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Abeja Meets the Great King Shaka Zulu

Former Zulu territory in South Africa
Born the illegitimate son of Zulu Chief Senzangakhona and Nandi, the daughter of the chief of the Elangeni tribe in 1787, Shaka Zulu was mistreated by his father and picked on by the boys his age. But, in 1816, after his father's death, he killed his half-brother, Sigujana, to take control of this tribe of 1,500 people and their small territory of only 15 square kilometers. By the time he was assassinated in 1828 by two other half-brothers, Shaka Zulu used his military genius to lead an army of 50,000 warriors and conquer an area with a radius of over 1,000 kilometers. More than one million people were slaughtered by his armies as he created a dynasty that still exists today. With a lot of luck and a strong imagination, Abeja has had the fortune to interview the great King Shaka Zulu himself, exclusively for the Odyssey World Trek Web site.

Shaka Zulu
Abeja: So, Shaka, what is it that led you to become one of the greatest warriors and military strategists of all time?

Shaka: That's King Shaka Zulu to you, swallow (white person). Disrespect me again and I'll kill you and all the white men, women, and children in Africa.

Abeja: Uh, sorry, your Majesty. So, how did you do it?

Shaka: When I was young, tribes would periodically fight, but it was more ritual than battle. All the warriors would line up about 15 meters from each other with long hunting spears and shields, and yell at each other. They would throw the spears, but hardly anyone got hurt. Eventually, everyone would get tired and just go home.

But me, I like power. I like to kill anyone who dares to defy me. Those silly "battles" didn't satisfy my bloodthirst, so I invented hand to hand combat and taught it to all my warriors. I developed a shorter, thicker spear, which was called an "iXhwa" after the sucking, smacking sound it makes when it is pulled out of the surprised, dying body of my enemies. The opposition didn't know what to do when we suddenly charged them, and the younger, faster warriors flanked them and circled around from behind in my patented "bull-horn" formationŠ. With their warriors completely surrounded, we would butcher them in close combat by hooking our shields around theirs, pulling them aside, and driving the iXhwa into their chest. Their long, thin spears were useless at this close range, so it was always a joyous bloodbath. I liked to scream "Ngadla!" (I have eaten!) after each kill.

Abeja: What do you have to show for all this conquest? You don't have any gold or diamonds.

Shaka: The evidence of my great strength was my 50,000 pure white cattle. I also had 1,500 wives and concubines. My kraal, which was only my precious cattle and my immediate family, was the largest settlement in South Africa at the time. Believe me, keeping that many women happy was more work than conquering all of Southern Africa.

Abeja: It seems like you were in firm control of a very loyal army and kingdom. What eventually led to your demise?

Shaka: When my mommy died, I got really sad. Being a great warrior doesn't leave a lot of time for your inner child, you know, so I didn't know how to appropriately express my emotions. When people came to mourn her death, I brutally slaughtered 7,000 of them. Then I imposed horrible deprivations on everyone else. It didn't make me feel any better, but it distracted me from my pain. After a few years of this, though, everyone was fed up. On September 22, 1828, my two trusted half-brothers, Dingane and Mhlagana, assassinated me from behind with an iXhwa. I knew, though, from the few swallows that had arrived in my territory by that time, that they were going to be a problem.

"What have I done, Dingane?" I pleaded, as I lay dying. "You think you can rule over this land, but I see already the 'swallows' arriving. You will not rule when I am dead because the white people are already here."

Actually, though, Dingane learned more from me than I thought. When the first Voortrekkers arrived, (Boers fleeing the British in the Cape of South Africa), he tricked them into leaving their weapons at the door of his kraal as a sign of friendship, and then slaughtered them. Then the warriors went out and massacred thousands of their families who were just starting to plant their farms after years of being hungry while trekking from the Cape.

Almost a year later, the few survivors returned well fortified with guns. My army lacked my expert leadership and had no guns, so 3,000 warriors were massacred, their blood turning the river red. The great kingdom I had built lost control of much of its land and our military superiority was lost at the Battle of Blood River, ending the reign of terror that was the Zulu dynasty.


Abeja - Immersion in Zulu Culture
Abeja - Get Off My Turf
Kevin - Harare: a Capital City that feels like a Village
Monica - A Typical Day in the Life of a Trekker
Kevin - Somebody Stole My House!
Kavitha - Soweto: Young Lives Lost in Battle

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