Story Behind The New Painting: Training Day

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I chose these petroglyphs relating to warfare after reading about the great Zulu tribe in South Africa and one particularly astute warrior named Shaka. Here is the history that intrigued me and why I was inspired to create this painting aptly named “Training Day”.

During the long South African relocation, groups of Bantu speakers migrated southwards and two main groups emerged, the Nguni (Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele, Swazi), who occupied the eastern coastal plains, and the Sotho–Tswana who lived on the interior plateau.

There was an age grade tradition common among many of the Bantu peoples of the South African continent’s southern region. Youths were organized into age groups, with each cohort responsible for certain duties and tribal ceremonies. Periodically, the older age grades were summoned to the kraals of sub-chieftains, or inDunas, for consultations, assignments, and an induction ceremony that marked their transition from boys to full-fledged adults and warriors, the ukuButbwa. Kraal or settlement elders generally handled local disputes and issues.

Above them were the inDunas, and above the inDunas stood the chief of a particular clan lineage or tribe. The inDunas handled administrative matters for their chiefs – ranging from settlement of disputes, to the collection of taxes. In time of war, the inDunas supervised the fighting men in their areas, forming leadership of the military forces deployed for combat.

Militarily warfare was mild among the Bantu prior to the rise of Shaka, though it occurred frequently. Objectives were typically limited to such matters as recovering cattle, avenging some personal insult, or resolving disputes over segments of grazing land. Generally a loose mob, called an impi participated in these melees. There were no campaigns of extermination against the defeated. They simply moved on to other open spaces on the veldt, and equilibrium was restored. The bow and arrow were known but seldom used. Warfare, like the hunt, depended on skilled spearmen and trackers. The primary weapon was a thin 6-foot throwing spear, the assegai. Several were carried into combat. Defensive weapons included a small cowhide shield, which was later improved by King Shaka.

Many battles were prearranged, with the clan warriors meeting at an assigned place and time, while women and children of the clan watched the festivities from some distance away. Ritualized taunts, single combats and tentative charges were the typical pattern. If the affair did not dissipate before, one side might find enough courage to mount a sustained attack, driving off their enemies. Casualties were usually light. The defeated clan might pay in lands or cattle and have captives to be ransomed, but extermination and mass casualties were rare. Tactics were rudimentary. Outside the ritual battles, the quick raid was the most frequent combat action, marked by burning kraals, seizure of captives, and the driving off of cattle. Pastoral herders and light agriculturalists, the Bantu did not usually build permanent fortifications to fend off enemies. A clan under threat simply packed their meager material possessions, rounded up their cattle and fled until the marauders were gone. If the marauders did not stay to permanently dispossess them of grazing areas, the fleeing clan might return to rebuild in a day or two. The genesis of the Zulu impi (Zulu word for any armed body of men) lies in tribal structures existing long before the coming of Europeans or the Shaka era.


Shaka, one of the Zulu’s greatest leaders, is credited with introducing a new variant of the traditional weapon, demoting the long, spindly throwing spear in favor of a heavy-bladed, short-shafted stabbing spear. He is also said to have introduced a larger, heavier cowhide shield (isihlangu), and trained his forces to thus close with the enemy in more effective hand-to-hand combat. The throwing spear was not discarded, but standardized like the stabbing implement and carried as a missile weapon, typically discharged at the foe, before close contact. These weapons changes integrated with and facilitated an aggressive mobility and tactical organization. (Image courtesy of

Nearly 35,000 strong,well motivated and supremely confident, the Zulu were a formidable force on their own home ground, despite the almost total lack of modern weaponry. Their greatest assets were their morale, unit leadership, mobility and numbers. Their stealthy approach march, camouflage and noise discipline put them within excellent striking distance of their opponents, where they were able to exploit weaknesses in camp layouts during Britain’s attempts at colonization.

As weapons, the Zulu warrior carried the iklwa stabbing spear (losing one could result in execution) and a club or cudgel fashioned from dense hardwood known in Zulu as the iwisa, usually called the knobkerrie in English, for beating an enemy in the manner of a mace. Zulu officers often carried the Zulu Axe, but this weapon was more of a symbol to show their rank. The iklwa – so named because of the sucking sound it made when withdrawn from a human body – with its long (c. 25 cm [9.4 in]) and broad blade was an invention of Shaka that superseded the older thrown ipapa (so named because of the “pa-pa” sound it made as it flew through the air). It could theoretically be used both in melee and as a thrown weapon, but warriors were forbidden in Shaka’s day from throwing it, which would disarm them and give their opponents something to throw back. Moreover, Shaka felt it discouraged warriors from closing into hand-to-hand combat.

As previously stated, prior to Shaka’s rule age-grade groupings of various sorts were common in the Bantu tribal culture of the day, and indeed are still important in much of Africa. Age grades were responsible for a variety of activities, from guarding the camp, to cattle herding, to certain rituals and ceremonies. It was customary in Zulu culture for young men to provide limited service to their local chiefs until they were married and recognized as official householders. Shaka manipulated this system, transferring the customary service period from the regional clan leaders to himself. Shaka organized the various age grades into regiments, and quartered them in special military kraals, with each regiment having its own distinctive names and insignia.

Shaka was neither the originator of the impi (a Zulu word for any armed body of men), or the age grade structure, nor the concept of a bigger grouping than the small clan system. His major innovations were to blend these traditional elements in a new way, to systematize the approach to battle, and to standardize organization, methods and weapons, particularly in his adoption of the ilkwa – the Zulu thrusting spear, unique long-term regimental units, and the “buffalo horns” formation (whereby they would flank right and left wing elements to encircle and pin the enemy). Shaka swept away and replaced old clan allegiances with loyalty to himself. This uniform approach encouraged the loyalty and identification of warriors with their own distinctive military regiments. In time, these warriors, from many conquered tribes and clans came to regard themselves as one nation- the Zulu.

These changes enabled more disciplined formations and efficient execution of tactics over time against a variety of enemies. As one military historian notes: “Combined with Shaka’s “buffalo horns” attack formation for surrounding and annihilating enemy forces, the Zulu combination of iklwa and shield—similar to the Roman legionaries’ use of gladius and scutum—was devastating. By the time of Shaka’s assassination in 1828, it had made the Zulu kingdom the greatest power in southern Africa and a force to be reckoned with, even against Britain’s modern army in 1879.”


The petroglyphs I uncovered have the following interpretation:

The single hunter with a shield is part of a site on York farm in the Angelus’s Nek valley showing warriors carrying three different types of shields which gives pictorial proof of the heterogeneous mixture of peoples who invaded the Bushmen’s terrain in so-called Nomansland by 1864. Cattle is the usual cause of disputes between warriors. This particular warrior is protecting himself with an oval shield of the type used by the southern Nguni. (People of the Eland, p. 66)

Hippos as shown in petroglyphs, are usually associated as rain animals because of their affinity for water. In my depiction, the hunter/warrior is showing his bravery by confronting a hippo with only a shield as protection.

The animal on the lower left side of the painting is that of a wild sheep. In the original petroglyph this wild sheep is being hunted by men armed with bows and arrows and using domesticated dogs from the Akahus Mountains in Libya. Similar hunting scenes, always involving sheep and dog, are found in Southern Algeria and neighboring Libya but are less common elsewhere. The number of these paintings suggests that sheep hunting may have been a ritual activity here in Southern Algeria/Libya, particularly as similar scenes involving species other than sheep are very rare. (African Rock Art, p. 223)

The figure who is slightly bent forward is basically learning posturing and intimidation skills in my interpretation of this scene. In actual fact, he is a she and is part of a group of steatopygous women carrying knobbed sticks and spears joining a central group of dancers. (People of the Eland, p. 309)

The two fighting figures on the lower right shows how opponents used knobbed sticks to settle a dispute. The knobbed-head dress was favored by the Bushman who were often involved in stock theft. (People of the Eland, p. 60)

The techniques used in this painting are as follows:

A multitude of textural tools were impressed in Fine Pumice Gel to make marks then dried. Gold Mica, Pearl Mica and Coarse Alumina were coated on to the surface at various layering stages.

Transparent Yellow Iron Oxide and Quin Gold, Daffodil Ink (Yellow), Transparent Red Iron Oxide, Raw Umber Chestnut colors were all part of the gamut of colors I used to render my painting. A rubber stamp was used for the text on the upper left of the painting.

Image Size:   22 1/2” x 30 1/4”