An in­cred­i­bly well pre­served ‘ishilunga’ cap­tured at the Bat­tle of Ulundi in 1879

This dis­tinc­tive ‘ishilunga’ was cap­tured at the Bat­tle of Ulundi, the fi­nal en­gage­ment of the An­glo-zulu War

History of War - - CONTENTS | HOMEFRONT -

The An­glo-zulu War of 1879 was ar­guably the most fa­mous colo­nial con­flict that the Bri­tish Em­pire fought dur­ing the 19th cen­tury. The Bri­tish at­tempt to an­nex Zu­l­u­land in south­ern Africa was met with fierce re­sis­tance from Zulu war­riors who fought tena­ciously to pre­serve their in­de­pen­dence. Al­though the Zu­lus pos­sessed some firearms they were far less tech­no­log­i­cally equipped than the Bri­tish. They largely used spears and shields along with clever tac­tics to in­flict hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feats on the Bri­tish at the bat­tles of Isan­dl­wana, In­tombe and Hlobane.

Isan­dl­wana in par­tic­u­lar was a huge vic­tory for the Zu­lus where they killed over 1,300 Im­pe­rial troops and halted the first Bri­tish in­va­sion of Zu­l­u­land. The Bri­tish licked their wounds and re­turned to fi­nally de­feat the Zu­lus at their cap­i­tal of Ulundi on 4 June 1879.

Among the items that were cap­tured at Ulundi was this cowhide shield. Known as an ‘ishilunga’, the shield be­came a sym­bol of Zulu re­sis­tance. Al­though it was sim­ple in de­sign, the ishilunga con­tained com­plex in­for­ma­tion about its owner. The colours helped to iden­tify war­riors in bat­tle and even their mar­i­tal sta­tus. War­riors with for­mi­da­ble rep­u­ta­tions had white shields with one or two spots while their in­ex­pe­ri­enced coun­ter­parts’ shields were black. Mid­dle-ranked war­riors would sim­i­larly have red and white shields. The pat­tern­ing would also iden­tify which ‘impi’ (reg­i­ment) the war­rior fought with.

The pic­tured shield formed part of the sym­bolic spoils of Ulundi. Al­though less fa­mous than the pre­vi­ous bat­tles of Isan­dl­wana and Rorke’s Drift, Ulundi was a de­ci­sive Bri­tish vic­tory and a dis­as­ter for the Zu­lus. Their cap­i­tal was burned, the Zulu king Cetshwayo was cap­tured and Zu­l­u­land was bro­ken up into 13 Bri­tish dis­tricts.

LEFT: This ishilunga may have be­longed to a mid­dle-rank­ing war­rior with its white and red-brown pat­tern

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.