James Stuart.

A history of the Zulu Rebellion, 1906 : and of Dinuzulu's arrest, trial, and expatriation online

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of the enemy's strength, property (especially cattle),
strongholds, grain, etc. To find their way about, they
were obliged to resort to much ingenious cunning and

Orders were transmitted from kraal to kraal, as also in
the field, by messengers, i.e. verbally. There was, indeed,
no other form of communication, except tete-a-tete. The
messages were almost invariably correctly deUvered, due
to constant training in childhood when, of course, the same
mode was observed.

The officers did not wear any badges of rank, though,
as only men of high status were permitted to wear such
ornaments as leopard-skin and lorie feathers, there was
no difficulty in inferring their rank.^

Decorations were of several forms. A man who had
killed another in war wore about his shoulders and chest
a long rope made of pieces of willow about half an inch
long and of equal thickness, the ends being charred and
stripped of bark ; or a necklace of horns, with charred
blocks of willow intervening.

Although there was no remuneration for service, the
King was liberal in his rewards for valour in battle. A
hero had doled out to him as many as ten fine cattle at a
time, but only one who had been the first to rush into and
among the enemy would be so treated.

Attached to every army were carriers, known as the
udihi. These were usually numerous and marched two or
three miles off on the right or left flank of the main body.
This was the only means of transport, for Zulus had no
horses or vehicles. The sleeping-mats and karosses or
blankets of indunas and junior officers were borne by the
carriers, as also provisions and equipment belonging to
different members of the army. Another of their duties

^ The badge known as tshokohezi, worn especially by followers of
Dinuzulu, is referred to later (p. 198, note).


was to drive along a herd of cattle for purposes of con-
sumption whilst the troops were on the march.

The interior economy of every regiment was regulated
by a few plain unwritten rules, common to the whole army.

During peace-time, such soldiers as were serving either
at headquarters or at any of the country barracks, were
kept occupied in such ways as constructing or repairing
kraals, cattle enclosures, fences or other work of a public
character, the necessary poles, wattles, branches, reeds,
fibrous plants, etc., being cut and carried by themselves ;
they also hoed, sowed, weeded and harvested the royal
crops. Small groups and individuals were constantly
engaged in smaller matters, such as carrying grain to or
from a distance, or conveying messages to or from men of
high position in all parts of the country, etc. Occasionally
great hunts were organized for kilHng such game as buffalo,
gnu, wild pigs, waterbuck, koodoo and other antelopes,
or such wild animals as lions, elephants, rhinoceros or

Among the amusements were : dancing in large numbers,
the men being arranged in semi-circular formation, — after
one group had danced it was succeeded by another, women
and even cattle, also fantastically dressed men, taking part
in each pageant ; dancing pas seuls (giya) in the presence
of many assembled and applauding comrades ; singing
national and regimental war-songs ; chanting national
anthems ; and last, but not least, shouting out some
portion of the King's interminable praises, including the
equally lengthy ones of his ancestors, or Hstening to one
or other of the professional heralds doing so for hours at a
time, until he got so hoarse as to be barely audible.

In addition to all this, there were reHgious observances,
as also gatherings at which actual or supposed malefactors
of all kinds were " smelt out " by diviners, only to be
subsequently either put to death or heavily punished by
order of the King. The execution of such orders, like
everything else, was left to one or other of the regiments,
for the whole nation lived perpetually under a state of
martial law. And such state (can it be surprised at ?)


bore fruits of physical soundness, alertness and morality
in the people, every man noble and energetic, every woman
modest and comely. Those were the days when, as the
lowing herds came home to be milked, one heard these
fine fellows proudly shouting in reply : Kala, 'nkomo ya
Icwa Zulu, wen^o nga soze waya ndawo, i.e. Low on, oh cow
of Zululand ! whose hoof shall tread no alien soil.

Mobilization took place in this way : The King sent
an order to the officers in charge at the various amakanda
requiring all men to collect at their respective barracks.
The order was instantly re-transmitted by the officers to
those in their respective commands, the utmost pains
being taken to mobilize with rapidity, for fear the King
might direct seizure of stock for dilatoriness. Those
within fifteen miles of the royal kraal assembled there
within twenty-four hours. There might be thirty to forty
amaviyo of them, a number of different regiments being
represented. The King then reviewed the force and
directed those present to separate themselves into regi-
ments and companies, in order that he could see what
proportion of each corps was present. He would then
discuss with them his war affairs, and afterwards issue
instructions as to where they were to bivouac.^ Those
whose barracks were near by might put up there, others
had to camp in neighbouring specified valleys. Cattle were
given for slaughter. Thus, the troops began at once to
estabhsh their camps, so that warriors from more distant
parts were able, as they came up, to ascertain where the
regiments they belonged to were, and fall in without loss
of time. In the meantime, further messengers had
reached each outlying post to enquire urgently when the
men of that part would be ready. A report of the position
was sent back, and redoubled efforts put forth to ensure
the earliest possible attendance. In two to five days,
according to the circumstances, the whole of the regiments
were called to headquarters. They then, of course, went
forward in regimental order divided into companies. If

^ Separate bivouacs were appointed for fear of regiments fighting
one another.


the King found an insufficiently strong force assembled,
further messengers were dispatched post-haste by the
several officers, who had already been threatened by the
Kjng with heavy punishment in the event of further delay.
And so, in half-a-dozen days, anything between 30,000-
50,000 men mobilized and were actually at headquarters
in regimental order, every man in his proper place and
ready to march. The manner in which the army could
come up under the Kings in time of emergency was nothing
short of a revelation.

After the troops had massed in sufficient numbers,
various ceremonies were held, notably the famous eating
of umbengo. As this involved certain prehminaries, one
of which was the catching and kilHng of a bull, usually
a black one, it will be best to consider them in proper
sequence. A beginning was made by the King deputing
one of the regiments to catch and kill the bull. The
selected regiment forthwith devoted a day to collecting
fire- wood for roasting the flesh. Cadets were, at the same
time, directed to gather green branches of the umtolo tree
(a species of mimosa) to be used as a charm by being burnt
along with the roasting flesh.

The " eating of umbengo " ceremony took place the day
following. Early that morning, the regiment in question
went to the spot appointed for the troops to hlanza at
(vomit), and there, under the superintendence of war-
doctors, proceeded to do so. These war-doctors were
specially appointed by the King. A hole some 18 inches
in diameter and 6 to 7 feet deep had already been dug,
with its soil heaped alongside. It was into this that every
warrior, after swallowing a mouthful or two of the decoc-
tions placed ready in three or four great pots or baskets,
proceeded to vomit. Knowing what was coming, he had
taken care to abstain from food. Two, three or four
might go to the hole at one time. There was a desire on
the part of everyone to finish quickly, but the doctors,
two of whom stood on either side to see that instructions
were conformed to, would not allow crowding. Here and
there the stick thev each carried was used on those who


had merely pretended to drink the medicated water, and
were therefore uninfluenced by its emetic properties.
This process was gone through so as to " bring together
the hearts of the people." The pots referred to stood, not
on the ground, but on special articles, not unUke diminu-
tive life-belts, made of straw bound round with plaited
fibre — each doctor having one of his own. It was on such
things the King stood when he washed himself of a

As soon as the selected regiment had finished, it moved
off to deal with the bull. After it had departed, the
emetic continued to be used, none of the other regiments
being permitted to leave off until the last men had " come
into line." After the process was over, say by 3 or 4 p.m.,
the hole was carefully filled up by the doctors, to prevent
possible visitors from hostile tribes obtaining any part of
the substances that had been used. It was for this reason
that the hole was dug deep.

Upon getting back to the royal kraal, the deputed
regiment found a black bull had already been selected
from among those of the King's cattle kept at a distance
from the principal kraal. The beast chosen was large,
full-grown and fierce. After being driven into the cattle
enclosure, say, about 600 yards in diameter, it was tackled
by the single, unassisted regiment, all the men being
without shields or assegais. It was well chased about,
prevented from going this way or that, and eventually,
after being kept running about for two or three hours to
tire it, it was rushed at about mid-day, caught and brought
to earth by many taking hold of it simultaneously. The
men then fastened on to it by its legs, tail, head, horns,
ears, etc., whilst others proceeded as best they could to
twist and eventually break its neck. As soon as it was
dead, the war-doctors came up and drove all the warriors
away for fear lest any disloyally inclined should cut off
portions and carry them off to the King's enemies, whereby
ascendancy might in some way be obtained over their own
sovereign. The beast was now skinned and its flesh cut
into long strips. These strips (known as umhengo, hence


the name of the custom) were then roasted on a huge fire
that had already been made of the wood gathered on the
preceding day. After being roasted, the flesh was
smeared with black powders, and pungent, bitter drugs.
The names and identity of some of these drugs were kept
carefully concealed from the troops. The very reputation
of the doctor depended on his being secretive. By this
time, 3 or 4 p.m., the regiments had all come up and were
waiting " to eat the umhengo.'" They moved to near
where the doctors were, and there built a great umkumbi,
that is, formed themselves into a huge half -moon, the
men at every part being many deep. The doctors came
forward with the charred, half-cooked and medicated
flesh. They and their assistants simultaneously started
flinging the strips one after another into the air towards
but above the heads of different sections of the troops, and
in all directions. To do this satisfactorily, they passed
through the umkumbi at conveniently-situated and speci-
ally-prepared openings. The warriors all standing, each
carrying weapons and shield in the left hand, were ready
to catch with the other the flesh as it descended. There
was a scramble to snatch every piece as it got within
reach. The man catching, immediately bit off a lump and
pitched the remainder back into the air to be again
violently contended for, caught and similarly dealt with,
one after another. In the meantime, the pieces bitten or
torn off were chewed and spat on to the ground, the juice,
however, being swallowed. Owing to many being hungry,
and even ravenous, the flesh itself was often gulped down,
although quite contrary to custom to do so. If any of
the strips fell to the ground when being tossed about, it
was not picked up, as supposed then to have lost its virtue.
It not unfrequently happened for these discarded portions
to be consumed by the half-famished during the excite-
ment. Here and there one saw a weak man fall forward
in a faint, and his shield and assegais go clattering to the
ground as he did so. But for his friends, who rushed
forward to help, he must have been trampled to death for
all the others cared. The process of distribution continued


until each had had his bite ; no one was allowed to retire
until the last had conformed to the custom.

One buU was sufficient for an entire army. Two were
never killed. The entrails were secretly buried in what
was known as the King's cattle enclosure (cut off from the
main one), the grave being guarded all night by watchmen.

Boy mat-bearers and cooks who had not reached the
age of puberty were then sought in aU parts of the barracks
and ordered to eat up such remains as were consumable,
but all who were commandeered were obliged to sleep
where the bull had been cut up and roasted, until the
following morning. A further special requirement was
that all so set apart had to refrain from passing water
from the moment of coming up until permission was given
to depart. For this reason, it was with considerable
difficulty that boys could be found when wanted.

Every atom of the bull that remained over was after-
wards burnt to cinders, including bones, hide, etc., etc.
The doctors thereupon gathered together all the ashes
and conveyed them to some large and deep pool into
which they were thrown. This was done to guard, as
before, against any portion being taken by strangers and
used to obtain ascendancy over the King and nation.

After this observance, everyone who had taken part
therein had to refrain from all intercourse with womenfolk.
For this reason, as often as girls or women arrived at
headquarters with bundles of food for fathers, brothers
or husbands, they set them down and left for their homes
forthwith without escort of any kind. The word having
gone forth that all must arm was an absolute guarantee
against interference of every kind. AU who armed,
including the ones detailed to remain as the King's body-
guard, were obHged to eat the umhengo, the general object
of which was, not only to knit the people together, but to
hearten and strengthen them.

Following upon these formahties was another, equally
indispensable, viz. the eating of beasts offered as a sacrifice
to the spirits of the King's departed ancestors. Such
cattle were apportioned to the various regiments. They



were killed and eaten at night, famous national chants
being sung at the same time. The departed spirits were
invoked by the various highly-placed officers and aristo-
crats, of whom there were at least a score, men of sufficient
status to remonstrate with the King on great and critical
occasions. The ancient, undisturbed graves of former
Kings were also visited, the spirit being invoked at each.

By way of stimulating the troops to put forth their best
efforts in war, the King would call a couple of regiments
into the great cattle enclosure and there urge individuals
of the one to challenge those of the other, one at a time.
" I have," he would say, " summoned you all to hear how
you mean to behave on coming in sight of the enemy."
It is of melancholy interest to know that this practice
was observed by the regiments Kandempemvu and
Ngobamakosi, which proved so terribly destructive at
Isandhlwana. After the King had spoken, the challenging
proceeded in this way : Some man belonging to, say, the
Ngobamakosi jumped up and shouted : "I can do better
than you, son of . . . (giving name) ; you won't stab a
white man, before one has already fallen by my hand. If
you do, you can carry off the whole of our kraal and the
property attached (giving name of the kraal), or, you
shall take my sister . . . (giving her name, and implying
marriage)." Having said this, he started to dance a
pas seul, with a small shield and stick (on such occasions
assegais and war-shields were not carried). The other
man, stung by the words uttered in pubhc, jumped up as
smartly and, dancing towards and after his challenger as
the latter retired, called out defiantly: "Well, if you can
do better than I, you may take our kraal . . . and my
sister too . . . (giving names)." As each danced, they
were loudly applauded by their respective comrades.
When a man, known by the King to be a brave fellow,
sprang up and danced, the King might point and shake
his hand at him approvingly. Others foUowed the same
process, though by no means in monotonous or regular
fashion ; and so it went on until sunset. Occasionally the
one addressed or "selected," as it was called, refrained from


taking up the challenge. Such a feUow was called a
coward, and, when the regiments had left the King, his
failure was freely commented on. He was then made to
suffer the usual indignities of cowards, viz. having his
meat dipped in cold water, etc.

A day or two afterwards, two other regiments were
pitted against one another. Again the process of " selec-
tion " and challenging went on excitedly until sunset.

After the fighting had taken place, the same challenging
pairs of regiments were called before the King to " dis-
cuss " the campaign. (Such rule was, however, not
followed during the Zulu War, for obvious reasons).
Some young man then jumped up and accosting the one
*' selected " by him before hostihties occurred, shouted
exultingly : " What did you do, son of ... ? I did this
and did that (reciting various deeds of valour or supposed
valour). What have you to your credit ? " The other
repHed. The man generally allowed by those assembled
to have distinguished himself the more, was declared to
have won the wager. The property, as a matter of fact,
did not change hands, though, at first, it seemed as if it
would do so. The stakes were merely figuratively referred
to for heightening pubhc interest in the achievements.

Cattle rewards to acknowledged heroes were made by
the King when " war discussions " took place on the above

When the circumstances were such that the troops had
to march forthwith against the enemy, the ceremony
known as uhucelwa (to be sprinkled) was held. As with
eating the umbengo, there were phases of the custom. The
essential features were : Cleansing internally by using
specially-prepared emetics and external cleansing by
washing in the stream ; dipping one's fingers into an open
dish placed on the fire, containing hot Hquid and drugs
poured in by the war-doctor, and thereafter sucking them
and suddenly spitting out what has been so sucked ;
uttering imprecations on the enemy when spirting the
medicated liquid from one's mouth ; being smoked with
drugs whilst standing in a circle round the doctor ; being


sprinkled front and rear by the doctor with yet other
drugs of a caustic character.

There were various ways in which these essentials were
observed. Such variety was due to the fact that each
medico to a certain extent kept his own drugs, and
observed a procedure pecuhar to himself.

As an illustration, let us take what occurred in 1883,
after Cetshwayo had been attacked at Undi (Ulundi) by
Zibebu. A couple of men who had escaped, returned to
their tribe near St. Lucia Bay with an assegai that had
been flung after them by Zibebu's men, but had failed to
strike. This was handed to a well-known war-doctor, who,
being called on to practise his arts on some forty amaviyo
then present, bent the blade, and at the bend tied a
small round vessel containing charms. The assegai was
stuck into the ground from 200 to 300 yards off by
means of its wooden end, sharpened for the purpose. He
then required the troops to approach, a viyo at a time,
when, whilst escorting the company, he shouted out (in
Zulu), " Here's a marvel ! Here is the one who shuts
out ! Here's the keeper of the door ! " Each of these
phrases, on being uttered alternately, had to be repeated
by the viyo in chorus. The doctor next directed each man,
on filing past, to take hold of the vessel with his fingers,
slightly shake it and, at the same instant, exclaim : '* I
have closed ! " or " I shut ! " The object of the perfor-
mance was to cause all Zibebu's assegais to miss their
mark or become blunt, and all his efforts against Dinuzulu
and his alKes to prove unavaiHng.

The same man, having later on caused the troops to
form up in a circle round him, by way of finally pre-
paring them for battle, strode hurriedly up and down and
among the men holding something concealed in his right
hand. " What is this ? " he swiftly asked one, only to
pass on similarly to another to put the same question.
At the moment of asking, he opened his hand for the
fraction of a second, when a gfittering stone-like substance
appeared, about two inches long, and as thick as one's
thumb. "It is earth ! " exclaimed those able to catch


a glimpse. Upon which he said : " Did you see it ? "
" Yes, we did," was the reply. And so, ever moving, he
went about, clothed in weird garb, asking the same
questions in all directions, and always receiving the same
answers : " What is this ? " " Earth." " Did you see
it ? " " Yes, we did." The scene quickly became
animated and exciting, due no doubt to the celerity of
movement and abrupt questioning of the great doctor,
with evident inability on the part of the warriors to know
what the glittering substance, of which they kept on
obtaining but the briefest glimpses, really was.

This was the man who was employed by Dinuzulu in
1888, shortly before scoring a signal victory over Zibebu
within 1,000 yards of Nongoma magistracy in Zululand.

On leaving headquarters, after a stirring address by
the King, the army marched in one great column, in order
of companies. Upon reaching hostile territory it was
spHt into two divisions of close formation, when competent
men were selected for reconnaissance and advanced guard
duty. This latter body, forming about ten companies,
moved ahead of the column to which it was attached, at
a distance of ten to twelve miles. The same was done in
regard to the other division. The guard was made con-
siderable, to give the enemy the impression, especially
when in extended order, that it was the main body. It
was held to be a serious breach in tactics for the column
to fail to divide as stated, for, on being taken at a dis-
advantage, it was considered necessary for another force
to be on the flank for creating a diversion and so relieve
the situation.

The advanced guard purposely refrained from conceal-
ing itself. In addition to the guard, spies were sent
out in twos and threes to locate the enemy, with a view
to planning surprise or ambush. As soon as the guard
found it had been perceived and was being moved against
by the enemy, runners were at once dispatched to warn
the main body.

The leading principle in attack was to endeavour to
surround the enemy. To effect this, the men, on an


engagement becoming imminent, were rapidly drawn up
in semi-circular formation and instructed by the officer
in supreme command. These instructions resolved them-
selves into specifying what regiments were to form the
right " horn," as it was called, what the left, and what
were to compose the "chest" or centre, as also the routes to
be taken. The warriors, having been once more sprinkled
with drugs to ward off injury, exhorted through lively
recitation of praises of departed kings, and reminded of
the challenges and promises made by them in the presence
of the sovereign, dashed forward to reahze the general
plan or die in the attempt.

It was the rule to hold back a large force in reserve,
for use in case of necessity. The commanding officer
and his staff took up a position on high ground to watch
the course of the battle, and issue any further necessary

Pass-words and countersigns were frequently made use
of, especially as much travelling about was necessary at

As it was only shortly before the Zulu War that firearms
were acquired, the use of these was not sufficiently general
to interfere with the national modes of warfare followed
for over haK a century.

Online LibraryJames StuartA history of the Zulu Rebellion, 1906 : and of Dinuzulu's arrest, trial, and expatriation → online text (page 8 of 52)