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DateOriginal Topic
17th March 2005Zulu Rituals
By Yank
At Isandlwana I know the Zulus disembollowed the British so their spirits could enter the after life but why did the Zulus castrate the drummer boys?

If this topic has been discussed before I apologize.
17th March 2005Paul Cubbin
The topic of post mortem injuries is an iffy one and contemporary witnesses disagree fairly often. Ceratinly, one Zulu custom (from the hunt) was to share in the glory of a kill by wetting your blade in the beast's body (ie. jabbing at its corpse) and this could be responsible for a lot of the mutilations reported. As to the castration of boys, well, who knows. Perhaps there is some significance in the testicles of a virgin, perhaps it was a spur of the moment thing, or perhaps it was just a gory story made up for the papers back home.
18th March 2005Michael Boyle

Plug mutilation into the search engine here and you'll be able to read some of the thoughts expressed previously. As Paul says it is 'iffy' and no consensus seems to have been reached. Between 'muthi', 'heat of battle' and Zulu cultural beliefs there is much room for speculation.

The one thing that many of us seem to agree on is that the Zulu did not wantonly torture, and allegations of that were probably the mis-interpretation of the sight of the bloody corpses based on European experience.( As well as 'heat of the moment' exaggeration perhaps.)


18th March 2005Neil Raaff

I've recently read the "What happened to a VC" which is a story about D'Arcy and his time with the Frontier Light Horse. Shortly before Ulundi one of his men was injured and he unsuccessfully tried to rescue him. I'll try and find the passage as it suggests that he was tortured to death (possibly by the zulu women).


18th March 2005Derek C
Archibald Forbes wrote ...... "Every man had been disembowlled. Some were scalped, and others subjected to yet ghastlier mutilation. .."

Pehaps in those days, jounalists didn't relish decribing all the gory details? In my limited reading, I've come across some nasty descriptions of the drummer boys' fate.
18th March 2005Michael Boyle
Neil and Derek,

I have read those accounts and others that claim torture. There are others yet (see the 19 Feb. topic where I questioned Maj.Marter's account of not seeing any mutilation) that seem to interpret differently.

At first I didn't question the accounts of torture as my historical reference came from Native American,U.S., Mexican,Chinese, and 20th century wars (as well as medieval and ancient conflicts).

However after reading a number of books and papers (some kindly shared by others on this forum) and many web resources dealing primarily with the Zulu perspective I'm coming round to the realization that Zulu culture had no more need of torture than prostitution.

For the Zulu it seems that there was no intermediate state between life and death. If you screwed up they killed you ,they didn't mess around. I have yet to find any other references to Zulu torture (except for witches) in a context apart from the AZW (and few even there).

It should also be taken into consideration that most of the torture accounts of Isandhlwana were related only weeks and months after the battle, leaving much room for nature to do her work.

An insight into the Zulu mind seems to be that they considered imprisonment with seemingly the same horror we do torture.

Got to get back to work, will try to continue later.


18th March 2005Paul Cubbin
Further to above - jackals, hyenas, lions, leopards, warthogs, vultures, wild dogs, there's any number of scavengers who may have had a nibble at the Isandlwana buffet between the battle and the burial of the dead. Unfortunately for the squeamish (cross your legs gentlemen) the genitals appear to be one of the bits eaten first (a delicacy?) and often the bodies of people slain by wild carnivores are discovered with the genitalia removed and the rest fairly intact.
18th March 2005Shawn Olivier
I live in what was kaffaria and years back when I was a little boy I went on a hunt with some black friend and we killed a small buck. Well they cut the testicles off the thing and ate it in front off my eyes , stillwarm. They claimed that it would give them strength. I wonder?
19th March 2005Neil Raaff
I found the passage I mentioned earlier from "What Happened to a VC". It's on page 70. This occurred on the eve of the Battle of Ulundi.

"There was great activity at Ulundi that night. A new regiment was initiated by Witch Doctors, wailing women morned their dead and a group of women chanted ecstatically as they tortured Raubenheim [wounded and captured in a zulu ambush that day] before splitting him open. All the sounds could be clearly heard from where the troops were bivouacked and their meanings faithfully interpreted by Zulus in camp. It was just as well, therefore, that Cecil was too ill the next day to accompany the Frontier Light Horse when the rode out for the last time ahead of the main column [Cecil D'Arcy had tried to rescue Raubenheim] because they came across the butchered bodies of Raubenheim and another man named Pearce."

I can only imagine that prisoners were taken as they were so close to a kraal. I was under the impression that most were killed outright.


19th March 2005Derek C
I think mutilation & torture aren't the same in this context? I'm not aware of the Zulus' being big on torture per se, but I'm certain there was some degree of mutilation. Obviosly the elements and animals contributed.

I wonder if the horses & oxen's "choice parts" were also missing/mutilated from wild animals? The battle site may well have been guarded by Zulu's (as discovered by Col. Black on 14 March). The bored guards may well have "amused" themselves, to pass the time?
19th March 2005Peter Ewart

The apparent Raubenheim torture, although frequently claimed, has been seriously questioned by some historians. The bodies of him and the other fatality of the 3rd July were certainly mutilated and were buried as soon as they were found early on the 4th, before those in the rest of the column were "discouraged" by the sight.

But whether the Zulu (or their womenfolk, as has been claimed) were really torturing him, or had even captured him alive, is apparently open to question. The racket they made all night, however, is undisputed!

19th March 2005Michael Boyle

Thanks, I posted the above while eating lunch and found myself little inclined to go into detail on 'nature's work' and now this lunch I don't need too!


Just goes to show that there's no accounting for taste.(In the American West there is a delicacy known as "Mountain Oysters" consisting of body parts that male buffaloes would have rather retained!) (Sold in the best resturants no less.)(Well I wasn't that hungry anyway.)


Right, that was the one I thought you were referring to. I can't put my finger on it at the moment, being a couple hundred miles from my library and notes, but there was an article published in one of the journals (I think) dealing specifically with that incident. The gist of which seemed to be that that the two men were not tortured . (Anyone out there recall this item?)


I agree, mutilation and torture when referenced to the Zulu are entirely separate considerations. As far as I can tell so far the disembowlment happened after death as did the limited removal of body parts for muthi. Muthi removals seem to have been only performed on 'warriors' who made a particularly valiant stand before bravely facing their death (except for the initial muthi applied in pre-war 'doctoring' ceremonies where parts of the opponents were also used). Thus the castration of drummer boy's seems somewhat incongruous to me ( lacking further information).

You raise a point that I've wondered about concerning the post-battle scenario. Knight's "Anatomy of the Zulu Army" mentions that much of the impi was so spent after the battle that they stayed in the area for three days afterward before returning to their homes but says nothing of what they did.



19th March 2005Michael Boyle
I meant to cast no aspersions on the drummer boys, they could well have given good account of themselves but I'm not sure if the Zulu viewed them as 'warriors'.
19th March 2005Neil Raaff

I take your point. I would also imagine that from a propaganda point of view it would be best to paint the zulu's as a bunch of brutal savages...a means of adding justification to what was a totally 'unfair' war thrust upon the zulus.


19th March 2005John Young

I have a copy of a first-hand account by an officer in the Frontier Light Horse, which does prove that Raubenheim was actually tortured. However, due to as yet unresolved copyright issues I cannot at this time reveal the content or author. As soon as I can I will do so.

John Y.
19th March 2005stephen mann
Could be a karma thing ( if the 24th could be considered welsh) on account of the beastly, shameless transformations (which could not without much shame be retold or spoken of) done by the Welshwomen to the men of Herefordshire and referred to by Westmoreland in Henry IV Part 1.