Zulu Empire Leaders: Shaka Starting technologies: Agriculture Hunting Unique unit: Impi Unique building: Ikhanda
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The Zulu came from a group of peoples known as the Nguni, a linguistic subgroup of the Bantu family of languages. The Nguni had been migrating south for almost a thousand years before reaching the region of the White Umfolozi River around 1700 AD. It was here that the Zulu decided to settle and make their home, according to tradition in 1709. The Zulu are named after Zulu kaNtombhela, who was the founder and chief of the tribe.
The Zulu were never more than one unremarkable small tribe among many - until the coming of the great warrior Shaka Zulu, who was born sometime around 1787. While growing up, Shaka was exiled by his father and found refuge with Digiswayo, the chief of another neighboring tribe. When his father died around 1816, Digiswayo helped Shaka succeed to the Zulu throne.
Once in power Shaka instituted something of a military revolution among the Zulus, replacing the traditional "assegai" (a javelin-like throwing spear) with a shorter stabbing spear called the "lklwa." He also equipped his warriors with a larger shield which covered most of the soldier`s body. This change in Zulu weaponry reflected Shaka`s innovations in warefare: while previous battles had tended to be somewhat ritualistic - with much chanting and spear-throwing at a distance - and thus did not have decisive results, Shaka taught the Zulu to kill.
Under Shaka`s command, the Zulu warriors would close to melee range with their opponents, where their shorter stabbing spears were more effective than the opposition`s throwing weapons. Shaka also taught his warriors to fight in a new tactical formation known as the "buffalo horns. Under this formation the center of the Zulu line would engage the enemy to hold them in position, while the right and left "horns" would move forward and envelop the enemy. Outflanked on right and left and equipped with inferior weapons, few enemies could stand up to the Zulu assault the Zulu were soon terrorizing the neighboring tribes.
Within a decade, Shaka had accumulated an army of 50,000 warriors, defeated all of the surrounding tribes, and was master over most of the interior of what is now South Africa. Shaka set up a new capital for the Zulu at Bulaweyo, but his arrogance and cruelty caused dissatisfaction among his people. In 1828 Shaka was assassinated by his half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana. Dingane then immediately killed Mhlangana and began a purge of the pro-Shaka chieftains under his control.
It was into this picture of chaos and violence that the European settlers first began appearing onto the scene in the 1830s. The first European settlement in the Zululand region was the English colony of Port Natal (modern Durban). An English missionary went to live with the Zulu in 1837, and was tolerated by King Dingane. However, at the same time a group of Boer settlers known as the "Voortrekkers" (or pioneers) were moving north across the Orange River into the now-empty lands which had been vacated by tribes fleeing the Zulu. Dingane had given the Voortrekkers permission to settle in the area, but in 1838 - either as the result of a misunderstanding or because Dingane had planned it from the start - the Zulus attacked the newcomers.
This proved to be a huge mistake. At the Battle of Blood River, the Zulus vastly outnumbered their opposition, having 10,000 warriors fighting 400 Boers. Despite the odds, however, the Boers slaughtered their opponents, their firearms giving them an overwhelming advantage against their spear-wielding opponents. The Zulus were forced to allow the white men to settle in their territory, which became known as the Republic of Utrecht.
Following the battle, there was a generation of uneasy peace between the Zulus and the growing British and Boer presence in the region. However, after the discovery of diamond mines in South Africa in 1878, the British cast covetous eyes on the Zulu land, and they began to look for an excuse to attack and displace the natives. Following a minor border dispute in 1878, the British declared war and invaded Zululand on three fronts.
The Zulu warriors fought bravely (and much to the Europeans` shock managed to slaughter a British force at Isandlwana), but the British rifles and Maxim guns made the ferocity of individual Zulu warriors irrelevant, and the outcome of the war was never in doubt. The Zulu were defeated and Zululand was incorporated into British South Africa. King Cetshwayo was taken to London to meet Queen Victoria as an honored prisoner. However, the rest of the nation did not fare so well, and the Zulus spent the next century under British and Afrikaner domination, forced to live under the racist apartheid laws of South Africa.
Following the fall of apartheid in the 1990s, however, today Zulus enjoy full citizenship rights in South Africa. Zulu is the most widely spoken language in the country, and with over 11 million people, the Zulus are the largest ethnic group in South Africa.