Zulu Battle Axe

Zulu Battle Axe

Tshaka kaSenzangakhona (c. 1787 – 1828), also known as Shaka Zulu or Shaka the Great, found the Zulu nation just northeast coast of South Africa. The Zulu became a warrior nation due to several conflicts they faced both internally and externally. They fought battles among local tribes including British troops so it was imperative to expand, a reason why they are the largest ethnic group in South Africa.

Typical traditional weapons included long (assegai) and short spears (iklwa), axes and knobkerries. The Zulu king was a military genius, an innovator of indigenous methods who invented the iklwa which had a “terrifying advantage over opponents who clung to the traditional practice of throwing their spears and avoiding hand-to-hand conflict.” The throwing spear was not discarded but used as an initial missile weapon before close contact with the enemy when the shorter stabbing spear (iklwa) was used in hand-to-hand combat. Shaka is also said to have introduced a larger, heavier cowhide shield (isihlangu). I will discuss in detail about the iklwa in my next post.

One of the most important and effective weapons that were used but rarely covered by many scholars is the Zulu Battle / Ceremonial Axe. These weapons had several functions and purposes before, during, and after battles. They came in different forms and shapes but the most common type known is the isizenze. Isizenze axes were used in pre-battle rituals whereby a black bull was sacrificed in order to appease and invoke divine or ancestral powers.

High ranking Zulu officers often carried axes with half-moon blades and other insignia of rank were also displayed in ceremonies as symbols of wealth and prestige. The copper blade and studded axe as shown without doubt belonged to a high ranking officer (iNduna) who were in charge of mobilizing or deploying Zulu impi (regiments). It has an intimidating look, a very heavy blade (expensive at that time), and a stout haft to balance the weight.

The Zulu lost many warriors in battle during the colonial period, subsequently, several fascinating weapons such as this were brought home to Britain by returning soldiers as a memento. The UK Daily Mail reports that among Zulu tribal weapons collected from the wars were tribal shields (islhangu) , executioner’s weapons such as stabbing spears (iklwa), The assegai (Umkhonto) warclubs or knobkerries (iwisa), status sceptres/staffs, and necklaces made from lion’s teeth.

Feel free to make comments or ask questions


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