Anyone growing up in South Africa, and possibly even people from abroad, would easily be able to recognise the famous Zulu shield. Made from Nguni cowhide these shields are synonymous with Zulu culture, and even today form an important part of Zulu traditions. Originally intended for battle, the shield worked both on a physical and spiritual level. The strong hide would protect the Zulu warrior from attacks from his opponents’ spears, but was also said to have magical properties – before going into battle the hide would be sprinkled with muti to increase the protective power of the shield, ensuring that that the warrior would come to no harm.
The shield would be accompanied by an assegai or spear, as well as a knobkierie or club, and the centre of the shield would have a long shaft that would provide support for the shield, preventing it from bending. The shaft also allowed the warrior to rest his shield on the ground in a vertical position, with the shaft in the ground, which would still offer protection, but enable the warrior to rest his arms, saving his energy for the battle.
Today Zulu shields are popular items in the tourist market, but also still serve a purpose in Zulu culture where smaller igqoka shields are used as part of traditional dances at weddings and funerals.
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