The bull ritual in history

2009-12-03 00:00

“THE Umkhosi wokweshwana ceremony goes back 3 000 years to when the black people had not disintegrated into separate groups, such as Zulu and Xhosa,” says Ndela Ntshangase, lecturer at the School of Zulu Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg.

Ntshangase says other peoples in South Africa, such as the Sotho, celebrate the Festival of the First Fruits and their ceremonies also involve the killing of a bull, but the methods used are different.

Ntshangase said the killing of the bull is the culmination of Umkhosi wokweshwama, the Festival of the First Fruits.

“The Zulu people can’t separate the killing of the bull from the ceremony because they need to have a healthy king, as well as a powerful king.”

It is believed that when the bull is killed, its strength is transferred not only to the king, but to the army as well. “It brings blessings both on the army and on the king.”

“This ceremony is very, very old,” says Ntshangase. “This ceremony, like others, was suppressed during colonial times, first under government by the British and then later under apartheid.”

Ntshangase says the current Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, has revived some of these ancient ceremonies, including the annual Dance of the Maidens or Reed Dance, uMkhosi woMhlanga, which was revived in 1984, and, more recently, Umkhosi wokweshwama.

According to the Zulu royal website (, the king, faced with “a tide of poverty, starvation and joblessness” among his subjects, is “determined to jump-start an agrarian revolution” and has “over the last decade, revived the Ukweshwama or ‘First Fruits Festival’ pioneered by his ancestors”.

“According to tradition, in a bygone era, subjects were not permitted to partake of their first fruit yields without first offering them to their king. The festival also served as a thanksgiving to God for providing food for the nation. As the leader of his nation, the king had to, firstly, accept the early harvest from God on behalf of his kingdom.”

The site says a “major highlight of the festival is the ritual killing of a bull by members of the amabutho with their bare hands”.

“This was a test of their courage and bravery and represented an opportunity for the warriors to prove themselves to be worthy of being in the regiment.

“Legend has it that the warriors inherited the power of the bull when the animal was killed. Through their salutations to the king, this power is transferred to their leader who then uses it to protect and defend the kingdom.”

The ceremony was featured in the television series Shaka Zulu and the film Zulu Dawn.

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