Nguni shield

A Nguni shield is a traditional, pointed oval-shaped, ox or cowhide shield which is used by various ethnic groups among the Nguni people of southern Africa. Currently it is used by diviners or for ceremonial and symbolic purposes,[1] and many are produced for the tourist market.[2] A cow-hide shield is known as isihlangu, ihawu or ingubha in Zulu,[3] and ikhaka or ikhawu in Xhosa.

Various shields of the Xhosa
  • 1. ikhawu with staff 117 cm and hide 95 cm, 1935, Lusikisiki
  • 2. Retainer of chief, with shield, 1870s, Queenstown
  • 3. ikhawu of a diviner, 1948, Mount Frere
  • 4. An early, blunt oval-shaped Xhosa shield, c.1805
  • 5. ikhawu with staff 127 cm and hide 108 cm, 1948, Mount Frere

Strictly speaking these native names denote shields of different application, and additional types are known by other names. War shields were traditionally stockpiled by a chief or king, to whom they belonged, while a smaller shield was reserved for his subordinates' personal daily use, or as a complement at their dancing ceremonies.

True Nguni shields are made of raw cattle hide,[4] as the esteemed Sanga-Nguni cattle lend distinction to the shields, which are more than mere commodities for physical protection.


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