Zulu. The word has resonance throughout the World. The image of a strong and fearsome military machine was first crafted by Shaka (c.1787-1828), founder of the Zulu empire, and it became the most formidable power in black Africa. Strong though it was, it could not hope to overcome the armies of the largest empire in the World, though even in defeat the Zulu reputation was enhanced. At Isandlwana the Zulu inflicted the most crushing defeat ever suffered by the British army at the hands of a native force.
Spear-and-shield warriors present their own set of problems for figure manufacturers, with one or more separate items needing to be attached to the figures by some discreet but firm means. Weapons and shields mean that this set has slightly fewer figures than normal for Esci, but it has also influenced the choice of poses. Some of these are really good, with the stooping advancing warrior and the casualty being well animated and very lifelike. However in order to maximise the number of figures on the sprue Esci squeezed six figures in the space normally set aside for five, so each man had to be relatively narrow. Over half the poses are simply standing or walking with a spear in the air, which when seen without the shield and spear make for some compact figures but not a very imaginative range.
Apart from those with rifles, all the figures have ring hands to take one of the separately moulded weapons. These amount to 26 long throwing spears and 8 knobkerry clubs - just enough for the figures that need them. The principal Zulu weapon was the iklwa, a short stabbing spear with a long blade, yet there is not one of these in the set. The provided spears are long, making them throwing spears, though they are more suggestive of spears than an actual representation of the historical object. However the knobkerry is accurately done. The shields in this set are of the large isihlangu type, which were less popular by 1879 than the smaller umbhumbulosu that measured about a metre in length, so while not wrong they are not the best choice. However the most important element of the shields is the way in which they attach to the figure. This is done by two hooks which attach to the arm, giving a good firm fit and requiring no special plastic on the arm. However to achieve this a large square hole is necessary in the middle of the shield, which looks ridiculous and cries out to be filled in, which is a tricky task.
Clearly these warriors have a minimum of costume, with most just having a loin-covering and cow tail festoons round the neck and limbs. These are all fine, but when it came to the headdress the sculptor seems to have got carried away, and presented an extravaganza of feather displays. These varied between regiments, and many may well be accurate, but the warriors did not wear these cumbersome things in the battlefield - they were for ceremonial show only. Therefore these are completely out of place in a 'combat' set such as this.
A lot of work must have gone into these Zulus, and there is no doubting the quality of the sculpting and the mould - well up to the usual Esci standard. While the method of attaching the shields was not to our taste, at least both they and the weapons are a good fit and will stand much 'play'. We liked the figures given British jackets, which happened because when an enemy was killed the warrior wore something of theirs until he could be 'purified'. However it seems unlikely that a warrior would have gone to the trouble of wearing it properly and smartly as does the standing firing figure here. However it is the poor historical accuracy that lets this set down, and coupled with an unimaginative selection of poses there is plenty of room for improvement.