The History of Nguni Cattle




Why Nguni cattle?

History of Ngunis

Cattle and culture

Patterns and names

Nguni Breeders

Nguni skin products


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There are rock-paintings that look suspiciously like Nguni cattle in Libya and the Sahara desert.  These paintings are estimated at 8000 years old and provide hints at the origins of modern-day Nguni's.  There are two kinds of humped cattle - the Zebu, with fatty humps situated behind the shoulders, such Brahman - and the Sanga, with muscular humps between the head and shoulders.  Ngunis are categorized as belonging to the Sanga group but their actual beginnings are hotly contended.

It is often stated that the Nguni cattle arrived in southern Africa with the Nguni-speaking people, ancestors of today's Zulu, Xhosa and Swazi people.  However, recent research has revealed that the cattle were probably introduced into southern Africa much earlier than originally thought by the Khoisan-speaking people that were insultingly called Hottentots by the European settlers to arrive in the Cape.  In fact there are entries in the early Portuguese explorers' journals detailing how the Khoikhoi rode their cattle into battle like war-horses!

The Nguni-speaking arrivals in southern Africa knew a good thing when they saw it and quickly assimilated the cattle skills and husbandry techniques of the Khoisan, including much of the language and customs surrounding cattle.  Linguists say that the click sounds in Nguni languages comes directly from the Khoisan dialects.

Returning to roots

It is sadly ironic that today most "pureberd" Ngunis are in the hands of white breeders.  In recognition of the cultural value of the breed, as well as its hardiness, the South African government  has initiated a project to get Ngunis back into rural communities.  More information on this will be forthcoming.





Bull and cow

Disappearance and revival

After the Zulu and Xhosa nations were defeated by the British in the late 1800s, massive penalties were levied on the vanquished in the form of large numbers of cattle.  Royal herds were slaughtered and/or confiscated and it was deemed illegal to breed a cow with an Nguni bull in order to introduce the "purer" European blood into South African cattle.  the breed became all but extinct until a government research committee was established in the 1940's.  The recognition of the breed's advantages led to the formation of government research herds and the Nguni Cattle Breeders' Association.  Nguni Cattle were recognised as breed in 1994.

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