The Rise Of Shaka And The Zulu Empire

By | December 13, 2019

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A statue of Shaka Zulu. Source: (Getty Images)

In the southeast corner of Africa, the warrior-king Shaka Zulu built a powerful empire in the 19th century, but his descent into despotism and madness was his ultimate undoing.

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Zulu warrior in full regimental regalia, carrying the large isihlangu war shield. c. 1860. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Senzangakhona kaJama, the chief of the small, insignificant Zulu clan and Nandi, an orphan daughter of a neighboring Langeni clan chief had an affair that resulted in the birth of Shaka Zulu in 1787. Due to his illicit origins, Shaka held low status in the clan and his father wanted nothing to do with him. He tried to deny his paternity. In fact, Shaka’s stems from Senzangakhona saying that Nandi was not pregnant but was ill from an intestinal malady transmitted by the iShaka beetle. Nandi was taken on as Senzangakhona’s third wife, but he soon exiled her and her son back to her own people.

With the Lageni, Shaka was tormented by members of the clan and relentlessly hazed because of his status. While Shaka endured it all in silence, he became a bitter, lonely, and angry young man. He only found comfort with his mother, and he hated the Lageni people.

During this time, Shaka grew to be tall and powerful. Shaka took up stick fighting and developed great skills. Others were fearful to fight Shaka since the young warrior found to wound or kill, rather than out of fun like his peers. Shaka seemed to derive peace and pleasure from battle. He also mastered the six-foot long assegai, a spear tipped with steel.