Shaka Zulu

Shaka Zulu was born into the South African clan of the Zulus in 1787. In his later life, he would be credited with the creation of the Zulu Empire, and the organization of a fighting force that brought ruin to the country and its tribes. His life isn’t very well documented – historians debate many of the facts surrounding him and his work – so it’s difficult to say how much of it is true.

However, much of what we know about his early life is taken to be accurate. Shaka Zulu was born to the chief of the Zulus and his mother, Nandi.

Kente cloth patterns
At a very young age, Shaka was given the responsibility of protecting the village animals, which is where he first learned to fight. But Shaka’s father kicked him and his mother out of the village when he was around six years old. They were forced to live with a new clan – which, at the time, was not as easy as it sounds.

As an “intruder” into this new clan, Shaka was bullied by the boys of the clan. The only friend he had was his mother, who he adored. As time passed, Shaka grew big and strong – by the age of 21, he had become a powerhouse of muscle, standing at six feet and three inches.

Because of his strength, he became a leader in the clan – but Shaka was more ambitious than that, and someday longed to be chief of the boys who’d bullied him.

Kente cloth patterns
Shaka caught the eye of the tribe’s chief – Dingiswayo – and rose to control the tribe’s forces. At the time, battles between tribes weren’t really battles at all – whichever tribe had fewer soldiers would simply surrender to the other before the fighting ever began, and the battles were generally bloodless affairs.

Shaka changed this. He created his own weapon – a kind of sword made from half a broken spear – and began to fight at close quarters, instead of the long-distance battles tribes had previously fought. He fought barefoot so that he could move faster than his opponents.

Shaka used his unique fighting methods to become one of the best warriors in the clan, and later a commander in the tribe’s army.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region
When Shaka’s father died, he returned to his childhood home and became Chief of the Zulu. He became known as Nodumehlezi, which means “the one who causes the earth to rumble.” As time passed, he fought many battles to expand his Zulu Empire; in 1818, he fought a great battle against his main rival’s army.

Though Shaka’s army was greatly outnumbered, his troops were trained in his special fighting style and used clever battle tactics to win the fight. He also kept them motivated through the use of his kingdom’s laws: because young men were not allowed to marry unless they had proven themselves in battle, they would fight hard to prove that they were worthy of having wives.

Shortly after this battle, the Zulu Kingdom became known as the most powerful kingdom in the region.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region
However, as the Zulu Kingdom became more powerful, Shaka became crueler. He demanded loyalty from his followers, and if anybody insulted him or his mother, he would sentence them to execution.

Despite this, he kept things peaceful with the European visitors, sending delegates to greet them and gifts to welcome them to the country. This kept the European colonialists away from his kingdom until after his death, when the Boer Wars would begin.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region
Shaka ruled over 250,000 Zulu people without opposition for 10 years. His reign would have gone on for longer; but when his mother died, Shaka lost his sanity (went crazy.) He forced the entire kingdom to mourn her, and executed people who he decided had not mourned enough: in total, 7,000 people were killed for this crime.

He also outlawed farming for a year, banned the use of milk, and said that all pregnant women would be executed as criminals as well. The Zulu people got tired of his cruelty, and Shaka’s own brothers assassinated him in 1828, bringing his reign to an abrupt end.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

Facts about Shaka Zulu:

  • Shaka Zulu was born in 1787.
  • He was the son of the Zulu tribe’s chief.
  • Shaka Zulu first learned to fight when he was a child.
  • At around the age of the six, Shaka was exiled with his mother and forced to join another clan.
  • Because he was an interloper, Shaka was bullied by the new clan’s boys. This inspired him to aim towards becoming a chief someday.
  • Shaka grew up to be big and strong and developed a new fighting style. He fought barefoot, and close-quarters, using a specially made weapon that resembled a sword.
  • When his father died, Shaka took control of the Zulu people and became chief.
  • Expanded the Zulu territory greatly by waging war against neighboring tribes.
  • When his mother died, he went crazy; and, tired of his cruel reign, his brothers assassinated him in 1828.

Sample of the Egyptian


When was Shaka Zulu born?

– 1787.

What tribe was he born into?

– The Zulu tribe.

Why did Shaka Zulu fight barefoot?

– He believed it made him quicker and more agile.

How did he expand the territory of the Zulu Kingdom after becoming chief?

– He waged war against the neighboring tribes.
When did Shaka Zulu die?

– 1828. His brothers assassinated him.