Sunday, February 14, 2010

An Assegai to Remember.

Ok, bonus cool points for anyone who knows what an Assegai is. If you do know, pat yourself on the back, if you don't, read on!

Due to playing too much Rome: Total War of late, and using the Egypt faction's "Nubian Spearmen" too much, I've gone and gotten myself intrigued in the Zulu weapons again. It was bound to happen. I go through cultural interests (especially weapons), on almost a daily basis.

The Zulu (and the Nubians before them, apparently) used various spears as their main offensive weaponry. And the primary, main line weapon was the Assegai, a long hafted, large bladed spear with good defensive qualities particularly when coupled with a large shield, like the ox-hide ones the Zulu utilized. It would also have kept cavalry at bay quite nicely, though this was likely not as much of an issue for the Zulu (though it is the whole reason for the unit in Rome: Total War).
A Cold Steel Interpretation of the Assegai

So now you know what an Assegai is. Once that's straight in your mind, we are ready to start treading into more confusing territory. When Shaka (yes, that Shaka) made his military reforms to the Zulu in the 19th century, he cast about for a more efficient weapon for his new, more aggressive style of fighting. The result was basically a reworking of the Assegai into a short-hafted, large-bladed spear. Whether Shaka himself invented this is hotly debated, but scarcely matters. His reforms were the impetus for the change. The new weapon was called the Iklwa, reputedly for the sound it makes when entering a foe. Now, I have been in the vicinity a few times when sharpened steel has entered flesh, and I don't recall that being the sound, but whatever.
Windlass Steelcrafts Iklwa

Cold Steel 'Short Assegai'

The benefits the Iklwa gave were that it required the Zulu warriors to be closer to their enemy, which encouraged them to be more aggressive and lethal. It could be used in a manner similar to a sword, but used materials easier for a culture poor in metal but with plentiful wood. This opened up more options for the more aggressive and skilled of the Zulu warriors. A good spearman can do some cool things with a spear if he's got room, but in mass combat, it devolves into poke-poke-duck relatively quickly. And if the enemy gets inside the point, the show is over. With an Iklwa, you have more going on at short range than "gee I hope I can block him with my shield."

So now you know...

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