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Zulu painting of body
Carl Daeche

Joined: 27 Jul 2006
Posts: 45
Location: Broadstairs
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I have just read on wikipedia about the zulu warriors painting themselves with chalk and red ochre before entering into battle wearing little else other than their loin cloth. I have not heard of this before and wonder what the consensus is? It has been well documented about the lack of regalia worn but little information surrounding 'body art'. What you say?
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Joined: 16 Jan 2006
Posts: 151
Location: Swansea
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Hi Carl

That's a first for me. I've seen photographs of Inyanga spiritualists with a little paint but with warriors, never. Mind you, I hear that Wikipedia is about as infallible as the British tabloids so it might just be a bit of stereotyping creeping in from someone.

Could be true, but I'd be surprised if anyone can back this up.



Tell it in England those that pass us by, Here, faithful to their charge, her soldiers lie.
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mike snook 2

Joined: 04 Jan 2006
Posts: 920
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The Xhosa used red ochre.

As ever

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Peter Ewart

Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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I hadn't heard of this either and it would surprise me if there was anything at all in it, as the usual authorities do not seem to mention it.

Just as a fairly quick checking excercise, I've just referred to Shooter: The Kafirs of Natal & the Zulu Country (1857); Callaway: The Religious System of the amaZulu (1870); Fuze: The Black People & whence they came (1922); Krige: The Social System of the Zulus (1936); Bryant: The Zulu People (1949); Schapera: The Bantu-Speaking Tribes of S Africa (1966); Binns: The Warrior People - Zulu Origins, Custom & Witchcraft (1975) and Knight: The Anatomy of the Zulu Army (1995). All of these - either briefly or in great detail - mention the pre-battle rituals, both before leaving for war and also immediately before conflict, and only one of these suggests anything at all being smeared over the body.

This is Shooter, who suggests the medicine sprinkled on to the backs of the warriors before departure (mentioned in all accounts, of course) was then smeared over the skin by the individual himself. Other than that, nothing. Most accounts of these lengthy rituals agree fairly closely and also go into the charming vomiting-into-the-hole-in-the-ground "ceremony" in some detail. (James Stuart not referred to, but most of the 20th century authorities rely to some extent on him anyway).

I have some works on the [ba]Sotho but haven't looked at these tonight. If the Xhosa smeared on ochre, as Mike says, then I suspect the Wikipedia contributor has confused the Zulu with these peoples. As Glenn has said, not a "source" (and I use the word advisedly) to be relied upon overmuch!

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Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 610
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
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I have heard of Zulus oiling their bodies to make them shine, much as body builders use self-tanning lotions to accentuate the muscles, but not of actual paint. I think whoever submitted the entry was terribly confused.

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Maybe the writer thought Zulu=Masai?....The Masai use red to signify going from warrior to elder. In any case, red ochre appears to be sort of a "popular" color used by humans going way back in time.
Zulu painting of body
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