Dinizulu - the wood badge beads

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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 Wood Badge Beads of Dinizulu[edit]

Dinizulus replica necklaces.jpg

The conferring of wooden beads as a sign of recognition 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 who go through the Training Course at Gilwell receive."

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 (see The Origin of the Wood Badge Beads).

The Story of Dinizulu's Necklace[edit]

Photo of Dinuzulu with wood badge beads during Zulu civil war between 1883 and 1884

In 1888, when a British expedition was sent to Zululand, South Africa, it had to contend with Dinizulu, King of the Zulus - a clever, heavily built man, 6 ft., 7 ins. (200 cm) in height. On state occasions, Dinizulu wore a necklace about 12 feet in length. It consisted of 1,000 or more wood beads, made from a South African yellow wood and strung on a rawhide lace.

The necklace was a distinction conferred on royalty and outstanding warriors. During the hostilities that swept Natal and Zululand in those faraway days, the man who was to become the Founder of the Scout Movement - then Captain Robert Baden-Powell - gained possession of Dinizulu's Necklace.

Many years later, in 1919, when Baden-Powell instituted Wood Badge training for Scoutmasters he remembered Dinizulu's Necklace and taking two of the wooden beads and knotting them on a leather thong, he created the Wood Badge - to be worn around the neck and to be the only proficiency badge worn by Scoutmasters. The Wood Badge, with its replicas of the original Dinizulu beads, is now worn by thousands of men and women around the world.

There are a number of sequels to the story of Dinizulu's Necklace. In 1963 a grandson of Dinizulu, Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, visited Canada to attend the Anglican World Congress in Toronto and on a side trip to Ottawa was hosted by a member of the Ottawa District staff, DSM. Oliver Belsey. The following Christmas he sent Mr. Belsey a Christmas card depicting his late father doing a Zulu dance, a picture of himself in the full regalia of a Zulu Chieftain and two wooden beads (Wood Badge) taken from the military award of one of Dinizulu's warriors who passed away in 1962.

In 1965 at Kwakhethomthandayo, the Royal Kraal, near Nongoma in Zululand, Scouting history was made with the Investiture of Paramount Chief, Bhekuzulu Nyangayizwe, before 5,000 of his people. The Paramount Chief was invested as a Scout by a South African Headquarter's field commissioner.

To mark the 12th World Jamboree and the 60th Anniversary of Scouting, the Boy Scouts of South Africa decided to make four authentic replicas of Dinizulu's Necklace. After much research and months of hard work by European Rover Scouts in Natal, and Zulu Scouts from Natal troops, the four reproductions of the original were completed.

Three of them were taken to the 12th World Jamboree in Idaho, U.S.A., in August, 1967. For museum purposes, one necklace was presented to the Chief Scout Executive of the host country, Boy Scouts of America; one to the Acting Director of the Boy Scouts World Bureau and one to the Camp Chief, International Training Centre, Gilwell Park, London. The fourth necklace remains in South Africa as an historic memento of the land of the origin of the Wood Badge.

See also[edit]

Primary Sources[edit]

  • 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.
  • Author unknown, possibly appeared in the Canadian Leader magazine. This article appeared on a page of BSA History & Traditions by Randy Worcester.
  • Illustration of Dinizulu taken from The Pine Tree Web by Lewis P Orans. Original photo from the collection of the Killie Campbell Museum in Durban, South Africa.