He was chased there by the Dutch who were out to seek revenge over the death of their people and leader Piet Retief.
Mpande kaSenzanagakona ( Mpande son of Senzangakona) then took over as King of the Zulu nation from 1840 – 1872. He became a well educated man due to the Norwegian missionaries and became morbidly obese.
Mpande was so obese that the Norwegian missionaries based at Fort Nongqayi, Eshowe built him a wheel chair which is still on display in the museum there.
Mpandes wheel chair
After Mpande passed away mostly due to illnesses related to his lifestyle his son Cetshwayo kaMpande became the Zulu king from 1872 -1884. It was this famous Zulu leader as mentioned above that lead the Zulus into battle against the British at Rorkes drift and Isandlwana on the 22nd of January 1879.
After Rorkes drift was Queen Victoria handed out 12 Victorian crosses and one of the men decided he would rather become a commanding officer than accept it so the Queen obliged. In the end 11 Victorian crosses were handed out the most in the history of the British vs a Native force.
The battle of Isandlwana was the worst defeat the British have ever suffered at the hands of a Native force even to today!
The history of the Zulus goes on and even today we have a Zulu King by the name King Goodwill Zwelithini he has been King of the Zulus since 1971 and still going strong. Today his position is a reminder of our history and he has no power in politics but does still hold annual festivities like the Festival of the first fruits and the Reed dance.
The traditional Zulu first fruit ritual is an annual harvest celebration known as the Umkhosi Wokweshwama ceremony.
During the ceremony, the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini, is the first person in the nation to sample the new season’s crop. A person who eats the new crop before the king is considered to have violated the dignity and respect owed to the monarch and the tribal ancestors.
The Zulu first fruit ceremony is held when the new season’s crops ripen in December or early January. The ceremony takes place at Enyokeni Royal Palace, Nongoma, Zululand, and the exact date is subject to the Zulu king’s discretion.
The royal tasting happens in a ritualised manner, involving the use of special medicines created by the King’s herbalists and is intended to impart the blessings of the ancestors to the harvest and the farmers.
During this event, young men participate in a series of rituals aimed at providing the Zulu nation with good fortune in the year ahead. Praise singers perform, and the Zulu monarch uses the occasion to talk to his people about pressing social issues such as HIV/Aids and poverty alleviation.
First Fruits Festival
In a desperate attempt to halt the tide of poverty, starvation and joblessness, King Zwelithini has repeatedly exhorted his subjects to develop new skills for tilling their lands and producing food. The king says that over the past thirty years he has been “deeply pained” to see vast numbers of his subjects languishing in a cesspool of indigence and squalor.
His Majesty sees the lands that his rural subjects inhabit as being their chief meal-ticket. Determined to jumpstart an agrarian revolution, the king has, over the last decade, revived the “Ukweshwama” or “First Fruits Festival” pioneered by his ancestors.
According to tradition, in a by-gone era, subjects were not permitted to partake of their first fruit yields without first offering them to their king. The festival also served as a thanksgiving to God for providing food for the nation. As the leader of his nation, the king had to firstly accept the early harvest from God on behalf of his kingdom.
There was also a heavy emphasis on the need for Zulu men to grow up to be big and strong so that they could help defend the might and power of the Zulu kingdom.
It was believed that if they helped themselves to the “first fruits” before the king could eat them, then those men would be weak – that they would not grow up to be real men.
In a nutshell, the festival ordained that when the new harvest season arrived, the king had to eat first before the nation could eat. At a microscopic level, the same principle traditionally applies to individual households where the elders eat first.
The unbridled merriment and cultural song and dance routines that characterise the Ukweshwama festival are symptomatic of the Zulu nation celebrating the fact that they could look forward to bountiful supplies of food in the kingdom.
A major highlight of the festival is the ritual killing of a bull by members of the amabutho with their bare hands. This was a test of their courage and bravery and represented an opportunity for the warriors to prove themselves to be worthy of being in the regiment. – King Senzangakona did this at his wedding!
Legend has it that the warriors inherited the power of the bull when the animal was killed. Through their salutations to the king, this power is transferred to their leader who then uses it to protect and defend the kingdom.
The Reed dance:
(below write up courtesy of http://www.zulu.org.za)
Zulu reed dance ceremony
Once a year, in the heart of South Africa’s Kingdom of the Zulu, thousands of people make the long journey to one of His Majesty’s, the King of the Zulu nation’s royal residence at KwaNyokeni Palace. Here, in Nongoma, early every September month, young Zulu maidens will take part in a colourful cultural festival, the Royal Reed Dance festival – or Umkhosi woMhlanga in the Zulu language.
For visitors to KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa’s most popular tourist destination, the Reed Dance festival offers the unique opportunity to experience the natural beauty and majesty of the Kingdom of the Zulu, combined with the vibrant spectacle of Zulu cultural life. The road to the Reed Dance festival runs north from the city of Durban, and winds through the green lushness of the North Coast sugar-belt, skirting through the Kingdom’s world-renowed wildlife reserves of Zululand and Maputaland.
Finally, it leads into the gently rolling hills and valleys of Zululand, a landscape rich with the silent memories of the heroic clashes of the Anglo-Zulu War, which took place more than 100 years ago.
Steeped in the history of the rise of the Zulu kingdom under the great King Shaka, the Reed Dance festival has been tirelessly celebrated by countless generations, and attracts thousands of visitors from throughout the country and from across the world. A dignified traditional ceremony, the Reed Dance festival is at same time a vibrant, festive occasion, which depicts the rich cultural heritage of the Kingdom of the Zulu and celebrates the proud origin of the Zulu people.
The Reed Dance is also a celebration of the Zulu nation and performs the essential role of unifying nation and the king, who presides over the ceremony.
The festival takes its name from the riverbed reeds, which are the central focus of this four-day event. The reed-sticks are carried in a procession by thousands of young maidens who are invited to the King’s palace each year. More than 10 000 maidens, from various communities throughout the province of KwaZulu- Natal, take part in the Reed Dance ceremony, with the rest of the Zulu nation helping them to celebrate their preparation for womanhood.
It is a great honour for the young women to be invited to take part in the Reed Dance ceremony, and its also a source of great dignity and pride for their families and communities.
According to Zulu traditon, only virgins are permitted to take part in the festival to ensure that they are ritually ‘pure’.
The Reed Dance festival is a solemn occasion for the young women, but also an opportunity to show off their singing, dancing and beadwork, the fruits of many months of excitement and preparation.
The women of KwaZulu-Natal make some of the finest beadwork in Africa, and the Reed Dance is an especially vibrant and colourful occasion on account of the rich beadwork on display. For visitors to the Reed Dance, this exquisite handiwork can provide a unique souvenir or gift to take home.
From each region in the Kingdom comes a distinctive craft tradition, and the colours, patterns and styles of the beadwork luxuriantly displayed by the young women, as both ornaments and clothing attest to the region of origin of the craftwork.
HANDING OVER THE REED
As the Reed Dance ceremony begins, the young women prepare to form a procession led by the chief princess. One of the daughters of the Zulu King is also the leader of the group of maidens as they go through this important rite of passage.
Each maiden carries a reed which has been cut by the riverbed and it symbolizes the power that is vested in nature. The reeds reflect a deep mythical connection with origin of the Zulu people where, tradition tells us, the original ancestor emerged from a reed bed.
In everyday use, these reeds are the building material for the typical domed or beehive hut, iqhugwane, which is found particularly in rural homesteads throughout KwaZulu-Natal.
Zulu mythology has it that if a young woman who is not a virgin takes part in the Reed Dance ceremony, her reed will break and embarrass her in full public view!
And still, today an expectant hush falls on the crowd as the chief princess is the first to choose a reed. Shouts of joy and celebration greet her as the reed remains intact and, with bated breath, each of the young women takes it in turn to choose a reed.
Accompanied by jubilant singing and dancing, the stately procession winds its way up the hill to the palace entrance where the king awaits, flanked by his royal regiment.
As leader of the group of young women, the chief Princess kneels down before the king and presents him with a reed to mark the occasion, before joining the young women in a joyful dance of tribute to the king.