How did Zulu warriors armed only with spears hold off colonial troops from taking parts of West Africa?

The Zulu defeated the British in the Battle of Isandhlwana in 1879 by out-generaling them, so to speak. In other words, they had an intricate plan, drawing the British closer and closer while they quietly surrounded them.

They then sent waves of warriors rushing straight into the British lines, heedless of British guns, cannons, and death until they were on top of them. The Zulu warriors killed almost a thousand British soldiers before the colonial army even knew what had happened.

For years, the British blamed the loss in this war on a lack of planning and implementation, but in reality, the British fought all of the other small African kingdoms the same way in their effort to force them into accepting British rule.

The Zulu, under the chief Cetshwayo, were simply better soldiers and better strategists.

The British unfortunately learned from this experience that the only way to win against the Zulu was to totally annihilate them, preferably from a distance.

The Zulu soldiers continued to give the British army a run for their money; however, the British “took no prisoners,” literally, in the next battle later that year.

Ruthlessness and superior weaponry won in the end, and the Brits eventually defeated the tribesmen.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

1 thought on “How did Zulu warriors armed only with spears hold off colonial troops from taking parts of West Africa?”

  1. The Zulu tribe occupied the Province of Natal (now Kwazulu-Natal) in South Africa – NOT west Africa. In reality the Zulu warriors were supremely fit and agile. Their regiments could run 40 miles a day for several days on end. They also knew the terrain and used small decoy troops to lure the British troops into ambushes.

    Several thousand fit, disciplined and battle-hardened Zulu warriors could easily hide in the long grass behind a small fold in the land. They would then wait for the British troops – usually about 100 men, not very fit and ill-equipped with single-shot muzzle loading rifles – marching in a column.

    The Zulu warriors then attacked at great speed from several directions at once, making a terrifying sound as they beat their spears against their shields, and literally overwhelmed the British soldiers (many of whom tried to flee the battle).

    The Zulu armies used battle tactics far superior to, and way in advance of, any European armies. They only suffered defeat when they frontally attacked large British regiments who were dug into fortified positions.

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