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9th February 2005Zulu contraception?
By Paul Cubbin
No, this isn't a cheap gag, honest.

Given the fact that King Cetswayo was well aware of the border and land problems with the various groups living on the fringes of Zululand, I pose the following question. Was his stance in denying marriage to many of his warriors a deliberate measure to slow down the rise in Zulu population? It was custom for older men to marry younger women, sure. Did he take it that little bit further and deny a wife to young men until such time as, presumably, their ardour was (hopefully) a little more controlled due to their maturity.

Of course, Shaka first experimented with contraception. He forced his warriors to continually stamp barefoot on top of thorns ............. this would make them limp ......... sorry.......
10th February 2005Derek C
I'll take a wild shot at this.
I don't think over population was ever a concern. Also, one of the strenghs of the Zulu army, besides the obvious, was their sheer numbers. It may have been to promote a more aggressive army, as in the "spoils" of war, or a way to ensure that the army was not diluted with weak genes?

From the 30 odd years I spent living in Natal, although obviously not in the Anglo/Zulu era, children are, like cattle, a staus symbol. Daughters are particularly sought after because of the Labola. Children are also the Zulu's "pension plan", to care for them as they age. When the white government of the 80's made comdoms freely available, and as an attempt to reduce AIDS, this was frowned on by the Zulus as an attempt to reduce their numbers.

While my experiences are modern day, Zulu traditions and customs run deep. I suppose a modern day example would be, if you want a sports car, you must earn it. To a Zulu, the sports car would be his wife, and to earn it, he must serve the King?
10th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Derek - I presume the Labola is like a dowry in reverse? That would make the women 'good breeding stock' and fairly valuable then? Was there any evidence of men having sexual relations a la Spartans, then, with women being purely for making children and forging dynasties?
12th February 2005Michael Boyle

UkaLobola could be seen as reverse dowry but it was less 'bride price' than 'working- womb price' for if the bride proved barren the husband could return to her father (or guardian) and get a full refund or 'store credit' (if the father had any other daughters for exchange).

The amabutho system as implemented by Shaka (and inherited by Cetshwayo) certainly had no eye toward limiting the the size of the Zulu poulation as Shaka was rapidly expanding the frontiers of his kingdom and his method of warfare left much available land.However by Cetshwayo's time of shrinking borders he may well have appreciated this unforseen by-product.

The amaButho system was none the less a form of population control in that it kept vast numbers of young men (and women) under the direct control of the king and trained them to do his bidding both as domestic workers and armed forces as well as,being age-based, transferring their loyalties from their birth tribes and clans to the king and especially their regiment.

The control of the amaButho by Shaka could be seen as absolute whereas the control exerted by Cetshwayo much less so due to many contributing factors (decades of relative peace, some lingering hard feelings for Cetshwayo's method of securing the throne and his being seen as much less ruthless [and feared] than Shaka among them). In fact I've read a few references that state upon his pre-Isandhlwana mobilization that fully ten percent of his warriors found themselves otherwise disposed (in a former time that would have been considered 'suicide-by-Shaka'!)

My proposition that ukuhlobonga often went 'all-the-way' is based in part on the fact that every time I've read it's reference it included just that caveat (in one form or another) and if that being so, the Zulus would have shared the vast cornucopia of herbal remedies known by all non-industrialized societies.

In pursuit of which, and in an effort to discover just what could have been employed in their pre-battle snuff as well, my studies have veered toward perusing "Medicinal Plants of South Africa", "Zulu Medicinal Plants"(with too many authors to mention here) and various web resources. What I've found thus far is quite interesting and had the British credited Zulu medicine could well have benefitted.The following are Zulu traditional herbal remedies found by modern science to be effective : Artemisia Afra Herba- abortifacient, Ballota Africana Herba-contraceptive,Chironia Baccifera Herba-cures syphilis,Lippia Javanica-kills lice,Cliffortia ferruginea herba- flu, Warburgia-antibiotic,Eriocephalus-coagulant and Sutherlandia frutescens- which is not only an anti-malarial,anti-infammatory and anti-deppressant but has also shown efficacious for the treatment of AIDS symptoms and was the drug used by Zulu women to lessen the pain of their mourning and by returning Zulu warriors to 'take the war out'. It can be seen that combinations of the above could explain how so many (but by no means most) of the wounded warriors survived.


12th February 2005Michael Boyle
Missed a thought in the above.

As Derek points out children were, then as now ,considered wealth (kids and cows) by the men so abortion and contraception would have beeen frowned upon. However the risks of pre-marital pregnancy included for the girl- the inability to participate in the 'First Fruits' festival since she would be proven no longer a virgin and for the boy- inhlawulo, where his father would be required to pay 'damages' to the girl's father. So the motivation to prevent that situation from happening would have loomed large.

Also ,as Derek points out, the modern move to encourage celibacy and contraception has not been recieved well.However King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu is doing his best to counter this. See :

In which he makes many cogent comments.


14th February 2005Paul Cubbin
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I have learned more in a few weeks of interaction on this site than in years of leisurely reading. Mr Morris is a naughty wee scamp isn't he? Here was me, gleefully accepting his assurances that Zulu medicine was next to useless Halloween magic. It did seem strange that a successful society coud completely sidestep one of humankind's benchmark achievements - that of medicinal herbalism. I'm still not sure about the pointy stick up the rectum thing, though....reminds me too much of a Saturday night in the rugby club.
16th February 2005Derek C
The pointed stick up the rectum ...............!! I believe this was the way the "abaThakathi" or Wizards were executed. Piet Retief and many of his party suffered this horrific fate. .... Hey, weren't there some countries that used to burn witches at the stake? ; )
16th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Derek - the particular pointy stick activity I was referring to was the one done to babies. As part of their 'cleansing' rituals and tests during chilhood a pointy stick was jammed up their rectum and twirled around until blood was produced. It is just one of a series of quite terrifying activities that Morris refers to in 'The Washing of the Spears' (and thus may or may not be true). Unsurprisingly, not a huge percentage of Zulu children made it to adolescence. I thought it was cruel to make children watch Blue Peter.
17th February 2005Derek C
Ouch! I wasn't aware of that. Thanks.
19th February 2005melly
i am have to do a 30 page project on the Zulu tribe, and i saw this conversation on the enternet and it has given NO HELP WHATSOEVER
19th February 2005melly
by the way, who here likes garlic bread?? mmmmm yummy
19th February 2005melly
you people take for ever to reply.......
19th February 2005melly
this message is to paul cubbin.
what is a rectum? ( i need as much information for my project as possible)
19th February 2005melly
im bored, i missed home and away on thrusday and friday!! what happened!! I think i should say somthing abut the zulus before i get kicked out of this conversation....As a custom and tradition, the spirit healers (sangoma) use roots, herbs, bark, snake skins and dried animal parts to reveal the past, predict the future and cure ailments.