|Some Zulus! My artwork, Matt Soffe colours from forthcoming graphic novel!|
As is traditional today, I've spent a little time reflecting on events in Zululand 139 years ago which, as readers of this blog will be aware, has had rather a profound interest (or is it obsession?) for me for almost as long as I can remember. Much of that time my interest was simply that, an interest stirred by that movie, and a genuine desire to learn more about the military history behind those colourful set-pieces and action scenes. The more I read of course lead to a greater understanding, reaching a pinnacle with my first visit to the South African battlefields themselves with the eminent historian, Ian Knight, who's many books on the subject I've eagerly devoured.
|Isandlwana battlefield cairns from 2010|
|Isandlwana battlefield 2014|
|Proud & happy Zulu children 2014|
That first visit brought me directly into contact with many Zulus themselves and a growing awareness that they viewed the events of 1879 rather differently - a planned Zulu Victory for starters, not just a surprise British defeat - and also a need to commemorate the occasion as a rare victory against the Europeans colonisation of Africa itself, which is something I guess I'd not really thought about, much to my regret. As they say, history is written by those who won and it is generally that history, that of the victors we learn about ourselves, so - in basic terms - we know that the Anglo-Zulu War was relatively short, (After the Isandlwana defeat, the might of the British Empire was thrown against the Zulus), concluding in the Battle of Ulundi on 4th July 1879 and resulting in the subsequent capture and exile of the Zulu King Cetshwayo.
|Ulundi battlefield memorial 2010|
After a time and an audience with Queen Victoria at her Osborne House home, Cetshwayo was restored as monarch but to a lessor territorial area and who's powers were severely restricted by the British governors. Not long afterwards Cetshwayo died, possibly poisoned by his rivals, and various periods of unrest followed culminating in the deadly and failed Zulu rebellion of 1906. British interest during this period was of course dominated by clashes with the resident Boer farmers leading to two major wars, setting a template for the World Wars to follow. Zulu influence was further and further eroded during this time, arguably leading to the rise of apartheid so that it's only comparatively recently - post Mandela - that the authentic Zulu voice has again been heard and more importantly listened to again.
|King Cetshwayo's remote burial site, deepest Zululand 2014|
I know I'm been very, very simplistic in these comments but I mention this really to illustrate that history or rather perceptions of history can continually evolve by those who are or were affected by it. These thoughts came to me during my 2010 and subsequent 2014 trips around Zululand, encountering many locals who, rather than be encumbered by history were very much in the now, enjoying what freedoms are available to them or may be available in the future - Zulus particularly seem a very proud and optimistic bunch!
|Ian Knight and reader inside Ulundi battlefield memorial 2014|
I know that Ian Knight and many other scholars have regretted the relative lack and brevity of first-hand Zulu accounts of the 1879 war compared to the almost numerous European accounts which of course can lead to a certain bias, which Mr Knight and others have done well to counter to provide as balanced a view as they can of the events which fascinate us so.
|Zulu veteran from the 2016 re-enactment|
Since 1999, there have been annual re-enactments at Isandlwana which modern Zulu Kings and dignitaries have attended, bringing a fresh modern interest in the conflict among the Zulu people who themselves can 'reclaim' their own history and bring the events of 1879 to a fresh perspective. This year has been no different and I've already seen a couple of contemporary reports of the 2018 anniversary which show that interest continues to grow and this surely can only be a good thing in terms of commemorating the ultimate sacrifices that so many made and allowing both countries and its people come to terms with a troubled past.
|Keeping the throne warm for the King 2014|
As for me, well despite my reading and learning, I'm not qualified enough to speak of the politics of the time or of now other than to try and show an equal balance between both sides in my own interpretations of this period of history. The expanded story Pointy Heads attempts to do this in my much promised forthcoming graphic novel of the Zulu Wars which is inching towards completion!
|Zulu children from Pointy Heads, my art Matt Soffe colours|