This post is a part of the 2020 Selected Papers of the Consortium on the Revolutionary Era, which were edited and compiled by members of the CRE’s board alongside editors at Age of Revolutions.
By Jacob Ivey
In May 2010, anticipating South Africa’s hosting of the World Cup, the city of Durban decided to make a dramatic addition to the newly opened King Shaka International Airport. Officials unveiled a statue of the Zulu king Shaka kaSenzangakhona, known popularly as “Shaka Zulu.” Shaka, founder of the Zulu nation in modern-day KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, had since his death in 1828 become perhaps one of the most famous South Africans in history next to Nelson Mandela. The Zulu king had facilitated the creation of the Zulu kingdom during the early nineteenth century through what has been described as a “military revolution” that influenced the historic arc of the whole region. However, unlike the traditional image of Shaka with shield and iklwa, or short stabbing-spear made famous by the Zulu king, he was presented outside the airport terminal as unarmed, surrounded by Nguni cattle. This revelation created a major controversy in June when Goodwill Zwelithin kaBhekuzulu, Isilo (King) of the Zulus of South Africa, expressed his displeasure, arguing, “it made Shaka look like a herd boy, rather than the hunter and warrior he was.” Shaka, evidently, was not Shaka without his spear.
If there is one indelible image of the Zulu nation, it is the iklwa. Literally “stabbing” through the title graphic of the mini-series Shaka Zulu (1986) and a key element of the imagery of the Inkatha Freedom Party, the short stabbing spear of the Zulu is frequently offered as part of the military genius of Shaka. It highlights a repeated, entrenched narrative in our understanding of the history of the Zulu people. This narrative, facilitated by European and African sources since the death of the Zulu king in 1828, claims that Shaka, through ruthlessness, treachery, and military innovations, forged with his iklwa a kingdom that became the source of Zulu nationalism and ethnic identity for the next two centuries. The founding of the Zulu nation became one of the critical moments in South African history. From the 1820s onward, the Zulu became a force to be feared, gaining a place in the collective imagination of the British during the early to mid-nineteenth century as the most aggressive and warlike Africans of South Africa, despite the majority of Britain’s wars in the region between 1779 and 1879 being against the Xhosa people. Shaka remains a figure of myth, legend, and misinterpretation, with numerous books and films depicting the rise of the “Black Napoleon.” However, “Shaka’s spear” offers an example of how one object can come to represent not only an individual, but the sweeping changes that individual ushered in during a period of revolution.
This paper will hope to highlight how “Shaka’s spear” could come to represent not only the iconic individual but also the sweeping changes that he ushered in during the early nineteenth century. More importantly, this paper will address the formulation of myth in conjunction with the “military revolution” that defined the Zulu people in the early nineteenth century during the Age of Revolutions. It will articulate that the perceptions of this revolution were primarily the byproduct of European observation and interpretations fundamentally influenced by the political and social changes that dominated the British empire and Atlantic World during this period. More importantly, the historical records predominantly used to define Shaka, and this era, have produced misinformation, misinterpretation, and, in some cases, a nationalist tradition that still lingers amongst the Zulu and South Africans more widely to this day.
The Zulu, a Nguni-speaking ethnic group, were one of a wide range of social and political groups in what is today KwaZulu-Natal in the Republic of South Africa. It is critical to emphasize that the “Zulu” did not exist as we know them before the military revolution that defined the early nineteenth century. Shaka, and his predecessor Dingiswayo, were the key implementers of a revolution in policy and used it to great advantage during their territorial expansion. It was how military settlements, or “heads,” were used by the Shaka regime that led to greater organization, categorization, and order within the Zulu kingdom and the greater Zululand region. The indunas, as both a commoner appointed by Shaka and the leader of each “head,” were given considerable power and influence within Zulu society. Because the army and its impiregiments were the central unit of administration within Shaka’s kingdom, it also acted as a means to develop and solidify power within the central government. The military acted not only as the conduit for territorial expansion, but also as a system of loyalty that rested with the indunas and ultimately Shaka.
The organization of the army, and how the system incorporated conquered peoples, provided a primary means of assimilation within Zulu society. Because the indunas held the traditional positions occupied by territorial chiefs, there is a clear transition from the bureaucracy of “royals” to a more effective administrative system with power in the hands of the commoners. The typical composition of African groups within Natal and Zululand was organized according to a patriarchal system of society, beginning with the head of the family, moving to the head of a “kraal” or small village, to the head of several “kraals” led by one induna, eventually to a Chief of the group or inkosi. The power of the chiefs was nearly absolute and was quelled only by the limitations to their military, and access to cattle as payment. Only strong, charismatic leaders such as Shaka, and later Cetshwayo, seemed capable of maintaining order and expanding Zulu power.
By 1818, Shaka had consolidated these groups along with the much larger Mthethwa under Dingiswayo to create the Zulu nation. During this consolidation, the Zulu kingdom under Shaka experienced a military revolution in the early nineteenth century that triggered a vast expansion of Zulu power. The cause of this revolution is widely attributed to the implementation of new military tactics. These include the famous “bull’s horns” of envelopment, the banning of sandals to toughen the feet, the regimental association with specific cowhide patterns and warrior’s shields, and a diet of beef and cereal porridge, making the capture of cattle and grain supplies critical to any war effort. Shaka’s short-stabbing umkhonto, a spear sometimes also known as assegai or iklwa, was perhaps the most iconic of these military innovations. This weapon, designed for close-quarters combat and used with devastating effects across the eastern portions of Southern Africa, became the visual representation of this military revolution. Shaka, in turn, became a “Black Napoleon,” leading Zulu warriors with amaiklwa in hand and cutting a bloody swath through all who opposed him. While an oversimplification, this military revolution did have a fundamental impact on the region and created an entrenched narrative in the minds of many Europeans of the brutal “wars of Shaka” (sometimes called the mfecane), facilitated by the iklwa.
The history of the iklwa reveals both the oft-violent, cultural transformation associated with Shaka’s revolution within the Zulu kingdom. But Shaka was not the sole inventor of the nineteenth-century Zulu military revolution. Notwithstanding popular discourse, Shaka did not fashion the short-stabbing spear on his own, nor was he the first to make use of this weapon. Despite claims by John Laband the weapon was “introduced” by Shaka, it was “probably a refinement on a weapon already familiar in the region.” More likely, according to Dan Wylie, Shaka learned of its use from the regiments of his cousin Makhedama, who grew up with Shaka during the exile of his youth. Before this introduction, soldiers would typically use different kinds of spears, including an isijula (a short throwing spear) for the attack, and the iklwa against fleeing enemies. By the time of Shaka’s rise to power, the iklwa became associated with a tactic called “stabbing the ibece melon,” because it involved stabbing fleeing warriors in the back. While Shaka’s warfare was defined by a greater level of swift violence—including instructions to his impi (or regiment) to “‘Let no one remain alive,’…every soul was to be killed, even a child being nursed on the back”—Shaka’s contributions lay in organization and control, and not the reinvention of military technology. Shaka’s most definitive link with the iklwa was likely his decision to make the spear, like all spears in his amaButho regiments, a national asset belonging to the king.The iklwa, in turn, would remain only one of many tools of warfare used by the Zulu for at least another generation, despite the emergence of “Shaka’s” military breakthrough.
Shaka did not invent this weapon, nor was he the first to use it. Why, then, does it remain primarily associated with him? Shaka dominated the nineteenth-century Zulu imagination, but he left no written records of his actions or innovations. The majority of early information about the Zulu king came from British settlers who first came in contact with Shaka in the early 1820s, including Francis Farewell, James King, Henry Francis Fynn, and later Nathanial Isaacs. All of these men were fortune seekers who partly established the first British outpost at Port Natal (modern-day Durban). Farewell and King had both served in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. King had resigned as midshipmen in 1815 and commanded a merchant ship by 1822 ferrying troops from Cape Town to Algoa Bay. Farewell served on nine ships after joining the navy in 1807, was wounded on several occasions, and commanded a small island detachment in the Adriatic before retiring on half-pay as a lieutenant in 1815. Like King, Farewell commanded merchant ships for the next decade before arriving in Port Natal in 1823. Fynn, though educated at Christ’s Hospital in London, decided in 1819 to move to Cape Town to work for the Farewell Trading Company. Isaacs, all of seventeen, was shipwrecked along with King during a resupply mission in 1825 to Port Natal. These men were amongst the first Europeans to interact with the Zulu king, and most left a written legacy that has been foundational for our historical understanding of Shaka. Though never directly connecting Shaka’s period of warfare to the Napoleonic wars, there is little doubt that their military experience informed their interaction with the Zulu king and influenced their documentation of Shaka.
Despite their proximity to the Zulu king, these men were not the most reliable of narrators for our early understanding of Shaka and his military revolution. Farewell was not a loyal representative of the crown as he claimed, Fynn was no benevolent physician, and none were the romantic adventurers sometimes depicted in literature and film. Instead, they were part of an expedition that was never permitted by the Cape Colony’s governor to make contact with the Zulu kingdom, despite Farewell assertions that he was an envoy for King George IV. King, by most accounts, alienated Shaka during his brief contact with the Zulu king and died sixteen days before Shaka’s assassination in 1828. Farewell was killed in a dispute with Nqetho of the Qwabe while traveling from Port Elizabeth to Natal in 1829, likely speared to death in his camp (though unlikely with the iklwa). Isaacs and Fynn, however, would outlive Shaka and become critical to our long term understanding of his military contributions.
Isaacs would leave Natal in 1831 and never return, eventually becoming a slave trader in the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa, where he likely died sometime in the 1830s or 40s. However, he published Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa in 1836, forming one of the primary sources on Shaka for generations. Unfortunately, Isaacs Travels has been widely dismissed as fabrication and invention, especially when taken into account that Isaacs was only semi-literate, and the book was undoubtedly ghostwritten. Wylie has argued that while “Travels is a hugely problematic source, riddled with lies and misunderstandings,” it did launch “the portrayal of Shaka as an utterly irredeemable monster, the residues of which remain stuck like tar to many present-day perceptions.” Isaacs’ account of Shaka emphasizes the violence and cruelty of the Zulu king, and while his book does not directly cite the iklwa, the brutality of this weapon is on full display.
Fynn would outlive all of the white settlers who had met Shaka. Spending the majority of his life attempting to claim the land concessions that were “granted” by Shaka in 1824, Fynn became a local chief in at least three homesteads in southern Natal near the Umzimkulu River. He was appointed colonial resident for the local Mpondo leader, Faku, in 1848, but lived the remainder of his life as a kind of rogue figure that attained near autonomy in the southern reached of Natal following his initial settlement in the 1820s. He would be appointed Resident Magistrate of the Inanda Division north of Durban, but continued to appeal for a land grant until his death in 1861. It was after the final refusal for a land grant in 1857 that Fynn supposedly began to write his recollections of this contact with Shaka. However, the final version of these recollections would not appear until a century later. The Diary of Henry Francis Fynn, first published in 1950, called itself an “authentic account” of the life of the man who met Shaka. However, this book has been dismissed by many as fabrication or fiction, written years after Shaka’s death, and informed by the Fynn’s bias as “lower-middle-class Englishmen of the early nineteenth century seeking adventure and fortune in Africa.” Julian Cobbing argued that the Diary was “one of the major disasters of South African historical literature” predominantly because it became the default narrative for the historical record on Shaka. This narrative includes the history of Shaka’s upbringing, his military tactics, and his brutality emphasized by his use of the iklwa.
Fynn’s Diary remains most problematic because of its association with James Stuart, historian and archivist who spent much of his career collecting oral and written sources related to Shaka and his reign. However, in recent years historians have become more critical of the accounts of Shaka that appear in the James Stuart Archive, chiefly composedof Africans who were eyewitnesses to (or at least contemporaries of) the Zulu king’s reign. Some have described the accounts as designed to accentuate the brutality and violence of the rise of the Zulu kingdom and the vicious nature of Zulu military tactics. Cobbing has even gone so far as to depict these earlier works on Shaka as an “assassination of Shaka’s character” and a complete misinterpretation of the nature of the Zulu kingdom. This “assassination” has only been exacerbated by popular presentations of Shaka, such as the widely rebroadcasted mini-series Shaka Zulu (1986), with the iklwa literally “stabbing” through Shaka’s name in the title graphic.
Despite Shaka’s assassination in 1828, the weapon he is credited with creating would continue to be a staple of the Zulu nation throughout the nineteenth century. Even after his death, his praise song celebrated “The voracious one of Senzangakhona [Shaka], Spear that is red even on the handle.” The weapon would be outlawed within city limits in the British Colony of Natal in the 1860s and achieved a level of infamy after the Zulu victory at Isandlwana in 1879 when over seven hundred British regulars were wiped out by a Zulu force of over ten thousand, most equipped with the iklwaand shield.
An emphasis on this weapon continued well into the twentieth century, solidifying as a primary symbol of emerging Zulu nationalism during the apartheid era. In the 1970s, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party and Chief Minister of the KwaZulu Bantustan, highlighted the linkage between the Zulu military traditions forged in the nineteenth century with the calls for greater Zulu autonomy in the twentieth. In 1979, Buthelezi calling the Zulu spear a precious symbol: “It remains the powerful symbol which inspires us toward the liberation of our land.” This imagery became one small part of the broader use of the Shaka narrative to emphasize Zulu autonomy and pride in one’s past. This pride precipitated accounts of the Zulu victories against the British, as Buthelezi noted in 1986: “We know how to thrust a spear and we have got the power in our arms to do so. . . . The mightiest army which Britain mustered in South Africa had to be mustered against us at the Battle of Ulundi, after we had first defeated that army virtually with our bare hands at the battle of Isandlwana.” This linkage to the past likely inspired members of Inkatha to carry “traditional weapons,” including the iklwa, during the violent insurrections and civil wars of the final years of apartheid. This remembrance became glaringly apparent in the early 1990s during the violence that rocked KwaZulu-Natal, when a member of the Inkatha claimed that, “The Zulu Nation is born out of Shaka’s spear.”
This emphasis on the spear remained on full display in the debates over the statue of Shaka at the King Shaka International Airport in Durban in 2010. King Goodwill’s condemnation of the statue as making the Zulu king look like a “herd boy” created a heated debate over the importance of the spear to Shaka’s identity. IOL later reported that the Zulu royal family expressed their preference for the 1825 image of Shaka drawn by James King with a spear and long shield during early plannings of the statue, noting “that this is the image of Shaka preferred by the king and the royal house.” KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize countered that Shaka “was a warrior, strategist and a planner. Sometimes he left his shield and was also a breeder. He did not always carry his shield and spear.” But the Zulu royal house won the day and the statue was removed, much to the consternation of its sculptor, Andries Botha. The issue has remained unsolved for the last decade. However, Professor Sihawu Ngubane, chairperson of the Royal Household Trust, recently announced that a new statue would be erected at the airport, depicting Shaka as “a warrior” in an image that “brings back the respect of the Zulu nation.”
The spear’s continued association with Shaka highlights one of the chief problems with an attempt to associate a tangible object with the military transformation that took place in South Africa in the early nineteenth century. And whileassegai, or simply “spear,” has primarily replaced the term iklwa, the image and rhetoric associated with this weapon continues to define our broad understanding of the Zulu people. There was a military revolution in South Africa in the early nineteenth century that reshaped the importance of this region on the continent and in the expanding British empire. Shaka and the iklwa were only a part of this change, though they continue to dominate the narrative of the Zulu kingdom to this day. Yet a single spear did not create the Zulu kingdom, just as the tactics which made it infamous did not come from a single source. Instead, the iklwa presents an opportunity to highlight the vibrant complexity and transforming narrative that allowed Shaka to become one of the most famous Africans in history and allows historians to examine and reexamine his role in the emergence of this African kingdom during the Age of Revolutions.
Jacob Ivey is Assistant Professor of History at the Florida Institute of Technology. His research centers largely on the British Colony of Natal, South Africa, most notably European and African systems of state control and defense during the colony’s formative period. He is currently working on a history of anti-apartheid movements in Central Florida. He tweets @IveyHistorian
 South African Press Association (SAPA), “King Goodwill Not Happy with Shaka Statue,” Times Live, June 2, 2010, https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2010-06-02-king-goodwill-not-happy-with-shaka-statue/.
 Richard Price rightly points out that “it is rather surprising that the Xhosa remained relatively unknown to the British. Yet Nelson Mandela is a Xhosa, as is Thabo Mbeke; and the ANC is a Xhosa-dominated party.” See Richard Price, Making Empire: Colonial Encounters and the Creation of Imperial Rule in Nineteenth-Century Africa (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 2.
 “Zulu” in present day South Africa has become a simplified shorthand for black people of African descent who occupied, whether originally or through migration, the colony of Natal, the Zulu kingdom, and nearby areas during this period. The complexities of this question of “Who is Zulu?” are analyzed in the scholarship of Guy and Lambert, and remain evident in the complexities of the mfecane debate (see below). Michael Mohoney has been pivotal in facilitating new questions on this issue, especially regarding the adoption of Zulu identity between elites and the lower classes, or a type of ‘Zulu-ization.’ See Michael R. Mahoney, The Other Zulus: The Spread of Zulu Ethnicity in Colonial South Africa (Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2012), 1–5; Jeff Guy, Theophilus Shepstone and the Forging of Natal: African Autonomy and Settler Colonialism in the Making of Traditional Authority (Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2013); John Lambert, Betrayed Trust: Africans and the State in Colonial Natal (Scottsville, UZA: University of Natal Press, 1995).
Omer-Cooper argued that such developments could be linked to the parallel occurrences within Europe as society moved away from feudalism and into a more administrative system. See J. D. Omer-Cooper, The Zulu Aftermath: A Nineteenth-Century Revolution in Bantu Africa (Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 1966), 171–72.
 During the time of British rule in Natal, the Lieutenant-Governor was given the title “Head Chief” or “Chief of Chiefs” to indicate his authority over the other indunas. See “Questions proposed by his Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor and Answers by the Secretary of Native Affairs, October 16, 1863,” Papers Relative to the Native Affairs in Natal, CO 879/2/6, 1863.
 The mfecane is a historiographic concept that points to the period of massive political, social, and economic change that occurred in the region of Natal, Zululand, and the surrounding areas during the 1820s. The cause of this change can be linked directly to the rise of the Zulu nation under Shaka. For more on the origins of the term mfecane, see J. D. Omer-Cooper, The Zulu Aftermath (1966). At the very center of the mfecane argument is the concept that it was an autonomous event that occurred outside of European influence. J.D. Omer-Cooper provided the basis for the mfecane thesis, which became a staple of the historiography of nineteenth-century South Africa. Julian Cobbing and John Wright are the main proponents of the opposing view, claiming the mfecane is an apartheid myth created by liberal historians to legitimize racial inequality in South Africa. For more on this debate, see John Wright, “Political Mythology and the Making of Natal’s Mfecane,” Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue Canadienne Des Études Africaines 23, no. 2 (1989): 272–91, https://doi.org/10.2307/485525; J. D. Omer-Cooper, “Has the Mfecane a Future? A Response to the Cobbing Critique,” Journal of Southern African Studies 19, no. 2 (June 1993): 273–94.
 See John Laband, Historical Dictionary of the Zulu Wars (Toronto: Scarecrow Press, 2009), 265.
 Wylie has argued that although the source of this assertion comes from Ngidi (later interviewed for The James Stuart Archives), “certainly many others were using it, too.” See Dan Wylie, Myth of Iron: Shaka in History (Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2006), 126, 536; C. de B. Webb and J. B. Wright, eds., The James Stuart Archive Vol. 1: Of Recorded Oral Evidence Relating to the History of the Zulu and Neighbouring Peoples (Pietermaritzburg: University Of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 1976), 66.
 In fact, the name iklwa has been hypothesized to originate from the sound the spear made being removed from an opponent’s body. Wylie, Myth of Iron, 217.
 C. de B. Webb and J. B. Wright, eds., The James Stuart Archive Vol. 3: Of Recorded Oral Evidence Relating to the History of the Zulu and Neighbouring Peoples (Pietermaritzburg: University Of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 1982), 87.
 Laband, Historical Dictionary of the Zulu Wars, 265.
 Wylie, Myth of Iron, 217.
 For more on the background of these individuals, see Edgar H. Brooks and C. De B. Webb, A History of Natal (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1965), 17–21; Donald R. Morris, The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1998), 73–75.
 Wylie, Myth of Iron, 515.
 Wylie, 362; For more criticism of Isaacs, see Dan Wylie, Savage Delight: White Myths of Shaka (Pietermaritzburg,: University of Natal Press, 2000).
 Even the group under Fynn’s control along the Umzimkulu River was rumoured to be composed of some of his own decedents with numerous African wives. See Timothy Joseph Stapleton, Faku: Rulership and Colonialism in the Mpondo Kingdom (c. 1780-1867) (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2001), 158.
 For a more extensive biography of Fynn, see Julie Pridmore, “Diaries and Despatches: The Life and Writing of Henry Francis Fynn (1803–61) and Henry Francis Fynn Junior (1846–1915),” African Historical Review 36, no. 1 (2004): 126–47.
 Carolyn Hamilton, Terrific Majesty: The Powers of Shaka Zulu and the Limits of Historical Invention (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 177.
 Julian Cobbing, “The Mfecane as Alibi: Thoughts on Dithakong and Mbolompo,” The Journal of African History 29, no. 3 (1988): n510.
 For more on the complexities of this issue, see John Wright, “Making the James Stuart Archive,” History in Africa 23 (January 1, 1996): 333–50; Benedict Carton, “Fount of Deep Culture: Legacies of the James Stuart Archive in South African Historiography,” History in Africa; Piscataway30 (2003): 87–106.
 Cobbing, “The Mfecane as Alibi,” 513.
Part of the praise song “Shaka” from Izibongo: Zulu Praise-Poems collected by James Stuart, quoted in John Laband, “‘Fighting Stick of Thunder’: Firearms and the Zulu Kingdom: The Cultural Ambiguities of Transferring Weapons Technology,” War & Society 33, no. 4 (October 1, 2014): 231, https://doi.org/10.1179/0729247314Z.00000000040.
 Daily News, February 8, 1979.
 Patrick Harries, “Imagery, Symbolism and Tradition in a South African Bantustan: Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Inkatha, and Zulu History,” History and Theory 32, no. 4 (1993): 121, https://doi.org/10.2307/2505634; For more on Inkatha’s use of history, see Daphna Golan, “Inkatha and Its Use of the Zulu Past,” History in Africa 18 (1991): 113–26, https://doi.org/10.2307/3172057.
 Weekly Mail, Aug. 30-Sep. 5, 1991.
 Staff Reporter, “Shaka to Get Back Spear and Shield,” IOL, August 19, 2010, https://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/shaka-to-get-back-spear-and-shield-673494.
 Sipho Khumalo, “Now Shaka Statue Must Go,” IOL, June 2, 2010, https://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/now-shaka-statue-must-go-485897.
 Karen Singh and Kailene Pillay, “New Statue of King Shaka for Airport,” The Mercury, March 5, 2020, https://www.iol.co.za/mercury/news/new-statue-of-king-shaka-for-airport-44178746.
 For more on the etymological origins of these terms, see David Scott-Macnab, “The Treatment of Assagai and Zagaie by the OED, and of Assegai by the Dictionary of South African English,” Neophilologus 96, no. 1 (2012): 157–58, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11061-011-9264-2.