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As the Southwardly migrating Bantu peoples were checked by the eastward migration of the white people at the Fish River, land pressure grew. Previously, conflict between African clans took the form of shouting insults and challenges, throwing assegais and the occasional skirmish.
Then, one of the chiefs of a minor clan called Zulu (people of Heaven) changed the rules by equipping his soldiers with a short, large bladed stabbing spear, a six-foot shield and new tactics. Skirmishing soon turned to slaughter.
Zulu Military Tactics
Instead of a rabble, his soldiers were formed into a formation with disciplined, experienced soldiers at the centre and young soldiers on each flank who would run around the opposition, surround it and annihilate it.
This use of the 'chest and horns' quickly vanquished many tribes, incorporating their warriors, stealing their women and, as importantly, taking their cattle.
The army (impi) was organized into regiments (amabutho) a thousand strong, each with its own distinctive uniform. The shields were graded so that the more famous a warrior became, the less black he had on his shield.
At this time, the Zulus could mobilize an army of over fifty thousand men who were capable of running more than fifty miles in a day. Young warriors were forced to be celibate until they had 'washed their spears' in blood, when they were then given permission to marry.
In 1818, the power of the tribe eventually passed to Shaka of the small Zulu clan, a young man with an insatiable blood lust who refined the technique and within several short years was undisputed ruler of the area between the Tugela and Pongolo rivers.