African Seeds

The Wood Badge Beads of Dinizulu


The Wood Badge Beads of Dinizulu

Early in the history of the Scout Movement, the founder, Robert Baden-Powell, ran the first residential adult leader training course for Scouters. At the completion of the course, the participants asked him if he could give them some token to indicate that they had been trained. He had not given this any thought, but on receiving the request he improvised by taking two little beads from a string of such beads he had; he threaded them on a bootlace, and hung them around the neck of each Scouter.

Ever since, each Scouter who has successfully completed the advanced training course receives two similar beads on a leather thong. Known as the Wood Badge beads, they are proudly worn by Scouters to indicate that they are continuing in a tradition handed down from Baden-Powell.

The conferring of wooden beads as a sign of recognition, however, is an old Zulu tradition. We read of them first in the story of Charles Rawden Maclean, also known as John Ross, shipwrecked off the Zululand coast in 1825. He was one of the first white persons to meet the great Zulu king Shaka. In his description of the Festival of the First Fruits, he wrote:

They now commenced ornamenting and decorating their persons with beads and brass ornaments. 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 conferred by Shaka. Each row was the distinguishing mark of some great heroic deed, and the wearer had received them from Shaka's own hand.
Later, when Maclean met the royal party, he observed that Dingane, Shaka's half-brother, was "dressed in the same manner as the king, but without so large a display of beads."

Robert Baden-Powell came accross these beads 63 years later in 1888, when the British had defeated the Zulu nation at war and annexed Zululand as a British colony. Dinizulu, the grand-nephew of Shaka, refused to accept the annexation, and led the uSuthu tribe of the Zulus in rebellion.

B-P later wrote about the campaign to subdue and capture Dinizulu:

Eventually Dinizulu 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. These beads now form the Wood Badge which Scouters win who go through the Training Course at Gilwell.
There can be no doubt that the beads of Dinizulu were identical to those which Maclean saw Shaka wearing. It is quite extraordinary that Baden- Powell should have chosen those beads as an award, to be "conferred by his own hand", without knowing that Shaka had used them in the same way.

Today thousands of Zulu boys are Scouts. In 1987 Chief Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi of KwaZulu was the guest of honour at a huge Scout rally. Chief Buthelezi's mother-in-law, Princess Mahoho, was a daughter of Dinizulu. At the rally, the Chief Scout of South Africa, Garnet de la Hunt, took from around his neck a thong on which four Wood Badge beads were hung, and handed it to Chief Buthelezi, in a symbolic act of returning the beads to their rightful heir.

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From Scouting About No. 11, Spring 1995. Condensed from an article by Elwyn Jenkins in the Spring 1995 issue of Lantern, published by FEST, PO Box 1758, Pretoria 0001, South Africa.
Illustration of Dinizulu © Vic Clapham. Probably appeared originally in Veld Lore magazine.