Shaka kaSenzangakhona (c. 1787 – 22 September 1828), also known as
Shaka[a] Zulu (Zulu pronunciation: [ˈʃaːɠa]), was one of the
most influential monarchs of the Zulu Kingdom.
He was born in the month of uNtulikazi (July) in the year of 1787 near
KwaZulu-Natal Province. According to tradition,
Shaka was conceived during an act of what began as ukuhlobonga, a form
of sexual foreplay without penetration allowed to unmarried couples,
also known as "the fun of the roads" (amahlaya endlela), during which
the lovers became "carried away".
Due to persecution as a result of his illegitimacy,
Shaka spent his
childhood in his mother's settlements where he was initiated into an
ibutho lempi (fighting unit). In his early days,
Shaka served as a
warrior under the sway of Dingiswayo.
Shaka went on to further refine the ibutho system used by Dingiswayo
and others and, with Mthethwa's support over the next several years,
forged alliances with his smaller neighbours, to counter the growing
Ndwandwe raids from the north. The initial Zulu maneuvers
were primarily defensive in nature, as
Shaka preferred to apply
pressure diplomatically, aided by an occasional strategic
assassination. His changes to local society built on existing
structures. Although he preferred social and propagandistic political
methods, he also engaged in a number of battles, as the Zulu sources
make clear. In turn, he was ultimately assassinated by his own half
brothers, Dingane and Mhlangana. In 1986, a century later Henry Cele
Shaka in the TV series
1 Successor to Senzangakhona
2 Expansion of power and conflict with Zwide
3 Death and succession
4 Shaka's social and military revolution
4.1 Weapons changes
4.2 Mobility of the army
4.3 Logistic support by youths
4.4 Age-grade regimental system
4.5 "Bull horn" formation
4.6 Organization and leadership of the Zulu forces
4.7 Shakan methods versus European technology
Shaka as the creator of a revolutionary warfare style
5 Scholarship on Shaka
5.1 Sources on Shaka's life
Shaka and the Mfecane
5.2.1 History and legacy
5.2.2 Disruptions of the Mfecane
6 Physical descriptions
Shaka in Zulu culture
9 Popular culture
Shaka as borrower not innovator
11 See also
12 Notes and references
13 Further reading
14 External links
Successor to Senzangakhona
When Senzangakhona (Shaka's father) died in 1816 Shaka's younger
half-brother Sigujana assumed power as the legitimate heir to the Zulu
chiefdom. Sigujana's reign was short however as Dingiswayo, anxious to
confirm his authority, lent
Shaka a regiment so that he was able to
put Sigujana to death launching a relatively bloodless coup that was
substantially accepted by the Zulu. Thus
Shaka became Chief of the
Zulu clan, although he remained a vassal of the Mthethwa empire
until Dingiswayo's death in battle a year later at the hands of Zwide,
powerful chief of the
Ndwandwe (Nxumalo) nation. When the Mthethwa
forces were defeated and scattered temporarily, the power vacuum was
filled by Shaka. He reformed the remnants of the Mthethwa and other
regional tribes and later defeated Zwide in the
Zulu Civil War of
Dingiswayo was murdered by Zwide,
Shaka sought to avenge his
death. At some point Zwide barely escaped Shaka, though the exact
details are not known. In that encounter Zwide's mother Ntombazi, a
Sangoma (Zulu seer or shaman), was killed by Shaka.
Shaka chose a
particularly gruesome revenge on her, locking her in a house and
placing jackals or hyenas inside: they devoured her and, in the
Shaka burned the house to the ground. Despite carrying out
Shaka continued his pursuit of Zwide. It was not until
around 1825 that the two military leaders met, near Phongola, in what
would be their final meeting. Phongola is near the present day border
of KwaZulu-Natal, a province in South Africa.
Shaka was victorious in
battle, although his forces sustained heavy casualties, which included
his head military commander, Umgobhozi Ovela Entabeni.
In the initial years
Shaka had neither the influence nor reputation to
compel any but the smallest of groups to join him, and upon
Shaka moved southwards across the Thukela River,
establishing his capital Bulawayo in Qwabe territory; he never did
move back into the traditional Zulu heartland. In Qwabe,
have intervened in an existing succession dispute to help his own
choice, Nqetho, into power; Nqetho then ruled as a proxy chieftain for
Expansion of power and conflict with Zwide
Main article: Ndwandwe–Zulu War
This map illustrates the rise of the Zulu Empire under Shaka
(1816–1828) in present-day South Africa. The rise of the Zulu Empire
Shaka forced other chiefdoms and clans
to flee across a wide area of southern Africa. Clans fleeing the Zulu
war zone included the Soshangane,
Zwangendaba, Ndebele, Hlubi, Ngwane, and the Mfengu. A number of clans
were caught between the Zulu Empire and advancing
British Empire such as the Xhosa
Large statue representing
Camden Market in London, England.
Sketch of a Zulu warrior.
Shaka became more respected by his people, he was able to spread
his ideas with greater ease. Because of his background as a soldier,
Shaka taught the Zulus that the most effective way of becoming
powerful quickly was by conquering and controlling other tribes. His
teachings greatly influenced the social outlook of the Zulu people.
The Zulu tribe soon developed a warrior outlook, which
Shaka turned to
Shaka's hegemony was primarily based on military might, smashing
rivals and incorporating scattered remnants into his own army. He
supplemented this with a mixture of diplomacy and patronage,
incorporating friendly chieftains, including Zihlandlo of the Mkhize,
Jobe of the Sithole, and Mathubane of the Thuli. These peoples were
never defeated in battle by the Zulu; they did not have to be. Shaka
won them over by subtler tactics, such as patronage and reward. As for
the ruling Qwabe, they began re-inventing their genealogies to give
the impression that Qwabe and Zulu were closely related in the
past. In this way a greater sense of cohesion was
created, though it never became complete, as subsequent civil wars
Shaka still recognised
Dingiswayo and his larger Mthethwa clan as
overlord after he returned to the Zulu but, some years later,
Dingiswayo was ambushed by Zwide's ama
Ndwandwe and killed. There is no
evidence to suggest that
Shaka betrayed Dingiswayo. Indeed, the core
Zulu had to retreat before several
Ndwandwe incursions; the Ndwandwe
was clearly the most aggressive grouping in the sub-region.
Shaka was able to form an alliance with the leaderless Mthethwa clan
and was able to establish himself amongst the Qwabe, after Phakathwayo
was overthrown with relative ease. With Qwabe, Hlubi and Mkhize
Shaka was finally able to summon a force capable of resisting
Ndwandwe (of the Nxumalo clan). Historian Donald Morris states
that Shaka's first major battle against Zwide, of the Ndwandwe, was
the Battle of Gqokli Hill, on the Mfolozi river. Shaka's troops
maintained a strong position on the crest of the hill. A frontal
assault by their opponents failed to dislodge them, and
the victory by sending his reserve forces in a sweep around the hill
to attack the enemy's rear. Losses were high overall but the
efficiency of the new Shakan innovations was proved. It is probable
that, over time, the Zulu were able to hone and improve their
Another decisive fight eventually took place on the Mhlatuze river, at
the confluence with the Mvuzane stream. In a two-day running battle,
the Zulu inflicted a resounding defeat on their opponents.
led a fresh reserve some 70 miles (110 km) to the royal kraal of
Zwide, ruler of the Ndwandwe, and destroyed it. Zwide himself escaped
with a handful of followers before falling foul of a chieftainess
named Mjanji, ruler of a baBelu clan. (He died in mysterious
circumstances soon afterwards.) Zwide's general
Soshangane (of the
Shangaan) moved north towards what is now
Mozambique to inflict
further damage on less resistant foes and take advantage of slaving
opportunities, obliging Portuguese traders to give tribute. Shaka
later had to contend again with Zwide's son Sikhunyane in 1826.
Shaka granted permission to Europeans to enter Zulu territory on rare
occasions. In the mid-1820s
Henry Francis Fynn provided medical
treatment to the king after an assassination attempt by a rival tribe
member hidden in a crowd (see account of Nathaniel
Isaacs).[clarification needed] To show his gratitude,
European settlers to enter and operate in the Zulu kingdom. This would
open the door for future British incursions into the Zulu kingdom that
were not so peaceful.
Shaka observed several demonstrations of
European technology and knowledge, but he held that the Zulu way was
superior to that of the foreigners.
Death and succession
Dingane and Mhlangana, Shaka's half-brothers, appear to have made at
least two attempts to assassinate
Shaka before they succeeded, with
perhaps support from Mpondo elements, and some disaffected iziYendane
people. While the British colonialists considered his regime to be a
future threat, allegations that European traders wished him dead were
problematic given that
Shaka had granted concessions to Europeans
prior to his death, including the right to settle at
Port Natal (now
Shaka had made enough enemies among his own people to hasten
his demise. It came relatively quickly after the death of his mother
Nandi in October 1827, and the devastation caused by Shaka's
subsequent erratic behavior. According to Donald Morris,
that no crops should be planted during the following year of mourning,
no milk (the basis of the Zulu diet at the time) was to be used, and
any woman who became pregnant was to be killed along with her husband.
At least 7,000 people who were deemed to be insufficiently
grief-stricken were executed, although the killing was not restricted
to humans: cows were slaughtered so that their calves would know what
losing a mother felt like.
The Zulu monarch was killed by three assassins sometime in 1828;
September is the most frequently cited date, when almost all available
Zulu manpower had been sent on yet another mass sweep to the north.
This left the royal kraal critically lacking in security. It was all
the conspirators needed—they being Shaka's half-brothers, Dingane
and Mhlangana, and an iNduna called Mbopa. A diversion was created by
Mbopa, and Dingane and Mhlangana struck the fatal blows. Shaka's
corpse was dumped by his assassins in an empty grain pit, which was
then filled with stones and mud. The exact location is unknown. A
monument was built at one alleged site. Historian Donald Morris holds
that the true site is somewhere on Couper Street in the village of
Stanger, South Africa.
Shaka's half-brother Dingane assumed power and embarked on an
extensive purge of pro-
Shaka elements and chieftains, running over
several years, in order to secure his position. The initial problem
Dingane faced was maintaining the loyalty of the Zulu fighting
regiments or amabutho. He addressed this by allowing them to marry and
set up a homestead (this was forbidden during Shaka's rule), and they
also received cattle from Dingane. Loyalty was also maintained through
fear as anyone who was suspected of rivaling Dingane was killed. He
set up his main residence at Mmungungundlovo and established his
authority over the Zulu kingdom. Dingane ruled for some twelve
years, during which time he fought, disastrously, against the
Voortrekkers, and against another half-brother Mpande, who, with Boer
and British support, took over the Zulu leadership in 1840, ruling for
some 30 years. At the
Battle of Isandlwana
Battle of Isandlwana in 1879, the Zulus would
become one of the few African peoples to inflict a defeat on the
British Army.
Shaka's social and military revolution
Shaka's military innovations – such as the "iklwa," the age-grade
regimental system, and encirclement tactics – helped make the Zulu
one of the most powerful nations in southern and southeastern
Some older histories have doubted the military and social innovations
customarily attributed to Shaka, denying them outright, or attributing
them variously to European influences. More modern researchers
argue that such explanations fall short, and that the general Zulu
culture, which included other tribes and clans, contained a number of
Shaka could have drawn on to fulfill his objectives,
whether in raiding, conquest or hegemony. Some of these practices
are shown below.
Shaka is often said to have been dissatisfied with the long throwing
"assegai," and is credited with introducing a new variant of the
weapon: the "iklwa," a short stabbing spear with a long, broad, and
indeed sword-like, spearhead.
Shaka probably did not invent the iklwa, according to Zulu
scholar John Laband, the leader did insist that his warriors train
with the weapon, which gave them a "terrifying advantage over
opponents who clung to the traditional practice of throwing their
spears and avoiding hand-to-hand conflict." The throwing spear was
not discarded but used as an initial missile weapon before close
contact with the enemy, when the shorter stabbing spear was used in
It is also supposed that
Shaka introduced a larger, heavier version of
the Nguni shield. Furthermore, it is believed that he taught his
warriors how to use the shield's left side to hook the enemy's shield
to the right, exposing the enemy's ribs for a fatal spear stab. In
Shaka's time, these cowhide shields were supplied by the king, and
they remained the king's property. Different coloured shields
distinguished different amabutho within Shaka's army. Some had black
shields, others used white shields with black spots, and some had
white shields with brown spots, while others used pure brown or white
Mobility of the army
The story that sandals were discarded to toughen the feet of Zulu
warriors has been noted in various military accounts such as The
Washing of the Spears, Like Lions They Fought, and Anatomy of the Zulu
Army. Implementation was typically blunt. Those who objected to going
without sandals were simply killed.
Shaka drilled his troops
frequently, in forced marches that sometimes covered more than 50
miles (80 km) a day in a fast trot over hot, rocky
terrain. He also drilled the troops to carry out encirclement
Historian John Laband dismisses these stories as myth, writing: "What
are we to make, then, of [European trader Henry Francis] Fynn's
statement that once the Zulu army reached hard and stony ground in
Shaka ordered sandals of ox-hide to be made for himself?"
Laband also dismissed the idea of a 50 miles (80 km) march in a
single day is ridiculous. He further claims that even though these
stories have been repeated by "astonished and admiring white
commentators," the Zulu army covered "no more than 19 kilometres
(12 mi) a day, and usually went only about 14 kilometres
(8.7 mi)." Furthermore, Zulus under
Shaka sometimes advanced
more slowly. They spent two whole days recuperating in one instance,
and on another they rested for a day and two nights before pursuing
their enemy. Several other historians of the Zulu, and the Zulu
military system, however, affirm the mobility rate of up to 50 miles
Logistic support by youths
Boys and girls aged six and over joined Shaka's force as apprentice
warriors (udibi) and served as carriers of rations, supplies like
cooking pots and sleeping mats, and extra weapons until they joined
the main ranks. It is sometimes held that such support was used more
for very light forces designed to extract tribute in cattle and slaves
from neighbouring groups. Nevertheless, the concept of "light" forces
is questionable. The fast-moving Zulu raiding party, or "ibutho
lempi," on a mission invariably traveled light, driving cattle as
provisions on the hoof, and were not weighed down with heavy weapons
and supply packs. The herdboy logistic structure was deployed in
support of these relatively short-term operations, and was easily
adaptable to large or small expeditions.
Age-grade regimental system
Age-grade groupings of various sorts were common in the Bantu culture
of the day, and indeed are still important in much of Africa. Age
grades were responsible for a variety of activities, from guarding the
camp, to cattle herding, to certain rituals and ceremonies. Shaka
organised various grades into regiments, and quartered them in special
military kraals, with regiments having their own distinctive names and
insignia. The regimental system clearly built on existing tribal
cultural elements that could be adapted and shaped to fit an
"Bull horn" formation
Most historians[who?] credit
Shaka with initial development of the
famous "bull horn" formation." It was composed of three elements:
The main force, the "chest," closed with the enemy impi and pinned it
in position, engaging in melee combat. The warriors who comprised the
"chest" were senior veterans.
while the enemy impi was pinned by the "chest," The "horns" would
Impi from both sides and encircle it; in conjunction with
the "chest" they would then destroy the trapped force. The warriors
who comprised the "horns" were young and fast juniors.
The "loins," a large reserve, was hidden, seated, behind the "chest"
with their backs to the battle, for the sake of them not losing any
confidence. The "loins" would be committed wherever the enemy impi
threatened to break out of the encirclement.
Organization and leadership of the Zulu forces
The hosts were generally partitioned into three levels: regiments,
corps of several regiments, and "armies" or bigger formations,
although the Zulu did not use these terms in the modern sense. Any
grouping of men on a mission could collectively be called an impi,
whether a raiding party of 100 or a horde of 10,000. Numbers were not
uniform, but dependent on a variety of factors including assignments
by the king or the manpower mustered by various clan chiefs or
localities. A regiment might be 400 or 4,000 men. These were grouped
into corps that took their name from the military kraals where they
were mustered, or sometimes the dominant regiment of that
Shakan methods versus European technology
Main article: Anglo-Zulu War
Shaka dismissed firearms as ineffective against the quick
encirclements of charging spearmen. Though it ultimately failed
against more modern rifle and artillery fire in 1879, this practice
proved partially successful at Isandlwana.
The expanding Zulu power inevitably clashed with European hegemony in
the decades after Shaka's death. In fact, European travellers to
Shaka's kingdom demonstrated advanced technology such as firearms and
writing, but the Zulu monarch was less than convinced. There was no
need to record messages, he held, since his messengers stood under
penalty of death should they bear inaccurate tidings. As for firearms,
Shaka acknowledged their utility as missile weapons after seeing
muzzle-loaders demonstrated, but he argued that in the time a gunman
took to reload, he would be swamped by charging spear-wielding
The first major clash after Shaka's death took place under his
successor Dingane, against expanding European
Voortrekkers from the
Cape. Initial Zulu success rested on fast-moving surprise attacks and
ambushes, but the
Voortrekkers recovered and dealt the Zulu a severe
defeat from their fortified wagon laager at the Battle of Blood River.
The second major clash was against the British during 1879. Once
again, most Zulu successes rested on their mobility, ability to screen
their forces and to close when their opponents were unfavourably
deployed. Their major victory at the
Battle of Isandlwana
Battle of Isandlwana is well
known, but they also forced back a British column at the Battle of
Hlobane mountain, by deploying fast-moving regiments over a wide area
of rugged ravines and gullies, and attacking the British who were
forced into a rapid disorderly fighting retreat, back to the town of
Shaka as the creator of a revolutionary warfare style
A number of historians[who?] argue that
Shaka 'changed the nature of
warfare in Southern Africa' from 'a ritualised exchange of taunts with
minimal loss of life into a true method of subjugation by wholesale
slaughter.' Others dispute this characterization (see Scholarship
section below). A number of writers focus on Shaka's military
innovations such as the iklwa – the Zulu thrusting spear, and the
"buffalo horns" formation. This combination has been compared to the
standardisation implemented by the reorganised Roman legions under
Combined with Shaka's "buffalo horns" attack formation for surrounding
and annihilating enemy forces, the Zulu combination of iklwa and
shield—similar to the Roman legionaries' use of gladius and
scutum—was devastating. By the time of Shaka's assassination in
1828, it had made the Zulu kingdom the greatest power in southern
Africa and a force to be reckoned with, even against Britain's modern
army in 1879.
Much controversy still surrounds the character, methods and activities
of the Zulu king. From a military standpoint, historian John Keegan
notes exaggerations and myths that surround Shaka, but nevertheless
Fanciful commentators called him Shaka, the Black Napoleon, and
allowing for different societies and customs, the comparison is apt.
Shaka is without doubt the greatest commander to come out of
Scholarship on Shaka
Sources on Shaka's life
Shaka's methods reached their high point during the Zulu victory at
Isandhlwana. Regimental deployments and lines of attack show his
classic template at work.
Scholarship in recent years has revised views of the sources on
Shaka's reign. The earliest are two eyewitness accounts written by
European adventurer-traders who met
Shaka during the last four years
of his reign.
Nathaniel Isaacs published his Travels and Adventures in
Eastern Africa in 1836, creating a picture of
Shaka as a degenerate
and pathological monster, which survives in modified forms to this
day. Isaacs was aided in this by Henry Francis Fynn, whose diary
(actually a rewritten collage of various papers) was edited by James
Stuart only in 1950.
Their accounts may be balanced by the rich resource of oral histories
collected around 1900 by the same James Stuart, now published in six
volumes as The James Stuart Archive. Stuart's early 20th century work
was continued by D. McK. Malcolm in 1950. These and other sources such
as A. T. Bryant gives us a more Zulu-centred picture. Most popular
accounts are based on E. A. Ritter's novel
Shaka Zulu (1955), a
potboiling romance that was re-edited into something more closely
resembling a history. John Wright (history professor at University of
Julian Cobbing and Dan Wylie (Rhodes
University, Grahamstown) are among a number of writers who have
modified these stories.
Various modern historians writing on
Shaka and the Zulu point to the
uncertain nature of Fynn and Isaac's accounts of Shaka's reign. A
standard general reference work in the field is Donald Morris's "The
Washing of The Spears", which notes that the sources, as a whole, for
this historical era are not the best. Morris nevertheless references a
large number of sources, including Stuart, and A. T. Bryant's
extensive but uneven "Olden Times in Zululand and Natal", which is
based on four decades of exhaustive interviews of tribal sources.
After sifting through these sources and noting their strengths and
weaknesses, Morris generally credits
Shaka with a large number of
military and social innovations, and this is the general consensus in
A 1998 study by historian Carolyn Hamilton summarizes much of the
Shaka towards the dawn of the 21st century in areas
ranging from ideology, politics and culture, to the use of his name
and image in a popular South African theme park, Shakaland. It argues
that in many ways, the image of
Shaka has been "invented" in the
modern era according to whatever agenda persons hold. This "imagining
of Shaka" it is held, should be balanced by a sober view of the
historical record, and allow greater scope for the contributions of
indigenous African discourse.
Military historians of the Zulu War must also be considered for their
description of Zulu fighting methods and tactics, including authors
like Ian Knight and Robert Edgerton. General histories of Southern
Africa are also valuable including Noel Mostert's "Frontiers" and a
detailed account of the results from the Zulu expansion, J. D.
Omer-Cooper's "The Zulu Aftermath", which advances the traditional
Shaka and the Mfecane
Main article: Mfecane
History and legacy
The increased military efficiency led to more and more clans being
incorporated into Shaka's Zulu empire, while other tribes moved away
to be out of range of Shaka's impis. The ripple effect caused by these
mass migrations would become known (though only in the twentieth
century) as the
Mfecane (annihilation). Some groups that moved off
(like the Hlubi and Ngwane to the north of the Zulus) could have been
impelled by the Ndwandwe, not the Zulu. Some moved south (like the
Mchunu and the Thembe), but never suffered much in the way of attack;
it was precautionary, and they left many people behind in their
traditional homelands.
Shaka's army set out on a massive programme of expansion, killing or
enslaving those who resisted in the territories he conquered. His
impis (warrior regiments) were rigorously disciplined: failure in
battle meant death.
At the time of his death,
Shaka ruled over 250,000 people and could
muster more than 50,000 warriors. His 10-year-long kingship resulted
in a massive number of deaths, mostly due to the disruptions the Zulu
caused in neighbouring tribes, although the exact death toll is a
matter of scholarly dispute. Further unquantifiable deaths
occurred during mass tribal migrations to escape his armies.
Mzilikazi of the Khumalo, a general of Shaka's.
He fled Shaka's employ, and in turn conquered an empire in Zimbabwe,
after clashing with European groups like the Boers. The settling of
Mzilikazi's people, the AmaNdebele or Matabele, in the south of
Zimbabwe with the concomitant driving of the AmaShona into the north
caused a tribal conflict that still resonates today. Other notable
figures to arise from the
Mfecane include Soshangane, who expanded
from the Zulu area into what is now Mozambique.
Disruptions of the Mfecane
The theory of the
Mfecane holds that the aggressive expansion of
Shaka's armies caused a brutal chain reaction across the southern
areas of the continent, as dispossessed tribe after tribe turned on
their neighbours in a deadly cycle of fight and conquest. This theory
must be treated with caution, some scholars hold, as it generally
neglects several other factors such as the impact of European
encroachment, slave trading and expansion in that area of Southern
Africa around the same time. Normal estimates for the
death toll range from 1 million to 2 million. These numbers are,
The development of the view that
Shaka was the monster responsible for
the devastation is based on the need of apartheid era historians to
justify the apartheid regime's racist policies according to Julian
Cobbing. Other scholars acknowledge distortion of the historical
record by apartheid supporters and shady European traders seeking to
cover their tracks, but dispute the revisionist approach, noting that
stories of cannibalism, raiding, burning of villages, or mass
slaughter were not developed out of thin air but based on the clearly
documented accounts of hundreds of black victims and refugees.
Confirmation of such accounts can also be seen in modern archaeology
of the village of Lepalong, an entire settlement built underground to
shelter remnants of the Kwena people from 1827–36 against the tide
of disruption that engulfed the region during Shakan times.
William Rubinstein wrote that "Western guilt over colonialism, have
also accounted for much of this distortion of what pre-literate
societies actually were like, as does the wish to avoid anything which
smacks of racism, even when this means distorting the actual and often
appalling facts of life in many pre-literate societies".
Rubinstein also notes:
One element in Shaka's destruction was to create a vast artificial
desert around his domain... 'to make the destruction complete,
organized bands of Zulu murderers regularly patrolled the waste,
hunting for any stray men and running them down like wild pig'... An
area 200 miles to the north of the center of the state, 300 miles to
the west, and 500 miles to the south was ravaged and
Wylie (2006) expressed skepticism of the portrayal of
Shaka as a
pathological monster destroying everything within reach. They argue
that attempts to distort his life and image have been
systematic—beginning with the first European visitors to his
kingdom. One (Nathaniel Isaacs) wrote to Henry Fynn, a white
adventurer, trader and sometime local chieftain:
Here you are about to publish. Do make
Shaka out to be as bloodthristy
as you can; it helps swell out the work and make it interesting.
Fynn complies, and Wylie notes that he had an additional motive to
distort Shaka's image—he applied for a huge grant of land—an area
allegedly depopulated by Shaka's savagery.
[Fynn] stated that
Shaka had killed 'a million people.' You will still
find this figure, and higher, repeated in today's literature. However,
Fynn had no way of knowing any such thing: it was a thumb-suck based
in a particular view of Shaka—
Shaka as a kind of genocidal maniac,
an unresting killing-machine. But why the inventive lie? ... Fynn was
bidding for a stretch of land, which allegedly had been depopulated by
Shaka... (he insinuated),
Shaka didn't deserve that land anyway
because he was such a brute, while he—Fynn—was a lonely, morally
upright pioneer of civilisation.
Wylie holds that Fynn, whose diary has been widely hailed as a
definitive source on
Shaka is contradictory, self-serving and at times
mendacious, and that Fynn himself was a frontier swashbuckler who
occasionally ordered the murder of those who had displeased him, while
doctoring his written account to portray himself, and European
settlers as beneficent humanitarians. Fynn also sometimes served as an
agent of the colonial authorities on certain deniable "dirty work"
missions, such as instigating hostilities between various tribes.
Wylie asserts that far from being a genocidal maniac,
ruled as a traditional Bantu monarch of his era. He attacked some
enemies, but he also left numerous tribes in place, and maintained a
network of dependent states in peaceful tributary relations, or as
allied client states. The massive killing sprees alleged are
Shaka was not the only operator in the area. There were
other tribes and leaders of the era, each on the move with their own
conflicts, that created turmoil, not merely Shaka. Others included the
Ndwandwe, and the Mabhudu who built a polity that outlasted Shaka's
and were: "partly responsible for pushing the Diamini-Swazi Tlokwa and
Ngwane groups west across the Lubombo hills on to the highveld... the
Ndwandwe would become easily the most aggressive of all groups,
certainly surpassing the Zulu." Wylie also notes that the Zulu
themselves were born in circumstances of threat even before
born as the Mthethwa, protectors of the small Zulu clan, jockeyed
against regional rivals like the Ndwandwe, the Chunu and the Thembu.
His war operations did not spring out of a vacuum.
Wylie also argues that the view of
Shaka as a monster who started the
Mfecane does not hold up under hard analysis, and that regional
upheavals and other factors were already in play in the environment
"In short, the geographic isolationism of the mainstream 'mfecane'
model doesn't hold. Secondly, the 'mfecane' cannot be isolated in
time. Major changes were happening over a longer period than just on
the 1810s... a third reason why the 'mfecane' model doesn't hold is
that political developments in response to the violence were not
centered on Shaka's Zulu. Around 1750, it is now clear, slaving,
trade, violence, the use of defensive hilltop settlement, and more
centralised and militarised groupings were developing all much the
same time, right across the region."
Michal Lesniewski has criticised Wylie for some of his attempts to
revise Western thinking about Shaka.
Though much remains unknown about Shaka's personal appearance, sources
tend to agree he had a strong, muscular body and was not fat. He
was of medium height and his skin tone was dark brown. He was not
circumcised, which bucked a trend[clarification needed] in Zulu
culture near that time.
Shaka's enemies described him as ugly in some respects. He had a big
nose, according to Baleka of the Qwabe, as told by her father. He
also had two prominent front teeth. Her father also told Baleka that
Shaka spoke as though "his tongue were too big for his mouth." Many
said that he spoke with a speech impediment.
There is an anecdote that
Shaka joked with one of his friends, Magaye,
that he could not kill Magaye because he would be laughed at.
Supposedly if he killed Magaye, it would appear to be out of jealousy
because Magaye was so handsome and "
Shaka himself was ugly, with a
Shaka in Zulu culture
A muster and dance of Zulu regiments at Shaka's kraal, as recorded by
European visitors to his kingdom, c. 1827.
The figure of
Shaka still sparks interest among not only the
contemporary Zulu but many worldwide who have encountered the tribe
and its history. The current tendency appears to be to lionise him;
popular film and other media have certainly contributed to his appeal.
Certain aspects of traditional Zulu culture still revere the dead
monarch, as the typical praise song below attests. The praise song is
one of the most widely used poetic forms in Africa, applying not only
to spirits but to men, animals, plants and even towns.
Shaka the unshakeable,
Thunderer-while-sitting, son of Menzi
He is the bird that preys on other birds,
The battle-axe that excels over other battle-axes in sharpness,
He is the long-strided pursuer, son of Ndaba,
Who pursued the sun and the moon.
He is the great hubbub like the rocks of Nkandla
Where elephants take shelter
When the heavens frown...
Traditional Zulu praise song, English translation by Ezekiel Mphahlele
Other Zulu sources are sometimes critical of Shaka, and numerous
negative images abound in Zulu oral history. When Shaka's mother Nandi
died for example, the monarch ordered a massive outpouring of grief
including mass executions, forbidding the planting of crops or the use
of milk, and the killing of all pregnant women and their husbands.
Oral sources record that in this period of devastation, a singular
Zulu, a man named Gala, eventually stood up to
Shaka and objected to
these measures, pointing out that Nandi was not the first person to
die in Zululand. Taken aback by such candid talk, the Zulu king is
supposed to have called off the destructive edicts, rewarding the
blunt teller-of-truths with a gift of cattle.
The figure of
Shaka thus remains an ambiguous one in African oral
tradition, defying simplistic depictions of the Zulu king as a heroic,
protean nation builder on one hand, or a depraved monster on the
other. This ambiguity continues to lend the image of
continued power and influence, almost two centuries after his
Shaka Marine World, an aquatic theme park in
Durban opened in 2004.
King Shaka International Airport
King Shaka International Airport at La Mercy, 35 km north of
Durban city centre was opened on 1 May 2010 in preparation for the
FIFA World Cup after a protracted debate over the name lasting
over two years. Durban's King
Shaka airport opens at midnight.
Shaka Zulu, an
SABC TV miniseries about Shaka, which starred Henry
Cele in the title role.
Featured as a playable leader in the computer strategy game
Civilization II, Civilization III, and Civilization IV: Warlords,,
Civilization V: Brave New World as well as Civilization VI: Rise and
Rapper Holocaust references
Shaka Zulu in the song "Sinister."
Featured in an episode of the
Epic Rap Battles of History
Epic Rap Battles of History against
Julius Caesar, where he is portrayed by DeStorm Power.
Featured in an episode of Deadliest Warrior Versus William Wallace
Shaka appears as a supporting character in Steven Barnes's 2002 novel
Lion's Blood, an alternate history in which the Americas are colonized
by Africans rather than Europeans.
Shaka is referenced in the song "
Shaka Zulu" by F. Stokes.
Referenced in the song "Blockbuster Night Part 1" by Run The Jewels.
Shaka Zulu is a 1987 album by South African isicathamiya and mbube
group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Shaka as borrower not innovator
Some scholars[who?] hold that popular depictions of
Shaka as a
suddenly appearing genius creating innovation are overstated, and that
to the contrary,
Shaka was a borrower and imitator of indigenous
methods, customs and even ruler-lineages already in place. They also
argue that Shaka's line was relatively short-lived and receives undue
attention, compared to other, longer established lines and rulers in
It seems much more likely that Shaka, seeking to build the power of a
previously insignificant chiefdom, drew on an existing heritage of
statecraft known to his immediate neighbors. J.H. Soga implied as much
when he used genealogical evidence to argue that the Zulu were an
upstart group inferior in dignity and distinction to established
chiefdoms in their region, for example, the Hlubi, Ndwandwe, and
Dlamini lines.83 Using different informants and genealogical charts,
A.T. Bryant arrived at similar conclusions. The Zulu line – "a royal
house of doubtful pedigree" – was very short in comparison to the
Langene, Ndwandwe, Swazi, and Hlubi lines. Using his standard formula
of eighteen years per reign, Bryant calculated that the Swazi,
Ndwandwe, and Hlubi lines could be traced back to the beginning of the
fifteenth century, while the eponymous chief Zulu had died at the
beginning of the eighteenth century.
— Etherington, 
Shaka's triumphs did not succeed in obliterating or diminishing the
memories of his better-born rivals. The hypothesis that several states
of a new kind arose about the same time does not take account of the
contrast between the short line of
Shaka and the long pedigrees of his
most important opponents – especially the coalition grouped around
his deadly enemy Zwide (d. 1822). The founders of the states which
Omer-Cooper called "Zulu-type states," including the Ndebele, the
Gasa, the Ngoni, and the Swazi had all been closely associated with
Zwide. Instead of hypothesizing that they all chose to imitate Shaka,
it is easier to imagine that he modeled his state on theirs. And as
they stemmed from ancient families it is entirely possible that states
of that type existed in a more remote past. Soga and Bryant related
each of them to a larger grouping they called Mho."
South Africa portal
List of Zulu kings
African military systems to 1800
African military systems after 1900
African military systems (1800–1900)
Legends of Africa
List of South Africans
Nada the Lily
Shaka the Great
Shaka Zulu (TV series)
Notes and references
^ Sometimes spelled Tshaka, Tchaka or Chaka
^ Johanneson et al., p. 150.
^ Ritter 1955, p. 11.
^ Bryant 1929, pp. 47-48.
^ "History of
Shaka (Tshaka), King of the Zulu". bulawayo1872.com.
Retrieved 15 September 2014.
^ Morris 1994, pp. 17-69.
^ Omer-Cooper 1966, p. 30.
^ Samkange 1973, p. 13.
^ Morris 1994, pp. 61–67.
^ Bishop, Dennis. "The Rise and Fall of Shaka" (PDF). Old Soldiers. 6
^ a b c d e f g Morris 1994, pp. 17–69.
^ a b Morris 1994, p. 99.
^ Johanneson et al., p. 145.
^ a b c d e f g h i Laband 1997.
^ a b Morris 1994, p. 51.
^ Edgerton 1988, p. 39.
^ Morris 1994, pp. 15–69.
^ Knight & McBride 1989, p. 17.
^ Morris 1994, pp. 50-53.
^ a b c d Morris 1994, pp. 50–53.
^ Morris 1994, pp. 467–545.
^ Guttman, Jon. Military History, June 2008, Vol. 24 Issue 4, p. 23.
^ Vandervort 2015, p. 21.
^ Knight & McBride 1989, p. 49.
^ Hamilton 1998, pp. 7–35.
^ Morris 1994, pp. 617–620.
^ a b Hamilton 1998, pp. 3–47.
^ Rubinstein 2014.
^ Omer-Cooper 1966, pp. 12–86.
^ a b Cobbing 1988.
^ Newitt, Malyn D.D. The Gaza Empire. Microsoft Encarta Reference
Library, 2005. DVD
^ Walter 1969.
^ Charters 1839, p. 19.
^ Hanson 2007, p. 313.
^ Hamilton 1998, pp. 36–130.
^ a b Rubinstein 2004, p. 21–23.
^ Wylie 2006, pp. 14–46.
^ Wylie 2006, pp. 14–15.
^ Wylie 1995.
^ Wylie 2006, p. 36.
^ Wylie 2006, pp. 14–36.
^ Wylie 2006, p. 32.
^ Leśniewski 2011.
^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 1974 ed. "African Peoples, arts of"
Shaka Zulu". sabc.co.za. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
Shaka Zulu vs Julius Caesar.
Epic Rap Battles of History
Epic Rap Battles of History Season 4 on
^ a b Etherington 2014.
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Containing Earlier Political History of the Eastern-Ngu̇ni Clans.
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Appointment, As Governor, Of Major-Gen. Sir Geo. Napier". The United
Service Journal and Naval Military Magazine. Part III. London: Henry
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Mfecane as Alibi: Thoughts on Dithakong
and Mbolompo". Journal of African History. 29 (3): 487–519.
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Etherington, Norman (2014). "Were There Large States in the Coastal
Regions of Southeast Africa Before the Rise of the Zulu Kingdom?".
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and the Limits of Historical Invention. D. Philip.
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revolution in Bantu Africa. Northwestern University Press.
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The South African Military History Society – The Zulu Military
Organization and the Challenge of 1879
Shaka: Zulu chieftain
The History of Shaka
Shaka Zulu", Carpe Noctem
King of the Zulu Nation
Monarchs of the Zulu Nation
Monarchs of Zululand
Under South African rule
Cyprian Bhekuzulu kaSolomon
Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu
ISNI: 0000 0000 6676 6368
BNF: cb12091232q (data)