The area now known as Zululand lies on the
south-eastern coast of Africa, between the Drakensberg Mountains
and the Indian Ocean. A sub-tropical coastal strip rises through
a steep rolling grassland to cool inland heights, many of which
were thickly forested.
The region abounded with a plentiful supply of
game. Thornbush grew abundantly in the valleys and the area was
covered with an extensive variety of grasses which, coupled with
the comparative absence of tsetse fly, provided some of the finest
cattle country in southern Africa.
The Zulus were part of the wider cultural and
racial group known as the Nguni, a people who arrived in the area
sometime in the seventeenth century in search of fresh pastures.
They extended over the locale, gradually populating it with clan
groups, all of whom maintained a claim to a common ancestor.
According to oral tradition, a man named Zulu
established his homestead on the southern bank of the White River
Mfolozi around 1670. The name 'Zulu' means 'the heavens', and his
followers took the name amaZulu, 'the people of the heavens'.
The Zulus were a relatively unimportant tribe in
southern Africa until the advent of Shaka. The two dominant tribes
in the region were the Mthethwa in the south-east, under King
Dingiswayo, and the Ndwandwe in the north, under King Zwide - and
they were bitter rivals.
Once again, oral tradition has it that Dingiswayo
was a wise and just ruler and Zwide a treacherous despot; this may
of course be an example of history being interpreted by the victors,
although there does appear to be some corroborative evidence regarding
the ruthlessness of Zwide.
At the death of the old Zulu chief, Senzangakhona,
Dingiswayo sponsored Shaka for the 'throne' of the Zulus. Other
claimants were quietly disposed of. After the death of the Mthethwa
king at the hands of Zwide, Shaka revolutionised the Zulu military
structure and system of warfare, and went onto establish an empire
which was unparalleled in the native history of southern Africa.
He swept all before him, assimilating smaller clans
and tribal groups with a ruthlessness that far surpassed anything
that Zwide had been able to offer. Shaka was the true founder of
the Zulu kingdom, and his descendents continue to govern today.
The Nguni settled into a rich and plentiful land of sweeping
grass and game, and they lived quietly and relatively peacefully
for about eight hundred years