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The Zulus are one of the Nguni people of South Africa. Linguistically and cultur ally, the Xhosa, Pondo, and Thembu are Southern Nguni, while the Zulu, Swazi, an d Ndebele are Northern Nguni. During the 1810s, a Zulu leader named Shaka kaSenzangakona established an empire in northeastern South Africa whose military relied on phalanxes rather than ski rmish lines. His armies were highly successful, and within a few decades, his st yle of warfare spread as far north as Lake Tanganyika. Although Shaka was assassinated in 1828, his kingdom survived until 1879, when i t was destroyed by the British, who feared a Zulu attack on the white settlement s then expanding outward from Durban. The Zulu culture, however, survived into t he present, and today there are about 8.8 million Zulus, most of whom still live in KwaZulu-Natal. (The name Natal is owed to the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, who reached its coast on Christmas Day, 1497.)
1b. Origins of Zulu Stick Fighting
The genealogy of the presumed originators of Zulu stick fighting is traced to Am alandela, son of Gumede, who inhabited the Umhlatuze valley about 1670 (Werner, 1995:28). The exact location of Amalandela’s former habitat remains an enigma. According to Bryant (1949:3), Amalandela was a member of the Ntunga Nguni clan. According to Dalrymple (1983:74), he fathered two sons, respectively named Qwabe and Zulu, and the latter gave his name to the Zulu people. The recent history of stick fighting is traced to the legacy of the Zulu king Sh aka. Shaka lived from 1787 to 1828, and during his reign, he established the Zul u Empire and became Southern Africa’s most legendary warrior-king. Until recently, historians credited Shaka with the development of Zulu warfare, with its emphasis on stabbing spears and phalanxes, but recent research suggests that the weapons, strategies, and tactics accredited to him were established be fore his rise to power. The great warriors preceding Shaka, like so many histori cal figures and events, are hidden from documented history, and forgotten even i n the oral traditions. Nonetheless, it is generally agreed that during Shaka’s reign, stick fighting was
used as a means of training young men for both self-defence and war. Shaka himse lf, in Ritter’s version of the story, was already a highly proficient stick fighte r at the age of 11 (1957:14).
2. Social Uses of Zulu Stick Fighting
Zulu stick fighting provides an opportunity for men to build courage and skill, to distinguish themselves as proficient warriors, and to earn respect in the com munity (Ntuli, Interview, 1996). Leitch (Interview, 1996) is of the opinion that the techniques and manoeuvres applied in stick fighting are identical to those implemented during traditional Zulu warfare, the only difference being the weapo ns used. Nonetheless, stick fighting is a game, and the dynamics of stick fighti ng are generally playful. The exceptions are when sticks are used for self-defen se or in a faction fight, or when amashinga (professional stick fighters) compet e. Dumazulu stick fighters in Hluhluwe area, 1996. 2b. Nineteenth Century
According to Ntuli (Interview, 1996), Shaka (reigned 1816-1828) rewarded good an d courageous stick fighters with cattle, terming the practice ukuxoshisa. Ntuli further postulates that the relationship of stick fighting to military practice was still prevalent during the time of Shaka’s successor Dingane, who ruled until 1840 (e.g., into the era of early white settler encroachments into the interior of KwaZulu-Natal). Ndlela kaSompisi, commander-in-chief of Dingane’s army and seni or induna (prime minister) to Dingane, was arguably the most important figure in Zululand after the king (Becker, 1964:69). Certainly Ndlela’s experience and skil l in stick fighting assisted him in climbing the military ladder, and helped him earn a distinguished reputation. Ntuli (Interview, 1996) is a direct descendant of Ndlela. During the lifetime of the next major Zulu king, Cetshwayo (1836-1884), stick fi ghting was an accepted means of resolving the internal disputes (Laband, 1995:17 8). During this era, combatants used the shafts of spears in a stick fight, but not the blades (Laband, 1995:178). Additionally, stick fighters were to follow a code of conduct, as stick fighting, unlike warfare, was not intended to cause l oss of life. Laband (1995:178-179) describes an unusual event in which the protocol of stick fighting was breached. The occasion was a stick fight between two of Cetshwayo’s r egiments (amabutho). This fight took place on December 25, 1877, during the UmKh osi, or advent of the first fruits, festival. It seems that Cetshwayo crammed hi s favourite iNgobamakhosi regiment (ibutho), consisting of young, unmarried men, into the same quarters as the uThulwana ibutho, which was made up of older, mar
ried men. Cetshwayo and some of his brothers belonged to the older ibutho. The y ounger men apparently did not respect the customary power relations between them selves and their elders, and were dissatisfied with arrangements concerning the reception of wives of the uThulwana. The rising levels of antagonism between the two parties eventually led to a physical clash. The older uThulwana ibutho inte ntionally disregarded an accepted convention by attacking the iNgobamakhosi with spears after an initial defeat by the iNgobamakhosi. For their malpractice, Cet shwayo prohibited the uThulwana from further participation in the festivities, a nd in addition,the men were fined "a beast all round" and sent home. Although the British effectively ended Zulu military power in 1879, stick fighti ng apparently continued to play a political role throughout the lifetime of the Zulu king Dinuzulu (1868-1913). Ntuli believes that in Dinuzulu’s times, a skilled stick fighter was appointed to train the heir to the throne in the art of stick fighting (Interview, 1996). Thus, the king’s leadership abilities and his potenti al as a military commander were judged according to his (presumably superior) ma rtial prowess.
2c. Twentieth Century
In Shaka’s time, stick fighting was used as training for warfare. However, during subsequent years, Zulus began using stick fighting to represent conflict resolut ion on a symbolic rather than military level. This form of symbolism still appea rs in the inter-district umgangela, or stick fighting competitions, held in rura l areas such as Nongoma. Still later, stick fighting came to function as an expr ession of Zulu ethnicity, and to show political affiliation with the Zulu-domina ted Inkatha Freedom Party (Mnqayi, Personal Communication, 1998). Leitch (Interview, 1996) argues that this decontextualisation and exploitation o f stick fighting for political gain has negatively affected perceptions of the a rt. For example, crowds misuse elements of stick fighting during marches in citi es, or use their fighting sticks to express ethnicity. This association of stick fighting with violence and riots negates its profundity and beneficial social i mplications, and accordingly, many Zulu people distance themselves from the art (Mnqayi, Personal Communication, 1998). Leitch (Interview, 1996) also believes that instances where crowds run out of co ntrol parody the traditional function of stick fighting in society. Control, res pect, and accountability lack in such marches, whereas they are of the utmost im portance in a stick fight. Qoma (as cited by Krog, 1994:42) states that the use of sticks became politicised to the extent that any African person carrying a st ick is classified a "violent Zulu". As such, a practice that once played an inst rumental role in building the pride of a nation has come to be regarded with con tempt by some (Ntuli, Interview, 1996). In the Tugela Basin and the South Coast (different areas than where I did my res earch), stick fighting has all but disappeared. Stick fighting is practised less frequently than in the past in KwaDlangezwa and Ongoye, too, apparently due to its association with recent violence (Mnqayi, Personal Communication, 1998). Lei tch (Interview, 1996) believes that traditional stick fighting is nowadays only found in areas where there is little political friction. Nonetheless, traditional stick fighting still takes place in some of rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal, where it continues to act as a process of socialisation, and
to transmit the social norms of the community in which it operates. Therefore, w hile the practice of stick fighting is constantly modified by changes in the soc ial system, it can still serve as a vehicle for mastering the body and mind, and be instrumental in nurturing the practitioner’s dignity and pride as a man (Ndaba , Interview, 1996).
2d. Stick Fighting as Martial Art
In the immigrant communities of Johannesburg, migrant Zulu workers sometimes tea ch stick fighting as a martial art. Meanings derived from these interactions are primarily related to sportsmanship (Qoma in Krog, 1994:42), and lack the integr al social affiliations of traditional stick fighting. Stick fight demonstrations offered to tourists, such as at Shakaland (Home-video recording, 1996), are per formances.
Long past its days of glory, stick fighting is no longer a common practice among the Zulu people, and practitioners struggle to validate its existence in these days of political turmoil, acculturation, and modernisation. Nonetheless, stick fighting appears to assist in upholding the traditional social system by perpetu ating socially accepted modes of male behaviour and ideals. Stick fighting, as a cultural tradition, therefore continues to fulfil its traditional didactic func tion in some Zulu communities.
3. Zulu Fighting Sticks (Izinduku)
3a. Introduction Zulu men traditionally owned fighting sticks (izinduku). The sticks were stored in the roof of a house, and were carried for self-defence or used when the owner was challenged to a stick fight (Ntuli, Interview, 1996). Adult males often owned several fighting sticks, and from these, they selected a pair to fight with (Ndlangavu as cited by Krog, 1994:42).
3b. Appearance and Construction
At the age of about 16, a Zulu boy’s father took him into the forest to choose and cut his own fighting sticks from trees. (Fighting Sticks, Episode 2, [S.a.]). A s an adult, a man might make his own izinduku or employ a specialist to do so. A partheid laws prohibiting South African people of colour from owning guns or dis playing traditional weapons in public led to the use of instruments such as umbr ellas and ordinary walking sticks as substitutes for traditional izinduku (Fight ing Sticks, Episode 1, [S.a.]). Nonetheless, the practice of carrying sticks sti ll prevails in some rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal, such as KwaDlangezwa. Izinduku may differ in appearance according to their region of manufacture (Mzob e, Interview, 1996). However, regardless of appearance, izinduku must be stout e nough to withstand the impact of blows from an opponent’s weapons. Although the choice of wood for fighting sticks is often specific to the practit ioner’s family lineage, (Fighting Sticks, Episode 2, [S.a.]), various local trees are suitably strong for use as fighting sticks. Thus, izinduku are made from tre es such as the umqambathi, umazwenda, ibelendlovu, umphahla (Ntuli, Interview, 1 996), umthathe, and umunquma (Ndlangavu as cited by Krog, 1994:24). [EN1] Decorations on izinduku are for aesthetic purposes or to identify members of the different sides in a regional stick fight (Zulu, Interview, 1996). Decorations on the fighting sticks of informants observed at Nongoma include painted pattern s, beadwork, and pieces of cloth.
3c. Offensive Fighting Stick (Induku)
For faction fighting and war, there are a number of sticks available. Examples i nclude the short stabbing spear or iklwa, the swallow-tail axe or isisila senkon jane, the isizenze axe used by commoners, and the long spear named isijula (Derw ent et al., 1998:86). The knobkerrie, or iwisa and isagila, is also available. S tick fighters, however, make use of two specific sticks in single combat. The first stick is the offensive fighting stick, or induku. [EN2] This is a stro ng stick or shaft of wood without a knob carved smooth and used specifically for stick fighting. The length of the induku depends on the physical stature of its owner, but is ge nerally about 88 centimetres in length. The induku’s circumference increases sligh tly from bottom to top, and the extra weight that the head carries enhances the mobility of the stick during offensive manoeuvres. The induku is held in the right hand, and used to strike at the opponent’s body an d head. [EN3] A piece of cowhide can be tied around one end of the stick to secu re the fighter’s grip on the weapon, and the whisk of a cow’s tail can be tied aroun d the bottom of the stick to hide a sharp point. Although this sharp point can b e used for stabbing, doing so is not considered appropriate during an honourable stick fight.
Thabang Senye demonstrating grip on the induku, Pretoria, 1998.
3d. Blocking Stick (Ubhoko)
Ubhoko or blocking stick, is a long, smooth stick that tapers down to a sharp po int. As a defensive weapon, it is skilfully manoeuvred with the wrist of the lef t hand, and used to protect the body of a combatant from the opponent’s blows. Alt hough its length depends on the physical stature of its owner, the ubhoko is mea nt to ensure protection from head to foot, and so is notably longer than induku. Ubhoko is generally about 165 centimetres in length. Like induku,ubhoko’s circumf erence increases from the grip upwards. Although the ubhoko could be used as a stabbing weapon, in a stick fight, protoc ol demands that it be used exclusively for the purpose of defence. The action of defence with ubhoko can be referred to as ukuvika or ukuzihlaba (Mzimela, 1990: 12).
3e. Umsila (Short Stick) and Ihawu (Shield)
Another short stick, umsila, is held in the left hand together with ubhoko. Not used for fighting as such, it is used instead to uphold the small shield, or iha wu, that protects the left hand. (The umsila runs vertically down the middle of the shield through four triangular nooses, and tapers to a point.) Fighters in N ongoma maintain that umsila is also used to protect the face during a stick figh t. As an aesthetic accessory, Nongoma fighters tie strings of antelope skin to t he top of umsila. Ihawu is a relatively small and oval shaped piece of cow skin, held in the left hand. During Shaka’s regime, warriors were ranked by means of the colour of the sh ields they carried (Fighting Sticks, Episode 1 [S.a.]), but this convention is s eemingly not evident in the choice of shields used for stick fighting. There is no set size for ihawu, although it should be large enough to protect th e hand and wrist, and small enough not to impede on ubhoko’s mobility. As a rule, however, the shield used for stick fighting is between 55 centimetres and 63 cen timetres long, and 31 to 33 centimetres wide. A handle big enough to hold two or three fingers (the index, middle, and ring fingers) is located at the back of t he shield, left of the umsila. Fighters first clutch the handle with two or thre e fingers before placing ubhoko in the left hand. A soft cushion is placed on the inside of the shield to ensure that the hand rem ains protected from an opponent’s blows. Traditionally, this cushion was made from sheepskin, and called igusha. In contemporary times, sponge or other soft mater ial, named isibhusha, has been utilised as a protective measure inside the ihawu (Zulu, Interview, 1996).
Thabang Senye demonstrating grip on the umsila and ubhoko, Pretoria, 1998.
4. Traditional Medicine (Intelezi)
Traditionally, Zulu stick fighters prepared for a fight using medicine (intelezi ) prepared by a herbalist (inyanga). In contemporary times, the widespread use o f intelezi has been inhibited by changes in the social and religious structure o f Zulu communities (Zulu, 1996). This is probably due to European and missionary influences.
4b. Definition of Intelezi
Krige (1965:329) identifies intelezi as "the generic name for all medicinal char ms, the object of which is to counteract evil by rendering its causes innocuous" . Intelezi is also a collective name for a variety of sprinkling charms. The kin d of traditional medicines used on sticks vary according to specific purposes, a nd specific ingredients are necessary for the outcome required (Stewart, Intervi ew, 1996). Specific intelezi used for stick fighting assist in warding off evil, going into battle at a psychological and physical advantage, weakening the oppo nent, and strengthening sticks.
4c. Rituals (General)
Before battle, Zulu armies underwent cleansing rituals conducted by inyanga (her balists) and/or isangoma (diviners). A very important aspect of this preparation involved the sprinkling of the warriors and their weapons with a certain intele zi the day before the battle (Stewart, Interview, 1996). Krige (1965:272) points out that the process of sprinkling, called chela in Zulu, could also take place just before a battle commenced. Krige (1965:272) provides a detailed descriptio n of the ritual procedures related to the cleansing and strengthening of warrior s. Intelezi is not used exclusively for battles. For example, stick fighters often use intelezi to strengthen their sticks before accepting a challenge. Reportedly this increased the strength of the sticks in order to withstand attacks, and mu ltiplied the impact of the offensive blows (Ntuli, Interview, 1996). Other intel ezi can reportedly cause dizziness, strokes, or impair the vision of an opponent (Mzobe, Interview, 1996). My personal sample of intelezi prepared by an inyanga in KwaDlangezwa in December 1998 contained a silvery ingredient said to cause b right flashes to appear before the opponent’s eyes, thus distracting him and negat ing his concentration.
Dumazulu stick fighters in Hluhluwe area, 1996.
4d. Rituals Associated with Stick Fighting
The intelezi rituals used before a stick fight bear a striking resemblance to th e rituals associated with traditional Zulu preparations for warfare. For example , on the day preceding an umshado or wedding ceremony, sticks are treated with i ntelezi and left overnight outside the home (Mbanjwa, Interview, 1996), usually at one end of the cattle enclosure (Stewart, Interview, 1996). When two unrelate d groups of men prepare for a clash, the ritual proceedings take place at the ho me of an induna (local leader). Again, the sticks are kept in the intelezi until the next morning (Ntuli, Interview, 1996). The sample of intelezi obtained by Mnqayi is a brown powder. Details regarding t he application of intelezi are subject to notable differences in opinion, but in formants generally agree that the intelezi is mixed with water and placed in an ordinary clay pot (Stewart, Interview, 1996). On the morning of the fight, the s tick fighters go to the cattle enclosure, where they make use of the intelezi (M banjwa, Interview, 1996). Vusi Buthelezi (Interview, 1996), the inyanga yemithi at Dumazulu, explained tha t the intelezi is sprinkled on the weapons in the cattle enclosure in acknowledg ement of the congregation of ancestors inhabiting the territory. Alternatively, the izinduku are placed in the intelezi, which is washed onto the weapons with a broom (Mbanjwa, Interview, 1996) or dipped into the medicine (Ntuli, Interview, 1996). Some fighters also drink the intelezi. In a powder form, intelezi may be administered through small incisions in the sk in called ingcabo. This manner of applying intelezi forms part of the fighter’s pr eparation for the contest. Buthelezi (Interview, 1996) states that ingcabo are m ade on: The ankles and wrists so that they are supple. On the biceps, for strength. On the top of the head, to protect the head from the stick, because stick fighti ng is all aimed at a person’s head. Ingcabo are also made in the fold of the elbow and in the armpit (Mbanjwa, Inter view, 1996). Small quantities of intelezi in powder form are taken orally in small quantities , usually after mixing it with sugar and then eating the mixture from the palm o f the hand. This method reportedly provides the stick fighter with psychological and physical strength. During the fight itself, intelezi are put inside a leather band that is tied aro und the biceps for the duration of the fight (Fighting Sticks, Episode 2, [S.a.] ). Finally, some stick fighters place the bark of the uphindamshaye climber unde r their tongues, chew on it, and then spit it onto the opponent during a fight ( Mzobe, Interview, 1996).
4e. Rituals Associated with Sticks
Like fighters, sticks are routinely treated with ritual medicines. For example, the use of menstrual blood or snake venom is considered a dangerously potent str atagem. Historically, menstruating Zulu women were considered unclean, and a number of s ocial taboos had to be respected during the menstruation period (Krige, 1965:82) . The Zulu people believed that a woman lingers in a marginal state of existence during menstruation; she does not completely surface in life or death, but abid es in a state of transition (Clegg, Personal Communication, 1996). In intelezi r elating to stick fighting, menstrual fluids are combined with a number of other medicinal substances, and then applied to the sticks. This allegedly renders the opponent’s defence impotent (Zulu, Interview, 1996). The use of menstrual blood o n sticks is known among stick fighters at Nongoma. However, according to Clegg ( Personal Communication, 1996), this practice is more prominent in the province t hat was known as Natal prior to the 1994 elections than in the province that was known as KwaZulu before the elections. Mzobe (Interview, 1996) explains that snake venom, especially that of the mamba and the cobra, can be utilised as protective medicine for sticks. Medicine relat ing to the use of snake venom is termed isibiba (Zulu, Interview, 1996). To para phrase Mzobe’s statements, a snake is barbecued and its body ground up, then mixed with fat and smeared onto the fighting sticks. Dumazulu stick fighters in Hluhluwe area, 1996.
4f. Associated Medicinal Plants
To keep opponents from working counter-spells, the exact nature of the medicinal plants used for intelezi is secret. Nonetheless, some generalisations are possible. For example, the ingredients gen erally consist of a number of herbs and plant extracts, and an inyanga can obtai n ingredients for the medicine from as far afield as Zanzibar (Mzobe, Interview, 1996). To give a second example, one kind of intelezi consists of the climber u phindamshaye and the uphind’umuva cut into pieces, then mixed together with a smal l aloe named cene and the roots of the uMazwende tree (Buthelezi, Interview, 199 6). [EN4]
4g. How Intelezi Are Obtained
Intelezi can be bought from an inyanga. In the past, herbalists were offered cat tle for the service of preparing the medicine to strengthen the sticks of the co mbatants. Nowadays money is acceptable as payment for the inyanga’s assistance (Nt
uli, Interview, 1996). Intelezi can still be bought in rural areas of KwaZulu-Na tal or informal trading areas such as taxi ranks. The prices in KwaDlangezwa in 1998 ranged from R400 to R2 000 (about US $40-$200) depending on the availabilit y and geographical location of medicinal plants, and the sort of plant or animal extracts used (Mnqayi, Personal Communication 1998). An inyanga can specialise in the field of fighting intelezi, and be consulted exclusively for such purpose s. It is not necessary for the inyanga to apply the intelezi personally to the s ticks or fighter, only to prepare it.
Intelezi, or medicine, is intimately associated with traditional Zulu stick figh ting. However, as stated earlier, it seems as if the widespread use of intelezi has been inhibited by changes in the social and religious structure of Zulu comm unities, possibly due to increased urbanisation and Westernisation.
5. Sparring with Sticks (Ukungcweka)
Tyrell and Jurgens (1963:111) point out that Zulu children did not receive much formal education designed to mould them for their roles in traditional society. "Traditional education for the individual constitutes a gradual absorption into society and the acquisition of certain skills and behaviour patterns". In this w orld, informal stick fighting was one of the "skills and behaviour patterns" tha t instructed Zulu males about the social roles, qualities, and behavioural patte rns expected of them. Younger boys fought with sticks while tending herds, while older boys and young men sparred publicly at ceremonies and festivals (Mzobe, I nterview, 1996). The practice of sparring with sticks is called ukungcweka, and it differs from a stick fight challenge (Msimang, 1975:166). Dumazulu stick fighters in Hluhluwe area, 1996.
5b. Learning to Spar
From an early age, a Zulu boy was expected to look after cattle in the field, "e xploring his manliness and independence in a world away from parental supervisio n". Part of this exploration involved a boy’s fighting his way up to a position of leadership among the other herders (Tyrell and Jurgens, 1983:11, 115). The way he did this was by defeating his age mates at sparring with sticks.
The intricate skills of stick fighting and sparring are learned by observation, imitation, and experience (Stewart, 1996). Very young boys train using switches or small sticks, and they practice their skill with the sticks on trees in prepa ration for fighting another boy. Fathers also instruct their little boys in the art by standing on their knees and sparring with the child (Stewart, Interview, 1996).
5c. Sparring Matches
Sparring can be a daily occurrence amongst the herd boys. No specific amount of time is set aside for training; it occurs when the situation arises. Nonetheless , boys use every opportunity to spar and thereby establish their reputations as stick fighters and thereby prove their manliness. To incite a sparring match, Ndaba (Interview, 1996) states that herd boys often engage in "verbal gymnastics". The competition and sparring does not have to tak e place according to age groups; older boys can clash arms with younger boys. Al though this could lead to physical bullying, no one is compelled to take part in a game of sparring. According to Krige (1965:79), the recognised manner of chal lenging another herd boy to a sparring match is to tap him on the head with a st ick and utter a daring verbal comment. Comments such as "I am your master" (iNgq otho) are considered invitations to a fight. The challenged then either prepares to fight or agrees with the statement and prevents a fight. Sparring between herders takes place under strict supervision of the inqwele, or leader of the herd boys (Ntuli, Interview, 1996). The inqwele assumes his posit ion of leadership after defeating all the opposition in the area during stick fi ghts. Refinement of stick fighting skills is encouraged, as the other herders ju dge the proficiency of the combatants. An informal audience is thus present duri ng the training process. There are strict rules governing the sparring exercise. Partners sparring with t he sticks do not aim to hit each other’s heads, and often do not use an ihawu (sma ll shield). As such, a hit to the hand is a foul. Should any of the participants fall down or lose their stick, the sparring stops until sparring partners are o n equal footing again. It is not necessary to use induku or ubhoko, and rough br anches of trees are accepted substitutes for fighting sticks (Msimang, 1975:166) . Exclamations indicating an acknowledgement of a hit (ngiyavuma) or requests to stop the sparring (khumu or malushu) are utilised for both sparring and combat, and are strictly adhered to.
5d. Female Sparring
No matter how important the role of sparring with sticks in the social construct ion of masculinity, it is an undesirable skill for females. Should a woman "jump over the sticks", especially during her menstrual cycle, misfortune is supposed to fall upon the owner of the sticks (Ntuli, Interview, 1996). Ironically, mens
trual blood can be a potent medicine for strengthening the sticks when applied i n conjunction with a number of other substances (Zulu, Interview, 1996). Nonethe less, Leitch (Fighting Sticks, Episode 1, [S.a.]) indicates that Zulu women can and will use this martial art when necessary. If a man has no sons to tend to th e cattle, one of his daughters has to go to the field with the herd boys and she learns to stick fight with them. Tankiso Mafisa (Personal Communication, 1996) stated that her mother used to tend to cattle as a young girl, and stick fight w ith the boys.
6. Competitive Stick Fighting
6a. Playing Sticks (Ukudlalisa Induku)
Competitive stick fighting at festivals is called ukudlalisa induku, or "play st icks" (or alternatively, ukudlala induku, which roughly translates as "play stic ks with you"). Although Msimang (1975:166) argues that by teaching methods, tech niques, manoeuvres, and rules, sparring prepares the boys for fighting in single combat, Zulu stick fighting is essentially playful in nature. Schoeman (1975:166) says that playing sticks at festivals such as the iphapu (lu ng festival) provide an opportunity for Zulu boys and men to experience first-ha nd different strategies, techniques, and rules. Derwent et al. (1998:36) argue t hat a challenge to play sticks can only take place at a wedding, but other sourc es contest this viewpoint. For example, stick fights challenges have been report ed at the first fruits festivals (Clegg, 1981:8), the installation of a new trad itional leader (Larlham, 1985:13), and inter-district fighting (Clegg, 1981:8). Stick fighting also occurs at social gatherings such as beer drinking (Stewart, Interview, 1996), an imbizo (Zulu, Interview, 1996), the iphapu festival (Schoem an, 1982:49), courtship (Stewart, Interview, 1996), and the thomba ceremony (Ell iot, 1978:143). These sources do not indicate the nature of the combat, e.g., wh ether it was ukungcweka or a challenge. Stick fighters begin to fight competitively at public ceremonies and social gath erings at about 18 years of age (Ntuli, Interview, 1996). The youngest fighters are about 15 years old, but it is unusual for a boy to start fighting publicly b efore he has fully passed puberty. When a boy reaches puberty, he receives a sec ond name that is indicative of a contribution he made to the community (Stewart, Interview, 1996). This second name, or isithopo, may be self-composed or grante d by peers and parents. Either way, the second name gradually develops into a pe rsonal izibongo that mediates an individual’s personal and social identity (Brown, 1998:87). This is mentioned because during a stick fight, the fighter is called by his second name, and his friends recite the story of how he acquired this se cond name (Stewart, Interview, 1996; Mzobe, Interview, 1996). Dumisani Mbhense ( Personal Communication, 1996) points out that the recital of praises by the figh ter’s peers is an enjoyable aspect of the action. Consequently, izibongo are state ments of friendship among a combatant and his friends/family. Leitch (Interview, 1996) points out that stick fighting is considered an activit y for the young. Thus, a man will usually stop fighting in his mid-thirties, by which time he has earned respect as a proficient stick fighter. Older men assume responsibility for upholding the fabric of society, and become mentors to the y ounger men. Furthermore, to "retire" from stick fighting while your reputation a
s a fighter is intact is a means of ensuring that you remain respected as a warr ior in your older days. Dumazulu stick fighters in Hluhluwe area, 1996.
6b. Surrogate and Professional Stick Fighters
Although Zulu people consider it chivalrous to fight one’s own fight, it is accept able to stick fight on behalf of another person. Such a person might be an aggri eved younger brother who lacks experience in the skill, or someone who is unable to fight at the time. For example, a migrant labourer can request a man back at home to fight on his behalf. As such, he does not have to leave his work to sti ck fight and settle the issue at hand (Fighting sticks, Episode 1, [S.a.]). Stick fighting can also take place on a "professional level". Leitch explains th at a professional stick fighter, or ishinga, travels around in search of stick f ights (Interview, 1996). According to Mzobe (Interview, 1996), the term ishinga refers to a very brave and even rude person. Unlike "social fighters", to use Le itch’s (Interview, 1996) phrasing, an ishinga’s only ambition is to demolish the opp osition and earn another victory as the top stick fighter. His only reward is so cial recognition. He normally uses well-worn fighting equipment, and has an unke mpt appearance. Men tend not to fight him, since the element of play is seemingl y lacking in the ishinga’s approach to stick fighting. Mzobe (Interview, 1996) sta tes that in cities such as Johannesburg, amashinga can fight for prizes or money . However, social stick fighting normally does not have an economic reward for t he participants involved.
7. Rules and Protocols of Stick Fighting
Stick fighting takes place at different times, occasions, and places. As informa tion about technical aspects of Zulu stick fighting appears in The Fight Master, 34: (2), 2001, it will not be repeated here. However, the rules and protocols o f stick fighting deserve some attention. For the most part, stick fighting takes place outside the cattle enclosure of a homestead (Ntuli, Interview, 1996). If a stick fight does take place inside the cattle enclosure, it is a fight among the men of that family, or umuzi. (Other p eople would not fight inside another’s cattle enclosure, due to the presence of a family’s ancestors in the enclosure.) However, should a stick fight be connected t o the chief, then the fight might take place in his cattle enclosure (Stewart, I nterview, 1996). Other than this, there is no space specifically set aside specifically for stick fighting. Instead, a space is selected to suit the needs of the occasion (Leitc
h, Interview, 1996). In urban areas such as Johannesburg, stick fights take plac e on Friday or Saturday evenings in the hostels (Ndlangavu as cited by Krog, 199 4:42).
7b. The Role of Elders
The action and structure of a stick fight follow a common, recognisable pattern. The reason is that for Zulus, stick fighting is a gentleman’s game, and specific rules and protocol govern its practice. Breach of rules or protocol is unaccepta ble, as it indicates that the fighter does not have confidence in his own abilit ies to beat the opponent by the rules (Ntuli, Interview, 1996). A man only prove s his supremacy at stick fighting in a fair fight, or "impi yamanqanu", where th e rules are followed (Derwent, et al., 1998: 83). Derwent et al. (1998:63) state that a stick fighter voices a challenge to indica te that he is ready for fighting. Elders should grant permission for a fight bef ore any challenge is made. Mbhense (Personal Communication, 1996) calls a challe nge "inselelo". At public ceremonies the warrior captain, or umphathi wezinsizwa , is supposed to regulate the activities, but induna sometimes fulfil this funct ion (Mbanjwa, Interview, 1996). The person regulating the fight should make sure that the correct sticks are uti lised, that "the weight is the same, that there is no possibility of your advers ary being unduly hurt" (Ndaba, Interview, 1996). His task is thus to ensure that the rules are followed, and that a fair fight takes place. Warrior captains can remain in command up to their late forties, and would only engage in a stick fi ght when forced to assert their authority (Leitch, Interview, 1996). A man fight s his peers, and not someone significantly younger or older that himself.
7c. The Ukugiya (Solo Display of Skills) and Associated Izibongo (Praises) and I zigiyo (Chants)
Once people have gathered around the selected space, the stick fighters take tur ns demonstrating ukugiya (solo display of stick fighting skills) against imagina ry opponents. Ukugiya derives from fighting in single combat, and is where each individual can display his own characteristic style (Dalrymple, 1983:160). Histo rically, ukugiya prepared fighters psychologically for warfare and reaffirmed th e army’s superior skills, and today ukugiya still takes place before a stick fight (Leitch, Interview, 1996). Ukugiya do not follow set floor- or step patterns (Dalrymple, 1983:160), and are usually accompanied with praises, called izibongo, and war cries and chants, ca lled izigiyo (Gunner & Gwala, 1994:1). Izigiyo are characterised by a militarist ic phallocentrism, and often liken men to powerful totems such as bulls or lions that are self-reliant and "fiercely individualistic" (Derwent et al., 1998:70,1 36).Gunner and Gwala (1994:230) cite an example: Igoso: Yaphind’ inkunzi!
Abanye: Yahlaba! Gunner and Gwala (1994:231) translated this war chant into English: Leader: The bull came again! Others: It stabbed! Credo Mutwa (1992:12) also uses a Zulu izigiyo in his play uNosilimela: Ikhalaphi? Induku zethu Sizwa ngothi Ikhalaphi? Gunner and Gwala (1994:230) document this chant, too, although their documentati on differs slightly from Mutwa’s in terms of spelling and punctuation. Gunner and Gwala’s last line also differs from Mutwa’s, reading "Ukuthi Ikhalaphi". Anyway, the ir English translation (1994: 231) of this izigiyo reads: Where does it call from? Our stick? We can tell by the smell of blood! Where it calls from! Izibongo occupy a distinctive cultural space, and served a political function wi thin the stratified Zulu monarchy (Brown, 1998:50). Izibongo in the ukugiya befo re a stick fight is understood in relation to izibongo recited at other occasion s, but remains distinctly different from those. For detailed accounts of the var ious izibongo and discussion of their social significance, compare Gunner and Gw ala (1994) and Brown (1998). Izibongo in the ukugiya often link the fighter with a powerful animal. For examp le, Shaka’s izibongo often referred to him as lion or elephant (Brown, 1998:98). I zibongo can also associate a fighter with the heroic deeds of his ancestors (Lei tch, Interview, 1996). These observations echo in the izibongo of Siyabonga Mzob e, recited by himself as an example of the manner in which his friends praise an d encourage him during a stick fight: Habu, Habu kaluphonjwana, awumuhlabi, uyamshosholoza. Thatha mfo kaMzobe, mbulale! Mzobe translated the praise as: Small horns, you don’t stab him, you are showing him. Take it son of Mzobe, kill him! The ukugiya is therefore a statement of the fighter’s own ethos; a statement of hi mself as warrior, a celebration of youthful masculinity, and a display of physic al prowess that can include re-enactment of heroic battles of the past. The prai se is not necessarily serious, but can include comic elements such as jokes and humorous physical actions intended to amuse onlookers (Leitch, Interview, 1996). Although Gunner and Gwala (1994:1) point out that izigiyo and ukugiya are closel y associated with "war and martial prowess", they add that in contemporary South
African life, "they stress a potential rather than constant all-embracing link with war and the martial". Thus, the ukugiya is not performed exclusively as an introduction to physical conflict. Instead, it has transcended its historical ro ots to become a celebration of youthful masculinity: The ukugiya dance is often wild, flamboyant, athletic and even balletic. It ofte n shows the exuberance and vigour of youth, particularly male youth, rather than harking back to the old martial ties and the days when men in the regiments (am abutho) performed ukugiya and were praised after battle. These warlike ties can, however, be called upon, depending on the context of place and time where the d ancing and praising happens to be. (Gunner and Gwala, 1994:1-2) The ukugiya is still performed before faction fights (Ntuli, Interview, 1996) an d stick fights (Clegg, 1981:10). Its continued use in stick fights is perhaps in recognition of stick fighting as a form of symbolic warfare.
7d. The Challenge to Fight
Following the performance of a ukugiya, the challenge takes place. Mbhense (Pers onal Communication, 1996) calls a challenge inselelo, or "I challenge you to fig ht". The challenge is unambiguous and clearly distinguishable from the action. The ch allenge often involves the challenger slowly circling the fighting space while b randishing his shield, then bounding across the space up to the chosen opponent and shouting Nansi Inkunzi, or "here is the bull" (Derwent et al., 1998:63). To accept the challenge, a man from the opposite party steps forward, and replie s, "And here’s another bull" or nansen yinkunzi! Another reply to inselelo is woz’uz ithane izinduku or "sticks understood" (Alegi, 1997).
7e. The Contest
Fighters do not rush into an attack after the challenge is accepted. Instead the y square up and exchange blows to the shields, thus giving each other a chance t o warm up to the situation. Stewart (Interview, 1996) believes that the warm-up also gives the fighters a chance to detect a weakness in their opponents’ defence. Graham Stewart (read: Cracker) with shield, in Hluhluwe, 1996
The intensity of the action increases after the initial prodding, causing the fi ght to escalate (Fighting Sticks, Episode 1, [S.a.]). During this portion of the fight, the men consciously focus on the weak points of the opposition.
One of the basic rules of a stick fight is that stabbing is not allowed. (Zulu, Interview, 1996). In addition, a club or a stick with a knob is not used in a ch allenge match (Ntuli, Interview, 1996). Furthermore, if a fighter drops his stic k, it is honourable to give him a chance to pick it up before resuming the fight (Fighting Sticks, Episode 1, [S.a.]). The main aim is to strike the opponent’s he ad (the action is termed ukuweqisa). Thus, all the blows delivered to the body a ttempt to create an opening in the opponent’s defence, in turn allowing the stick fighter to strike his opponent’s head. Foul play includes hitting a man with your shield and tripping him (Zulu, Interv iew, 1996). If a man falls down, he should not be hit, but rather receive a chan ce to regain his composure before the fight continues (Fighting Sticks, Episode 1, [S.a.]). Frustration or weariness can motivate a combatant to cling to the op ponent, or grab hold of him or his weapons. Such practices are inadmissible in a stick fight. Locking shields in the air can cause combatants to wrestle rather than stick fight, and should be avoided.
7f. Introducing Non-traditional Methods into a Stick Fight
Although Ntuli (Interview, 1996) believes that techniques from other martial art s can be incorporated in a fighter’s technique, the consensus is that stick fighte rs should maintain the style of stick fighting by conforming to the techniques s pecific to the art. Stick fighters are thus concerned with the style of their di scipline, and should not incorporate techniques foreign to the style as a means of defeating the opponent (Stewart, Interview, 1996).
7g. Determining the Winner
A stick fight ends when one of the combatants is severely beaten or when the fir st blood is drawn (Stewart, Interview, 1996). The fighting is stopped by the inq wele (Ntuli, Interview, 1996), the induna (Mbanjwa, Interview, 1996), the warrio r captain, or the elders (Fighting sticks, Episode 1, [S.a.]). According to Msim ang (1975:166), combatants can also stop the fighting by exclaiming khumu, "it i s enough", or maluju, meaning "hold it". The victor should accept the surrender with humility, as a "recognition of limit and self-restriction in spite of the m oment of triumph" (Ndaba, Interview, 1996). Ndaba further points out that the vi ctor should also take into consideration that the triumph is his, because of the opponent. As such, stick teaches participants sportsmanship, e.g., how to win o r lose with grace.
The injuries sustained in a stick fight can be quite severe, and typically invol ve broken wrists and ribs (Leitch, Interview, 1996). First aid consists of placi ng cow manure (Shakaland, Home-video recording, 1996) or a handful of earth on a wound (Elliot, 1978:144). Should the victor have inflicted a wound on the loser’s head, he accompanies the loser to the river or any source of water, and helps h im to wash his wounds as a token of goodwill (Leitch, Interview, 1996). Neither hostility nor resentment remains after a stick fight. Although stick fighters never intend to kill a man in a stick fight, Mzobe (Inte rview, 1996) recalled how a small boy accidentally killed another with a blow to the temple. The inqwele was held responsible for the incident, and the small bo y did not receive punishment. Clegg (1981:9) points out that adults are also not taken to court if a man is killed in a stick fight, but Mbanjwa (Interview, 199 6) contradicts his statement.
8. Stick Fighting and the Larger Community
8a. Inter-District Stick Fights (Umgangela)
8a. (1). Background
Under Zulu rule, KwaZulu-Natal was divided into various regions, districts, and inter-district areas under the rule of the king, chiefs, paramount chiefs, local chiefs, and headmen (Clegg, 1991:8). This traditional organisation was a fertil e breeding ground for competition and rivalry. Feuds about the possession of lan d inflamed tension between leaders, and disputes over territory were settled by means of stick fighting (Leitch, Interview, 1996). Stick fighting was thus a met hod of defending a group’s territory, and asserting its boundaries. Clegg, in reference to the Thembu clan of the Natal Midlands, argues that tradit ional districts were no longer practically in use after the arrival of European farmers in the late nineteenth century. Nonetheless, Zulus still operated within their traditional territorial boundaries. Limited offers of employment on the f arms created further tensions regarding the occupation of traditional land among the indigenous people, perpetuating the practice of stick fighting into the pre sent (1981:9). Although such classical expressions of command and land distribution have offici ally been replaced by European structures, a strong sense of competition between traditional districts remains prevalent in the Natal Midlands (Clegg, 1981:8). Traditional leaders in KwaZulu still exert influence over their communities and competition between regional leaders is common (Zulu, Interview, 1996). The imag inary boundaries of traditional territories are still maintained as a "conceptua l construct", or what Clegg (1981:9) terms "phantom districts". While Clegg specifically directs his study towards the Thembu clan in the Natal Midlands, the notion of "phantom districts" is equally applicable to clans livin g in the Nongoma area. Zulu (Interview, 1996) identifies areas in and surroundin g Nongoma with names different to the official names available. These "phantom" areas are further recognised by the appearance of landmarks and the characterist
ics of the landscape (Clegg, 1981:9; Zulu, Interview, 1996). Clegg states that inter-district tensions were traditionally expressed during so cial rituals involved with the spring festival and weddings (1981:8-9). Schechne r (1985:230) supports the origin of ritual in conflict: In both animals and humans rituals arise or are devised around disruptive, turbu lent, and ambivalent interactions where faulty communication can lead to violent or even fatal encounters. ...The interactions that rituals surround, contain, a nd mediate almost always concern hierarchy, territory, and sexuality Stick fighting serves as a social ritual that redirects the potentially dangerou s interactions between people in hierarchical or territorial conflicts: "In the classic system these tensions [competition between districts] were expressed and contained in certain rituals. ...One of the most important elements in expressi ng and containing inter-district competition was theumgangela" (Clegg, 1981:8). Manzabelayo Zulu and Dukubonge Shongwe sparring in Nongoma, 1996.
8a. (2). The Umgangela
The umgangela is a highly organised, "pre-arranged inter-district stick fighting match" with set rules. Clegg (1981:8) suggests that the umgangela as social rit ual, although expressing a violent subtext, actually contains and controls the p otential violence. Stick fighting thus "sublimates violence", in Schechner’s terms , providing a socially sanctioned release for aggression while strengthening and reaffirming the social fabric of the society. Stick fighting is thus an endless postponement of violence, enacting or channelling violence in such a way as not to endanger the immediate social environment. Potential antisocial impulses are transformed into an interactive and constructive process of socialisation. The inter-district umgangela incorporates various layers of meaning within a wel l-known structure. Clegg (1981:9) states that such an umgangela takes place duri ng the summer (e.g., between November and January). At an inter-district umgange la, men from the same region wear costume pieces to identify them as belonging t o a certain region. Costume thus makes a statement about a group’s social solidari ty, and can manifest itself in many forms, from sashes to hairstyles. Zulu (Inte rview, 1996) states that men from the same region should display something ident ical in their way of dressing for the event. Stick fighters of a region may take a collective name as a means of identification. Informants at Nongoma use the c ollective name Mshanelo, or broom, as a metaphor for fighting prowess (Zulu, Int erview, 1996). Additionally, fighting sticks may be decorated to co-ordinate wit h the men’s clothing. Three or four districts may be represented at the inter-district umgangela, form ing "companies of men singing and shouting their war cries" (Clegg, 1981:9). The stick fight takes place on a predetermined space at an agreed date. Clegg expla ins that the war captains of the districts (known to each other) come together a nd lead the companies into rhythmic movements, thus displaying their district’s po tential ability to conquer. They also make a symbolic statement about going into other districts and courting the sisters of the men in the conquered district. Next, well-known stick fighters from each district break away from the group and perform their ukugiya, or ritual solo combat. Should a fighter do an impressive ukugiya, he is unlikely to be challenged. However, the ukugiya can also give cl ear indications of the shortcomings of a warrior’s technique or display habitual a
ctions that provide clues as to how he can be beaten. As soon as a weakness is n oticed, an opponent challenges the warrior by walking up to him during the cours e of the ukugiya (Clegg, 1981:9). In theory, normal etiquette applies, but Clegg (1981:9) mentions that inter-district stick fights can take place in long lines of 40-50 people (imigangela), where it is difficult to maintain the ethos of st ick fighting. Manzabelyo Zulu and Dukubonge Shongwe posing in their team costumes for the umga ngela, 1996. 8a (3). Spectators and Officials
Spectators are always present during stick fights to acknowledge what happened ( Mbanjwa, Interview, 1996), and to judge if the fight was fair (Fighting sticks, Episode 1, [S.a.]). Although spectators play an integral role in the proceedings of a stick fight, they are not to interfere with the fighting. Spectators consist mainly of men and young unmarried women in traditional attire (Mamthetwa as cited by Zulu, Interview, 1996). Men whistle, women ululate, and the spectators generally show a verbal appreciation of exciting actions (Zulu, I nterview, 1996). The reaction of spectators can enhance the performance of the f ighters, and the fight is followed with great enthusiasm (Leitch, Interview, 199 6). Although the duties of the warrior captains, or umphathi wensiswa, include maint aining order during the fights (Leitch, 1996), Clegg (1981:9-14) believes that t he umgangela cannot contain the tension between the districts. This can lead to violent encounters; hence the development of the isishameni style of dancing, wh ich is today a more socially acceptable expression of conflict in KwaZulu-Natal. Leitch (Interview, 1996), with reference to KwaZulu, is of the opinion that the escalating violence in contemporary Zulu society is a direct result of the decl ine in the practice of stick fighting. Faction fighting can be seen as a modern manifestation of tensions between parties, but is by no means an acceptable meth od of resolving conflict through physical interaction (Ntuli, Interview, 1996).
8a. (4). How Umgangela Differ from Faction Fights
The ritual combat of an umgangela is significantly different from faction fighti ng, during which induku and ubhoko are utilised as real weapons. Moreover, facti on fights are not governed by the same rules as a stick fight: in faction fights , the intention is to cause harm and the fight erupts as an expression of aggres sion (Ntuli, Interview, 1996). Leitch (Interview, 1996) indicates that since there is little restraint on the u se of weapons in a faction fight, participants are not restricted to the use of induku and ubhoko. In contrast, Zulu (Interview, 1996) emphasises that no "meann ess" should be involved in district fighting; the umgangela is an opportunity fo r "playing" and "peaceful fighting", and determining who the best fighter in the region is.
Ntuli (Interview, 1996) recalls that in his youth, "tribal wars" in the Gingingd lovo-Dokodweni (KwaZulu) area assumed the form of a stick fight.Regional stick f ighting is still prevalent today in the Nongoma area (Zulu, Interview, 1996). St ick fights between people of Mtunzini and Durban also take place (Mbanjwa, Inter view, 1996), although traditionally stick fighting was not as prominent in Natal as in KwaZulu (Clegg, Personal Conversation, 1996). In any event, faction fights are armed brawls, whereas inter-district stick figh ting is consciously a game, loaded with symbolism familiar to both the fighters and the observers.
8b. Stick Fighting and Rites of Passage
8b. (1). Introduction
Most societies have rites of passage that are regarded as the "passport to adult status" (Elliot, 1978:142). Mlotshwa (1988:5) states that such rites of passage indicate the transition from one set of socially identified circumstances to an other. They are concerned with personal development, and include the celebration of transitional stages in life such as birth, puberty, marriage, and death.
8b. (2). The Thomba (Male Puberty) Ceremony
In Zulu society, the thomba or male puberty ceremony marks the "attainment of ph ysical maturity, and the occasion is a very important one both for the individua l and for his kraal [village]" (Mahlobo & Krige, 1934:166). Elliot (1978:142) is of the opinion that a puberty rite is not only significant in terms of its soci al function, but is also pivotal in a young man’s spiritual development. Stick fig hting is a prominent element of male puberty rites, and so forms part of the sym bolic passage of a male to the adult world. However, since Mahlobo & Krige (1934 :166-181) analyse the thomba ceremony in detail, for the purposes of this articl e, a brief overview of selected aspects of the ceremony is all that is necessary . The thomba ceremony starts after a boy experiences his first nocturnal emission, thus providing concrete evidence that he is entering a new phase of his life (E lliot, 1978:143). The boy follows a customary, set procedure to announce the eve nt publicly. Firstly, he gets up before dawn, secretly steals his father’s cattle, and drives the herd to a place where they will not be easily located. The fathe r, on noticing the missing cattle and son, announces the news and prepares the a ppropriate intelezi for the event. Secondly, the boy’s peers follow the example of stealing their fathers’ cattle and join the cattle with the stolen herd. As soon as the boy is found, the area around his stomach is smeared with "crab mud" and he must swim in nearby water (Mkhonza, 1984:19). Thirdly, the cattle must be fou nd. Although Elliot (1978:143) acknowledges that differences exist among various clans, the observation provided is in accordance with the account given by Brya
nt (1949:654). According to Elliot (1978:143), the first attempt to reclaim the cattle involves sending girls of the local kraals to return the boys and cattle home. Both girl s and boys carry sticks and shields, and a stick fight erupts between the sexes. Gender roles are clearly delineated in the Zulu society, and stick fighting bel ongs to the sphere of the man (Ndaba, Interview, 1996). Since the socially ascri bed gender role for women does not include warfare or martial arts (Ndaba, Inter view, 1996), it is highly unusual to find instances where women wield the sticks . The thomba ceremony serves as an example of such an exception to the rule. The fight presumably takes place in the space selected to hide the cattle. Ellio t (1978:143) insists that the girls observed were experts with the fighting stic ks, although they were eventually beaten in combat by the boys and chased home. Bryant, however, describes quite a different outcome of events: the girls, armed with their switches, were mustered and despatched to bring both cows and truant back. A brisk battle, in which sticks were liberally used all r ound, naturally ensued out on the veld between the rival sexes; but soon the big ger girls got boys and cows together on the run and drove them in one big scampe r all back home. Ritter (1957:16) states that both sticks and switches were employed in such a ba ttle. Elliot (1978:143) argues that whipping switches were traditionally used, b ut were replaced by fighting sticks. On the supposedly rare occasion that the gi rls won, the boy reaching puberty was labelled a weakling (Elliot, 1978:143). Ma hlobo & Krige (1934:157-1181) do not give an account of any practice similar to the fighting girls. It is thus difficult to determine whether the custom has its origin in ancient traditions, or whether it is a relatively modern development. Leitch (Interview, 1996) maintains that it is very seldom that girls fight the boys at a contemporary thomba ceremony, due to the decline of attention to the i ntricate details of the ritual. If the girls did not succeed in recovering the stolen cattle, the fathers of the kraals go to fetch their cattle and boys. A stick fight between the boys and th e men then takes place, usually with devastating consequences for the inexperien ced boys. Once back at home, the boy undergoing the thomba ceremony is given int elezi and beer drinking begins. Further rituals take place over a number of days , and throughout the rest of the ceremony, the boy is constantly instructed on t he appropriate patterns of social behaviour (Elliot, 1978:144). It appears that participants in the ceremony are fully aware of the symbolic nat ure of their interactions. Furthermore, the playful subtext of the fighting acti ons is evident at all times. The boys are presumably engaged in sparring rather than actual stick fighting. Sotho men playing with sticks during a ceremony that celebrates the transition t o manhood. (The youths sit in front of the men, and are not visible in the photo .) Sotho sparring is distinct from Zulu stick fighting.
8b. (3). The Iphapu (Lung) Festival
During the iphapu (lung festival), stick fighting manifests itself in a highly o rganised format (Schoeman, 1982: 51). Schoeman explains that participation in the iphapu festival is the sole privileg
e of herd boys. Herd boys are unmarried men and boys ranging in age from about 7 -25 years. When a kraal slaughters a cow, certain parts of the beast are reserve d for the herd boys only (1982:48). These parts include the heart, lungs (iphapu ), and smaller fleshy parts of the animal such as the ears, spleen, and upper li p (Msimang, 1975:167). The lungs and the best meat received are not eaten in the kraal, but are taken away by the senior boy to a space specifically selected fo r the lung festival (Schoeman, 1982:48). Strict criteria govern the selection of a suitable space. Schoeman (1982:48) ide ntifies some of the determining factors. Firstly, the space should be located in an area high enough to keep a watchful eye on the surrounding area and possible enemies. Secondly, the space chosen should accommodate the need for privacy and safety of participants. Msimang (1975:166) points out that the area should be s uitably private to play the game of stick fighting without being disturbed by th e women of the kraal. Thirdly, a substantial amount of rocks should be available . The rocks are to be shifted around in order to produce a sound that is clearly audible throughout the surrounding area. The sound functions as an invitation to the iphapu festival for other herd boys of the area. The boys drive their herds of cattle in the direction of the sound, and once assembled at the designated space, the younger boys are sent to collec t wood for a fire. The boys barbecue the lungs, cut them into pieces, and distri bute the pieces for consumption among the participants. Meanwhile, the izingqwel e (senior boys) stuff the pleura with choice meat. The pleura are barbecued excl usively for the ingqwele (leader of the herd boys), and juniors only get a taste if a piece of the meat is offered to them as a reward for courage or bravery (S choeman. 1882:48-49). Next they barbecue the heart of the animal, cut it to piec es, and divide the meat between the izingqwele (senior herd boys). Schoeman (198 2:49) clarifies the action by providing a technical description of the procedure involved in eating the heart. During the iphapu ceremony, juniors can challenge the leadership of their senior s. Boys from throughout the area gather to witness a challenge and acknowledge t he victor as leader (Msimang, 1975:166). A challenge occurs within an accepted s tructure of events. Placing fat from the piece of lung reserved for the izingqwe le on a stick and daring boys to take it away and eat it constitutes a challenge . The senior is expected to accept the challenge. Boys other than the most senio r can turn down or ignore a challenge, unless the challenge is directed toward t hem by name, but by doing so, they acknowledge the current izingqwele as the und isputed leader (Schoeman, 1982:50-51). The izingqwele can also invent a reason f or a youngster to go and see if all is well with the cattle. Upon his return, th e youngster is told that another boy made inflammatory statements about him, or about his mother’s private parts. The statements might well have been made, but ar e very likely a fabrication. In either case, the boy is morally obliged to accep t the challenge and initiate a fight. A stick fight at the iphapu festival continues until a combatant emerges as the victor (Schoeman, 1982:50-51) or until one of the pair exclaims "khumu!" (Msiman g, 1975:166), meaning, "It is enough". The spectators are fully involved in the fight, and the participants are enthusiastically encouraged and well-executed bl ows receive praise. Afterwards, the victor receives praise and applause from the whole congregation of boys, while the loser is subjected to playful jests and l aughter. Organised raids on the herds of cattle belonging to neighbouring kraals also tak e place during the lung festival. The intention of these raids is never to steal cattle. Instead, the intention is to create a playful scenario that provides a motivation for a stick fight. These cattle raids have the potential of involving a large number of boys and yo
ung men in what is essentially a game of tactics. Firstly, a group of spies is s elected from the younger boys participating in the festivities. The spies are th en dispatched to establish when and how the raid will take place. The ingqwele m ay even accompany the boys on this expedition. Secondly, the cattle are brought to the grazing fields of the attackers. When the cattle are found missing, the v ictims arrive en masse to claim back their cattle, with the result being a stick fight. Should the victims lose the stick fight, then their cattle are not retur ned to them. Instead, they have to seek the assistance of older men, who negotia te with the attackers. The older men are supposed to be embarrassed by the actio ns of the youngsters, and will scold them thoroughly before attempting to retrie ve the cattle. The cattle are given back to the men immediately upon their arriv al, and the victims return home while enduring joking remarks from the attackers (Schoeman, 1982: 49-52). After engagement in the necessary action, the cattle thieves return to their hom e kraal, where the rest of the meat (ears, lip and spleen) is eaten and washed d own with Zulu beer (Msimang, 1975:166). It is highly probable that yet another f ight between groups of boys will erupt after the general feasting back at home. Schoeman (1982:52) claims that the highly structured and hierarchical nature of the programme gives rise to an almost political organisation among the herd boys . Authority flows down from the senior ingqwele to the izingqwele, and from the izingqwele to the ordinary herd boys. The organisation, the power structures, an d the negotiations required following cattle raids are simply reflections of the power structures existing in the wider community. Dukubonge Shongwe showing the cushions (isibusha) inside the shield.
Traditional Zulu courting custom dictates that a boy should discover where the g irl he admires collects water, and "waylay" her on her way to or from the water. A girl, or intombi, can accept or reject the boy’s advances by changing her custo mary route to the water. Should she have another admirer, then the boys may test their skill in stick fighting in an attempt to win her favour (Stewart, Intervi ew, 1996). Ntuli (Interview, 1996) points out that the girl would always be pres ent to observe the outcome of such a fight. According to Stewart (Interview, 1996), the outcome of this contest might furthe r develop into a fight between two groups of boys. This is most likely to occur if the loser is seriously aggrieved, or wishes to challenge the outcome of the f ight. The loser will inform his friends about the fight, and provide a handy exc use for his weak performance. The loser’s friends might well be aware that the exc use is fictional, since it is generally accepted that the better stick fighter s hould win a stick fight. However, they willingly suspend their disbelief in orde r to have an opportunity to stick fight. The victor anticipates the loser’s action s, and in turn, notifies his friends about the fight that took place. Both parti es then patiently wait for an appropriate opportunity (such as a wedding) to eng age in a clash of arms, one party to restore its friend’s honour and impress the i ntombi, the other to again prove its superiority and impress the intombi. Ntuli (Interview, 1996) believes that many stick fights are caused by rivalry fo r female attention. Stewart (Interview, 1996) points out that should a boy be to o shy to confront a girl with his amorous advances, his sister or a female frien
d can come to his assistance and court the girl on his behalf. The female will d ress in male attire, complete with induku, ubhoko, and ihawu. She might display arrogance or aggression (associated with masculine behaviour), and might even st ick fight, although not to the extent that a boy would. Additionally, a young man or boy might carry a stick heavily decorated with bead work as an indication that he is interested in a particular girl. The stick is n ot utilised for fighting purposes, although it is carried with his fighting stic ks (Shakaland, Home-video recording, 1996).
8d. The Umshado (Wedding) Ceremony
A Zulu wedding is a public event that takes place over a period of about three d ays (Dalrymple, 1983:121). It involves specific rituals in various stages of the ceremony that Dalrymple (1983:121-194) and Bryant (1949:533-604) have described in detail. Therefore, I will only pay attention to the role that stick fighting plays in the occasion. Nowadays stick fighting often takes place before a wedding ceremony to settle an y disputes between parties (Larlham, 1985:6). However, Mbanjwa (Interview, 1996) and Dalrymple (1983:131) indicate that stick fighting can also take place after the wedding ceremony. For example, the last afternoon of the wedding observed b y Dalrymple (1983:121-131) concluded with older men drinking beer in the cattle enclosure while younger men fought with sticks. Ntuli (Interview, 1996) indicates that stick fighting is an expected part of a Z ulu wedding, and that participants will engage in a fight even if there are no d isputes to be settled. Accordingly, men attend the wedding fully prepared for a stick fight. Young men might also decorate their bodies and their hair with bead work, or dress up in beautiful pants and string vests to impress the girls prese nt. Mzobe (Interview, 1996) notes that to this day, Zulu men often dress in trad itional attire for a wedding, and even hire the appropriate clothes if they do n ot possess their own. Stick fighting takes place at a wedding to impress the girls and to build a repu tation as a stick fighter of calibre (Leitch, Interview, 1996). A man might even pretend to be interested in another man’s girlfriend to provoke a fight (Shakalan d, Home-video recording, 1996). Alternatively, a man might intentionally overdre ss and appear very arrogant in order to anger other men (Stewart, Interview, 199 6). It seems that people at the wedding are aware of the playful dynamics operating in the attempts to provoke a stick fight, and go along with the game. Zulu (Inte rview, 1996) sees a wedding as an opportunity to "play umgangela", suggesting th at the action is not an overly serious competition between men. As always, a suitable space for the fighting is selected. This space must be in view of the wedding party, but not disturbing the proceedings. The warrior capta in chooses the ground, usually situated on a hillside that overlooks the wedding . (Although level ground is preferable, steep slopes will not prevent a stick fi ght from taking place.) The place at which a stick fight happens is termed umgan gelo, and spectators delineate its space by forming a human circle big enough to accommodate the action (Leitch, Interview, 1996).
To ensure correct protocol, the fighting takes place under the supervision of th e warrior captains or leaders of the group. There is a specific structure in the flow of events. Firstly, people gather around the selected space and the men ta ke turns to ukugiya. Larlham (1985:6) states that the performance of a ukugiya s erves as a challenge to any man who wishes to display his prowess as a stick fig hter. Dalrymple (1983: 160), however, indicates that a person who disrupts an uk ugiyaat a Zulu wedding risks a stick fight. After the performance of a ukugiya, the challenge takes place. Mzobe (Interview, 1996) points out that a man could challenge another by teasing him. At his sister’s wedding in 1995, Mzobe’s peers jokingly remarked that his lean physique would hinder him in a stick fight. Mzobe accepted this challenge in an attempt to prove his fighting skills. The challenge is unambiguous and clearly distinguishable from the action. To begin the stick fight, a man from the opposite party accepts the challenge by taking a step forward. The resulting fight can incorporate comical elements des igned to entertain the spectators and infuriate the opponent (Leitch, Interview, 1996). The reactions of the spectators vary according to the course that the fi ght takes. The spectators exclaim their delight at a good manoeuvre and watch qu ietly as the fight grows serious. Ululating girls assist in building the excitem ent, and perform their stamping dance (ukuggiza) (Larlham, 1985:8), thus encoura ging the fighters to prove their superiority at stick fighting. As soon as a man is defeated, another from the opposition takes the stage. A great number of men can partake in the stick fighting depending on the following of the bridal part ies (Stewart, Interview, 1996). Leitch (Interview, 1996) indicates that five or six hundred men can be engaged in the fighting, without any fatalities occurring . Stick fighting at weddings has been discouraged of late, due to the serious natu re of the injuries that might occur. Mafisa (Personal Communication, 1996) state s that stick fighting at Zulu weddings is no longer a common practice, and only occurs in the rural areas. Johannes Bofelo, on right, during a Sotho ceremony celebrating the boy’s transitio n to manhood. (Bofelo was not an initiate, but the person who performed the surg ery.)
Traditional stick fighting, as performed in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal, co ntinues to serve as a process of socialisation, and to transmit the social norms of the community in which it operates. In recent years, stick fighting has beco me politicised to the extent that this practice, which once played an instrument al role in building the pride of the Zulu nation, has come to be regarded with c ontempt or suspicion by some. Contemporary practices of stick fighting such as o ccurs in the hostels of mines, in the parks of Johannesburg, or in the competiti ve team sport played by men travelling to countries such as Japan, is a faint ec ho of the art’s traditional richness and social importance. In a country historica lly associated with the violation and exploitation of indigenous cultures in all spheres of life, vibrant arts such as Zulu, Pedi, Xhosa, Sotho or Ndebele stick fighting are long awaiting the recognition and respect that these arts deserve: fighting arts that are uniquely, and proudly, South African.
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MAHLOBO, G.W.K. & KRIGE, E.J. 1934. Transition from childhood to adulthood among st the Zulus. Bantu Studies, VIII (2), June: 157-191. MBANJWA, M. 1996. Zulu stick fighting. Personal interview. Mtunzini, South Afric a. MBHENSE, D. 1996. Interview with Dumisani Mbhense, third year student, Universit y of Zululand. MKHONZA, M.F. 1984. A brief analysis of Zulu drama. Honours thesis, University o f Zululand. MLOTSHWA, N. 1984. A study of diverging and converging points between ritual dra ma and contemporary drama with special reference to Zulu rituals. Honours thesis , University of Zululand. MNQAYI, P. 1998. Ukungcweka. Personal explorations. University of Zululand. MSIMANG, C. 1975. Kusadliwa ngoludala. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. MUTHWA, C. 1992. uNosilimela. In: Kavanagh, R. M. (ed.). South African people s plays: ons phola hi. Johannesburg: Heinemann: 5-61. MZIMELA, B.M. 1990. A brief survey of Zulu warfare vocabulary and its literary c ontribution to the Zulu language. Unpublished research essay, University of Zulu land. MZOBE, S. 1996. Zulu stick fighting. Personal interview. University of Zululand. NDABA, J. 1996. Zulu stick fighting. Personal interview. University of Zululand. NTULI, J. H. 1996. Zulu stick fighting. Personal interview. University of Zulula nd. POOLEY, E. 1993. The complete field guide to the trees of Natal, Zululand and Tr anskei. Durban: Natal Flora Publications. RITTER, E. A. 1960. Shaka Zulu: the rise of the Zulu empire. London: Longmans. SCHECHNER, R. 1985. Performance studies. London: Routledge. SHAKALAND. 1996. Zulu stick fighting. Home-video recording. SCHOEMAN, H.S. 1982. Spel in die kultuur van sekere Natalse Nguni. Pretoria: Uni versiteit van Suid-Afrika. SOTHO, Lebhulo. 1997. Personal observation, Goedgedacht farm, Fochville, 29 Janu ary. STEWART, G. 1996. Zulu stick fighting. Personal interview. Hluhluwe, South Afric a. TYRELL, B. & JURGENS, P. 1983. African heritage. Johannesburg: Macmillan South A frica. WERNER, A. 1933. Africa: myths and legends. London: George G Harrap & Co. ZULU, M. 1996. Zulu stick fighting. Personal interview. Nongoma, South Africa.
Information was also obtained by observing informal stick fights whilst based at the University of Zululand (1994-2000).
EN1. Providing Western names for these trees is problematic, as amongst other di fficulties, the names vary according to regions and dialects. uMquambathi, or pr otea roupellia, is commonly known as the silver sugarbush. It is found in Zulula nd and the Transkei (Pooley, 1993:86). uMazwende, or artabotrys monteiroae, is c ommonly found in northern Zululand, where it is known as the red hook-berry tree (Pooley, 1993:94). uMazwende can also refer to the uMazwende-omlhope tree, or m onanthotaxis craffa, which is renowned for its magical properties. This latter t ree is commonly called the dwaba berry (Pooley, 1993:94). The ibelendlovu tree, kigela africana, is popularly identified as the sausage tree. Its wood is not ve ry hard, but it is tough (Pooley, 1993:94). uMphahla is a tree from the Brachyla ena species, and umthathe or ptaeroxylon obliquum is generally referred to as th e sneezewood tree (Pooley, 1993:448). Available Western botanical resources do n ot list uMunquma. EN2. The induku is also called umshiza, umzaca, isikhwili, isiqwayi, imviko, and umqambathi, depending on the regional discourse (Mzimela, 1990:21). For example , informants in Nongoma favour the name isikhwili, while informants in Mtunzini and Hluhluwe favour the name induku. EN3. The action of striking with induku can be called ukugadla, ukushaya, ukubho nya, ukuqunsula, or ukuvithiza (Mzimela, 1990:21). EN4. uPhindamshaye, or the adenia gummifera, is a poisonous climber often used f or medicinal purposes (Pooley, 1993:338). The phind’umuva is an unfamiliar species of plant, identified as a creeper by Buthelezi (Interview, 1996). Cene seems to be a generalised term indicative of a number of small aloes. ----------------------------------------------About the Author Dr. MariÃ©-Heleen Coetzee lectures at the drama department of the University of Pret oria in stage movement, educational drama and theatre, and drama and film studie s. She was previously on faculty at the University of Zululand (1994-2000). Whil st based in Zululand, her research focused on the cultural-anthropological and p hysical dynamics of Zulu stick fighting and its application to theatre. Most of her research on the cultural-anthropological aspects of stick fighting was condu cted and documented between 1995-1996 as part of the research project "Playing S ticks: An Exploration of Zulu stick fighting as performance". She has addressed national and international conferences on her field of study, taught at national and international stage combat workshops, and published academically. Additiona lly, she has directed, performed in, and choreographed various theatrical produc tions. She serves on the executive board of the South African Performers’ Voice an d Movement Educators (SAPVAME) and on the Artistic Advisory Committee of the Int ernational Organisation of the Sword and the Pen (IOSP). She initiated and organ izes the annual "Rendezvous South Africa!" international stage combat workshops. InYo: Journal of Alternative Perspectives Sept 2002
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