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12th August 2005Zulu 'Uniforms'
By Paul Cubbin
I was wondering if someone out there could help me.

I am aware that the different Zulu regiments had differing 'uniforms' of dress and adornment - ostrich feathers, monkeytail skirts, leopardskin headbands etc.., not to mention shield patterns, to distinguish themselves from each other. I am also aware that much of it was ceremonial and was not worn for battle.

What I would like to know is this; did regiments have a 'uniform' when in battle, ie. did the commander order them to remove the ostrich plume, say, but keep the headband, or did individual warriors just choose what they wanted to keep and what to leave behind? Other than married regiments (who presumably would keep the leather headband) was each regiment then pretty much indistinguishable in action?
12th August 2005Coll

Any items considered too highly valued to risk losing or damaging in a battle were not worn.

I think to distinguish between the regiments, it is as you mentioned - their shields.

However, it is possible the indunas or other important individuals wore some kind of attire to show their status within the regiments.

12th August 2005Dawn
In Micheal Batthorp's book 'The Zulu War' it states
'Much of the adornment was reserved for ceremonial occasions and not worn on active service, but enough fur and feather remained so that, in conjunction with a man's shield colour, age and whether he wore the isiCoco, his regiment could always be determined.'
Does that help?

13th August 2005Paul Cubbin
Dawb - thanks, it does.
14th August 2005Dawn
The book also says:
'The corps organization was more administrative than operational and in battle a regiment might fight with another corps not from it own kraal.'
To further complicate matters!
14th August 2005Keith Smith

Altho' the amabutho wore distinguishing uniforms and similar shields in the early days of the Zulu paramountcy, the pattern of shields changed over time, as did their size.

In 1879 regiments could no longer be recognised by their shields and it is likely that uniformas underwent modification due to the lack of game from which they were made.
14th August 2005Dawn
But the shields were made from cow hide of which there was plenty. What might have been difficult was the right mix of colours to distinguish each regiment. Also the older the regiment, the more white on the shield so getting an all-white cow would have been near impossible. No GE in those days!
14th August 2005Paul Cubbin
Dawb - if I am correct, the white cattle were considered extremely valuable and were favourites in the Royal Herd. Selective breeding could have ensured a fairly good number were available, what I would call GE 'old style'. Besides, the cow didn't have to be completely white, just the bit the shield was cut from.
15th August 2005Dawn
True, true, I was making the point that sheilds weren't made from game a la springbok etc but cows. The fact that the white cows were in the Royal Herd goes to show how special they were and how special were the sheilds made from their hide, therefore only the old and wise ones received them after having stayed alive long enough to earn one.

15th August 2005Keith Smith


I believe that all shields were the property of the king, of whatever colour, and only 'issued' to the warriors when they went to war. They were stored in a small outhouse on stilts about 6 - 8 feet high, to keep away nasties that would have eaten them. You can still see one of these in the re-constructed Ondini in KZN.

15th August 2005Paul Cubbin
Keith - your post has jostled something in my memory about most replacement shields coming about because of ants scoffing the hide!