Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1818 Zulu induna
Subjectinduna chief
Culture: Zulu
Setting: Zulu empire, Natal 19thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Knight/McBride 1989 p13
"Military and civil state officials were called izinduna (sing. induna), and were appointed by Shaka himself.  There was an element of meritocracy in this -- even commoners could become izinduna if, for example, their skill in war brough them to Shaka's notice."

* Edgerton 1988 p24
"Large numbers of men remained in their home districts, where they worked or fought for their induna or chief.  When Zulus did fight, they were ferocious warriors, but it would take a charter member of the Flat Earth Society -- or a Victorian British Army officer -- to believe that those men fought because they were sexually repressed."

* Knight 2008 p110
"Since the Zulu military system was essentially a citizen militia, in theory every man in the kingdom was enrolled in his turn in one of the king's amabutho.  One of the few exceptions to this rule concerned those who were training to become izangoma -- spirit diviners -- and who were considered to have a higher calling; nevertheless, the high incidence of young men wishing to claim immunity from national service on the grounds that they had been called to serve the ancestral spirits instead had aroused some suspicion in King Mpande's time, and his successor King Cetshwayo had restricted the practice.
    "Despite an almost universal degree of enlistment, however, it was unlikely that at any given time an ibutho was assembled in its entirety.  Some men were always held back from the king's musters to tend cattle and protect non-combatants, even at a time of national emergency such as the British invasion.  Indeed, when he assembled his amabutho in January 1879 to prepare them to contest the British advance, the king none the less instructed amakhosi living in the border regions to hold back enough of their men to watch the British movements and potentially harass them.  Although these were men who individually were members of the amabutho they functioned on these occasions as local irregulars, commanded by izinduna appointed by their amakhosi.  In some areas this tradition was particularly strong; the men of the abaQulusi section in northern Zululand, who were particularly loyal to the Royal House, were not enrolled in age-based amabutho but instead fought throughout as irregulars."

* Knight 1992 p

* Knight 1994 p

* Knight/Castle 1994 p


* Knight 1994 p45-46
"Everyday male dress consisted of a thin belt of hide around the waist, with an oblong of soft cowhide over the buttocks, and strips of fur, twisted together to resemble animal tails, dangling at the front.  In addition, however, each ibutho had a sumptuous dress uniform. The bushy parts of cows' tails were worn in profusion, suspended from a necklace so as to hang in bunches to the waist at the front and the knees behind, or from thongs around the elbows and knees, wrists and ankles.  Some senior regiments wore an ornate kilt which encircled the waist with twisted tails of genet- and monkey-skin. A stuffed headband of otter- or leopard-skin formed the basis of the headdress, with earflaps of monkey-skin dangling over the cheeks.  Each regiment had its own particular combination of feathers in the headdress.  Young regiments wore the long glossy black tail feathers of the sakabuli bird on either side of the head, or on top of it, while senior regiments wore one or two blue crane feathers.  Black-and-white ostrich feathers were worn in different arrangements, and the king himself often granted permission for a regiment to wear a particular plume, in recognition of some special service.  Only a few individual heroes could wear the waxy red and green tail feathers of the loury.  Much of this costume was extremely fragile and expensive, and in later years it was only worn on ceremonial occasions, but the evidence of Fynn and others suggests that at least some of it was worn into battle in Shaka's day."

* Knight 2008 p219-220
"On ceremonial occasions -- notably the national gathering which ushered in the new harvest each year -- the Zulu amabutho wore lavish and distinctive costumes.  Although these included a number of elements in common to all (such as dense bunches of cow-tails, worn suspended from a necklace so as to hang to the waist at the front and the knees at the back, streamers of cow-tails around the knees and elbows and ordinary loin-coverings), each ibutho boasted a number of unique elements which, in combination with the patterns on their shields, were sufficient to distinguish them, and which therefore constituted a regimental uniform.
    "The chief distinction in ceremonial dress lay between the young unmarried amabutho and their married counterparts.  Young men carried predominantly dark shields -- black or brown -- and older men sported white shields.  Young men wore a headband of cat-skin -- usually civet or serval, although those of rank used leopard-skin -- stitched into a tube and padded with bull-rushes, while older men wore headbands of brown otter skin.  Both wore supple oblongs cut from samango monkey pelts hanging from the headbands over the cheeks and ears, and feathers tied neatly to stand upright above the head-bands, but particular feathers carried associations of either youth or maturity.  Younger amabutho wore thick bunches of the long, glossy black tail feathers sported by the isakabuli finch during its mating season, sometimes on either side of the head, or in a dense plume on top.  They wore, too, stiff flat 'horns' or cow-hide, known as amapovela, to the tips of which were tied cow-tails which fell back down over the side of the face.  Black ostrich feathers were apportioned to them by the king as a particular mark of distinction, while senior amabutho wore the long tail-feathers of the Blue Crane, either singly over the forehead or in ones and twos over the temples.  Great men -- members of the leading houses of the amakhosi, wore bunches of scarlet and green wing feathers from the Purple-Crested Lourie, cut along the spine and twisted so as to give a pleasing crinkly appearance.
    "The quantity of feathers and pelts needed to dress even a moderately sized ibutho reflected a very considerable slaughter of wildlife, and indeed many of the rarer items were acquired by the Zulu kings as tribute from neighbouring subject chiefdoms, notably the Thonga from the areas around St Lucia Bay, which were particularly rich in bird life.  Although it was the habit of successive kings to distribute pelts and feathers to the amabutho, there were seldom enough to go round, and it fell to ordinary members to provide the appointed costumes themselves.  Each costume represented considerable effort and expense, and for this reason -- together with the impracticality of wearing them for long periods -- most Zulu men did not wear their costumes in battle.  Instead, they assembled in a war-dress which was a greatly reduced version of their ceremonial uniform.  Brushes of cow-tails around the arms or, particularly, the legs remained popular, and some men retained their headbands, perhaps with a characteristic feather or two thrust in.  Personal choice seems to have been a deciding factor here, and senior men were generally more conservative -- and therefore less inclined to reflect regimental distinctions -- than younger ones.  It may also be that men wore more into action in the early campaigns of the war, or if they lived closer to the scene of operations.  The heaviest items, such as the great mantles of cow-tails, were generally left at home (although a lighter variant, with just a few tails covering the chest, shoulders and back, may have been retained by some), and lighter versions retained.  Most men also took the precaution of privately procuring before the shooting started necklaces containing charms and ritual medicines to ward off harm and evil.
    "It also seems that many men of rank wore distinctive items reflecting their status.  Amakhosi might wear a mantle of leopard-skin, known as a mabatha, which was proscribed to all except those of chiefly blood, while junior members of their families confined themselves to leopard-skin amabeshu buttock-covers.  Crane feathers and lourie feathers were also indicative of status.  Many senior men wore loin-coverings consisting of finely worked monkey- and cat-skins arranged to encircle the waist like a kilt."

* Racinet 1988 p50 f22
"A Zulu chief from Natal.  The strips of animal skin round his arms and legs show him to be a hunter and warrior, while the leopard skin on his chest marks him as a chief.  His otter-skin headdress is decorated with large vulture feathers and his cloak is made of buffalo skin."

* Knight 1996 p32-33
"On ceremonial occasions the amabutho paraded in the most magnificent costumes of feathered headdresses and cow-tail body ornaments.  Costumes varied from regiment to regiment, and served as an identifying uniform, but they were too fragile and expensive to wear into battle.  Most Zulu warriors went into action wearing nothing more than their loin-coverings -- a thin belt of hide around the waist, with a square of dressed cowhide over the buttocks and strips of civet cat or monkey skin, twisted together to resemble tails, hanging down the front.  A few might have retained padded headbands of otter or leopardskin, or perhaps arm and leg ornaments of cow-tails, while the izinduna may have worn single crane feathers or bunches of scarlet and green lourie feathers in their head-dresses as badges of their rank."


* Knight/McBride 1995 p25-26
"The Zulus first encountered firearms when the first Europeans arrived in the country, during King Shaka's reign.  Although they caused some initial confusion, the Zulus quickly recovered, so that by the time of the first conflict with the whites -- Dingane's war on the Voortrekkers, in 1838 -- the Zulu army was quite prepared to face them.  White traders recorded several conversations with King Shaka on the subject, and Shaka, although impressed, remained convinced that his warriors would overcome troops armed with firearms so long as they were prepared to withstand the heavy casualties they would sustain before they could close hand-to-hand.  Ironically, his view was to be put to the test in exactly those terms in 1879.
    ​"[...]  Large-scale importation of guns into Zululand probably dates from the 1860s, when the trader John Dunn befriended the heir apparent, Price Cetshwayo, and secured permission from Natal to supply him with arms, on the grounds that by strengthening the heir, the risk of further conflict was reduced.  Throughout the 1860s and 1870s there was, in any case, a glut of guns on the world market, as technological advances in Europe and America meant that obsolete flintlock and percussion guns were dumped cheaply in the colonies.  Thousands of guns were shipped in through Mozambique, many of them destined for the Zulu trade.  In the 1870s an Enfield rifle, standard issue in the British Army only a dozen years before, could be bought in Zululand for as little as the cost of a sheep.  Zulus recall that Dunn used to transport guns to King Cetshwayo's komkhulu by the wagon-load.  Although Cetshwayo tried to maintain the monopoly of trade, distributing guns among his amabutho as a mark of royal patronage, inevitably many of the regional izikhulu traded on their own account, thereby increasing their own power and influence.  Estimates of the number of guns inside Zululand before the start of the Anglo-Zulu war vary considerably, but they certainly numbered thousands, and most warriors had access to some sort of firearm."

* Knight 2008 p183
"The gun trade had been an element in the interaction between the Zulus and British interlopers from the earliest days.  King Shaka had demanded demonstrations of the firearms carried by the first white traders to visit his court; seeing that their smooth-bore muskets were largely ineffective at individual targets beyond 50 yards' range, and that they took a long time to reload, he pondered whether, in a battle against them, it would be feasible for his men to absorb the casualties inflicted by the first discharge and then charge home before the rifleman had time to reload.  It was a shrewd assessment of the relative merits of the two fighting systems, and one which would be put to the test in almost exactly those terms in 1879 -- although the consequences of the technological changes of the intervening fifty years could not then be foreseen.
    "None the less, Shaka had persuaded his tame white men to supply musketry contingents to his military expeditions and after his death his successor, King Dingane, went a step further and pressured the whites to sell him guns directly.  With the annexation of Natal as a British colony came an increase in European economic activity in Zululand and from the 1850s parties of white hunters and traders regularly operated in Zulu territory, and King Mpande often demanded a payment in firearms as the price of their admission.  But whereas Shaka, Dingane and Mpande had striven to maintain a royal monopoly of the firearms trade, the very increase in the numbers of passing whites facilitated contact between them and ordinary Zulu, allowing regional amakhosi, and later ordinary homesteads, access to the sources of supply.  Traders originating from Natal were prohibited from supplying guns to Zululand without a licence, and many were in any case uncomfortable at doing so -- but others were not.  One of the functions of the white inkosi John Dunn fulfilled for his patron, Cetshwayo, was procuring firearms for his supporters -- a practice at least connived at by the Natal authorities from the late 1850s in the belief that by strengthening Cetshwayo's parties in the succession disputes they reduced the risk of the instability in Zululand spilling over into Natal."


*Knight 2008 p188-189
"Seldom in history has a weapon been so identified with a particular people as the stabbing spear has with the Zulu.  Much of what is said about it is fable, and even the name by which it is popularly known is inappropriate.  Although the stabbing spear continues to be referred to as an assegai, the word is not of Zulu origin; although its etymological origins remain obscure, assegai seems to be a corruption of a Portuguese word for a spear which passed into general usage among whites following the early establishment of Portuguese trading enclaves on the eastern seaboard.  The Zulu word for a spear is umkhonta (pl. imikhonto); each type of spear moreover has its own particular name.  R.C. Samuelson, whose father was a missionary, and who grew up in Zululand before the war and later worked as Cetshwayo's translator during the king's captivity at the Cape, lists ten names for different contemporary spears, and there may well have been more.  Use of these weapons was not confined to the adherents of the Zulu king but was widespread throughout Natal.
    "Although the heavy-bladed, short-handled stabbing spear is popularly associated with King Shaka, the story that he invented it was a product of the imagination of author Ernest Ritter.  In fact most oral traditions suggest that Shaka's innovation lay rather in exploiting a pre-existing weapon, which had been largely regarded as the preserve of a few eccentric individuals, and developing around it an entirely new system of fighting -- training his men to move rapidly in concert to bring them to the point of contact, where the weapon's advantages were best demonstrated, as quickly and efficiently as possible.  The classic stabbing spear of the Shakan age was called iklwa; pronounced i-chwa, where 'ch' is as in the Scottish 'loch', it is said to represent the sound the weapon made on being thrust into and pulled out of a victim.  The size varied by blades were sometimes up to 18 inches in length, between 1 and 2 inches wide, and mounted on a haft about 30 inches long."

* Pitt Rivers Museum online > Assegai (1966.1.114)
"The Zulu produced at least 20 different types of spear. Perhaps the best known of these is the assegai, which was also used by several other Nguni groups in Southern Africa. It was a throwing spear (javelin) as can be seen from the narrow, leaf-shaped blade and long, slender tapering shaft. The conventional assegai ... is light and around 1.8m long (as tall as a man). In the hand of a skilled thrower, its range was 60-70m. Several assegai were carried in the left hand, behind the shield, and thrown one by one, prior to charging.
    "As the Zulu nation expanded, the warrior-leader Shaka (c.1787-1828) ordered all assegai be returned to the smiths to be melted down and re-forged into a new type of stabbing spear, iklwa, which had a shorter shaft and broader, more triangular blade. Under Shaka's successor, Dingaan, the throwing spear was reinstated and ultimately the two types of spear were used together in combat to good effect.
    "The composition of these weapons, added to the warrior's skill in using them, helped the Zulu become a potent military force; Zulu iron usually contained significant quantities of charcoal from the smelting process, so the finished blades possessed some steel-like qualities in terms of durability, resistance to rust, and the ability to keep a hard edge or point."

* Knight/Castle 1994 p32 (describing the Zulu army at Isandlhwana)
"The standard Zulu weapon remained the stabbing spear, apparently introduced by Shaka.  This had a blade between 12 and 18 inches long, mounted in a stout haft, and was used with a powerful under-arm thrust.  In addition, many warriors carried lighter spears, with smaller blades, which were used for throwing.  These could be flung with some accuracy up to a maximum of fifty yards."

* Knight 1995 p109
"Unlike the shield, ... the spear remained an individual's property.  The spear (umkhonto) was, of course, the inevitable counterpart of the shield, and it remained the Zulu army's principal weapon throughout the kingdom's existence, despite the increasing availability of firearms.  Zulu traditions universally attribute Shaka with having introduced the large-bladed stabbing spear.  As Mayinga put it, 'Tshaka said the old system of hurling assegais was bad, it caused cowardly behaviour'.  It is impossible, now, to test the truth of this tradition; certainly the improvement in technology would help to explain Shaka's military successes, but is should be noted that such weapons were not unknown elsewhere in southern Africa. Whether he invented it or not, however, there can be little doubt that Shaka developed both the practice and psychology of the stabbing spear to a certain logical conclusion.  Warriors were no longer allowed to carry throwing spear, and so had no excuse to avoid close-combat; those who returned from battle without their stabbing spears were similarly liable to be accused of cowardice, on the grounds that they too had hung back. Although Dingane seems to have revived the practice of carrying one or more throwing spear, this was in addition to the stabbing weapon, which remained the most important part of a warrior's armoury until the early part of the twentieth century."

* Fryer 1969 p84
"Assegai  A spear used by the native tribes of South Africa. It usually has an iron leaf-shaped head."

* Stone 1934 p77
"ASSEGAI, HASSEGAI.  The spear of the Kafirs and other allied tribes of South Africa.  It usually has a leaf-shaped head, though other shapes are by no means uncommon.  The head is fixed to the shaft by a tang, the end of the shaft being wound with cord made of twisted hide to prevent its splitting.  The assegai is made mainly for throwing and, when made for this purpose, always has a rather light wooden shaft.  Heavier ones are made especially for thrusting, 'stabbing' assegais, these sometimes have iron shafts.  The name assegai is unknown to the tribes that use them but is Portuguese."

* Knight 2008 p189
"The stabbing spear was designed to be used under-arm in combination with the war-shield.  A man would run down on his enemy and batter him with his shield, blocking his opponent's own attacks; the hope was that this move would expose the opponent's stomach or rib-cage to a thrust with the spear.  The fatal blow was delivered by skilled exponents with a slight upward cut for maximum effect.  Often in the heat of battle a man would stab his enemy several times, not merely to ensure a kill but as a result of the emotional release produced by combat after lengthy pre-battle rituals."


* Knight 1995 p100
"Shields were used in almost every aspect of Zulu life; there was a small shield, about nine inches by nine inches (umgabelomunye) for dancing, carried by youths when courting, and a sturdier shield, ihawu, about twenty-four inches by twelve inches, used for everyday purposes of protection, including fighting.  All these shields were made for an individual from the hides of his own cattle, and were his personal property.  The true war-shield, however, belonged to no one but the king himself.  It was kept with the amakhanda, and only issued to the amabutho when they were in the king's service.  The king's shield, therefore, was not carried lightly, and any man bearing it carried with him a portion of the king's majesty.  Indeed, a man who bore the king's shield -- as most of the male population of Zululand did at one time or another -- was entitled to respect as someone who accepted his place under the king's protection, and the obligations that were placed in him in return.
​    "The war-shield  All Zulu shields were oval in shape; the regimental war-shield was known as isihlangu (pl. izihlangu), from a verb meaning 'to brush aside'. ... The largest of them measure fifty-four inches tall by thirty inches across, although a smaller variant, about forty-eight inches by twenty-seven inches, is common.  No examples appear to have survived from the reigns of the early kings, but the accounts of early white travellers suggest that the larger type was more popular in Shaka's time. ... The later preference for a smaller variant probably had much to do with the changes in fighting techniques over the kingdom's history.  In King Shaka's time, fighting was conducted hand-to-hand, usually against a foe armed with similar stabbing weapons, and a tall, wide shield offered the very real prospect of protection.  From 1838, however, the Zulu army increasingly faced Europeans armed with firearms, against which a shield was of more limited use.  A small reduction in size was probably more than compensated by increased manoeuvrability and a lighter weight in the field."

* Knight/Castle 1994 p32 (describing the Zulu army at Isandlhwana)
"In Shaka's day the war shields were fully five feet high by almost three feet wide, but by 1879 a smaller variant, about 3.5 feet high by 2 feet wide, was more popular.  War-shields were not the property of individual warriors, but were kept in special stores in the amakhanda.  The hides were carefully matched for each regiment.  Young regiments carried black shields; senior, usually married, regiments carried white or red shields.  New shields seem to have been issued periodically in a regiment's lifespan, and the quantity and arrangements of white spots on a shield reflected its status."

* Greaves 2001 p55-56
"The Zulus' tough leather shields were the most visible part of their warriors' armoury. Shields were always made by specialist shield-makers who would begin the construction by cutting a large oval from a cowhide, leaving the hair on the outer face.  The colour of the hide was important; in the time of Shaka the combination of colour and patches was carefully monitored, the differences between each regiment's colour being detailed and specific; the whiter the shield, the more senior was its owner.  By the 1870s the practice was less strictly observed, although married regiments carried predominantly white or red coloured shields while those of unmarried regiments were black with white markings. The full war shield was the isiHlangu, which was intended to cover the warrior from his eyes to his ankles and accordingly varied slightly from one to another.  The largest shields of this type were as much as 5 feet long and 2 feet 6 inches wide.  During the civil wars of the 1850s Cetshwayo had introduced a smaller variant called the umbhumbhulosu.  This was 3 feet 6 inches long and 2 feet wide, and was considered lighter and easier to use.  Both shields were carried, even within the same regiment, although the umbhumbhulosu may have been most popular with younger more adventurous warriors.  The shields were strengthened by a single stick, fastened to the back by a double row of hide strips threaded though slits carefully cut in the shield, which was held by a small handle.  The bottom of the stick was sharpened to a point, and the top decorated by a strip of fur wrapped round the protruding stick.  All shields were the property of the king rather than the individual; they were kept in special raised stores out of the way of ants and rodents."

* Knight/Castle 1996 p33 (describing the Zulu army at Rorke's Drift)
"All [Zulu soldiers] would have carried oval war-shields of cow-hide; these shields were the property of the king, and were only issued to the warriors when they were on duty.  The colours on the face of the hides were usually carefully matched, and reflected a broad distinction based on seniority; older regiments had white shields, younger ones black.  The uThulwana and iNdlondlo carried white shields with small patches of red, while the unmarried iNdluyengwe still apparently carried black shields with large white patches with white, or white shields."

* Spring 1993 p130
"Great reliance was placed on these shields, even in facing an enemy equipped with firearms.  Shaka believed that if dipped in water the Zulu shield could repel a musket ball in the same way that it could ward off the isijula."

* Fryer 1969 p86
"Ishilunga  The oval cowhide shield carried by the Kaffir tribes of South Africa.  It has a stick attached to the back and has two strips of hide interwoven at the centre to give strength."

* Stone 1934 p308
"ISHILUNGA.  The Kaffir shield.  It is an oval piece of cowhide with the hair on, and strengthened by weaving two strips of similar hide about three inches wide through two lines of slits down the middle of the shield, and also by a stick extending lengthwise of the back.  This stick also serves as a handle.  They are from two to four feet long, and the width is from one half to two thirds of the length.  They are distinctive of South Africa."

* Bull 1991 p191
"The Zulu shield was large and oval, with pointed ends and a central stick to act as a grip.  The hair was left on the cowhide, presenting a pleasing and colourful pattern on the exterior.  Different areas and different 'regimental' groups specialized in different cattle, and so their shields varied accordingly and acted as a mark of distinction."

* Knight 2008 p175-176
"In Shaka's time men apparently advanced with the shields held horizontally, close to their sides, only displaying them during the final rush to contact.  By 1879 several decades of warfare involving firearms had led to men advancing as much at a crouch as they could with their shields held up before them.  In battle a shield was then used to deflect spears in flight, and in hand-to-hand combat in a combined and practised movement with the stabbing spear.  A man blocked his enemy's movements with his shield and tried to batter him off-guard, exposing his body to the spear-thrust.
    "In 1879 both sizes of war-shield were carried in action, even within the same ibutho.  On the whole, however, older, more conservative men preferred the large isihlangu while younger men used the umbumbluzo."

Club / Staff

* Spring 1993 p128
"Although widely employed as weapons by other southern African peoples, there is little evidence to suggest that Zulu clubs or knobkerries, iwisa, were regularly used in battle, except occasionally as missile weapons in place of the isijula.  However they were and still are made in large quantities, ostensibly for use as a swagger stick, snuff container, or in ceremonial contexts, but undoubtedly doubling as a durable offensive weapon, especially in the context of the present unrest in South Africa where they are included among the 'cultural weapons' of Inkatha."

* Pitt Rivers Museum online > Knobkerrie (1943.6.123)
"Lightweight, wooden, ball-headed clubs ... from South Africa are commonly termed 'knobkerries'. 'Knopkieri' is a word used in Afrikaans, a Dutch-based language, but which is itself a mixture of the !Kung (Kalahari bushmen) term 'kieri' meaning 'club' and the English 'knop' or 'knob', alluding to the rounded head. In some examples the head is hollow and doubles up as a snuff container.
    "Although less often used than the spear and shield in warfare, the Iwisa was part of male everyday dress, carried as a means of self-defence (to be both wielded and thrown) and as an accessory for hunting. It was also the traditional weapon of execution under paramount chief Shaka (1787-1828), whereby repeated blows were delivered to the back of the head. Shaka executed thousands, both enemies and his own people, in his quest to unite the Zulu tribes and transform them into fearsome warriors and a potent military machine."

* Greaves 2001 p57
"Most warriors carried clubs or knobkerries, the iWisa, which were simple polished sticks with a heavy bulbous head.  Zulu boys carried them for everyday protection and their possession at all times became second nature."

* Phillips ed. 1999 p209-
"Figurative and non-figurative staffs and clubs were produced throughout south-east Africa in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Many of these were made by carvers from Tsonga-speaking groups, who are known to have supplied the Zulu kingdom with staffs as part of the tribute they were forced to pay Shaka and his successors.  ...
​    "There is evidence to suggest that the style and iconography of the staffs used by chiefs varied considerably from one region to another.  Thus, for example, in contrast to the coiled snake staffs, which appear to have been popular among groups in southern Natal, those featuring a variety of geometrically conceived motifs probably were associated only with important office bearers in the Zulu kingdom.  Often surmounted by the horns of cattle (or similar motifs), staffs of this kind underline the importance of these animals as symbols of wealth and fertility and, perhaps more especially, as the means through which people maintained communication with royal and other ancestors.  This is not to suggest that all motifs found on chief's staffs were carved with the intention of conveying specific meanings.  On the contrary, staffs seem also to attest, quite simply, to an appreciation of the artist's ability to juxtapose carefully balanced shapes and forms, sometimes accentuated through the addition of wirework patterns.
​    "Clubs with bulbous heads, some of which were also covered with complex wirework, suggest a similarly careful attention to shape and surface detail.  Clubs made of rhino horn were reserved for chiefs as symbols of status.  During the reigns of Shaka and Dingane in particular, comparatively heavy, hardwood clubs were said to have been used to execute offenders.  But, more often than not, these clubs were used for hunting."

* Bull 1991 p190-191
"Another close-action weapon, which could also be thrown, was the 'knobkerrie' -- a wooden club with a round or faceted end.  The 'knob' at the end of the stick varies a lot in size.  Some giant versions are believed to be either for executions or ceremonial, and regarded as a mark of rank.  Another piece of folklore suggests that the Zulus' colonial masters imposed a limit on the size of the club head, permitting only what could comfortably be fitted into the mouth!"

* Stone 1934 p350
"KERRIE, KNOBKERRIE, TYNDUGO.  The throwing stick of the Kaffirs of South Africa.  It is a short stick with a large knob on one end.  The knobs vary much in size and shape and are seldom decorated in any way; they are cut from the solid.  The best are made of rhinoceros horn, most are made of wood."

* Tarassuk/Blair 1979 p298
"knobkerrie (or kirrie) A throwing knob club used by the Kaffirs and Hottentots of South Africa. It is cut from a solid piece of hardwood or, more rarely, rhinoceros horn. It consists of a short handle with a large knob on the end, which, although usually spherical, is sometimes elliptical. It varies in length from 45 to 52 cm. (18-21 in). Its name comes from the Dutch knop ("knot") and the Hottentot kirri ("stick"). A longer version is used by the Zulus as a mace in close combat. The knobkerrie is carried by means of a thong, which passes through a hole drilled in the end of the handle, with the knob hanging downward."

​* Fryer 1969 p87
"Knobkerrie  The South African, Kaffir, throwing stick or club.  They are made of wood or rhino horn and have a large bulbous knob with slender haft, often tapering at the end.  They are carved from one piece of wood or horn."