After Dingane assassinated his brother King Shaka, he assume the role of the Zulu monarch, and established his capital at Mgungundlovo, in the valley of the kings, eMakhosini. There is extensive information on the impressive homestead and royal enclosure from which Dingane reigned, which is based on various detailed observations and drawings made by missionaries and white traders who visited Dingane.
Mgungundlovu was oval in shape, and consisted of between one thousand four hundred (1400) and one thousand seven hundred (1700) traditional grass huts (umuzi), which stood in rows of six to eight each. The huts surrounded a massive open area which served a dual purpose as a cattle kraal, and parade ground where King Dingane would often inspect both his livestock, and his warriors. This space was also used for rituals and festivals. A strong palisade constructed of strong wooden poles protected the arc of huts on the outside, though the inner palisade was not as robust and would have consisted in part of reeds or thatching grass.
Here King Dingane kept about five hundred women, who were divided into two groups. About a hundred of these women formed the black isigodlo, consisting of female members of the royal family-step mothers, favoured maids of honor and concubines. If the King had any wives they too would have resided in the black isigodlo. The only outsider who was permitted to enter the black isigodlo freely was the king, and anyone else who entered without being summoned was executed. The remaining women, who were not related to the royal family, or who were servants, stayed in the white isigodlo. Had there been any royal offspring, they too would have resided in the white isigodlo. All the gates entering into the isigodlo were shut at night, and the king was the only male permitted to sleep within its boundaries.
King Dingane's Great Hut, also known as the indlunkulu, where he held audience stood in this area and was unusually large with ten pillars supporting it. Inside the great hut as many as fifty people were easily accommodated. The king also had a smaller, more private "bachelor" hut in which he usually ate and slept. This hut had only one pillar, which was decorated by maids of honor entwined it from top to bottom with intricate patterns of red and white beads.
The maids of honor wore nothing but a few strings of opaque red and amber beads, and wrist bracelets of pure white beads. When the women left the isigodlo to bathe in the stream, they were always escorted by armed men. Anyone who met them on the path had to step aside quickly and lie face down in the grass to prevent looking at them, or they would be killed for their foolhardiness. In a similar manner, people called into the isigodlo, including servants, kept their eyes carefully turned away.
The women lived separated and pampered lives, with all work done by either servants or widows, causing them to grow extremely fat and unfit. They would perspire heavily onto the reed mats which they spent most of their time on, anointing themselves with the fat from the tails of sheep. King Dingane particularly favoured the fat young woman with pretty faces, and especially enjoyed spending his evenings laying near the entrance of his hut, with about a hundred young maidens singing loudly to him. This mass choir filled the air, and could be heard from many kilometers away. Due to their obesity, the women were unable to stand and dance while singing, so they remained seated on the ground, only making movements with their arms, and growing increasingly tired as the king demanded song after song.
When the Boers returned towards the end of 1838 to carry out revenge for the execution of voortreker leader Piet Retief and his men, as well as the attack on boer settlements at Bloukrans and Weenen which folled, Dingane fled after ordering that Mgungundlovu be burnt down.
Some parts of the enormous royal enclosure and military barracks which housed roughly seven thousand people, have been reconstructed in recent years. Archaeological excavations have uncovered the charcoal remains of the enclosure's outer palisade wall, and have also revealed many of the dwellings' original floors made of mud and dung, which had been preserved by the fire. One of the uncovered floors has a diameter measuring roughly ten meters, and was surrounded by the charred remains of twenty two structural posts. The sheer magnitude of the structure, which is thought to be the largest ever built in traditional Zulu style, as well as the remains of a unique butterfly shaped fire pit, much like the one mentioned by early visitors to Mgungundlovu, indicate that this was, indeed, the king's residence.
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