Zulu War Vocabulary

Zulu witch doctor
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The following is a list of common Zulu terms relevant to Zulu war culture and especially the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.

Zulu War Vocabulary

  • isAngoma (plural: izAngoma): diviner, in contact with ancestral spirits, witch doctor.
  • iBandla (plural: amaBandla): tribal council, assembly, and the members thereof.
  • iBandhla imhlope (plural: amaBandhla amhlope): a 'white assembly', a married regiment which was still required to attend all the king's musters, rather than live in semi-retirement.
  • iBeshu (plural: amaBeshu): calf-skin flap covering the buttocks, part of the basic umutsha costume.
  • umBhumbluzo (plural: abaBhumbuluzo): Shorter war shield introduced by Cetshwayo in the 1850s during the civil war against Mbuyazi. Only 3.5 feet long compared to the longer traditional war shield, isihlangu, which measures t least 4 foot.
  • iButho (plural: amaButho): regiment (or guild) of Zulu warriors, based on age-group. Sub-divided into amaviyo.
  • isiCoco (plural: iziCoco): married Zulus headring made from binding a ring of fibre into the hair, coated in a mixture of charcoal and gum, and polished with beeswax. It was a common practice to share part or all of the rest of the head to accentuate the presence of the isicoco - although this varied from one Zulu to the next, and shaving the hair not a required part of a warriors 'costume'.
  • inDuna (plural: izinDuna): a state official appointed by the king, or by a local chief. Also commander of group of warriors. Various levels of responsibility occurred, rank would be indicated by the amount of personal decoration – see inGxotha, isiQu.
  • isiFuba (plural: iziFuba): the chest, or centre, of the traditional Zulu attack formation.
  • isiGaba (plural: iziGaba): a group of related amaviyo within a single ibutho.
  • isiGodlo (plural: iziGodlo): the king, or a chief's, residence found at the upper end of his homestead. Also the term for the women in the king's household.
  • inGxotha (plural: izinGxotha): heavy brass arm-band awarded for by the Zulu king for outstanding service or bravery.
  • isiHlangu (plural: iziHlangu): traditional large war shield, approximately 4 foot long.
  • isiJula (plural: iziJula): short-bladed throwing spear, used in battle.
  • iKhanda (plural: amaKhanda): military barracks where an ibutho was stationed, bequested to the regiment by the king.
  • umKhonto (plural: imiKhonto): general term for a spear.
  • umKhosi (plural: imiKhosi): 'first fruits' ceremony, held annually.
  • umKhumbi (plural: imiKhumbi): an assembly (of men) held in a circle.
  • isiKhulu (plural: iziKhulu): literally 'great one', a high ranking warrior, decorated for bravery and service, or an important person in the Zulu hierarchy, a member of a council of elders.
  • iKlwa (plural: amaKlwa): Shakan stabbing-spear, otherwise known as an assegai.
  • iMpi (plural: iziMpi): Zulu army, and word meaning 'war'.
  • isiNene (plural: iziNene): twisted strips of either civet, green monkey (insamango), or genet fur hanging as 'tails' in front of the genitals as part of the umutsha.. Senior ranked warriors would have a multi-coloured isinene made from two or more different furs twisted together.
  • iNkatha (plural: iziNkatha): the sacred 'grass coil', a symbol of the Zulu nation.
  • umNcedo (plural: abaNcedo): plaited grass sheath used to cover male genitals. Most basic form of Zulu costume.
  • iNsizwa (plural: iziNsizwa): unmarried Zulu, a 'young' man. Youth was a term related to lack of marital status rather than actual age.
  • umNtwana (plural: abaNtwana): Zulu prince, member of the Royal house and son of the king.
  • umNumzane (plural: abaNumzane): the headman of a homestead.
  • iNyanga (plural: iziNyanga): traditional herbal doctor, medicine man.
  • isiPhapha (plural: iziPhapha): throwing-spear, usually with a short, broad blade, used for hunting game.
  • uPhaphe (plural: oPhaphe): feathers used to decorate the headdress:
    • iNdwa: the Blue Crane, has long (roughly 8 inches), graceful slate-grey tail feathers. Single feather used at front of umqhele headress, or one placed either side. Mainly used by higher ranking warriors.
    • iSakabuli: the Longtailed Widow, the breeding male has a long (up to 1 foot) black tail feathers. The feathers were often tied to porcupine quills and fixed inside the headband. Sometimes woven into a basketwork ball, umnyakanya, and worn at the front of the umqhele headband, denoting an unmarried ibutho.
    • iNtshe: the ostrich, both black and white feathers used. White tail-feathers significantly longer (1.5 feet) than the black body-feathers.
    • iGwalagwala: Knysna Lourie and the Purple-crested Lourie, green to greenish black tail feather (eight inches long) and crimson/metallic purple feathers from wings (four inches). Bunches of these feathers were used for the headdresses of very high ranking warriors.
  • iPhovela (plural: amaPhovela): headdress made of stiffened cow-skin, usually in the form of two horns. worn by unmarried regiments. Often decorated with feathers (see ophaphe).
  • uPondo (plural: izimPondo): the horns, or wings, of the traditional Zulu attack formation.
  • umQhele (plural: imiQhele): Zulu warrior's headband. Made from a tube of fur padded out with dried bull-rushes or cow dung. Junior regiments would wear imiqhele made from leopard skin, senior regiments would have otter skin. Would also have amabheqe, ear-flaps made from the pelt of the Samango monkey, and isinene 'tails' hanging from the back.
  • isiQu (plural: iziQu): bravery necklace made from interlocking wooden beads, presented to the warrior by the king.
  • iShoba (plural: amaShoba): tufted cow-tails, formed by flaying part of the hide with tail attached. Used for arm- and leg- fringes (imiShokobezi), and for necklaces.
  • umShokobezi (plural: imiShokobezi): cow-tail decorations worn on the arms and/or legs.
  • amaSi (plural only): curdled milk, staple diet of the Zulu.
  • umThakathi (plural: abaThakathi): wizard, sorcerer, or witch.
  • umuTsha (plural: imiTsha): loincloth, basic Zulu outfit, worn over the umncedo. Consists of a thin belt made of cow hide with ibeshu, a soft calf-skin flap over the buttocks, and isinene, twisted strips of either civet, Samango monkey or genet fur hanging as 'tails' in front of the genitals.
  • uTshwala: thick, creamy sorghum beer, rich in nutrients.
  • umuVa (plural: imiVa): Zulu army reserves.
  • iViyo (plural: amaViyo): a company-sized group of Zulu warriors, usually between 50 and 200 men. Would be commanded by a junior level induna.
  • iWisa (plural: amaWisa): knobkerrie, a knob-headed stick or war club used to bash out the brains of a foe.
  • umuZi (plural: imiZi): a family-based village or homestead, also the people who live there.