Eating Ashes: How Zulu Subsistence Methods and Culture Changed After the Anglo-Zulu War

Topics: South Africa, Shaka, Zulu Pages: 7 (2475 words) Published: February 4, 2013
Eating Ashes
How Zulu Subsistence Methods and Culture Changed After the Anglo-Zulu War Benjamin J. McInnis
ANT101 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
Instructor Mitra Rokni

Eating Ashes: How Zulu Subsistence Methods and Culture Changed After the Anglo-Zulu War

The Zulu people of South Africa made an unprecedented development from a single clan of pastoralists much like the other clans and tribes in the area of modern KwaZulu-Natal (Sithole, 2002. “Zulu Orientation”. para. 1) to a great nation with the rise of King Shaka in the 1820’s (Etherington, 2004. p. 159). Through revolutionary tactics begun by his predecessor Chief Tingeswio, King Shaka united all of the tribes in the area “under the name of Zulus” (Etherington, 2004. p. 159). After the defeat of the Zulu nation by the British in the 1880’s (Sithole, 2002. “History and Cultural Relations”. para. 2), the Zulu people went from a pastoralist culture with land allocated by local chiefs to “subsistence agriculturalists” forced to work for white land owners (Sithole, 2002. “Land Tenure”). The defeat of the Zulu Nation and its annexation by the British profoundly changed the Zulu method of subsistence which in turn affected their culture at every level. History

According to the Encyclopedia of Archaeology(2008), “ …‘mixed farming’…a form of intensive agriculture consisting of domesticated animal and crop production as food sources where the maintenance of soil fertility results from the use of animal manure as fertilizer”, was introduced to Southern Africa by the Bantu speaking people who migrated from the East (“Herders, Farmers, and Metallurgists of South Africa”. p.p. 1,6). This introduction of subsistence technology, including new crops, livestock, and the introduction of metallurgy in the form of iron and copper, changed the South African people, including the Zulu, from foragers to pastoralists in a very short period of time (2008). By the second millennium C.E., southern African farming culture which consisted of the Sotho/Tswana and Nguni-speaking peoples, had expanded to the limit of its reliance on summer rainfall agriculture (2008). Out of these farming peoples developed “the Tswana towns and the Zulu Nation under King Shaka (2008. p.1).” The development of the Zulu Nation was a direct result of colonial expansion of the Dutch and the English. These European powers progressively subjugated the Zulu, taking their land and their independence until the Zulu and other South African peoples were herded on to reservations and forced into a life of subsistence farming under British rule (2008, p.1).

In the beginning of the 19th Century, there was a move toward political centralization due to climactic and agricultural factors in South Africa. In addition to this, European interests had begun to expand out of the Cape Colony into the indigenous farmlands. In an attempt to maintain their independence, Shaka united the divergent tribes of the area under the banner of the Zulu. Despite advanced tactics and determination, the Zulu continued to lose ground until, by the end of the nineteenth century, the Zulu had largely lost their independence to the colonial British government (2008. p.5). Political Organization

Before the annexation of the Zulu people by the British, it was the king who regulated the societal and generative power of the people. The metaphor of milk was often used to describe this ebb and flow of the power of the Zulu people (Bjerk, 2006. p. 2). Adolescent boys were given to drink twice a day from the udders of royal cows (p. 2) as a symbolic infusion of life by the hand of the king. The king’s political power stemmed from his control of “cattle” which metaphorically symbolized life and power (p. 2).

King Shaka turned this tradition on its ear. From his betrayal of his mentor and predecessor, Dingiswayo (p.3), and his violent unification of the disparate clans in southern Africa, Shaka kept his political power...

References: BJERK, P. K. (2006). They poured themselves into the milk: Zulu political philosophy under shaka. Journal of African History, 47(1), 1-19. Retrieved from
Deflem, M. (1999). Warfare, political leadership, and state formation: The case of the zulu kingdom, 1808-1879. Ethnology, 38(4), 371-391. Retrieved from
Etherington, N. (2004). Were there large states in the coastal regions of southeast africa before the rise of the zulu kingdom?*. History in Africa, 31, 157-183. Retrieved from
Hamilton, C., & Epprecht, M. (1999). [Terrific majesty: The powers of shaka zulu & the limits of historical invention]. Canadian Journal of History, 34(3), 423-426. Retrieved from
“Herders, Farmers, and Metallurgists of South Africa”.(2008). In Encyclopedia of Archaeology. Retrieved from:
Sithole, Mpilo. "Zulu." Encyclopedia of World Cultures Supplement. 2002. Retrieved July 30, 2012 from
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