Zulu

A culture based on martial prowess and ancient traditions, the Zulus will fight to the death to preserve their way of life from invading powers.

The Zulu are a Bantu-speaking people that was initially a modest clan among hundreds of others. But in the early 19th century, under the leadership of Shaka, they built a colossal kingdom in little over a decade that stretched for several thousand kilometers along the coast of the Indian Ocean, between the Tugela and Pongola rivers.

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In 1816 Shaka took control of the modest Zulu kingdom. He aggressively reorganized the army and transformed it into an impressive instrument of conquest. He led his regiments (impis) to victory over the neighboring tribes, leaving them only the choice of subjugation or extermination. This devastation, known as Mfecane, precipitated wide-scale migration, but also a process of political unification in of the former chiefdoms that would change the entire map of Southern Africa. The strength of the Zulu military was evident on the battlefield, its army deployed in a semi-circle formation and divided into different units with specific functions: in the front were the outriders; in the center, the most experienced soldiers responsible for immobilizing enemy troops; the wings were made up of the fastest soldiers who would surround the enemy; and bringing up the rear were the reserve troops of veterans and the warriors in charge of killing the wounded. Indeed, this was Shaka’s merciless battle philosophy: the purpose of war was no longer to take prisoners, but to annihilate the enemy. Shaka successfully brought together a myriad of clans under his command before being assassinated by his half-brothers in 1828. However, the kingdom survived and went on to confront first the Boers and then the British. On 22 January, 1879, the Zulus achieved a stunning victory over the British at the Battle of Isandlwana, but were ultimately defeated shortly thereafter. The kingdom was annexed into what would later become South Africa.

Did you know?

Despite the system of apartheid and violent policies of repression, Zulu culture has survived until today mainly through its language and traditions, but also through the Zulu nation, whose king, Goodwill Zwelithini, is a direct descendant of Shaka.