Traditional Zulu Weapons

Updated April 17, 2017

Traditional Zulu weapons were basic in design, especially compared to the more advanced weaponry carried by the troops of the British Empire. The Zulus, however, were well-disciplined and tactically aware on the battlefield. The "buffalo horns" formation was used to engage and encircle enemy forces on the battlefield. This was used effectively against British troops, victories that gave the Zulus access to Martini-Henry rifles. Despite an increased number of rifle-bearing Zulus during the conflict against the British Empire, traditional weapons continued to play a key role on the battlefield.


The spear was the most commonly used Zulu weapon. Zulu youths grew up using spears for both fighting and hunting. According to Ian Knight, author of "Zulu 1816-1906," there were many different types of spear, "each varying in the length of the blade and the shaft, according to its purpose." (Reference 1) The most common type of throwing spear was the isijula. This could be thrown accurately over a distance of 30 yards. Use of a short stabbing spear known as an iklwa became common during the reign of Shaka Zulu from 1816 to 1828.


Many Zulus went into battle wielding a heavy wooden club called a knobkerrie. At the end of the straight shaft was a round, fist-sized head. The head was sometimes studded and the shaft was often decorated with traditional designs. Cross-cut designs on the shaft improved a warriors grip on the weapon. In her book "Zulu Warriors," Terri Dougherty says that "Warriors carved each knobkerrie from a single piece of hardwood." (Reference 2)


The Zulu battleaxe was a fearsome weapon. A curved, slightly asymmetrical metal blade was set on a long wooden shaft. The battleaxe could be used as both a chopping and slashing weapon. It was not a common weapon because of the general preference for spear and club.

Fighting Stick

Zulu warriors used a traditional fighting stick known as an umTshisa. According to the Zulu Culture website, the umTshisa had "one end tapered to a point and the other with a sharp chisel end." (Reference 3) Shorter stabbing sticks were also carried by some warriors.


Every Zulu warrior carried a large cowhide shield. These shields were colour coded o help a Zulu general identify different regiments on the battlefield. Younger regiments carried black shields while more experienced veterans were allowed to carry white shields, according to the History of War website. (Reference 4)

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About the Author

Anthony Grahame has been a writer for more than 15 years. He began writing professionally online in 2008. He has a degree in English literature from the University of Sussex and is an experienced traveler and travel writer. His work has been published on a variety of well respected websites including "Living in Peru".