Telling your Igqoka from Your Isihlangu

Zulu warriors with igqoka shield (left) and isihlangu shield (right)
Zulu warriors with igqoka shield (left) and isihlangu shield (right)

Last week we talked about the importance of the traditional Zulu shield in battle, and what it meant in terms of protection for the warrior who carried the shield. In modern times these shields have become largely symbolic, used predominantly as part of ceremonies, or sold to the tourist market. For the most part the shields that are used in Zulu ceremonies will be the igqoka, traditionally used for courting and dances. On the other end of the spectrum you have the isihlangu, a much larger shield introduced during the times of Shaka for hand-to-hand combat. Because of its size (around 5 feet) this imposing shield is popular with the overseas tourist market, fetching thousands of Rands. The isihlangu shield was later replaced by the umbumbuluzo, a smaller warrior shield measuring approximately three-and-a-half feet in length, and easily held in one hand. The ihubelo hunting shield is the next down in size, with the rare ihawu dancing shield, coming in between the ihubelo and the igqoka, the smallest of the Zulu shields.

Click here to watch a traditional Zulu dance performed with igqoka shields. 

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