King Shaka Zulu

Today, in South Africa, people all over are celebrating Heritage day. And of course *Braai Day. Heritage Day is a public holiday set aside for busy South African’s to step away from hectic schedules and take a deep breathe, and celebrate their traditional cultures, “the diversity of their beliefs and traditions”, and of course to *”shisa nyama“. What most don’t know though, the 24th of September (or thereabouts) is also the day on which, in 1828, King Shaka Zulu was assassinated by his half brother Dingaan.

Skethch of a Zulu Dance at the Royal Kraal of King Shaka by Nathaniel Isaacs in 1836

Zulu Dance at the Royal Kraal of King Shaka. Nathaniel Isaacs, circa 1836

Assassination!

Shaka Zulu was by all accounts a warrior king. He ruled very much with an iron fist, and his word was quite simply law. Most of what we know of Shaka we get from a journal kept by Nathanial Isaacs, one of the original settlers in Durban and who spent probably more time living with the King than any other white man at the time; and who seemed to be in favor with the King, and ended up not only learning and speaking Zulu fluently, but also being awarded the title “Induna Incoola“.

Drawing of the Shaka, King of the Zulu'z.

King Shaka Zulu

It’s thanks to King Shaka that all the smaller Nguni tribes were brought under the shield of the “Zulu People“, and more importantly remained together even after his death. Of course he didn’t do this through diplomacy; in fact exactly the opposite. King Shaka, on taking the throne from his half-brother (the half brother was assassinated), quite simply ravaged the country side. But in doing so, Shaka Zulu formed the Zulu empire we know today.

There are loads of documentaries and books that document Shaka’s life. And it is fascinating.

Exaggerations

I read yesterday an article on sahistory.org.za regarding Shaka’s life, and although it wasn’t meant to be an in depth historical look at his life, it did surprise me a little. Mostly because it seems to subtly change a few bits and pieces.. I wont go into the details now, but for those interested, the journals of Nathaniel Isaacs and the other settlers are available online.

With a tiny bit of research (yes, Google) I discovered there are many scholars and academics (I haven’t bothered to mention politicians because it’s a given) that have been suggesting that the accounts written by the early settlers were exaggerated; that specifically the accounts of Shaka’s violent reign were exaggerated.

I find this difficult to believe. That fact of the matter, Africa was then (as it is even today), a brutal and violent place. It makes perfect sense, that life then was brutal and violent. Why do we now need to tone down what was way of life for early settlers and natives alike? Why change the last words of Shaka and paint him to be something he wasn’t? I find it strange. And dishonest. And a little sad. But more about this another time.

Barbecue

Last but certainly not least, today is also Braai Day! From the website of “braai.com“…

Our mission is to position National Braai Day as South Africa’s annual day of celebration. South Africans gathering around fires, being the central theme of the celebration.

  • National Heritage Day is a public holiday in South Africa. Our government set this day aside for all South Africans to celebrate our rich heritage.

  • Across race, language, region and religion, we all share one common heritage. It is called many things: Chisa Nyama, Braai and Ukosa to name few. Although the ingredients may differ, the one thing that never changes is that when we have something to celebrate we light fires, and prepare great feasts.

  • We encourage all South Africans to at some point during 24 September each year, gather around a fire and braai.

  • We liken this initiative to annual celebrations cherished by other leading nations of the world; Thanksgiving for Americans, St Patricks Day for the Irish, Bastille Day for the French and Australia Day for Australians.

  • This is a noble cause, which will contribute to strengthening South Africa as a nation.

So too all out there…

A happy Heritage / Braai / Shisanyama / Barbecue Day!

 

* The word braai (plural braais) is Afrikaans for “barbecue” or “grill” and is a social custom in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The term originated with the Afrikaans-speaking people,[1] but has since been adopted by South Africans of many ethnic backgrounds. The word vleis is Afrikaans for “meat”.

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