Of The Zulu Warrior

We were taught to sing this song in the first grade music class, at Victoria Primary School Masvingo, in the early 90s. It just randomly popped into my head and couldn’t help trying to figure out what the seemingly meaningless words meant…

I was even beginning to suspect that I had imagined the song into existence in the way that we end up with false memories; things only we seem to recollect and nobody else. My brother went to the same school, and he remembered the song so at least if it was a delusion it wasn’t just mine alone….

Izika zumba, zumba, zumba.
Izika zumba, zumba, zay.
Hold him down, you Zulu warrior.
Hold him down, you Zulu chief, chief, chief.

*There is a version which switches Zulu warrior with a Swazi warrior

Searching on the world wide web, I have found references and versions dating back years. It’s commonly referred to as a South African children’s song and seems to have been adopted into some Boys Scouts and Girl Guides chants and also war cries at sports especially rugby..

Origins of the Zulu Warrior song

In the Oxford Song Book vol 2, 1931, it states, “this prince of marching songs (The Swazi Warrior) appears to be a relic of the Zulu War”. Lewis Winstock, in “Songs of the Redcoats”, 1970, says “nothing is known of the songs of this (1879) campaign.”

I would also put through a crazy theory that guess is that maybe Lord Baden-Powell learned it one besotten night after a rugby game during the Boer War, and bestowed a sanitized version upon the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides…. kidding

Honestly though, from what I have pieced together, the versions of the song circulating around the globe stems from either the first or second Boer war where the Royal Navy Brigade took up the song trying to imitate Zulu chants. This would explain the seemingly nonsensical lyrical content, lost in translation or appropriation.

During the third and last part of Boer War of 1900 – 1902 the Royal Navy had taken up the chant as a marching piece. Its said the “hold him down” part was in urging the Zulu warriors to hold down the Boers so the Navy could bayonet them….

Battle of Majuba Hill 27 February 1881 

Baden-Powell founder and first Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts movement served in the British Army from 1876 until 1910. In the early 1880s his troops were posted in the Natal Province of South African where he honed on scouting skills, learning from the Zulu. Part of the Boy Scout training was copied and modified from the Zulu regiment systems. Naturally, the singing also passed along into the movement.

Credit for the song often goes to Josef Marais a South African travelling folksinger. Marais left South Africa in the 1920s toured as a violinist and later teamed up with Rosa de Miranda, a Dutch immigrant. Together they performed and recorded many traditional South African ballads. They recorded Zulu warrior song in 1946.

To date music classes learn or perform it on various instruments.

Is it offensive?

A part of me never did quite find it quite agreeable, possibly because number one, I had a terrible singing voice and number two I did not understand what I was singing.

The song has been banned from institutions on grounds of racism as they say it is linked to ill-treatment of Zulus by the British Army during the Anglo-Zulu war.

Have you run into this song? What are your thoughts?

~B

4 Comments

  1. I have run into this song….but have not heard anyone sing it for many many years thank goodness! I don’t think it was at school…but as soon as I saw the words I could sing it. I think it is a song best worth forgetting!

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  2. i learned this song as a very small child in a summer camp in the northeastern united states (although the phrase we learned was “hold ’em down, you zulu warriors”). i was always bothered by the sinister quality of the song but was curious about the history. thank you for posting what you’ve learned. i agree, it’s a song best left to history, a history we should never forget and never repeat.

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