The Zulus are considered the most fearsome warriors Africa has ever produced and they can thank Shaka Zulu for that reputation. Shaka was the ruler of the Zulu from 1816 until his assassination in 1828. During this time, Shaka revolutionized the Zulu army. Replaced the traditional long throw spear (Assegai) with a short stabbing spear (Iklwa) with a broader blade. Zulu pronunciation yo-klwa it is said to be the noise the spear makes when it is thrust into and then withdrawn from an enemy body.
Shaka also organized logistical support for his huge armies and organized them into regimental grades, each with their own names and distinctive patterns on their shields. Shaka was also responsible for developing the famous Zulu battle tactics known as “Buffalo Horns” (impondo zenkomo). This tactic had originally been used by the Zulu for hunting, but Shaka adapted it for battle with devastating effect.
The Buffalo Horns formation would see the Zulus divide their forces into four distinct elements. Each represented a part of the Buffalo; the chest (isifuba), left and right horns (izimpondo) and the distance (umuva).
The Buffalo Chest would attack the enemy head-on. This element of the Zulu force would generally be made up of the best warriors, proven in battle.
The remaining Zulus, the lomos, were usually the older and more experienced warriors who were kept in reserve to be used when needed. They would also keep out of sight of the battle or even with their backs to the action lest they get too excited and join the fight too soon. Shaka or his commanders would watch and control their armies from high ground overlooking the battlefield and relay their instructions to a series of runners.
The “buffalo horns” tactics were used by the Zulu in tribal battles and continued to be used for many years after Shaka’s death. On January 22, 1879, when the Zulu attacked the British camp at Isandlwana, it was considered by many to be a terrible British defeat, but perhaps it should be considered a great Zulu victory. Although the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 ultimately saw the defeat of the Zulu nation, the reputation they gained lives on. Throughout the world, the Zulu is remembered as a brave and formidable warrior. In the phonetic alphabet, the letter ‘Z’ is identified with the word ‘Zulu’.