In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

2 w Healing the Body Politic Muthi, Healers, and Nation Building in the Zulu Kingdom communities within the Zulu kingdom maintained a complex system of public health that involved maintaining not only the corporal body but also the body of the nation. Oral histories regarding the role of muthi and healers and the rise of the Zulu kingdom indicate the cross-cultural connections of medicine and power. Healers provided medical, ecological, social, political, and military assistance to the nation. Each king and chief in the kingdom relied on his or her own healer or healers to help obtain and maintain political power. Furthermore, the judicial system relied on healers to determine guilt for petty crimes and witchcraft as well as for resolving the occasional dispute over political succession. The close relationship between muthi and healers and political power sometimes created tensions between healers and rulers. Again, definitively tracing change over time during the period of the Zulu kingdom is difficult. Furthermore, given that the majority of sources for this chapter are oral sources recorded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they not only give us a glimpse into this particular time and subject but are more definitive about how Africans interpreted such events at the time they were recorded. This chapter thus utilizes these largely oral histories to gain access to both periods, as they are crucial if we are to try and understand what was happening during this early period and appreciate the reaction of white settlers and the colonial government to African healers and therapeutics. According to oral traditions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries , the rise of the Zulu nation in the late 1810s resulted from not only the pure cunning of Tshaka Zulu but the acquisition and use of chiefly medicines. These medicines and their exploitation by doctors and chiefs are alleged to 67 You are reading copyrighted material published by Ohio University Press/Swallow Press. Unauthorized posting, copying, or distributing of this work except as permitted under U.S. copyright law is illegal and injures the author and publisher. have changed the outcome of three core incidents that were essential to the emergence of the Zulu kingdom. In these and other stories we see that medicine acted not only as a tool of empire, in this case a Zulu one, but as an important aspect of social control. Medicine healed the body as well as the body politic. Below I have summarized the story of the rise of the Zulu nation as told by Jantshi ka Nongila to James Stuart in 1903. Jantshi claimed to have learned these stories from his father Nongila, who allegedly had shared with him the Zulu nation’s official izibongo—the poems and history of the nation composed by the nation’s imbongi, or praise teller. Nongila, who served as a state spy, presumably heard and witnessed the reciting of the izibongo first hand. Jantsi also claimed his father worked closely with the Zulu chief Senzangakona and the Zulu kings Tshaka, Dingane, and Mpande before he moved to Natal to escape his duties. Clearly such information as told to Stuart was aimed to alert the listener to the presumed authenticity of such tales. While Jantshi’s stories may differ from any formal izibongo, they do reflect someone sympathetic to the rise of the kingdom and at least suggest the ways in which people and perhaps those closest to the state sought to explain political change. These narratives are also some of the earliest recordings of these state-building stories and indeed share many similarities to other such accounts told within the Stuart archive. While there may be some unique aspects of this story, it is also largely representative of the many oral narratives of Jantshi’s day that demonstrate the importance of medical discourse in the imposition of Zulu political hegemony. According to Jantshi, Tshaka was the estranged son of Senzangakhona, the ruler of a nominal Zulu chiefdom in southeastern Africa in the early nineteenth century. Tshaka, who proved himself as a warrior, came to serve as the military commander in the neighboring Mthetwa chiefdom and was much beloved by his chief, Dingiswayo. It was the collaborative efforts of this chief and Tshaka that resulted in Senzangakhona’s death and Tshaka’s seizure of the Zulu chieftaincy. Tshaka had sought vengeance on his father in retaliation for Senzangakhona’s chasing him and his mother out of the Zulu chiefdom years earlier. Dingiswayo, who looked upon Tshaka...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.