Nguni stick-fighting is a traditional martial art of South Africa. It is also known as zulu stick-fighting. The Zulu people are one of the Northern Nguni peoples of Southern Africa (Coetzee 2010). Nguni is a collective name for the ethnic groups of Bantu people residing in Southern Africa (South African History Online 2016).Zulu men traditionally own fighting sticks. They can either make their own sticks or get a specialist to do it. Apartheid laws preventing people of colour from owning weapons encouraged the use of objects like umbrellas and walking sticks as a substitute for the traditional izinduku (fighting stick). Zulu stick-fighting enables the men to distinguish themselves and earn respect from the community. Unless used for warfare or in the case of blood feud, stick-fighting is generally considered a game and rather playful (Coetzee 2002, 2010).Usually the combatants use two sticks to or a stick and shield (ihawu) of cowhide (Coetzee 2010; Traditional Sports, n.d.). Fights are preceded by a dance, often with comical elements included, to invite the opponent to fight. If an opponent enters the arena the challenge is accepted and the fight begins. The goal is to hit the opponents head and the fight ends when blood is drawn or the referee intervenes. Sportsmanship is a highly regarded quality and the victor is expected to tend to the injuries of his opponent (Coetzee 2010: 22).
Nguni stick-fighting originated among the herd boys taking care of their cattle. While herding young boys spar with each other, around puberty they start fighting at public ceremonies, weddings and festivals. Duels are also used to settle disputes (Coetzee 2010).During the reign of Shaka (c. 1787-1828) in the 1810s stick-fighting was used as a way of training young men in warfare and self-defense (Coetzee 2002).
Stick-fighting in general is one of the oldest martial arts on the African continent. Zulu stick-fighting holds great similarities to for example Ethiopian donga stick-fighting.
Without a formal training process, Zulu stick-fighting is passed on from the older generations to the younger. It is a symbol of masculinity, cultural identity and tradition. In immigrant communities Zulu stick-fighting is sometimes taught as a martial art. Demonstration or performances of stick-fighting are sometimes available for tourists (Coetzee 2002). Attempts in South Africa to redefine notions of ethnicity have coincided with a return in the believe of the value of indigenous practices and performances with their own unique aesthetics (Coetzee 2000: 110).
- Coetzee, M.H. (2000). “Playing sticks: An exploration of Zulu stick fighting as performance”, South African Theatre Journal, 14:1, 97-113. - Coetzee, M.-H. (2002). “Zulu Stick Fighting: A Socio-Historical Overview”, InYo: Journal of Alternative Perspectives. https://ejmas.com/jalt/jaltart_Coetzee_0902.htm - Coetzee, M.-H. (2010). “Zulu Stick Fighting” In Green, T. A. and Svinth J. R. (eds.). Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia of History and Innovation, Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. - South African History Online. (2016). “Nguni Stick Fighting”, South African History Online. https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/nguni-stick-fighting - Traditional Sports, (n.d.). “Nguni (South Africa)”, Traditional Sports.
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