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Mervyn Mitton

ZULU HISTORY AND WEAPONRY FROM 1879

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These are from a bundle of postcards written from Sth. Africa to the man's wife in the UK. She obviously kept them and they show a period and lifestyle that has long gone. They seem to date between 1906 and 1910. I will show just a selection.

http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_10_2014/post-6209-0-74472200-1412591641.jpgclick

http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_10_2014/post-6209-0-36797400-1412591789.jpgclick

A hunting party and tthrowing the bones.

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http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_10_2014/post-6209-0-03605000-1412592509.jpgclick

http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_10_2014/post-6209-0-61733900-1412592641.jpgclick

Large spotted hyena

http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_10_2014/post-6209-0-05977000-1412592815.jpgclick

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http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_10_2014/post-6209-0-23866400-1412593030.jpgclick

http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_10_2014/post-6209-0-38311500-1412593174.jpgclick

http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_10_2014/post-6209-0-82716100-1412593323.jpgclick

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Recently a collection of pictures of Zululand from the 1879 period have been sold. The original

owner had been a medical officer in the Zulu War and went onto be the Surgeon General for the Cape.

The Daily Mail International have just shown a small part of the albums and I think you will find them

of interest.

This first one shows Prince Dubalamanzi - with his bodyguards - who you will note are carrying

Martini Henry rifles, probably from the battle field of Isandlawana. The Prince was the half brother

of the King - Cetywayo. He was quite the hot-head and when the attack on Isandlawana took place

he was sent around the Mountain to stop retreating British. He was annoyed not to be in the fighting

and took his three Impis across the Buffalo River to attack Rorke's Drift. Cetywayo had specifically

given order not to cross the Buffalo. There is a famous Illustrated London full page drawing of him

- on this shaggy pony - leading a band of men to attack a British position. Most of them are shown with

Martini Henry's

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This posed picture is actually dated for 1878 - however, it is incorrect in sevaral regards. Firstly,

the spear is not Zulu. The only long ones that they used were for hunting dangerous game , and this

is not strong enough. The other hand held weapons - Iwisas ,or knobkerries - only the round headed one is Zulu. The other points are that a Zulu warrior would have further sheepskins on the legs.

I suppose when this was taken contact with the Zulus was minimal and they dressed him as they thought a warrior would look.

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We have had numerous pictures on this site showing Sangomas of the Zulus. However, I think

this picture shows them the best - not people I would want to meet on a dark night..............

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Finally , we have these Zulu Warriors. They look to be a war band - all are mature men who have

been awarded their Isikoko's (head rings made from their own hair) and have , therefore, been given

wives by the King. There is no identification of the Impi.

Hollywood has given us the impression that all Zulus are 2 metres tall with great physiques. This is

not quite correct - there are big Zulus, but many are quite short and as you can see in the picture

quite thin. Meat is a luxury and the common diet is Maize meal made into a porridge - called pap.

They also eat another staple of corn on the cob - called Samp.

These are incredible pictures - not only can we date the people, but also they give great detail of

their dress. I hope further access will be given to the album.

ps: looking again at the picture I see there are a number of different shields. The brown and white is the

iDondlo Impi - who fought at Rorke's Drift. Altogether about 5 different Impis - this makes the probability

of them being being captured and in British hands very high - in fact I think I can see British Bell Tents

behind them ?

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One of the more important ceremonies for the Zulus has been the Reed Dance. It was allowed to

fall away, but the present King brought it back and each year up to 30,000 girls take part. The purpose

is that the girls are showing they are still virgins - they wear traditional dress which leaves their tops bare.

We have covered this in past posts - however, the King has just passed a new rule that from next year

the girls must wear a sarong style covering which will conceal their breasts. So many tourists are

being taken to see the ceremony that it has become quite unruly with men taking photos of the girls.

As the King puts it - ' white perverts annoying the girls'. The girls are saying they don't want this as it takes away from the ceremony - personally, with thousands of ill mannered tourists - who think it is being

done for their benefit, I think it is a wise move.

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Good day, i am new around here but the topic is very interesting. It is very hard to find reliable information about Zulu weapons today an that's why this topic is like a gift for me...

If it is not difficult i would like to ask: what were the approximate sizes of Iklwas ,Iwisas and Axes?

I understand that there were no exact sizes but some standarts of manufacturing must have been...

And how zulu called their shields? I doubt they had such a word - "shield"...

Sorry for my mistakes - english is not my native language

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KLeek  -  please accept my sincere apologies for overlooking your questions.   Looking firstly at Iklwas  -  these started off

under King Shaka at about 4 feet long (120cms)  -  however, they were not mass produced and really it was left to the owner

to decide size.  If he was a tall Zulu then often the spear would be longer.

 

Axes were usually only carried by senior chiefs.  They were expensive and used more for status.  They can be

anything from 4 feet to about 5.5 feet. (120cms to 120cms)

 

Iwisa (Knobkerries were mainly used for close action and so averaged about 4 feet (120cms)

 

With regard to Shields thay had only two for war.  The largest was the Ishilangu  -  this could be up to 6 feet (180cms).

Made from bull hide it was heavy to carry and was more for ceremonial work.    For longer distance fighting they had a

shorter shield known as an Umbululu.    This was about 4 feet high and was lighter (120cms)

 

When fighting they would usually carry the Iklwa in the right hand.  The left hand held the shield and  behind

the shield they would usually carry two throwing spears and the Iwisa.  The would change the Iklwa to the left hand as

needed.

 

I hope this helps with your questions  ?  Best wishes   Mervyn  27/1/15

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We are still having a lot of members and guests view this post on the Zulus and their history.  I will therefore, continue

with it and post items of interest as they come to light.  The next one, about the Zulus demanding a memorial for their "1000" killed at Isandlawana, is an example of how history is changed to suit political 'needs'.

 

I need to show some photos of the ammunition used at this battle  -  my answer might take a few days.   Mervyn

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                                                         http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2015/post-6209-0-78687500-1422358017.jpgclick

 

 

                                                        

 

                                                     This photo shows a mixture of ceremonial dress.

                                                     Wild cats tails on the prime minister and leopard

                                                     on the King. The king is holding a ceremonial silver

                                                     axe (only partly shown)

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                                                           http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2015/post-6209-0-03756300-1422358723.jpgclick

 

 

                                                http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2015/post-6209-0-15896700-1422358848.jpgclick

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                                                           http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2015/post-6209-0-11353700-1422440852.jpgclick

 

 

                                                           http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2015/post-6209-0-58348900-1422440991.jpgclick

 

Rear and front views of some bullets picked-up in the 1920's on the Battlefield of  Isandlawana. 

From the 1960's it became illegal to collect from designated sites  -  however, these and others I have

are from this earlier time  -  only some 45 years from the Battle.  They are exceptionally rare and I have never shown them before  -  PLEASE NOTE I RETAIN COPYRIGHT.(members are welcome to use)

 

Fought on 22nd of January 1879 ,  the Zulus had between 23 /25,000 men , whilst the British Forces numbered some 1800.  However, the Native Levies fled and our Artillery was over-whelmed  -  so, we

had some 1200 men to fight the Impis.  The loss was the greatest we ever suffered in the Colonial Wars.

 

 

                                                              http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2015/post-6209-0-12309600-1422441846.jpgclick

 

 

            This is the 1879 Martini Henry Rifle  -  single shot , lever action -   used at the Battle.

            It fired a lead bullet  -  a 450/577 size.

 

(The following pictures are close-ups of some of the bullets - hard to tell if they hit rock or bone. I

suspect that most hit their targets)

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                                                           http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2015/post-6209-0-56256400-1422442342.jpgclick

 

 

                                                           http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2015/post-6209-0-56350100-1422442440.jpgclick

 

 

                                                           http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2015/post-6209-0-79605200-1422442570.jpgclick

 

 

                                                           http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2015/post-6209-0-87341900-1422442697.jpgclick

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This now leads us to look at King Zweletini's statement that only 1000 Zulus were killed by the British at Isandlawana  -  and that

they should have a Memorial with names.     This is nonsense  -  some years ago - probably about 15 - they built an enormous

circle with bronzes, to commemorate the fallen Zulus.    Many of the leaders were named , but I don't think the fallen warriors were.

The simple reason being  -  despite what the King has said  -  they don't know the names of the majority who fell.  Quite simply

there was no register of births and deaths.

 

Over the years I have watched the suspected number of Zulu deaths be whittled down from around the 5000 number , to the present

number given at 1000.  We actually have no count of the Zulu dead  -  they carried away the dead and wounded.   Most were

concealed in white ant mounds and if they reached their villages would have recovered or, been buried there.

 

I have seen several tallies over the years  -  however, it is generally accepted by most historians that the total was between 2000

and 5000.  Remember  -  there were some 23,000 Zulus , against approx. 1200 British soldiers  - mainly from the 1st and 2nd

Battalions of the 24 th Regiment.   Highly trained men who carried the most modern rifle  -  with the very heavy 450/577 bullet.

This was quite capable of going through three men at close quarters  -  and this was such a battle  -  fought at the end as hand to

hand.

 

No - I think I reject the King's speech as being made in a political context.  I will be pleased to hear what Members think  ?   Mervyn

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                                                           http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2015/post-6209-0-73472400-1422444331.jpgclick

                                             

  Part of the Bronze Zulu Memorial at Isandlawana  -  made to look like a bravery lions claw necklace.  

 

 

 

                                                            http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_01_2015/post-6209-0-11232000-1422444540.jpgclick

 

 One of the maany stone cairns which dot the Isandlawana Battlefield to mark British burials.

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Mervyn

 

You are perfectly correct in your analysis.  The Zulu King has latched on to a study undertaken by certain Zulu academics involving 'oral tradition', which is the only way that the Zulus have of establishing their history, other than through the records made by European Colonists in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, and the records made by 'western' archaeologists of the 20th and 21st Centuries.  Inevitably, all these findings are subject to manipulation by politicians for their own ends.

 

Regards

Brett

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I am in very aware of both the importance and limitations of oral history, as it figures prominently in current historiography here in North America when looking at anything to do with First Nations.  The obvious utility cannot be ignored, especially when it pertains to events or data for which no 'European' records exist, but oral historians are as prone to political agendas, cultural bias and just plain error as are those who write things down.  It can become especially problematic when there is a prize at stack - be that political legitimacy, cultural renewal or, worst of all, property.  That's why agrarian societies all developed writing!  When your great grandfer and my great granfer both claim the same piece of land, clearly somebodies 'memory' or 'oral tradition' is mistaken.  Or, as my first historiography prof. used to say, "The first question to ask of any source is 'Why is this person lying to me?'".  

 

I know little about the current state of Zulu historiography but can easily imagine the urge to minimize the casualties at what the British saw as a gallant defence and the Zulus presumably hold to be an embarrassment.  The big fuss in the UK papers at the moment is around the 200th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo.   Having passed over an American to portray Napoleon - hardly a surprise - the organizers chose Frank Samson, a French lawyer, who was quoted as calling Napoleon a political genius who 'all but won' the battle and describes wellington as an ugly man who 'no one has heard of.'  I shrug, but clearly the marketing is all about a French triumph!  And I believe that when two fleets "re-fought" Trafalgar a few years ago they were labelled 'Red Fleet and 'Blue Fleet" as perhaps being not quite so embarrassing for the losers. What can one do but laugh?

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On a completely different topic, I am intrigued by several of the slugs pictured above which look, to me at least, as if they may have a line cut across the nose.  I recall reading many years ago, when I was the proud possessor of a Martini Henry rifle that the British troops in India were not impressed with the stopping power of the long slugs when used on 'Ghazi fanatics' and in some cases 'improved' them by cutting a cross in the top to make dum-dums.  Is there any evidence of this here or is my imagination running away with me?

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Peter

 

Thank you for some very interesting observations on 'oral history'.  History has always been a subject that is disadvantaged by the views of the people writing it, irrespective of the irrefutable records that might exist.   'Oral history' lends itself to a manipulative recorder of past events.  We are seeing this in South Africa today now that the 'boot is on the other foot'.

 

I had not heard of Martini-Henry bullets being modified into dum-dums in the Zulu War.   This suggestion could create two new factions amongst the armchair historians that have the Zulu War as their chosen field of study!

 

Regards

Brett

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Mervyn

Rather belatedly my younger son now living in the UK has become interested in the Zulu War, and the weapons used by the British and the Zulus at that time. I have given him the residue of my collection of Zulu artefacts, and I recently bought a few more for him. These are shown in the photograph below. The small assegai at the top is recently made for the tourist trade, but the other three seem to have some age. The assegai that interests me the most is the large one third from the bottom. It is long (155 cm or 61 inches) and heavy. It has an ox-tail hafting, which I have always taken to be mainly a 19th Century method of fixing the blade securely to the shaft. I have seen lighter, hunting assegais of this length, but this one seems to be unusually heavy and perhaps not easily used for hunting.

I would value your opinion on this matter.

Regards

Brett

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Heaven forfend that I create controversy among historians!  That way madness lies.  Or healthy academic debate.  Pick one.  :whistle:   And I plead vey guilty to being an arm chair historian, though IMHO, we of Her Majesty's Chairborne Brigade do get to the more interesting minutia of history from time to time.

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Peter

 

"Arm chair historians" are the best kind, because they are relaxed in their arm chairs, and, hopefully, they have other comforts of life nearby.   It is those who take themselves and life more seriously that we must pity, as I recently discovered at first hand.

 

Regards

Brett

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Peter  -  I have heard of the cuts on bullet heads to make them expand on striking  -  however, I have looked

again at the ones on display and I think the cuts are in fact damage from striking at an angle.  The area of the

Battle has rocks around - also, an angle hit on bone could probably have the same effect.  The lead was not

fully clad.    After the Battle the Zulus had more Martini Henry's and ammo. then we did.  They used them on the  

Oscarberg overlooking Rorkes Drift.  Fortunately for our troops the sights were set for close firing and most of the  

shots were inaccurate.       Mervyn

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