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21st May 2004"A Tiger in Africa?"
By John Young
Yes I know it is a line from 'The Meaning of Life', but how about this from 'The Pictorial World' of 13th October, 1883;
'All Usibepu's men wore a piece of tiger skin round their heads as a distinguishing mark.'

Maybe there's more to Monty Python than meets the eye! Or did Zibhebhu kaMaphitha have all the right fashion connections?

John Y.
21st May 2004Peter Ewart

Perfectly feasible - this is how it happened:

During 1866 (I think it was) the 2/24 sailed from Mauritius to Burma. After that, a spell in India. Pulleine, Wardell, Henry & William Degacher, Mostyn & Younghusband enjoyed their pig-sticking & shooting. Among their many trophies brought back to England, one of them treasured a beautiful tiger skin during the battalion's spell at the depot, Brecon, from 1873 until embarkation for the Cape in 1878.

He would not be parted from this particular possession - let others worry about the battalion cricket gear but he would not allow this trophy out of his sight. All the way up to Natal he (or his servant) carried it and it eventually crossed the Mzinyathi and negotiated the dodgy track to Isandlwana.

One of the tents of the 2/24 on that slope was decorated more spectacularly than all the others, a reminder of a wonderful oriental hunting trip. By dusk on the 22nd, however, the tent was no more and the loot had been triumphantly whisked away, up onto the Nguthu plateau and off into some far flung imuzi, where a beehive hut was now embellished by an animal skin completely unknown to its new owner, a warrior of one of the King's favourite regiments.

And there it remained, all efforts at recovering the loot of Isandlwana being focused on Martini Henrys, ammunition, Regimental and Queen's colours and 7-pounder guns. No-one was looking for a tiger skin, let alone the cricket gear and Harford's left boot.

Wolseley's disastrous settlement moved to its inevitable conclusion and, among the terrible fighting during the civil war, the Usuthu faction lost 1,000 men in their defeat by the Mandlakazi at Msebe in April, 1883 - including the new owner of the skin, which was saved from looting or destruction and handed to Tshingwayo, victor at Isandlwana, who perhaps considered himself the rightful owner of the bounty from that battle.

Just four months later, however, almost the entire leadership of the Usuthu faction was annihilated by Zibhebhu kaMaphitha's Mandlakazi warriors at the Battle of Ulundi, and the body of old Ntingshwayo kaMahole lay unidentified on the battlefield. His tiger skin was admired by Zibhebhu, who ordered his warriors to cut it up and add the pieces to their war costumes, which is what the Pictorial World's correspondent saw and correctly reported in time for the 13th Oct edition of that year. What he did not know is that the Usuthu and the Boers were yet to defeat these tigerskin-garbed Mandlakazi at Tshaneni later that year after the Oct report had gone to press. After this battle, the Boers commandeered the skins and some reports claim that the Guards Division espied tigerskin-clad burghers at Modder River eighteen years later, but these reports were never verified.

So that's exactly how it happened, John, and I'm sure I've got a primary source here somewhere to prove it. I'll leave the easy bits to you - which of the six officers (or the five who died on 22nd) had cherished that skin, I wonder? And secondly, was it a Burmese or Indian tiger?


P.S. If there's a flaw in the above somewhere, you'll no doubt find it!
21st May 2004Peter Ewart
Flaw No 1: it should say "Modder River sixteen years later" (but I got there first!)