Shaka Zulu, the Founder of the Zulu Kingdom

Zulukrieger (c) wikicommons

Shaka, founder of the Zulu Kingdom of southern Africa, came from a humble and harsh childhood. When he was born, at the end of the 18th century the Zulus were a small tribe of no more than 1,500 ruled by a chief called Senzangakona. The Zulu chief met and got pregnant a woman from another clan called Nandi. When Nandi became pregnant he refused to take responsibility and said that she must have a iShaka a parasite that affects the menstrual cycle.

Shaka's Childhood

When Nandi gave birth to a son her tribe demanded that Senzangakona collect her and her iShaka. Hence Shaka received his name in the shame of his child birth. Although the Zulu chief did marry Shaka's mother it did not last. Shaka and his mother wandered between tribes exiled until in 1803 they found haven with the Mtetwa tribe who were expanding rapidly under a skilled king. This king noticed that the young Shaka who had grown up to be skilled warrior of great strength had natural ability and he was groomed to be the future chief of the Zulus. Discipline was rigid and often brutal. Due to his harsh childhood Shaka was full of hatred, and he had killed all those who had tormented him as a child.

Shaka becomes King of the Zulu

When Shaka became chief of the Zulus in 1816, the tribe was among the smaller of the hundreds of other tribes in southern Africa. However, Shaka proved a brilliant military organizer, forming well-commanded regiments and arming his warriors with assegais, a new type of long-bladed, short spear that was easy to wield and deadly. The Zulus rapidly conquered neighboring tribes, incorporating the survivors into their ranks. By 1823, Shaka was in control of all of present-day Natal. The Zulu conquests greatly destabilized the region and resulted in a great wave of migrations by uprooted tribes.

Final Years

In 1827, Shaka’s mother, Nandi, died, and the Zulu leader lost his mind. In his grief, Shaka had hundreds of Zulus killed, and he outlawed the planting of crops and the use of milk for a year. All women found pregnant were murdered along with their husbands. He sent his army on an extensive military operation, and when they returned exhausted he immediately ordered them out again. It was the last straw for the lesser Zulu chiefs: On September 22, 1828, his half-brothers murdered Shaka. Dingane, one of the brothers, then became king of the Zulus.

Today, the Zulu are proud of Shaka and celebrate the "Shaka Zulu Day" in September, in honour of their first king.