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Old October 20th, 2012, 01:56 PM   #1

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Was Zululand a centralized state?


I don't know much about the society and political culture of the Zulus. Did the Zulu monarchy started by Shaka constitute a true state, similar in status to the African states of Mali and Ethiopia? Or was it just a massively expanded tribal society, with kinship clans continuing to form the basis of sociopolitical organization, as in much of the rest of Africa?

Based on Max Weber's definition of a state as a "compulsory political organization with a centralized government that maintains a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a certain territory", I would strongly lean towards the former. Shaka, if I remember correctly, went through great efforts to centralize his political authority (often through tyrannical means) and promote loyalty to himself and his army rather than to clans and kin.

I would like to hear what others have to say.

Last edited by civfanatic; October 20th, 2012 at 02:20 PM.
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Old October 20th, 2012, 02:22 PM   #2

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Shaka (and his heirs) controlled the nation primarily by military obedience, not dissimilar to ancient Spartan society. Each man was assigned to a regiment filled with men of the same age. These regiments were housed in barracks which were placed throughout the kingdom. All vowed total allegiance to the king.
Recruitment by age eliminated any allegiance to a clan (which had caused political troubles prior to Shaka's rule).
Regiments were divided into Unmarried and Married. On the king's command an unmarried regiment would be allowed to marry; usually occurring in early middle age (35-40's). This, in Shaka's opinion, kept the young men of the army obedient to the king, with no family commitment to concern them, they would remain focused as warriors.
Once married the men would be allowed live at home and give obedience to their families and local chief as well as the king. However, they were still under military command as a 'reserve' force.
Unmarried regiments were in effect the standing army at the king's command, whether as defender of the nation or as a police force.
The regimental commanders were usually men who had 'served in the ranks' and had been promoted due to ability, though there were those of the royal house ('nobility') who became commanders; not unlike the system of the British army that the Zulus faced in 1879.

Last edited by OccamsRazor; October 20th, 2012 at 03:25 PM.
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Old October 20th, 2012, 04:11 PM   #3

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Quote:
Originally Posted by OccamsRazor View Post
Shaka (and his heirs) controlled the nation primarily by military obedience, not dissimilar to ancient Spartan society. Each man was assigned to a regiment filled with men of the same age. These regiments were housed in barracks which were placed throughout the kingdom. All vowed total allegiance to the king.
Recruitment by age eliminated any allegiance to a clan (which had caused political troubles prior to Shaka's rule).
Regiments were divided into Unmarried and Married. On the king's command an unmarried regiment would be allowed to marry; usually occurring in early middle age (35-40's). This, in Shaka's opinion, kept the young men of the army obedient to the king, with no family commitment to concern them, they would remain focused as warriors.
Once married the men would be allowed live at home and give obedience to their families and local chief as well as the king. However, they were still under military command as a 'reserve' force.
Unmarried regiments were in effect the standing army at the king's command, whether as defender of the nation or as a police force.
The regimental commanders were usually men who had 'served in the ranks' and had been promoted due to ability, though there were those of the royal house ('nobility') who became commanders; not unlike the system of the British army that the Zulus faced in 1879.
Hi, thanks for your reply.

I knew about the Zulu age-grade regimental system, and the cultivation of loyalty to king as opposed to clan in the Zulu army. The degree of control that Shaka exercised over his military is certainly characteristic of a centralized political system, as the military is one of the key instruments of political sovereignty. Is it your opinion then that the Zulus were indeed a state-level society, to answer the opening question?
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Old October 21st, 2012, 06:50 AM   #4

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Originally Posted by civfanatic View Post
Hi, thanks for your reply.

I knew about the Zulu age-grade regimental system, and the cultivation of loyalty to king as opposed to clan in the Zulu army. The degree of control that Shaka exercised over his military is certainly characteristic of a centralized political system, as the military is one of the key instruments of political sovereignty. Is it your opinion then that the Zulus were indeed a state-level society, to answer the opening question?
Yes. In my opinion.
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Old October 25th, 2012, 10:20 AM   #5

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I came across an interesting quote attributed to Shaka:

"Terror is the only thing they understand, and you can only rule the Zulus by killing them. Who are the Zulus? They are the parts of two hundred or more unruly clans which I had to break up and reshape, and only the fear of death will hold them together. The time will come when they will be as one nation, and the clans will only be remembered as their izibongo (surnames). In the meantime my very name must inspire them with terror."

It seems that Shaka not only forged a unified state by striking at traditional social structures and loyalties, but also created a truly totalitarian state (as much as it was possible in 19th century Africa) through his absolute monopoly on the use of force. I cannot think of any other polity in African history where the political head exercised such pervasive control over his people. The Zulus were clearly capable of mobilizing far more resources than a typical African tribe or chiefdom, and this was made possible by the Zulus' more advanced form of political organization.

Shaka should be remembered not only as a great military leader and innovator, but also as one of the greatest African state-builders.

Last edited by civfanatic; October 25th, 2012 at 10:28 AM.
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Old October 25th, 2012, 08:40 PM   #6
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Do a Tad bit more research mate


Quote:
Originally Posted by civfanatic View Post
I came across an interesting quote attributed to Shaka:


It seems that Shaka not only forged a unified state by striking at traditional social structures and loyalties, but also created a truly totalitarian state (as much as it was possible in 19th century Africa) through his absolute monopoly on the use of force. I cannot think of any other polity in African history where the political head exercised such pervasive control over his people. The Zulus were clearly capable of mobilizing far more resources than a typical African tribe or chiefdom, and this was made possible by the Zulus' more advanced form of political organization.

Shaka should be remembered not only as a great military leader and innovator, but also as one of the greatest African state-builders.
No offence to the Zulu's but if you want to talk about even southafrican kingdoms the Zulu's weren't even close to the level of some of the top ones. The Western and Eastern empires which are more numerous than most would know have seen golden ages that rivaled the entire planet and sometimes like the Askum kingdom made them one of the 4 great empires of the world.

Even among 19th century African states the Ashanti were much more developed and had an actually fair and balanced government system.

Great quote though
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Old October 26th, 2012, 01:04 PM   #7

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Found a 1879 map showing the Kingdom of Zululand.

Click the image to open in full size.

A modern version of what was considered Zululand. Seems this version included the Natal region.

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After the defeat the British operated a policy of divide and rule to further ensure no resurrection of a centralised Zulu army. The former kingdom was divided into districts, each of which had its own chief. One of the chiefs was actually a white man (John Dunn) who had a dozen or more Zulu wives. Several of the others were leaders of anti-royalist factions. The royal house was completely unrecognised. The result was endemic civil war until Britain finally annexed Zululand in 1887. The area was then administered as a separate colony until, in 1897, it was merged with Natal. The Natal government had long desired to have access to Zulu lands but this was also a period in a larger phase of an expansionist British policy in Southern Africa. Thanks to the discovery of huge quantities of gold in Transvaal, British administrators were seeking ways of pushing their control over the entire area. The formal annexation of Zululand in 1897 was in many ways a precursor to the events that would lead to the Boer War in just two years time and eventual Union in 1910

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Old November 1st, 2012, 07:51 PM   #8

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Nice to see some people saying positives about zulus. and don't forget an important part was shaka changing all of their cultural identities so they saw themselves as zulu, not just subjects.
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Old November 4th, 2012, 05:45 AM   #9

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Good and informative thread. But you miss a few salient points.

Shaka Zulu's empire started as a "personality cult" centred around the person of Shaka himself. He had several points in his favour. First he developed a new weapon/weapon-system which allowed his army a tremendous advantage. Second, while ruthless on the battlefield he was wise enough to understand that today's defeated foe can be absorbed into tomorrow's army. And through the caviat of linking marriage with killing an enemy warrior, a mighty motivation was at hand.

There is a good book on the subject: The Washing of the Spears
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Old November 4th, 2012, 06:53 AM   #10

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Quote:
Originally Posted by interrogator6 View Post
Good and informative thread. But you miss a few salient points.

Shaka Zulu's empire started as a "personality cult" centred around the person of Shaka himself. He had several points in his favour. First he developed a new weapon/weapon-system which allowed his army a tremendous advantage. Second, while ruthless on the battlefield he was wise enough to understand that today's defeated foe can be absorbed into tomorrow's army. And through the caviat of linking marriage with killing an enemy warrior, a mighty motivation was at hand.

There is a good book on the subject: The Washing of the Spears
All true. He would take a defeated tribe and absorb it's people into the Zulu tribe
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