Shaka Zulu warrior's armband

Contributed by Malcolm MacINTYRE-READ

Shaka Zulu warrior's armband

I have chosen an armband worn by Shaka Zulu's leading warriors, a reminder of one of Africa's high points. The antique dealer in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, R.S.A., from whom I purchased it, thought it came from West Africa, while I bought it because its form was so sculptural.

Some weeks later, the Curator of the Pietermaritzburg Museum was a dinner party guest and immediately asked where we had got it, saying that he knew of only 12 others.

Apparently, Shaka absorbed a small tribe of metalsmiths into the Zulu nation, ordering them to produce these status symbols. They were sealed on the arm of each recipient, putting the metal in constant contact with the wearer's skin. Eventually, the skin became infected, probably due to one of the alloy's components, but seen by Shaka as a spell cast by the metalsmiths in revenge for their forced inclusion amongst the Zulus. Shaka's predictable reaction was to order the complete destruction of the tribe - men, women, children, goats and kraals - while adding the cattle to his own herds.

The hacked opening along the armband is believed to have happened when Boers cut it off a warrior they had killed in a skirmish to keep as a souvenir.

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Probably in today's Kwa-Zulu


Probably between 1810 and 1820


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