Shaka Zulu


Shaka Zulu
(1783–1828)
   Founder and king of the Zulu nation of southern Africa. The Zulu and related or preceding Nguni tribes were preliterate societies, so precise details of Shaka’s early career are uncertain. Shaka was probably the illegitimate son of a chief; he entered the service of another chief as a young man and rapidly became a successful warrior with a following in his own right. In 1824, he made contact with British ivory traders who had landed at what is now Durban; the diary of their medic, Henry Francis Fynn, is one of the few primary sources available. Shaka was a military innovator in both tactics and organization, and his army expanded with his conquests. Zulu conquests, largely in the area that subsequently became Natal but also extending into the eastern Cape, played a role in precipitating the massive movements of peoples in southeast Africa known collectively as the mfecane, movements that left large areas relatively sparsely populated at the time of the arrival of the Boer Voortrekkers. Shaka was always suspicious of revolt and refused to acknowledge any sons, often killing or exiling women he had made pregnant. In 1828, he was killed by his followers, including his half-brother Dingane, who succeeded him as Zulu king. Shaka had made the Zulu into a powerful military nation, but also bequeathed to them a persistent succession problem. A subsequent succession dispute was referred to the British for arbitration, and played a role in embroiling them in the Zulu War of 1879. That war opened with the catastrophic British defeat of Isandhlwana, but ended with the final breaking of Zulu military power. Shaka’s legacy was claimed by various future movements. He became a mythic figure for Zulu leaders and among African nationalists more widely; he also became a symbol of an exclusive ethnic identity, and was deployed to this end by the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
   FURTHER READING:
    Fynn, Henry Francis. The Diary of Henry Francis Fynn. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and Shooter, 1969;
    Morris, Donald. The Washing of the Spears. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965;
    Omer-Cooper, John D. The Mfecane Aftermath. London: Longmans, Green, 1966.
   MARK F. PROUDMAN

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

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