By: Tinyeko Captain Ndhlovu, Curator: Insignia, Memorial Plaques, Postal History, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History


This article focuses on the description of the spatial organisation and layout of Zulu military homesteads, known as Royal ikhanda (head)/amakhanda (heads), which were introduced in the southern African region by the Northern Nguni ethnic groups around the early 18th and late 19th centuries. Royal ikhanda/amakhanda military homesteads were mostly built near the traditional Zulu homesteads (umuzi/imiz, see example of it in fig 4) and distributed across the KwaZulu-Natal Province. These newly facilities were preferably built on a hill with the entrance of the ‘great enclosure’ facing downslope. The standard description of the layout of the Zulu military homesteads: (royal ikhanda /amakhanda) was established on the principle of three concentric rings (see Figs. 1, 2 & 3).

Figure 1. An illustration of Zulu Royal Amakhanda dated circa. 1837-40 (Source Image: John Laband, Helion, 2021).


Royal ikhanda/amakhanda military homesteads serve as the accommodation facilities for the Zulu regimental soldiers (ibutho/amabutho) and new age sets of youth during their ukubuthwa initiation ceremonious and national service periods. Married ibutho/warriors were allowed to stay with their wives at the king’s kraal/ikhanda known as amaBandla amhlope/white assemblies. These facilities also served as the royal authority and administrative centres. It was normally occupied and utilized for a short period of two to three years. Thereafter, these facilities were disbanded, and new ones would be erected as soon as a war campaign season emerge or a new date ukubuthwa (youth age sets/initiation) is released by the king/royal authorities. Once a war campaign season emerges or a date is released the king/Zulu authorities issued a command to the newly appointed indunas (senior Zulu officers) to build the royal ikhanda military homesteads at the allocated sites.

Figure 2. An Illustration of a Zulu Royal Ikhanda. (Source Image: Van der Merve & Pikirayi, 2019).

Figure 3. Diagram of the spatial organisation and layout of a Zulu Royal Ikhanda. (Source Image: Van der Merve & Pikirayi, Routledge 2019).


Description of the spatial organisation of a Zulu military homestead: Royal Ikhanda/Amakhanda (Van der Merve & Pikirayi, 2019)

1. Great isigodlo
2. White isigodlo
3. Black isigodlo
4a. Senior induna’s hut
4b. Second most senior induna’s hut
5. Regimental soldiers hut (organized in a linear pattern)
6. Double gated with guards’ huts
7. Central cattle enclosure (great enclosure) which may have smaller enclosures within
8a. King’s bathing and meeting place
8b. Secondary area where the king had meetings.
9. Calves (small livestock) enclosure


Zulu kings and their linked capitals/amakhanda
Zulu king Period Capital/ikhanda
Shaka kaSenzangakona c. 1816-1826 KwaBulawayo, KwaGibixege, KwaDukuza
Dingane kaSenzangakona 1826-1840 uMgungundlovu
Mpande kaSenzangakona 1840-1872 KwaNodwengu
Cetshwayo kaMphande  1872-1879            oNdini (I, II, and III)


Table 1: Zulu kings and their linked capitals/amakhanda (Ref: Van der Merve and Pikirayi, 2019).


Figure 4. Grade 11 isiZulu Cultural Tour at Shaka’s kraal. Zulu umuzi (qukwanes/beehive huts) arranged in a linear pattern (Source Image: Durban High School, 2018).


The craft and skills of building the royal ikhanda/amakhanda military homesteads, including the traditional Zulu imizi huts/qukwanes, which have a shape like a beehive (see fig. 4) were passed down from one kingdom generation to another since the late 18th century. The building of these traditionally qukwanes or military homesteads involved the labour skills of both males and females.


Figure 5. Behind the scenes: Reconstruction of Amakhanda for the set design of the Shaka iLembe television drama series. (Source Image: Bomb Productions, 2023).


Traditionally males were responsible to gather the external wooden poles and positioned them in a circle on the ground, afterwards bent them inward towards the centre and bound together to create a structured frame (see fig. 6).  While females were responsible to bind and roofing/thatch the structure using interweaved reeds and grass (see modern example at [fig. 5, 6]). A central tree trunk works as the main support, while the entrance is made low (see fig, 7) so that any foe must bend prior entering.


Figure 6. Behind the scenes: Binding and thatching of the structure for the set design of Shaka iLembe television drama series (Source Images: Bomb Productions, 2023).


The flooring of the soldiers’ regimental qukwanes/huts were cemented with a mixture of cow dung and termite mounds, and later furnished with a smooth round stone to make the floor smooth and shiny.  The complete quakwanes/Zulu beehive huts (see fig. 4) were very secure against all kinds of weather: warm during cold seasons, cool during hot seasons and steady during the rainy seasons.


Figure 7. An Interior of the great isigodlo (Source Image: Shaka iLembe television drama series, Bomb Productions, 2023).




The greatest attempt was to ‘reach a compromise between creative interpretation and the historical authenticity’ by using both historical and the contemporary sources to give the best description and outline of what Zulu royal Ikhanda/Amakhanda military homesteads resemble. The description of a spatial organisation and layout of a Zulu military homestead: Royal ikhanda/amakhanda was clearly debated. These facilities serve mainly as the military homesteads/barracks for the ibutho/amabutho (regimental soldiers, agricultural labour force and youth age-set based units) and it also serves as the royal authority and administrative centres. Nevertheless, the point that was not fully emphasized in this article, is that these two words the ‘ikhanda/amakhanda’ and ‘ibutho/amabutho’ were previously incorrectly translated from Zulu to English. For instance, ibutho/amabutho usually misleading translated exclusively as “regiment” instead of the complex agricultural labour force, and youth age-set based units of social organisation that functioned partly and periodically ‘military’. Therefore, an ikhanda/amakhanda homestead was not exclusively a military barrack, it was a full-sized homestead around the agricultural activities; take over and ritualistic practices revolved as well as defensively or aggressively military activities. Finally, we should also note that each Zulu king had their own capital ikhanda during their reigning. For instance, Shaka kaSenzangakhona had capital ikhanda/amakhanda at the following places: KwaBulawayo, KwaGibixege, and KwaDukuza. The art of building these Zulu qukwanes (beehive huts) in the ikhanda military homestead pattern was transmitted from one generation to another.



Van der Merwe, R.H & Pikarayi, I, “Identifying Zulu Military (Amakhanda) Settlements in Archaeological Record”, South African Archaeological Bulletin 74 (210): 91-100, (2019).


Ritter E.A ‘The Rise of the Zulu Empire’, (London: Longmans, Green and Co Ltd, 1955)

Morris, D.R, 1965. The Washing of the Spears: The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation. Random House: Bergvlei, South Africa.

Knigt Ian ‘Great Zulu Commanders 1838-1906’, (London: Wellington House, 1999)

Knight Ian ‘The Zulu Army 1879’, (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014).

Laband John ‘The Zulu Kingdom and the Boer Invasion of 1837-40’, (Helion, 2021).



Behind Scenes of Shaka iLembe (2023), ‘Reconstruction of the Royal Ikhanda/Amakhanda Military Homesteads of Set Design of Shaka iLembe Drama Series,’ (Bomb Productions).

Internet/Websites Visited Sources

‘REVIEW | Shaka Ilembe dilutes the remarkable history it seeks to portray.

Phakathi, V & Shongwe, Z. ‘Series fails to strike balance between creative interpretation and historical authenticity’. Also available at:  Accessed at 12 June 2023

Patrick Crosset Follow an Art: Traditional Zulu Beehive Huts (South Africa). Also available at:   Accessed 13 June 2023.

DESIGNING FOR TYPOLOGIES: An inside on Architecture of Zulu Tribe. Also available at:  Accessed 23 July 2023.

Grade 11  IsiZulu Cultural Tour, Durban High School: Also available at:    Accessed 15 August 2023


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