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Mervyn Mitton


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This unusual picture from this morning's Tribune newspaper, shows King Goodwill

Zwelethini (on left) with his Uncle - Prince Buthelezi - and on the right - the KwaZulu

Natal Prime Minister. They have just finished a very public arguement - which is why

they don't look happy - however, it is the equipment they are wearing that is of


Firstly the King is wearing a very unusual cape of leopard skin - usually they are across one

shoulder. He is carrying a small stick - representing an official stick or, even a Knobkerry -

but easier to carry. The ceremonial axe was made on his orders and is out of keeping with

traditional Zulu axes which tend to have a hoe shape. This one , in fact is based on the Swazi

pattern which has the two blades in triangular shape. The twisted shaft is typical of a design

that the Zulus used in 1905/6 - at the time of the Bambatha Rebellion. The blade was chromed but,

this seems to have worn off.

Buthelezi is wearing a strange jersey type garment. He is carrying a stick with the skin of a

mongoose - and also a Knobkerrie or, Iwisa that is covered in beads. His shield is a fighting

type - an Umbumbulu. Both he and the King are wearing Lions claw necklaces - which only

Royalty are allowed.

The Prime Minister is carrying a Kraal walking stick - used for status - and called an Iqubanga.

He seems to also have a spear and is wearing another unfortunate Leopard. His shield is a

modern copy.

Both the King and the Prince have red feathers in their hair - this will be from the Purple crested

Lourie and are under the wing. A protected and fairly rare bird.

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I haven't posted on this thread for a few months and quite a number of new items have come-in. I will download

over the next few weeks , but today want to show one of the rarest ceremonial items used by King Cetywayo in

the 1870's.

There does not appear to be a name for it - and so far I have found reference to only Cetywayo carrying one.

The significance of the clenched fist is that it represents authority - tribes around the World have used this symbol.

The one I will show further down was shown in the book Zulu Treasures and was presented to the Museum by

Colonel Bourquin. He was an expert on Zulu history and his identification and interpretation will be correct.

The weapon in the Museum is in lovely polished condition , whilst the one I illustrate is a little worn. What then

is it's origin. Was it the original one for Cetywayo - or, was it carried by the Crown Prince ?

The two Iwisas shown above were carried by a very senior Zulu - of General's rank. This staff was brought in by

the same lady and were part of the collection. I think it fairly safe to say that they had an historical ownership.

Perhaps King Cetywayo himself ? I doubt that we will ever know for sure -

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Lew, thank you for sharing your wonderful collection with us! Mevyn, as usual, I walk away from my computer with both more fascinating information on another time and place and with my respect for your depth of knowledge - calling it scholarship would not be inaccurate - renewed. Thank you both!

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I have a number of items to post on this thread - including some rare weaponry. I will try to add them over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile - this weekend was the Annual Reed Dance - performed before the Zulu King.

The original purpose was for young girls - who were still virgins - to dance before the King holding long Reeds cut

from marshland. These were laid before him as a tribute. We are not talking small numbers - in the past it could

be over 20, 000 maidens. Today it is usually over 10,000. Hopefully, they are still virgins ?

The following pictures were in today's Sunday Tribune and other credits are shown.


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You will see from this picture how important traditional weapons are to Zulus. They are allowed to carry them

on important occasions. The King is on the left - the other man is a Provincial minister for KwaZulu Natal.


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Three of the King's daughters. The ones wearing (more) leopard skins have reached maturity - the younger girl

will remain bare breasted until she does. However, this is traditional dress - most of the time they wear Western style

clothing. One should remember - there were no Kings until the white settlers arrived and they took up the

title. The correct title is Paramount Chief or, Chief over Chiefs.


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This is an interesting photo in that it shows the tolerance of Zulus towards those unfortunate to be born

Albino. Many tribes in Africa take this as a sign of badluck and the babies do not survive.

Note the quality of the lovely beadwork - all traditional items that vary with the age and married status

of the girls and women.


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In West Africa and, I think, in the Congo area, albinos are often murdered and they're body parts used for 'juju' by traditional shaman. A loathsome practice which still, unfortunately, is all to common among still largely superstitious populations. [NOTE: my ‘return’ key is U/S. This should be a new paragraph.] Mervyn, glad to see you point out, though perhaps not as necessary among this august group, that these are traditional costumes, used for traditional ceremonies. Can’t tell you how often we Canadians have to explain that our First Nations people don’t normally prance around in feather bonnets waving bows and arrows and scalps! Sadly, one often sees photos, especially from the 1950s-1980s of Eastern Woodlands chiefs – Cree, Ojibway, etc – wearing Plains Sioux war bonnets. Sigh!

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hi mervyn just finished reading these great posts on the zulu and rememberd some spears i own that my father in law was given by a farmer in the tuegela ferry area in the mid 60s not the best pics the 2 in the middle are around 5 and a half feet long the blades are pushed into the wood and bound with what looks like copper wire the short ones blade looks hand made by hammering the other one doesnt look southern african but the skin looks genuine leopard regards mickey

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Hi Mickey. Some nice old spears - however, only two have Zulu origins.

No. 1 is a throwing spear - but seems to have a shaped shaft - the Zulu Isiphapha , or throwing spear - has a long metal shaft but an even wooden


No's 2 and 3 look like Zulu Iklwas - or, stabbing spears. Not all were the short style - taller warriors often preferred a longer one. The metal binding

will be brass and copper wire bought from the Portuguese in Mocambique. This was bound to hold the shaft to the head. After the Zulu defeat

in 1879 this style disappeared.

No.4 - probably one of the other tribes around the area - the head and binding don't look correct.

If you can do a close-up of the heads I can verify this. Thanyou for posting. Mervyn

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many thanks mervyn i have posted a close up of the binding on the middle 2 the one with the leopard skin has always intrigued me a bit as it separates into 3 pieces someone told me that they were made for hunting dangerous game ie you dig the tail of the spear into the ground when the animal springs at you it falls on the blade and carries the blade piece away this may be a bushfire story i think

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Mickey - yes, the two middle ones are Zulu. Bound wire and the notches just under the heads where the pincers held them for beating out.

I am trying to work out the others as these photos don't seem to tie in with the original pictures.

Are you showing that the top and bottom are joined by the piece with the leopard skin ?

I have never seen this arrangement for Zulu spears - although they do have a spear that splits with a thick rope holding the two parts.

This is used for hunting hippos. The Zulus also adopted a twisted design in the metal shaft in about 1906. However, they

are fairly rare.

This is not strong enough to hunt major game. The pointed end is to make a second stabbing weapon - if they came-up behind

him he would strike backwards. If he was leaning on it , then it would dig-in and give support.

Taking that they are one piece - then I would hazard a guess that they are Mozambiquan or, perhaps further North.

The Leopard skin usually represents a chief and of course , at full length it would be a formidable weapon and a symbol

of authority. I suspect that the chief would just carry the central part for authority in the Kraal.

Hope this helps. Mervyn

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hi mervyn many thanks for your expert reply im very happy that you have identified the 2 long spears as zulu yes the other long spear with the leopard skin breaks down into 3 pieces with the wooden piece in the middle when assembled ,of interest my father in law gave these to us when we left africa in 1987 he also gave us a large shield around the same height as the spears black and white in colour from the same farmer new zealands climate did not agree with it and it rotted i always regretted not trying to conserve it again thanks for your help mickey

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