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DateOriginal Topic
21st December 2004Little interest in Zulu culture
By George Brew
This may create a bit of a stir. Is the website a bit one sided? Could there be more interest in the Zulus themselves (how they were equiped and organised and how they lived their lives)? I have even had to answer my own queries (see below). Sad isnt it. There is so much to learn. Am I alone in my broader interests.
21st December 2004Peter Ewart

It's a fair point to raise, as at first glance it may appear that most of the material on the site focuses on matters from the British side of things. However, there are probably elementary reasons for this.

The site was clearly created to highlight or study one particular (minor?) engagement of the war of 1879, and this is obviously reflected in the accounts, reports and profiles on the left. It is presumably approached from the British angle because the engagement itself, rightly or wrongly, was portrayed by them as an important and notable action, both then and since, whereas it has held comparatively much less interest, and was considered much less important, by the Zulu. Invitations have more than once been issued for accounts from Zulu or African contributors in order to provide more balance in the material, although these appeals have met with limited success as far as I know.

If you move on to the discussion forum, you'll see that among the postings of the last four years or so, all the topics you raise above have been regularly aired, sometimes in considerable detail. Certainly many discussions of the Zulu military system, equipment & organisation have occurred, particularly where they directly affected the war. This has especially been the case as far as Isandlwana is concerned, a battle which has probably been discussed on the forum in far more detail and at greater length than has Rorke's Drift, probably not surprisingly.

As regards the social system of the Zulu in those times, there is much less here (as I suppose one would expect on a mainly military site), but it has by no means been overlooked altogether. I am very interested myself in Zulu origins, their social system, religious outlook, general way of life and their place in the whole order of things in southern Africa, before and after 1879, but I'm by no means the only one. I suspect that contributors with similar interests are likely to offer postings on the topic only when the subject is raised and a specific answer is sought. It's certainly a very broad - indeed huge - subject to master and will undoubtedly be understood better as a result of wide reading in reliable books and published papers than on a website. Some of these publications were discussed recently when Shaka's time was mentioned on a thread.

I, too, would appreciate more contributions from Africans on what is, after all, an international forum, simply because one is likely to learn more and get a bit of balance. This would be very relevant to understanding the social system (including the social changes since 1879) but contributions from these sources have so far been few and far between, rather supporting - or explaining -the point you make, I suppose.

You're by no means alone, however, in those broader interests of yours.

21st December 2004Paul Cubbin
Perhaps one reason for the lack of information about the 'Black Spartans' is the lack of written documents regarding them and their history. In reading about the Zulu nation in the 19th century all information is second hand. We see only snapshots and must piece together the jigsaw of their history with most of the bits missing. What is clear is that they were a military society based almost solely on armed conflict and cattle farming. The famous 'Washing of the Spears' was a rite of passage, with men denied marriage and procreation (not to say they didn't do it of course!) until they reached a level of military experience. Each Zulu king appears to have altered the standard doctrines of their people slightly to suit their own tastes (Cetewayo appears to have been fairly liberal compared with many of his predecessors), but one thing did remain constant. Zulu society condoned and even relied on what outsiders viewed as political and religious murder. Large numbers of men and women were killed for little or no justification. To the Zulu, this was simply a matter of internal justice; to Europeans it was an obscenity that most found difficult to stomach. This radical clash of cultures was something that was almost certainly doomed to end in conflict. Of course, a few hundred years previously, 'Christian' Europe was not that much different. It is every bit as difficult for us in the 21st century (perhaps more so) to find justification for what would now be regarded as genocide; maybe that is why many people feel uncomfortable in discussing the Zulus from their perspective. Many of the misunderstandings about their actions and traditions have since been cleared up, but what remains is still a sense of justice and morality that is incomprehensible to us.
22nd December 2004Alan Critchley

this website doesn't deliberately avoid Zulu matters in relation to the war. As has been stated, information is readily available from many sources and much has been aired on this site. I have seen very little 'bias' or one sidedness, except on the occasions when people try to put the Zulu point of view.
It ought to be remembered that the intial reason for the establishment of the site was to examine the events and personalities of Rorke's Drift and the Victoria Crosses awarded in that action.
Happily the range of topics has developed greatly since starting and covers the Anglo Zulu War from virtually every perspective, including the Zulu. This is generally done by non-Zulus because of the lack of Zulu contributors. The only article featured on the Zulu perspective, is as 'one sided' as I think I have seen.
I know personally many of the contributors to this site and I would say that you'd have to look hard to find a more balanced lot and this is reflected in the depth of debate.

22nd December 2004Julian whybra
George, the website is for anyone to comment on and add to. If you wish to broaden the discussion, you have only to make your point or ask your question and await a response. It's up to the contributors.
23rd December 2004George Brew
Thanks for your replies. Good points made. Please dont think that I am trying to be politically correct when enquiring about being one sided. I have broad interest in the Anglo Zulu War and would like to know more about the Zulus. How they armed and organised themselves at the time. There may be people out there with specialist interest/connections that could contribute. Please do not take my point as a criticism. This is a really good website.
23rd December 2004Rich
I have many questions surely because I'm so far beyond the Zulu Pale.........

I'd be very interested to know who is the most famous contemporary Zulu historian of today and their approach to Zulu history. Really who is their greatest historian if that can a be something ascribed? It would be nice say if when I went to a book store and looked in the African section that I'd have a pick of various books written by Zulus on their history. I'm not sure about others but I don't see them. Is this a distribution artifact or there really are just too few writers writing about their history?
23rd December 2004Robert Jones
Rich, hello again,
There are a few Zulu historians, one being Themba Mthethwa who has written the piece "Zulu Perspective" on this site.
Another is Credo Vuzamazulu Mutwa who is descended from the witch-doctor of King Dingane and has written books including "My People"---well worth a read if only to see how the Zulu think.
Best regards,
23rd December 2004Rich
Thanks for the background Robert.
Just wondering if any SA/Zulu flags went up on the battlefields since Mr. Mthethwa's visit a few years ago. His article appeared to lament an absence of recognition of what those who went before achieved and sacrificed.
23rd December 2004Paul Cubbin
Having re-read my entry above and seen the reaction from George it does look a little like I'm a Zuluphile. Don't get me wrong here, my own views on the 'rights and wrongs' of this war in particular and any war in general are not something that I could express without causing offence to at least some people, so I choose to keep them to myself. I wrote what I hoped was a fair and (at least fairly) accurate picture of the events and people of the time. I have a very great interest in and admiration for the British Army, particularly in the 19th century. Whilst the generals appear to have had a habit of disgracing themselves on a pretty regular basis it was the unbelievable courage and discipline of the 'Redcoat' that indelibly stamped British influence in every corner of the globe. Who can imagine the thin line of scarlet coats without feeling immense pride and poignancy. But, as has been pointed out by Alan, there is a lack of Zulu contributors and perhaps I was playing the 'Devil's Advocate' card a little strong. Its difficult to be unmoved by the raw courage and determination of a people who can lose up to 5% (actual figures are sketchy) of their entire population in a single action and still chalk up a 'victory' ("An assegai in the belly of the nation," is how Cetewayo described it), even if their subsequent actions with surrendering, wounded and dead soldiers and civilians is nothing short of grotesque.