Kipling and Others, Part 1

Originally posted to Ask The Fire, 22 Oct. 2017

Slowly I'm making my way through Butler's collection of poetry. Between work and errands I haven't found too much reading time, but I got a little reading done during a particularly slow shift at the station (don't tell my boss).

This time I got through some Thomas Pringle ("Afar in the Desert," a selection from "The Desolate Valley") and a larger excerpt from Charles Barter's "Stray Memories of Natal and Zululand." Admittedly, Pringle's other works in this anthology didn't stick with me well (how can you eclipse the poem that I named my blog for?) and "Stray Memories…" well. Let's just say I'm not a fan of tetrameter.

But the interesting part about "Stray Memories" was all the vocab words I picked out. I had to make a list and research them. Initially I was doing a kind of KWL with them–writing what I knew about the word and what not–but it turns out most of the words are so unknown that I can't even speculate. A good portion are place and person names, so I'm not surprised I'm baffled over them.

Here goes:

  1. Tshaka/Shaka/Chaka
  2. Okay, I do know at least a little about Shaka. The footnotes describe him as the "Atilla of the Zulu" (which is more than a little patronizing, but whatever). As far as I know he was a famous military leader of South Africa, a member of the Zulu tribe. I know he eventually was defeated, but I'm not sure if it was by the Dutch or English or someone else; I'm certain his death wasn't natural. I'm pretty sure he was alive in the late 1800's. Less relevant: he was a playable figure in the Civilization games; he and Ghandi were my go-to's as a child, which was… two entirely different playstyles, but you can't expect a 7-year-old to get that. He was a militaristic/expansionist leader in those games, and I'm not sure how much the latter fits in with his actual legacy.

    According to, I'm... marginally right. For one, he was born around 1787, so my timeline was a little off. Died in September of 1828, so I had at least the first half of the yearframe right… I'll take that.

    Also there's this:

    During his brief reign more than a hundred chiefdoms were brought together in a Zulu kingdom which survived not only the death of its founder but later military defeat and calculated attempts to break it up.

    So he was kind of an expansionist, in a way. More like a unifier. Overall, what I'm getting from the article is that he was a potentially-illicit son of a king who spent his early childhood in and around EmaKhosini, then moved with his mother to the Mthlathuze Valley. Eventually he joined up with the army of one of two rival groups (the Mthethwa) and grew into himself as a particularly daring and courageous warrior. After his father's death, Dingiswayo (the Mthethwa chief) sent Shaka to take over the Zulu throne; as acting chieftain, though still a vassal of Mthethwa rule, Shaka started to assimilate a bunch of neighboring clans.

    About two years after Shaka took over the Zulu, Dingiswayo died in his final battle, possibly due to treachery on Shaka's part, though the actual happenings appear to be lost to history. Shaka took over the Mthethwa state after it collapsed and kept right on assimilating clans into his rule.

    A little after that, Zwide of the Ndwandwe (remember those two rival groups from earlier? this is the other one) tried to take down Shaka, but apparently was just drawn into Zululand and soundly bested. A few splinter groups ran off and settled on the Pongola river for several years before they tried to fight him again, but they were also defeated and assimilated into Shaka's armies. By this time (1826-ish), Shaka had no major rivals in the KwaZulu/Natal area.

    He had gender- and age-segregated groups of soldiers and ceremonial dancers (amabutho); apparently each one had a strong sense of group identity. Shaka also improved upon the common weapon of the time, the assegai, and had his soldiers carry shorter, non-throwing spears for close combat, deflecting projectiles with body-length cowhide shields until his forces could get in close enough to use them.

    As for Shaka's death: I was mostly wrong! There were never any major clashes between white settlers and Zulus under Shaka's rule; he was actually murdered by his bodyguard and two of his half-brothers (Mbopha, Dingane and Mhlangana, respectively). Dingane assumed the throne after Shaka's death since the king had no heirs.

  3. Dingaan
  4. Well, that last definition helped a lot. In Barter's poem, Dingane shows up as Dingaan. Still Shaka's half brother.

    Wikipedia for research this time. Apparently he wasn't half the leader that Shaka was. Several rebel leaders broke from Zulu rule under his reign, and his conflicts with the Voortrekkers didn't help things, either.

    In late 1837, Dingane met with Voortrekker leader Piet Retief. Dingane signed over some land to Retief as a thank-you for cattle recovery, then feasted with him for about two days before abruptly calling for his murder and the murder of some 500 Voortrekkers. It's not entirely clear why Dingane called for their slaughter–either they were withholding some of the recovered Zulu cattle or Dingane decided he didn't want to give up land ownership after all. This is now known as the Weenen Massacre.

    After the Weenen Massacre, Dingane sent his men after Andries Pretorius and his group of Voortrekkers. The Zulu forces attacked at the Voortrekker encampment and lost. Badly. The Battle of Blood River ended in 3,000 Zulu deaths and a few Boer injuries (figures might be exaggerated). Pretorius then assisted in Mpande's overthrow of Dingane's rule, along with his murder in 1840.

  5. Boer
  6. The word Boer kept coming up in my reading. I really had no background on this one, but I knew from context that it was a group of people, either political, cultural or ethnic. I assumed initially that it was an Anglicized/Dutch...icized? name for an existing cultural group.

    And I was wrong. This time from Britannica: the Boers were Dutch, German and Huguenot people who settled in the Orange Free State and Transvaal. They're today's Afrikaners. A good deal of the white settlers became displaced ranchers and were pretty hostile towards native Africans, though they didn't like the Cape-based government, either. After South Africa became a British holding in 1806, they left the Cape region in the Great Trek (which is when they were called Voortrekkers), moving for the highveld and southern Natal. They established their own republics and began operating by apartheid policies.

  7. Veld
  8. And a shorter one! When this term came up, I assumed it was kind of like a plateau region. Kind of. It's a "large, uncultivated grassland" in southern Africa. I see it a little like the prairies of the Midwest, though more arid. Also, it's apparently the name of a music festival in Toronto, which makes searching for pictures of velds a really fun time.

And that's it for today. Whew. It's not until you get into the actual learning that you realize how much history you absolutely did not cover in World History class.

More later.

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