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DateOriginal Topic
10th June 2003Traditions of the Zulu Army
By Miguel
I have a confession to make. For ignorant people like me, who had to look up in a map where Natal was, everything about the Zulus came as a surprise.

The first image of a Zulu army was born in me out of sheer ignorance, thinking of them as just a mass of wild people with no tactics, command structure or unit organization whatsoever, charging in an unorderly fashion against the enemy.

So the existence of tactics like the horns of the buffalo, the organization of the army in regiments or the existence of clever officers was surprising for me.

In this line of constant discovery in which inevitably a growing admiration for this people was born, I also noticed, mentioned here and there in a casual way, examples of traditions and acts of honor and gallantry in battle much like the same we find in old European armies. I am referring to (may it be historically correct or not) things like honoring bravery by carrying the body of a brave soldier on shields (Younghusband) and so on.

So I'd like to ask the experts, specially John with his endless knowledge of this people, if they could provide more examples of what we might see as gallantry and honor in Zulu war habits.

Thanks to John and the website, apparently sadistic, savage habits like disemboweling corpses or repeatedly stabbing slain enemies are now seen in the light of its real meaning, therefore I would like to keep learning about this brave people.

Canary Islands
13th June 2003Keith Smith

I have not visited this site for a while, so I'm sorry to come back late. I notice that no-one else has volunteered an answer, so I'll let you have mine.

The Zulu had great regard for courage in battle and, at least during the reigns of the later kings, would reward outstanding acts of bravery with a necklace of small shaped wooden beads. The Zulu name for this was isiQu (pl. iziQu).

When Dinuzulu was taken prisoner after the Bambatha rebellion, a Colonel Robert Baden-Powell "liberated" one of these from the King at that time and when Baden-Powell later formed the Boy Scouts, he needed a badge to reward young men who passed his instruction course for Scout leaders. He adopted the beads from Dinuzulu's necklace by putting two beads on a bootlace (later replaced by a thin leather thong) and made a necklace of them. Of course, the original beads soon ran out and the Scout movement had them specially made, up to the present day; they are known as The Wood Badge, and the necklace is still referred to as one's beads.

Keith Smith
13th June 2003Peter Ewart

I understand some doubt remains about the actual origins of the bead necklace & how BP obtained it. Apparently, the first Wood Badges were formed "from beads belonging to an African necklace, which B-P suggested he had found in Dinizulu's hut in the Ceza. There is, however, no record of this find in his diary or letters written at the time, though he does mention appropriating the necklace of the dead African girl." (Tim Jeal, "Baden-Powell" Hutchinson, 1989, p134).

This girl had died despite B-P's and McKean's efforts to save her after McKean's Basutos had killed four men during their notorious looting escapades. B-P appears to have admitted to taking her necklace but of course this doesn't necessarily mean it was the same one which he later said he'd found in Dinizulu's hut after the latter had fled from the bush - but this biographer gently implies that it may have been. (Would they have been that similar, I wonder?)

Again according to Jeal, the provenance of the original necklace appears to have caused some embarrassment to the Scouting movement after WW2, and he says that it eventually "became policy within the Movement to claim that B-P had been given the necklace by Dinizulu." He quotes the Deputy Chief Scout as writing in 1959 that this change was first made in the "Gilwell Book" and thereafter gradually in all their literature. Your own choice of the word "liberate" suggests you've read between the lines already!

As with most things relating to B-P, nothing is ever straight forward, perhaps because of his family's relentless self-advertising! The biography I quote from is not one of the modern "hatchet jobs" on B-P but, in my opinion, a superb account of his life & very balanced, acknowledging many of B-P's departures from reality but claiming that many of his important findings are almost completely at variance with the accounts which have appeared since the 1960s.

B-P's service in Zululand was controversial at the time, but if one looks at the "campaign" as one in which a young officer was desperate for action, to become noticed and also very keen to get the papers back home to write about the affair & his part in it and to pull all possible strings, he was fairly typical. I see Prof Laband gently mocks him in his account of this rebellion in "Rope of Sand."

One small point. B-P was only a captain at the time as this was the smaller 1888 "rebellion" and not the Bambatha affair of 1906.

14th June 2003Keith Smith


Thanks for that - I might have guessed that you would have chapter and verse!

You might like to know that I donated my own Wood Badge to the Amafa museum at Ondini (Ulundi) a couple of years ago, which I thought might rather bring things back full circle, as it were.


15th June 2003Peter Ewart

That's a terrific (and appropriate) thing to do, especially as it must have retained some personal sentimental value to you. Hope it was appreciated!