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ANT 101 Eating Ashes How Zulu Subsistence Methods and Culture Changed After the Anglo-Zulu War






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Eating Ashes How Zulu Subsistence Methods and Culture Changed After the Anglo-Zulu War
ANT101 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

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Eating Ashes: How Zulu Subsistence Methods and Culture Changed After the Anglo-Zulu War
The Zulu people of South Africa made an unprecedented development from a single clan
of pastoralists much like the other clans and tribes in the area of modern KwaZulu-Natal
(Sithole, 2002. “Zulu Orientation”. para. 1) to a great nation with the rise of King Shaka in the
1820’s (Etherington, 2004. p. 159). Through revolutionary tactics begun by his predecessor Chief
Tingeswio, King Shaka united all of the tribes in the area “under the name of Zulus”
(Etherington, 2004. p. 159). After the defeat of the Zulu nation by the British in the 1880’s
(Sithole, 2002. “History and Cultural Relations”. para. 2), the Zulu people went from a
pastoralist culture with land allocated by local chiefs to “subsistence agriculturalists” forced to
work for white land owners (Sithole, 2002. “Land Tenure”). The defeat of the Zulu Nation and
its annexation by the British profoundly changed the Zulu method of subsistence which in turn
affected their culture at every level.
According to the Encyclopedia of Archaeology(2008), “ …‘mixed farming’…a form of
intensive agriculture consisting of domesticated animal and crop production as food sources
where the maintenance of soil fertility results from the use of animal manure as fertilizer”, was
introduced to Southern Africa by the Bantu speaking people who migrated from the East
(“Herders, Farmers, and Metallurgists of South Africa”. p.p. 1,6). This introduction of
subsistence technology, including new crops, livestock, and the introduction of metallurgy in the
form of iron and copper, changed the South African people, including the Zulu, from foragers to
pastoralists in a very short period of time (2008). By the second millennium C.E., southern
African farming culture which consisted of the Sotho/Tswana and Nguni-speaking peoples, had
expanded to the limit of its reliance on summer rainfall agriculture (2008). Out of these farming

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peoples developed “the Tswana towns and the Zulu Nation under King Shaka (2008. p.1).” The
development of the Zulu Nation was a direct result of colonial expansion of the Dutch and the
English. These European powers progressively subjugated the Zulu, taking their land and their
independence until the Zulu and other South African peoples were herded on to reservations and
forced into a life of subsistence farming under British rule (2008, p.1).
In the beginning of the 19th Century, there was a move toward political centralization due
to climactic and agricultural factors in South Africa. In addition to this, European interests had
begun to expand out of the Cape Colony into the indigenous farmlands. In an attempt to maintain
their independence, Shaka united the divergent tribes of the area under the banner of the Zulu.
Despite advanced tactics and determination, the Zulu continued to lose ground until, by the end
of the nineteenth century, the Zulu had largely lost their independence to the colonial British
government (2008. p.5).
Political Organization
Before the annexation of the Zulu people by the British, it was the king who regulated the
societal and generative power of the people. The metaphor of milk was often used to describe
this ebb and flow of the power of the Zulu people (Bjerk, 2006. p. 2). Adolescent boys were
given to drink twice a day from the udders of royal cows (p. 2) as a symbolic infusion of life by
the hand of the king. The kings political power stemmed from his control of “cattle” which
metaphorically symbolized life and power (p. 2).
King Shaka turned this tradition on its ear. From his betrayal of his mentor and
predecessor, Dingiswayo (p.3), and his violent unification of the disparate clans in southern
Africa, Shaka kept his political power and the power of the Zulu people tightly bound to himself.
Unlike his predecessors, Shaka spread his amabutho, adolescent boys serving the king by

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