Zulu War Vocabulary

A List of Common Zulu Terms Relevant to the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879

Zulu witch doctor
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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 1850's 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 an 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 Purplecrested 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) – loin cloth, 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.