- The Maphumulo Uprising: War, Law, and Ritual in the Zulu Rebellion
The Zulu empire constitutes a significant component of the historiography of southern Africa. In his work on the Maphumulo uprising, a major episode in the 1906 Zulu Rebellion in South Africa, Jeff Guy contributes to this body of scholarship. The book is divided into three parts. The first two examine the physical and legal conflicts of the uprising. But it is in the third section that Guy moves beyond the standard scholarship by conceiving the conflicts within a broader framework of law and ritual. The Maphumulo Uprising aligns conceptually with Guy's most recent work on the Zulu Rebellion and John and Harriet Colenso, reemphasizing Zulu resistance to imperialism. Here Guy examines the uprising in the context of the British colonial conquest by using the legal records of the period that document the political and military incursions into Zululand.
In a challenge to the dominant historiography, Guy argues that the military actions of June [End Page 692] and July 1906 constituted not a rebellion but rather a "war of conquest." To understand these events, previous historians have tended to rely heavily on British colonial officer James Stuart's military account, which portrays the British militia bravely repulsing the attacks of the "wily" African forces (62). Guy contends that the Zulu fighters mobilized only after they perceived themselves to be under an armed threat. By carefully studying the testimonies of the Natal Supreme Court trial records and giving credence to the evidence found within, Guy proposes that the colonial militia infiltrated Nataland to violently engage Zulu warriors and thereby establish its definitive military and political authority in that region.
Throughout this study, Guy focuses on how war, law, and ritual intersect in periods of conflict. He employs layers of historical evidence to convey the complexity of the events that swept through Natal in 1906. His sources include newspapers, extensive archival material containing detailed court records, and correspondence preserved by the Colonial Office. These sources allow Guy to trace the motivations and military movements of the key Zulu leaders, chiefs Meseni kaMusi and Ndlovu kaThimuni. Guy argues that the underlying cause of the Maphumulo uprising was a colonial desire to stifle the extent of chiefly authority and prove the inability of Africans to function under their own laws. When British settlers first entered Natal sixty years earlier, they did not conquer the territory through military force. Instead, colonial leaders reached agreements with African chiefs that allowed them to settle and farm land. Through the decades, leadership on the two sides continued a relationship of supposedly mutual accommodation. However, the colonial government increasingly curtailed African authority; as chiefs attempted to consult with their counterparts in the colonial government to no avail, these African leaders became aware that they were losing control over the condition of their people. Ndlovu and Meseni both attempted to appeal their grievances through the proper channels of colonial law but were denied access to the institutions of colonial power. When other strategies of negotiation failed, these leaders felt driven to take up arms in response to government aggression.
One of Guy's most compelling arguments is that the colonial court became the colonial government's weapon of choice after the end of battlefield hostilities. In fact, he goes as far as to call the colonial courts "the final offensive in the attempt to create a subservient African population" (124). Using the law as a theoretically impartial source of authority, the Natal colonial government hoped that the trials would clearly define the terms of power in the dominant white society and the place of Africans within it. While Guy's detailed narrative of the Maphumulo uprising is valuable to historians, it is this part of his study that contributes a more significant analysis of the uses of law and ritual in contesting colonial relationships. The main suspects in these trials were chiefs Meseni and Ndlovu and the so-called war-doctor, priest Mabalengue kaMandlamakulu. To understand their...