QUEEN NANDI of the Zulu Kingdom
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Circa 1766 – 1827. Mother of King Shaka. East Coast of South Africa. Queen Mother for 11 years.
Ndlorukazi Nandi kaBebe eLangeni (meaning The Sweet One) was the daughter of a minor Langeni chief, Bhebhe, and his wife Mfunda, the daughter of a Qwabe chief.
Nandi was the mother of the legendary Great King Shaka. Shaka’s father was the Zulu king, Senzangakhona kaJama, who impregnated Nandi out of wedlock. Senzangakgona initially denied paternity. The Zulu elders insisted that Nandi was not pregnant, but suffering from a stomach ailment caused by the iShaka beetle, an intestinal organism on which menstrual irregularities were blamed. Once her child was born, Nandi nick-named him Shaka as a taunt to those who had refused to believe her. Nandi and her son were taken to the Zulu capital where they were shamed, as the child had been born out of wedlock. Even once king Senzangakhona eventually married Nandi, she was placed as the lowly third wife. Nandi and young Shaka were taunted and bullied by the king’s other wives and children, because Shaka was considered illegitimate and, possibly worse, it was forbidden for members of the Zulu and Qwabe to marry, since the two tribes claim the same ancestry.
Nandi fled the tribe with Shaka and her second child by the king, a girl called Noncuba. They were given sanctuary with the eLangeni. Despite great adversity and humiliation, Nandi taught little Shaka to have strength of will and to always believe in his destiny. For her fierce protection and devotion to her children, Nandi is now recognized for being one of the greatest single mothers in history.
Young Shaka became a herd-boy and later was trained as a fighter and leader by the clan leader, Dingiswayo. Shaka soon distinguished himself in battle, as physically invincible and a brilliant strategist.
In 1816, Shaka returned to his father’s kraal and took power of the Zulu nation, with his mother by his side. It is alleged that she exercised a great deal of influence over the affairs of the kingdom. Shaka revered his mother and gave her power to govern in his absence while he was on campaign. While Shaka became more and more ruthless with ambition and extended the Zulu nation far beyond its traditional boundaries, it is believed that Queen Nandi was a force for moderation in his life, often advising political comprises rather than violent action.
Nonetheless, Queen Nandi was reputedly ruthless in her running of the military kraals and her own household and was feared by many. This fear was fueled by the belief that a Zulu Queen was associated with the shapeshifting Impundulu, or Hamerkop, also known as the Lightning Bird. It was believed that this bird could shapeshift between human and animal form, attacking people when it is in bird form by conjuring lightning storms with its powerful wings. It was feared that the Queen could command a lightning strike on a person, their home or their crops, should she be sufficiently vengeful.
Shaka’s military success can be attributed to his cruelty as a brutal leader, but also to his ingenuity. He developed innovative military tactics and modified the traditional spear by shortening the handle and elongating the blade. Called an assegai, this improved weapon required close contact and increased the efficacy of the Zulu armies exponentially.
The death of Queen Nandi was marked by a long period of mourning known as “Isililo SikaNandi”.