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10th August 2005Zulu Ceremonies
By Dawn
Here's one for the Zulu experts.
I have a copy of The Times, March 17 1879 (Thanks, Sean) in which there is a report as such;
"Information received from Umtegolalo, a Zulu well known to Mr Longeast, interpreter to the Lieutenant-General, found wounded at Rorkes Drift on 23rd January. Statement made by Natives regarding the action of the 22nd of January at Isandlana (sic) Hill." Follows is a drescription of the Zulu forces and movements before the battle and contains the following quote: "They had no intention whatever of making any attack on 22nd of January, owing to the state of the moon being unfavourable from a superstitious point of view." Ok so far, but this is interesting, and it continues: "The usual sprinkling of the warriors with medicine previous to an engagement had not taken place, not had the war song been sung, or relegious ceremonies accompanying been performed." Now isn't that contrary to popular view that these had been done before the battle?
10th August 2005Michael Boyle

I'm no expert, but the various Zulu accounts attesting to the lack of 'pre-battle doctoring' are why most give credence to the idea that no attack was planned for that day (coupled of course with the 'new moon taboo'). Perhaps your confusion lay in the other Zulu accounts of 'pre-campaign doctoring' having already be done at Ulundi prior to deployment. The two types of 'doctoring' can be confusing. Of course a reading of "The Anatomy of the Zulu Army" by Ian Knight and "The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation" (aka "Rope of Sand") by John Laband and "The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom" by Jeff Guy can fill you in better than I can !


10th August 2005Dawn
Thanks, Micheal
There would have been a ceremony when they left the military kraals but I guess the final ceremony would have been missed when they attacked early. You have to wonder whether this may have had an effect on the impi attacking Rorkes Drift. When the troops put up a spirited defence, would the impi have thought that they were losing because they hadn't had the final 'doctoring'?
10th August 2005Michael Boyle
Perhaps, but seeing how the 'doctoring' already performed to make them immune to bullets and to make their rifles 'one shot - one kill' proved singularly ineffective, had I had been one of those performing that 'doctoring' I would have made myself pretty scarce when the impi returned, just in case !
11th August 2005Dawn
Except most Zulus lived in fear of the sangoma. I thought only the king had more power. And how about the rumour that the red jackets of the 24th were magic and could protect the wearer from said bullets?
11th August 2005Michael Boyle
Yes, there were Zulu accounts as well that claimed, at Ulundi, the British used magical iron shields to deflect bullets, some swearing that they saw them. One of the reasons that the Zulus gave for giving up the war was that the British 'magic' was stronger than their own so there was no point in continuing the fight. Although my last post was of course 'tongue in cheek', the izangoma did take great hits to their credibilty throughout the war. I wonder if the 'smelling out' ceremonies continued during the conflict (I don't recall coming across any references to it during that period) or if they continued afterward? I do know that to this day there are occasional reports of murders commited to collect muthi.
11th August 2005Dawn
You're right. Even when I was in SA there were muthi murders. Even the modern Zulu has a healthy respect for the sangoma (we'll agree to disagree on the spelling - that's how I spelt it while I was there). Not so sure about the 'smelling out' ceremonies. Where's Ian Knight when you need him?
12th August 2005Paul Cubbin
Dear Dawb,
with reference to the red tunics being 'bullet proof', it may help to explain why so many Zulus chose to wear looted tunics whilst attacking Rorkes Drift. I believe someone mentioned on another post how wearing or carrying something belonging to a slain enemy was thought to protect you from ill luck caused by their angry spirit - perhaps the tunic was then seen as a 'double protection'. I've always wondered why so many Zulus would deliberately shrug on what must have been an ill-fitting and uncomfortable (especially in that heat and to someone not used to wearing restrictive European clothing) garment, even with the buttons left undone.
12th August 2005Dawn
And no doubtably smelly too!

However, did those wearing red jackets attack RD? Surely this was the corps that had not seen action at Isandlwana. The same reason given that the Zulu could not have plundered the M-H rifles shown in 'Zulu'.
12th August 2005Coll

No. It was only warriors who had killed wore the belongings of the dead at Isandlwana, preferably from the soldiers they killed personally. The Zulus who attacked Rorke's Drift were not part of the battle at Isandlwana.

I think there was actually a problem when warriors, having killed a soldier, unless they removed an item from the body immediately, couldn't remember who it was they personally killed, when going back to the bodies later, so weren't sure whose belongings to take.

It was important for them to take an item(s) from their own 'victims'.

I'm sure this is right. Can anyone confirm this point ?

13th August 2005Michael Boyle
In lieu of a more informed opinion I'll offer that I think Coll has it pretty much correct. From my reading thus far it seems the donning of part of a victims clothing was the last act prior to returning home to isolation and purification during which time they could have no contact with 'civilians', especially women (I'm trying to learn more on that ceremony). However the amabutho (I try to rely on Keith Smith's "Lexicon..." for my Zulu spelling but I sometimes slip up) involved in the attack at RD may have had some part in despatching some fugitives on the way to the river in which case I suppose it is possible that a few could have been wearing something 'British' although one would think that would have been mentioned by at least one of the defenders and I'm not sure if it was possible for them to then continue on to a new fight without some further form of 'doctoring'.

There were reported to be some 20,000 long guns in Zululand prior to the start of the war, among them about 1,000 breach-loaders, some of them M-Hs. Given his position I suppose Dubalamanzi could have secured some of those for his troops.
13th August 2005Peter Ewart
Good point, Mike. Although the force which attacked RD could not have taken M-Hs from the dead at Isandlwana, there were M-Hs in Zulu hands before 1879, so it remains technically possible that M-Hs were used by the attacking force at RD.

15th August 2005Julian Whybra
Dawn, it was not contrary to the popular view. It is the accepted view. It is a recent book which has tried to steer opinion away from this and there has been much debate on this website about it.
15th August 2005Dawn
Thanks, Julian
I think you have comfirmed it for me. Just one more thing. I have read that impi do not eat after the final ceremony. Or is it that they do not eat certain foods? I have contradictory accounts.