Shaka Zulu and his mother

Shaka Zulu and his mother

The story of Shaka king of Zulu
Shaka Zuklu and his mother

Shaka Zulu and his mother, the King of the Zulu tribe and the moving story of the death of his mother, thanks to the courage of a minor chieftain named Gala.

My life has now lost its only purpose, its only sweetness, its only love, its only consolation.
Marcel Proust talking of his dead mother, the real muse of the Recherche

From now on I want to imagine death as a tender and affectionate mother who, with extreme love, holding me to her breast for all eternity, instead of giving me life, with a tender smile, will take it away.
Carl William Brown

In the Two Principles of Mental Functioning of 1911, contrasting it with the reality principle, Freud spoke for the first time of “the pleasure-unpleasure principle, or more shortly the pleasure principle”. In 1923, linking the pleasure principle to the libido he described it as the watchman over life; and in Civilization and its Discontents of 1930 he still considered that “what decides the purpose of life is simply the programme of the pleasure principle”.

Eros and Thanatos, life and death, together they rule the world.
Sigmund Freud

Freud considered the death of one’s father as the most traumatic event in the life of a human being, as the death of his own mother, I would like to think.
Carl William Brown

Shaka’s military career started at about the same time as Napoleon’s came to an end at Waterloo. Neither man had ever heard of the other, yet they had a surprising amount in common, particularly in their genius for war and politics. Had Shaka been born in Europe he too might well have altered the course of world affairs. As it was, he built the Zulu nation. And he would have destroyed it had it not been for the courage of a minor chieftain named Gala.

When he was still only twenty-nine, Shaka seized the throne of the Zulus. It took him very little time to turn the Zulu people into a first-class fighting race because he was absolutely ruthless, never moving without an escort of “slayers” whose job it was to kill anyone who displeased him in any way. If his warriors could not run 50 miles a day, they died; if they were unable to dance barefoot on a carpet of jungle thorns, they died; if they showed anything less than suicidal courage in battle, they would be unhesitatingly murdered by the slayers. Shaka was inhuman, perhaps, but he built up a formidable army in a very short time.

Shaka the king of Zulu
Shaka with his mother Nandi

Shaka had already increased his kingdom from 100 square miles to 100,000 when personal tragedy struck: his mother, Nandi, died. Nandi was the one person for whom Shaka felt deep affection, and on her death something seemed to snap in his mind. What followed was unbelievable, but it was recorded by an Englishman named Flynn who was in the area at the time.

Nandi was buried, and 12,000 warriors were ordered to guard her grave for a year. Then Shaka sent his impis or regiments to scour the countryside and punish all those who had failed to be present at the funeral. Only after this had been done did he announce his orders for mourning: no crops were to be planted the following year; no milk was to be used – it was to be drawn from the cow and poured on to the earth; and all women who were found with child during the following year were to be put to death with their husbands. As the staple diet of the Zulus consisted of grain and milk products, this order was little less than a sentence of national starvation.

Shaka now developed a brooding and bitter spirit: “I have conquered the world but lost my mother”, he would cry, “and all taste has gone out of my life.”

After two months of intensive mourning over Nandi’s death, the country was in a desperate state. The fields were overgrown with weeds and one of the staple diets, namely milk, was no longer on the food list. Total ruin now faced the Zulu nation, and it was obvious that those who had not been killed by Shaka would certainly starve to death.

The story of King Shaka
The story of King Shaka

Finally, one of Shaka’s warriors, Gala, determined to end the tyranny. “It is enough”, he told his family. “Someone must tell the Great Elephant. I shall do it.” Gala’s family stared at him in horror: to challenge the King’s wishes at such a moment was to ask for instant death. But Gala took his warrior’s stick and went to Bulawayo to see Shaka. When he reached the right distance from the royal enclosure he shouted: “O King, you have destroyed your country. What will you reign over? Will you create a new race? Shall we all die because your mother died? You have destroyed the country. Your country will be inhabited by other kings, for your people will die of hunger. As for me, O King, I say you are dead yourself through this mother of yours. Stuff a stone into your stomach. This is not the first time anyone has died in Zululand!’

Stuff a stone into your stomach! This was the Zulu way of saying: “pull yourself together”. There was a gasp of horror from the onlookers, and the slayers took a grip on their clubs. That a man should dare to speak to the King in such a way was unthinkable, and Gala’s life seemed to be measured in seconds. But Shaka turned to his Councillors and said: “What use are you to me? You never dared, like Gala, to tell me to stuff a stone in my stomach. Now let all men know that crops are to be planted as usual and that milk may be drunk again. And as for you, said Shaka turning to Gala, “you shall have a mighty gift of many cattle.”

(From an article in Look And Learn. Look and Learn was a British weekly educational magazine for children published by Fleetway Publications Ltd from 1962 until 1982. It contained educational text articles that covered a wide variety of topics from volcanoes to the Loch Ness Monster; a long running science fiction comic strip, The Trigan Empire; adaptations of famous works of literature into comic-strip form, such as Lorna Doone; and serialized works of fiction such as The First Men in the Moon.)