Military Archive Research
by Dr. Stuart C Blank
Member of the Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS)
Member of the Royal Air Force Historical Society (RAFHS)
Member of the Naval Historical Collectors and Research Association (NHCRA)
Member of the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS)
Member of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS)
Member of the International Bond and Share Society (IBSS)




Review of
The Tribe that Washed its Spears
The Zulus at War
By Adrian Greaves and Xolani Mkhize
Pen and Sword ( )
ISBN 9781848848412
RRP GBP £19.99


This is another outstanding volume by the respected author Dr Adrian Greaves on the Anglo Zulu War whilst his co-author is the Manager of the famous Rorke’s Drift Zulu Village. Xolani comes from the Mkhize tribe and this makes him well placed to understand Zulu culture.

Most books on the Zulus deal with either their stunning victory at Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift or the eventual defeat of the Zulus by the British. This account relates their history from a different and fresh angle. The Zulus were not as indigenous as other tribes in the locale but they established the well-known Zululand.

The volume describes the violent rise of King Shaka and his colourful successors. It was under these leaders that the Zulus became a warrior nation and they built a fearsome reputation for fighting unparalleled by the other South African tribes.

The tactics and weaponry employed by these amazing warriors is examined in detail. Their successes over other tribes enhanced their reputation and their morale. This manifested itself when they defeated the Boers in 1877 and 1878. This campaign was termed the Sekunini War and it prompted the well-documented British intervention.

Even the mighty British Empire was humbled at Isandlwana (see the review for “Isandlwana – How the Zulus Humbled the British Empire” by Dr Adrian Greaves) when the British Army first encountered the Zulu warriors. This battle was the turning point and it was a massive shock to British morale. The battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift are famous but they also sealed the fate of the Zulu nation. The British were enraged at the success of the Zulus and eventually crushed them and their nation.

He starts this interesting story with the emergence of the Zulus, King Shaka’s role in developing the Zulu nation, the customs and rituals of the Zulus and then the eventual passing of the throne to King Cetshwayo. Dr Greaves reveals that there were little known consequences of the post-war division of Zululand and that these consequences impacted on the Boer War (c. 1900) and the 1906 Zulu Rebellion.

Then topics more familiar to most accounts of the Zulus such as Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift and Ulundi are amply recorded. Also there are accounts of smaller battles / incidents at Nyezane, Gingindlovu, Ntombe, Hlobane and Khambula. As all students of this conflict know Ulundi was the last major battle in this campaign and it resulted in the end of King Cetshwayo's reign and the dismantling of Zululand.

This is a new and welcomed treatment of the history of the Zulus and it tackles the subject from a new angle. Like his other work the (first) author has produced an excellent tome and it should be in the personal library of any serious student of this conflict.

November 2013