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Five Thousand Zulu Warriors, One Prince of Wales, and Two Mormon Missionaries

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 23, 2009

KwaZulu-Natal is a province of South Africa lying along the Indian Ocean, encompassing the traditional Zulu homelands. Early in the 19th century, the Zulu people consisted of only a few thousand people. By about 1820, ten years into the reign of their greatest leader and military genius Shaka Zulu, other tribes and lands had been conquered and brought into the Zulu nation, and Shaka could field an army of 100,000 warriors. Shaka was slain in 1828 by his brother Dingaan, just as the Zulus were coming into contact with European colonizers. Dingaan’s way of dealing with some of the Dutch invaders of his realm in 1837 was to invite them to a feast and massacre them.

This launched a half-century of bloody conflicts between Zulu and Dutch, and later between Zulu and British. Although the Dutch and British always had the superior weapons, Zulu tactics and manpower often overwhelmed the Europeans (during one battle of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, the Zulus killed 1,000 British soldiers in one day, the single worst defeat of British troops by non-Europeans during the colonial era), and the outcome of the wars could never be taken for granted. The British finally subdued the Zulus in the 1880s, subdividing their land and appointing British rulers over each subdivision.

Zululand was incorporated into the Union of South Africa in 1910, which enjoyed limited independence as a British dominion (the nation won full independence in 1961 as the Republic of South Africa).

Which brings us to 1925 …

Edward, Prince of Wales (1894-1972) (he who later became Edward VIII, king of England, and still later abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, becoming the Duke of Windsor), made a number of world tours in the 1920s, representing his father, George V. His travels in 1925 took him to South Africa, and in May, 1925, he visited Zululand as the guest of honor at one of the greatest gatherings of Zulu warriors ever held.

Official events began at the tiny city of King Williamstown, where Edward listened to the “praise poems” of an imbongi. The scene was described by a journalist:

On the other side of the rose-strewn dais sat the omnipresent imbongi, the official shouter of praise poems; he wore a vermilion cape while his face displayed a deadly discomfort . . . then he drew himself to his full height and opened his large mouth; with his teeth gleaming in his black visage, he half-sang and half-spoke utterances of praise for His Highness. No doubt he asked that the heavens shower blessings on the Prince.

That incident is well remembered in Zululand, because the imbongi was S.E.K. Mqhayi, sometimes called the “Shakespeare of Xhosa letters,” and because, unknown to his European guests, the “praise poem” was one part praise and ten parts condemnation:

Here comes the hero of Britain,
A descendant of the buffalo cow, Victoria,
That god-like woman in the land of humanity …
A man, the color of cow-dung.

You sent us the truth, denied us the truth;
You sent us the life, deprived us of life;
You sent us the light, we sit in the dark,
Shivering, benighted in the bright noonday sun.

The Prince, and as many whites from South Africa who could find places on the limited trains, then traveled to the inland city of Eshowe for an “indaba” (conference) … which brings us to the reason for this post on a Mormon history blog.

Among the visitors to Eshowe were Leon Stinger Saunders (1902-1998) and Kenneth Claud Woodruff (1905-1983), both of Salt Lake City, and missionaries serving in South Africa.

Time Magazine described the events at Eshowe this way:

At Eshowe, Zululand, an indaba (conference) and war dance were held for the especial benefit of the Prince of Wales, whom the Zulus call “Lord of the Great Ones.”

On the outskirts of a parade ground were thousands of Zulu tribesmen. In the centre were 5,000 warriors, naked except for loincloths of leopard skin. On their left arms they carried shields, in their right hands their famous assagais (spears). On their heads were enormous spreading headdresses of black feathers. They began a kind of dance, worked themselves up through weird contortions to a “terrific frenzy” that was accompanied by blood-curdling yells and “dirgelike singing of the women.” The visit of the Prince had the effect of healing a long-standing breach between the Usutu (Royalists) and the Mandhlakazi (the ones of great strength), and together they came to offer tribute to the Great King’s son.

The Prince, in his address to them, referred to their great industry and warlike prowess, urged them to use their great attainments in work for peace and so win a right to responsible government.

Elder Woodruff recorded other details:

At Eshowe, a beautiful little town one hundred miles up the east coast of Africa from Durban and headquarters of the Great Zulu Nation, there was gathered together forty thousand natives picked from all the Zulu tribes, to pay a tribute to their future king, in the form of a demonstration war dance. This was the greatest war dance ever staged within the borders of Africa and it was a great opportunity, if not privilege, for the elders laboring in Natal to witness this savage event.

President Leon S. Saunders and Elder Kenneth C. Woodruff were fortunate in securing tickets on the special trains from Durban to Eshowe. These trains were equipped to provide accommodations for a limited number and we were among the lucky ones. At Eshowe we made our way to the scene of the War Dance, only to be amazed at the marvelous sight of multitudes of natives gathered together representing a huge horse shoe facing the canopy from which the Prince gave his commending speech to the Zulus. As the Prince came into view riding in his special motor car followed by his escort, the natives welcomed him with the impressive cry of “Bayette,” meaning “great king.” The weird way in which they drawled the word out sounded as if the Prince of demons and all his force of imps had let out a cry of distress. After the king of the Zulus, King Solomon, had given his welcoming speech on behalf of the Zulu nation, he presented the Prince with a pair of magnificent elephant tusks mounted on a hard-wood base with a gold shield with the inscription engraved upon it, “To H.R.H. the Prince of Wales on behalf of the Zulu Nation.” In return for this beautiful gift the Prince presented each tribal chief with a silver studded cane. At dinner time the different cliques gathered for their usual meal of Kaffer beer and meat, which was heartily partaken of in preparation for the big event to follow.

After dinner the war dance started, and it was surely a sight that shall never depart from our memories. There was about one thousand specially picked up to take leading parts in the dance. Each tribe had its representative group form in long line and advance toward the Prince. The advance was slow and full of all kinds of maneuvers with an unceasing cry of weird shrieks and yells. At the rear of each group of warriors were the women and girls who spurred the men on to battle by singing and chanting to them.

Occasionally a number would step out in front of the advancing line and go through all sorts of funny motions. So even and uniform was the stamping of feet in the dance that it made the ground almost tremble. near the finish of the advancing a sham charge was effected, with assagias (spears) raised and shields in front of them as if to slaughter the whole crowd. although it was a sham, it gave some of the onlookers a fright that could not have been worse had the warriors carried out their threats.

After the dance this vast horde dispersed to their several kraals so that within an hour scarcely a native could be seen. It was a wonder to all where they so quickly and suddenly disappeared to.

The thing that was most noticeable to us was that out of that multitudinous gathering of Zulus we were unable to see one deformity, their bodies were perfect.

Missionaries had been present at the Cape at the extreme southern tip of South Africa since the 1850s – yet this may well have been the first Mormon exposure to the sight and culture of the native peoples of Africa.



23 Comments »

  1. I served my mission in SA as well. The pictures of the elders with the Knobkerrie (club) and the assegia (short stabbing spear) look very familiar to me. I have both of these weapons hanging high out of reach in my oldest 2 sons Africa themed bedroom.

    The Zulu warrior would stab you with the spear and scream out.. Nda Kutchya or I have eaten in English

    Comment by bbell — March 23, 2009 @ 8:08 am

  2. This is so fascinating. What a cultural and historical treat for the missionaries! It seems that the missionaries were greatly impressed with the Zulu war dance, and rightly so. I could only imagine.

    I also like this post because we seldom consider the development of the Church in that area of the world.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 23, 2009 @ 8:08 am

  3. What a wonderful thing that Elder Woodruff’s tone is so respectful and complimentary: “a privilege . . . to witness,” “a marvelous sight” and of the Zulus themselves, “their bodies were perfect.” This kind of commentary, by a Mormon elder there in a foreign land for the express purpose of converting the locals to new doctrines, is heart warming to me.

    Comment by Hunter — March 23, 2009 @ 8:19 am

  4. I should probably note that the picture at the very top of the page is one taken by the missionaries, who appear in the bottom picture, Elder Saunders on our left, and Elder Woodruff to our right. The other pictures are stills from newsreel footage taken of the Prince’s tour, and can’t be enlarged at all without their fracturing beyond use. Even so, in one you can make out the “horse shoe” described by Elder Woodruff, and the overwhelming numbers of warriors and fierceness of their movements.

    I’m also relieved to note that I didn’t have to edit a single word from Elder Woodruff’s account that was parochial or offensive — even “weird” as a descriptor of the greeting is used with its “supernatural” rather than “goofy” meaning, considering what follows.

    If anyone needs to correct my thumbnail sketch of 19th century Zulu history, please do. It was all new to me, and I couldn’t find a single comprehensive/comprehensible source.

    And thanks, bbell and Steve C., for your comments.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 23, 2009 @ 8:19 am

  5. … and Hunter, who commented while I was writing. You note the same liberality I saw.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 23, 2009 @ 8:20 am

  6. I think one of the most important things I learned on my mission was to respect and appreciate other peoples and cultures. I get the impression that this was the case of E. Woodruff–that he saw not a “backwards” people but a beautiful culture that was new to him. What intellectual curiosity!

    Do you happen to know what these two elders did when they returned? I wonder if these types of experiences had an impact on their future lives.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 23, 2009 @ 10:29 am

  7. I don’t know yet, Steve, although I’ve put “look up their obituaries” on my to-do list.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — March 23, 2009 @ 11:03 am

  8. Zulu is still alive. We have a Zulu-speaking member of the Indianapolis North stake.

    There are some Zulu lessons on Youtube:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAgI4GlXWNc

    And a related language, Xhosa:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ6oe2U7AOA
    And how to make the click sounds:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31zzMb3U0iY

    Comment by Bookslinger — March 23, 2009 @ 12:05 pm

  9. Thanks for the post. Very interesting, and I am not an expert on Zulu history, but from what I know your thumbnail introduction matched up very well.

    Comment by Morgan Deane — March 23, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

  10. When I read “their bodies were perfect” it struck me that the good elders may have seen much more of the bodies of the Zulu warriors and of the women and children who followed them than was customary back home in Utah. (Certainly if the evidence of the photographs of the Beehives’ bathing suits is to be believed.)

    Sadly, though, their mission was not to preach to the Zulus–but only to the immigrants from Europe living in the Republic of South Africa and probably Southern Rhodesia. That of course wouldn’t change until 1978.

    If any of the recent British royalty deserved to be given a dressing down by the Zulus, Edward VIII certainly qualified. (He brings to mind the current Prince of Wales and his inability to do his royal duty by Diana–can’t he be banished to Bermuda or somewhere, now that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor have passed to their eternal rewards?)

    But, I wonder if the images in the first stanza of the praise song–Queen Victoria = buffalo cow and the Prince of Wales–the color of cow dung–were intended as insults or if the first was in fact positive. I suspect that most American women wouldn’t appreciate being compared to a buffalo cow (of course, some buffalo cows may not like the comparison either). But, in Zulu culture, I suspect a buffalo cow was valuable, a source of wealth. The second–Prince the color of cow dung–may have been merely descriptive. These days in our prettified, citified culture, manure has pretty well been banished. But for the Zulus, if they had livestock, manure was, like love, all around them. And there would have been a lot of it. And they all knew what color it was.

    Comment by Mark B. — March 23, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

  11. Mark, the googled sources that reported this poem make it clear that it was an intentional insult overall, whether or not the specific lines I picked out of a very long text were meant that way; of course you’re right that cultural context could suggest something very different about the particular image than it suggested to me.

    Bookslinger — our language man! And Morgan, thanks for giving us a second chance.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 23, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

  12. funnily enough, I just assumed the lines about Queen Victoria were meant as a compliment:

    “A descendant of the buffalo cow, Victoria,
    That god-like woman in the land of humanity …”

    Buffalo live longer than other domestic cattle, (Queen Victoria died aged 81, no mean feat in those days). She was regarded as ‘god-like’ by many inhabitants of the then Colonies, as well as by her subjects at home, many of whom had known no other Monarch. My paternal grandparents were 6 when she died, but could both remember the shock felt by their parents and surviving grandparents, who had all been born after her accession to the throne.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — March 23, 2009 @ 4:09 pm

  13. Here’s the full poem (one translation, any way; there are several available on the ‘net):

    THE HERO OF BRITAIN

    when we greet him, we call him: Steaming Body
    when we give him a nickname, we call him Burning Body
    when the imbongi gives him a name, it is: Damned Body
    come! come and report here!

    let everyone gather and observe well
    let everyone assure themselves with regard to him and compare
    let all the peoples come together to see what kind of creature he is
    because he cannot be looked at and a person does not reach him in a straight-forward way

    here comes the hero of Britain
    a descendant of the buffalo cow, Victoria
    that god-like woman in the land of humanity
    she is like a ghost, wielding magic and a priest of war

    here he comes, the son of George the Fifth
    from the head house of the royal household
    a man the colour of cow dung whose eyes shoot lightning
    if he looks you in the eye you go blind
    the cow-dung-coloured man – oh the single pat of dung
    his eyes have a life of their own when he looks at you

    here comes the son of the blackest cow dung in the kraal
    here he comes with elder’s blue crane feathers
    here he comes with the necklace of courage
    and the soft apron of a duiker skin
    he smells of scented herbs of the perfume of headmen
    he reeks of mint
    and the sweet-smelling grass of woven armbands
    he smells of aromatic bushes and tamboti
    his face is decorated with little white spots
    he walks neatly on his toes like a leopard
    come and report here you Philistine

    hayi, Great Britain
    here you come with a bottle in one hand and a Bible in the other
    here you come with your vicar who is supported by a soldier
    you come with gunpowder and bullets
    with canon and guns
    Forgive me O God, hear us, to whom must we listen?
    Hail Calf-of-the-great-Beast
    he who tramples underfoot everything that is already trampled underfoot
    pass on you who gloats over my country’s inheritance
    long live the king
    I have spoken, I have nothing more to say
    I disappear like that star with its trail . . .

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 23, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

  14. That is a different translation than the one I used in the post — the “You sent us the truth, you denied us the truth” part in the post matches up to the “here you come with a bottle in one hand and a Bible in the other” of the version in the comment. I don’t have any idea which is more literal.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 23, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

  15. “Calf-of-the-great-Beast”? Sounds very Book if Revelations-ish to me.

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — March 24, 2009 @ 4:09 am

  16. Thanks for the full version!

    That final verse….by our standards today, how true it is. By Victorian/Edwardian standards, it would just go to prove the case for the duty of the Empire to bring enlightenment to the ‘natives’. (And yes, I realise it was written after the Edwardian era).

    Comment by Anne (UK) — March 24, 2009 @ 8:47 am

  17. Great story Ardis Lots of good details. However, this was not “the first Mormon exposure to the sight and culture of the native peoples of Africa.” Missionaries had been In SA intermittently since 1853 and while there, they taught someone. Lots of someones Those someones had contact with Native Africans before and after their conversions. Though Missionaries taught mainly British subjects they also taught a handful of boers and natives. In 1905 man called Dunn, whose Mother was a Zulu, was baptized by the Mission president. He was the first black African Baptized in Africa. In 1915 another S. African, William Paul Daniels journeyed to Utah to visit some family and was baptized. He met with Pres Joseph F. Smith who promised him some day he would be able to hold the priesthood ( if not in this life, then in the next life). Although He experienced neglect and racial ostracism from the other S A members He kept his testimony the rest of his life. He died in 1936 but his daughter lived see the Priesthood revelation and was sealed to her parents in the SL temple in 1980.
    There were Mormon who served in the British Army and Navy during the time in question so there may have been soldiers fighting against the in the previous wars.

    Comment by J.Paul — March 24, 2009 @ 4:51 pm

  18. A few months ago, I sent an email to this blog’s address about a young Xhosa boy, Gobo Fango, who came to Utah from South Africa with my GGGrandfather’s company, in 1860. He became an independent sheepherder in Idaho and was killed in a grazing dispute by a cattleman.

    Ardis, I am curious whether you received that email. His is a fascinating story, with conflicting histories.

    Comment by clair — June 7, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

  19. No, clair, I never saw any such email – I would have at least acknowledged it! T&S linked to a newspaper column about Gobo Fango a while back, and he’s been written about in one of the church magazines. I’ll bet his story isn’t known to most church members, though — he’d made a great post here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 7, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

  20. The Friend article was at least a bit sanitized. The histories are conflicting.

    My GGGrandfather’s journal (Eli Wiggill) describes Gogo Fango’s immigration with the Charles Talbot party from South Africa to Utah.

    Gobo Fango was either a beloved Talbot family member, sealed to them after his death, or a servant who lived in a shed and was sold to the Hunter family when they needed a sheepherder, or some of both.

    His death is also controversial. He was either murdered by a cattle rancher or killed in a fair gunfight. The rancher was tried twice, with a hung jury (11-1 guilty) at the first trial and an acquittal at the second.

    He left $500 to the LDS Relief Society.

    His story needs sorting out by a good historian.

    Comment by Clair — June 8, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

  21. Here is one history of Gobo Fango and his death:

    http://www.signaturebooks.com/excerpts/fringe.htm#death

    Comment by Clair — June 8, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

  22. Hi all,
    I just want to give you an understanding here regarding your differences concerning the praise from the native above or praise song. Im a Zulu by ethnic from Dube clan. We call these poeple praise singers though they not exatley sing. They are a very important figures in our nation. They are the messangers who dont lie. I wont explain what they ment here but what I can say is that these poeple are the only poeple who can tell the King when when he is doing wrong by means praise singing. They can say anything to the King in this manner.If the King is doing good to the nation they will mention that, if the King do something that hes subject dont agree with, he will say it. If the king is ugly, handsome, have a good eye on woman, or anything that the king hase done. They were more like historians or history keepers of the monach. Same here with the Prince if the poeple felt that the Prince was not a good person they will say it as is. If the Prince was preaching good and dont practice it, he will say it. Thats these mans jobs to advise the Kings on theire doing or remind them what they have done. Than from there the King will know where he had fowl the nation, or where the nation gives praise to him. So it was the same with the Prince they were appliying the same prinsiple.

    Have peace and may you find what you are searching for in this life.

    Comment by Sibusiso Dube — March 24, 2010 @ 2:12 am

  23. Thank you, Sibusiso,for this explanation. Your comment is very much appreciated.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 24, 2010 @ 4:25 am

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