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On-line version ISSN 2309-8392
Print version ISSN 0018-229X


PEIRES, Jeff. Shaka the Great. Historia [online]. 2009, vol.54, n.1, pp.159-179. ISSN 2309-8392.

Recognising the unavoidable bias of colonial sources, the article reassesses the personality and career of Shaka by means of oral tradition alone. In doing so, it explicitly rejects the opinion, currently prevalent in South African studies, that oral historical narratives are nothing more than a variant of oral narratives generally in favour of the view that oral historical narratives possess underlying invariant structural elements. The body of the article consists of a structural analysis of the oral historical narratives concerning Shaka's accession to power and his role in the death of his mother Nandi. Shaka emerges from this analysis as a distinctive figure who intervened decisively in the history of the Zulu kingdom. The extraordinary violence of his reign and the abrupt break with social norms inherent in his abolition of circumcision must be explained in terms of his ultimate objective of destroying the family and replacing it with an entirely new social organism based on the state. Dingane, by assassinating Shaka, prevented him from realising his ambitions, and it is Dingane, not Shaka, who must be seen as the true founder of the mature Zulu state.

Keywords : Carolyn Hamilton; child soldiers; circumcision; Dan Wylie; Dingane; historiography; Isabel Hofmeyr; James Stuart Archive; legitimacy; mfecane debate; Nandi; oral historical narratives; oral narrative; oral tradition; regimes of terror; representation; Senzangakhona; Shaka; South African historiography; state formation; structural analysis; Zulu.

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