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Shaka Zulu

Sketch of African leader Shaka Zulu
King Shaka by James King

Growing Up

Shaka was born into the small South African clan of the Zulus in 1787. His father was the chief of the Zulus and his mother, Nandi, was the daughter of the chief of a nearby clan. Even as a young boy of five or six years old, Shaka had the job of watching the sheep and cattle. He was responsible for protecting them from wild animals.


When Shaka was still a young boy, his father drove him and his mother out of the village. They were disgraced and had to find refuge with another clan. While growing up in the strange new clan, the other boys teased and bullied Shaka. Shaka's only refuge was with his mother, who he loved very much.

Becoming a Man

As Shaka grew older, he became tall and strong. He began to be a leader among the boys because of his physical abilities. However, Shaka was also very smart and ambitious. He wanted to rule over the other boys who had bullied him as a child. He dreamed he would become chief someday.

A Great Warrior

Shaka and his mother became part of the clan of a powerful chief named Dingiswayo where Shaka trained as a warrior. Shaka soon discovered ways to improve the method of fighting. He found that taking off his sandals and fighting barefooted helped him maneuver better. Shaka began to go barefooted everywhere in order to toughen up his feet. He also had a blacksmith design him a better spear that could be used in hand to hand combat in addition to being thrown.

Shaka used his strength, courage, and unique fighting methods to become one of the fiercest warriors in the clan. He was soon a commander in the army.

Chief of the Zulu

When Shaka's father died, he became chief of the Zulu with the help of Dingiswayo. Shaka began to take over nearby clans and gain soldiers for the Zulu. When Dingiswayo died, Shaka took control of the surrounding tribes and became the most powerful leader in the area.

In 1818, Shaka fought a great battle against the army of his main rival for control of the region, Zwide. The battle took place at Gqokli Hill. Shaka's army was greatly outnumbered, but his men were trained in his way of fighting and he used superior battle tactics to defeat Zwide. The Zulus were now the most powerful kingdom in the region.

Zulu Kingdom

Shaka continued to train and build his army. He conquered many of the surrounding chiefdoms. At one point Shaka had a well-trained army of around 40,000 soldiers. Shaka was a strong, but brutal leader. Anyone who disobeyed an order was immediately killed. He sometimes massacred a whole village in order to send a message.


When Shaka's mother Nandi died he was heartbroken. He forced the entire kingdom to mourn her. He issued an order that no new crops were to be planted for a year. He also demanded that no milk be used for a year and that all pregnant women would be killed. He had around 7.000 people executed for not mourning enough for his mother.

The people had had enough of Shaka's cruelty and were ready to revolt. Shaka's brothers realized that Shaka had gone crazy. They assassinated him 1828 and buried him in an unmarked grave.

Interesting Facts about Shaka Zulu Activities

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    History >> Ancient Africa >> Biography

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