Shaka was born in 1787 to a Zulu chief and a Lageni princess, but he and his mother were exiled to Lageni soon after Shaka’s birth because he was born out of wedlock. Shaka had a rough childhood in Lageni. He was often mistreated by the people of Lageni because of the circumstances of his birth. When Shaka had become a man, he was drafted into the army of the Mthethwa Empire, where he served successfully for six years. Shaka gained a prominent position in the Mthethwa army, and in 1816 he was sent back to rule the Zulu tribe.
As chief of the Zulus, Shaka made major changes in the way warriors were trained, and in the way battles were fought. The first change was to the weapons the Zulus used, which in turn changed the way battles were fought. Previously, Zulu warriors used light throwing spears, and battles were mainly taunts and a few volleys of spears. These battles had few casualties, and the smaller army generally backed down quickly. Shaka equipped his men with much stronger and shorter assegais, which were short handled, long bladed spears, and with cowhide shields. These new weapons forced the men to engage in close combat, and the battles became much more serious and deadly.
Shaka also trained his men differently, taking them on fifty mile hikes to strengthen them and prepare them to fight after long marches. He created new battle formations, the most famous being his Bull Formation. In the Bull Formation, Shaka divided his men into four groups, which were separated by painting each group’s shield a different color. The four groups were the chest, two horns, and the loins. In the Bull Formation, the chest consisted of Shaka’s best men, and they engaged the enemy directly. Then the two horn groups would sweep out to either side of the enemy, and attack the flanks. Finally, Shaka had the loins group stand behind the chest group facing away from the battle. They faced away from the battle so the men would stay calm, and not get caught up in the battle too early. The loins were also designed to protect against an attack from behind, and they could be deployed to help out any section that needed reinforcements.
During his military campaigns, Shaka sought to incorporate the subdued clans into his army. This strategy allowed him to quadruple the size of his army in under a year. Within two years, Shaka had conquered almost all the tribes around him, growing the Zulus from a smaller clan into the Zulu Nation.
Shaka’s military campaign’s brought about what came to be known as “The Mfecane” or “The Crushing”. Shaka’s annual campaigns displaced millions of people as they fled Shaka’s army. These displaced people, in turn, displaced more people as the various clans had to fight for new land. The Mfecane affected people as far away as South Africa and Tanzania.
Fall of Shaka
Shaka’s decline from power started with the death of his mother, Nandi. When Nandi died in 1827, Shaka had a mental breakdown. In his initial grief, he had over 7000 Zulu men and women killed. He also declared that no crops could be planted and no animals be milked for an entire year within the Zulu empire. Then for good measure, Shaka had thousands of cows killed so that even the calves can know the pain of losing a mother.
The final straw happened when Shaka sent his men on back to back campaigns with no rest in between. Fed up with Shaka’s irrational behavior, two of Shaka’s half brother’s, along with a third man, assassinated Shaka and claimed the throne. One of the assassins and Shaka’s half-brother, Dingane, assumed Shaka’s role as king and proceeded to purge the Zulu nation of Shaka supporters in order to secure his place as king, thus ending Shaka Zulu’s reign.
Czerniewski, Bill. “AUTHENTIC ZULU STABBING SPEAR AND SHIELD. … Paleolithic | Lot #48344 | Heritage Auctions.” Pinterest. N.p., 08 May 2015. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.
Harris, Collin. “Shaka Zulu Is Assassinated.” World History Project. The History of the Us, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2017.
McConnell, James E. “Zulu Chief Shaka Being Attacked.” Look and Learn History Picture Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.
“Mfecane.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Oct. 2016. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.
Morris, Donald R. “Shaka.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 08 Apr. 2009. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.
“16 Things That Made Shaka Zulu A Military Genius.” Pinterest. N.p., 24 Aug. 2014. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.