Last month two sets of beads, modelled on those once worn by the great Zulu chief King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, came to St Margarets.

Wood badge and woggle

Dinuzulu, the son of the mighty warrior Cetshwayo, was King of the Zulu nation from 1884 until his death in 1913. As a sign of his royalty and courage in battle he wore around his neck a 4 metre long ‘iziQu’ – a necklace made of thousands of small wooden acacia beads strung on a leather thong. The necklace, passed down from generation to generation, was considered sacred and kept in a cave on a high mountain and guarded day and night. The explorer Charles Rawden Maclean who was shipwrecked off the coast of Zululand in 1825 wrote…

“The most curious part of these decorations consisted of several rows of small pieces of wood … strung together and made into necklaces and bracelets … On enquiry we found that the Zulu warriors set great value on these apparently useless trifles, and that they were orders of merit. Each row was the distinguishing mark of some great heroic deed, and the wearer had received them from King Shaka’s own hand.”

Baden Powell

In June 1888 Dinuzulu lead an attack against the Mandlakazi, who in 1883 had burnt down his father’s kraal at Ulundi, and defeated them at Nongoma. The British sent a force to capture Dinuzula lead by Robert Baden Powell, who in later years was to found the Boy Scouts movement. Although Baden Powell was unable to catch up with Dinuzulu he did manage to acquire his ‘iziQu’ – his long necklace of wooden beads. Writing about the campaign Baden Powell said..

“Eventually Dinuzulu took refuge in his stronghold, I had been sent forward on a Scouting expedition into his stronghold. He nipped out as we got in. In his haste he left his necklace behind – a very long chain of little wooden beads.”

In 1919, 12 years after he founded the Scout Movement, Baden Powell remembered Dinuzulu’s beads when he and his associates were running a series of training courses for Scout Leaders. These taught the basic principles of Scouting along with key woodcraft and camping skills. At the completion of their training the Scout Leaders were each given a ‘Wood Badge’ which Baden Powell made by knotting two of Dinuzulu’s beads onto a leather bootlace. Baden Powell had intended the badge to be worn around the brim of the Scout hat but when this proved impractical it finished up around the neck. The Wood Badge is still awarded to Leaders today on completion of their training and is the only proficiency award worn by them. Now the wooden beads are replicas of those originally taken from Dinuzulu’s necklace.

In his 1989 biography of Baden Powell Tim Jeal questions the authenticity and origins of the wooden beads…

Dinuzulu in his beads

“The first badges were formed from beads belonging to an African necklace, which Baden Powell suggested he had found in Dinuzulu’s hut in the Ceza, There is, however, no record of this find in his diary or in letters written at the time, though he does mention appropriating the necklace of a dead African girl. Nevertheless a photograph exists of the young Dinuzulu wearing a wooden necklace. So it is likely that Baden Powell acquired this necklace, or one like it, in 1888 or on a later visit to South Africa. After the Second World War the origins of the ‘Wood Badge’ started to cause embarrassment. To have stolen a Zulu ruler’s property was thought underhand and unpleasant as was the idea of the founder of a worldwide multiracial brotherhood fighting against Africans. So it became policy within the movement to claim that Baden Powell had been given the necklace by Dinuzulu. ‘This change,’ wrote the Deputy Chief Scout in 1959, ‘was made first in The Gilwell Book and gradually in all our literature.’”

Whether the beads on the original Wood Badges actually belonged to Dinuzulu or a dead African girl; whether Baden Powell found them in a hut or were given them by by the King himself — it doesn’t really matter. For the hundreds of thousands of Scout leaders around the world who wear them today the beads don’t just mark the end of their training. They are a symbol of what is expected of them in the future in terms of leadership and dedication to the cause that they believe in. Last month two more leaders of the 1st St Margarets Scout Group were awarded their Wood Badges and of that they are extraordinarily proud. Whatever the truth of the beads whoever wears them today walks in the shadow of a great man.

Dinuzulu's status

“King Dinuzulu will always be remembered by our people as one of the kings who never sold their own people for his personal comforts. He stood against colonialism and imperialism to the end, and paid many sacrifices for the liberation of his people. He will thus be remembered as one of the most courageous and principled kings to have ruled in our land, who fought injustice and was truly loved by his people, and his name ranks high as a heroic leader and unifier of our nation. His sacrifices and suffering contributed to the birth of a new democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa that we have today.”


— from Martyn Day

Credits: Photograph of Dinuzulu statue by Kleinz on Flickr