The Zulus: A Warrior Nation

War statue in Zululand overlooking hill country.
Zulu warriors attacking a Boer camp in 1838.
Zulu warriors carrying traditional military equipment.

The indigenous Africans in southern Africa seldom formed a united front against European colonization. This, as a result, made it relatively easy for numerically inferior Dutchmen and Britons to conquer land and dictate to black Africans. However, the Zulu Kingdom in the east was a power on the rise, which would go on to challenge the Europeans.

King Shaka

In the early 1800s, Zulu king Shaka, through violence and threats, forced other tribes to accept his rule. The society of which the conquered people now became part was a society based on warfare, where boys grew up to become warriors.

Early military training

At least for certain periods in 19th-century Zulu society, boys were separated from their families around the age of fourteen and put into military training. This training then went on for many years, and the teenagers’ long absence from their original home led to great loyalty to the army, which became their new family. Moreover, the right to marry was sometimes not granted to soldiers until they had distinguished themselves in battle, serving as motivation to give one’s body and soul to the army.

The times when the Zulus gave their all on the battlefield, just like their warrior culture demanded, were many. Still, no battle would be as remembered as the 1879 Battle of Isandlwana, which is described in the next chapter.