The greatest victory by a native army over a European one was achieved on 22nd January 1879, when a British force of around 900 British and Colonial troops was all but wiped out, along with several hundred native auxiliaries, by the army of the Zulus. The Zulu Kingdom had existed for about half a century at this point, and had come to dominate the area by virtue of a ruthless and well organised military that none of their neighbours could match. Zulu society was geared around the needs of these warriors, who from the time of King Shaka had served the king himself rather than local chieftains. Having conquered their neighbours through military might the Zulus would eventually meet a similar power, the British, who despite local setbacks would soon defeat them by being better armed and better organised. The Kingdom was effectively destroyed, but the Zulu earned a reputation as a magnificent warrior that has lasted down the ages.
Although this set has no date the Zulu warrior changed little during the fifty years that followed the emergence of Shaka, so we will assume this period, and particularly the final war in 1879, is the intended subject. Our comments on the Zulu costume will be minimal because the costume itself was minimal. While ceremonial costume could be very ornate, all the figures in this set wear normal war dress without much ornamentation, although on occasions some warriors could be more elaborately dressed than these men even in time of war. These figures all wear the loincloth of fake ‘tails’ over the groin, and interestingly have exactly the same thing over the buttocks. Various sources state that at the back men wore a simple piece of animal hide called a ibeshu rather than the fur ‘tails’, which would make these figures incorrect. However there are some pictures and photos that appear to show something more complex at the back, so while not ideal perhaps the items these men wear are not so inappropriate after all. Apart from the loin cloth the men all have bunches of cow tails round the upper arms and lower legs, which is fine, and all have the isicoco, which was a ring around the top of the head. This indicated that the men were married, or at least permitted to marry, and early in the period this effectively meant these men were no longer liable to serve in the king’s army. However well before 1879 there were whole regiments of married men, so while these figures do not reflect the whole of the army they do show a significant part of it.
Weaponry too is very straight forward. Most warriors carried throwing spears and shorter, stabbing spears, exactly as depicted on these figures. A few chose to carry a knobkerrie, which was a club with a heavy round head, again as depicted here. One figure has been given an empty hand and a separate weapon which we have display beside him. This is both a spear and a knobkerrie – cut off whichever ‘head’ you don’t want to make the desired weapon. This is a really good idea which HaT have done before and always finds favour with us. Finally in the weapons category we find one man with a firearm. Muskets first fell into Zulu hands in the 1850s but were few, and generally a very motley collection of out-dated pieces that were usually in poor repair and with poor or no ammunition available. Things steadily improved as time went on, and by 1879 there were many rifles available to the Zulus, particularly after they had overwhelmed European opponents. Fortunately for their enemies they made little effective use of these, although some men were undoubtedly killed by Zulu rifle fire. Usually a single shot was followed by the gun being dropped and the traditional weapons taken up, so having just one figure so armed in this set seems appropriate. This riflemen has also acquired a cartridge belt, which suggests he may be experienced enough with his weapon to use it more than once!
The shield too could be used as a weapon, in particular to prise the opponent’s shield away from his body to expose it to a blow. All the shields in this set (which are all part of the figure rather than separate) are 17 mm in length and 9 mm wide. This makes them the large isihlangu war shield, which was normal issue earlier in the period but falling out of favour by 1879. By then a smaller version was more common, but this larger version was still carried right up to the end of the Kingdom, so while some variety would have been nice these are all OK size-wise. Unfortunately the slits and strips threaded through the centre of the shield have been modelled here as raised relief, which is wrong – having them engraved flat like other sets of Zulus would have been much better. Still, at least it makes them a bit easier to paint.
Sculpting is pretty good, although occasionally musculature can have flat spots or limbs that are too square in section, but the general proportions look OK and the faces do look African. A couple of hands have not come out well, with missing thumbs or awkward positioning – the first figure in the second row amply demonstrates this with his right hand. What little detail is required is well done though so these are still quite appealing figures which have no flash. For the separate weapon the sculptor has provided a natural hand rather than a ring hand, but the fit is not good and will require gluing to stay in place.
Any subject with blade weapons and shields is generally best done with separate parts in our view. All too often shields are flush to the man and weapons follow the centre line, making them flat and unnatural. Apart from one separate weapon every figure here comes as one piece, but the sculptor has done well to minimise the ‘flatness’ of the poses. Shields such as that on the first pictured man are turned enough to not seem flat but to really offer some protection, so while these are not the deepest spearmen ever made they are better than many. However the two figures with shield flat to the chest (second figure in each row) are not so good, and in particular the sculptor has failed to make the hand holding the shield work. They are still quite decent and useful poses, but not the best here.
There are no officers here, nor any men with elements of ceremonial costume or perhaps the full kilt of twisted tails that some senior regiments wore. This means every man here could easily pass as belonging to the same regiment, and indeed could be said to be quite typical of many Zulu warriors. Were it not for the head rings these figures would represent most Zulu warriors in battle, and other sets provide some of the more exotic costume elements that this one lacks. As a result this set provides an excellent array of figures that both complement and enlarge on those that have gone before, and provides a lot of ordinary ‘squaddies’ that the other sets largely lack. This then is a thoroughly welcome addition to the range of Zulus and is a must for anyone looking to provide the masses of warriors that so terrified their enemies with the ‘beast’s horns’.