African Scouting (20th c.)
"The Scouts' War Dance": Sir Robert Baden Powell's adaptation of a Zulu chant, c1910s [Chant]
Like much of the public in turn-of-the-century Britain, Baden Powell was fascinated by "primitive" cultures. Although he claimed an expert knowledge of Africa from his service in colonial wars, Baden Powell was hardly an authority on Zulu customs. This did not matter, because metropolitan Britons were almost entirely ignorant of African institutions. Nevertheless, they were fascinated by romanticized depictions of their new colonial subjects in the popular press, juvenile literature, and memoirs of colonial war heroes. While they were confident in their cultural superiority, the British came to believe that African peoples like the Zulu preserved the simpler, savage, but nobler qualities that seemed to be disappearing from modern industrial society.
Baden Powell built popular support for the scout movement by tapping into these sentiments. He claimed to have based scout ranks on Zulu age grades and used an Ndebele "war horn" to call his scouts to order. His "scout war dance" combined what he professed to be a Zulu military chant (the "Een-Gonyama song") with made up dancing and his "Be-Prepared chorus." The odd ritual was just the sort of thing that Edwardian schoolboys loved for it allowed them to play at being Africans in a thoroughly modern context.
Baden Powell, Robert. Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship. 9th ed. London: C. Arthur Pearson, 1920. Annotated by Tim Parsons.
Primary Source Text
Scouts form up in one line with the leader in front, each holding his staff in the right hand, and his left on the next man's shoulder.
Leader sings the Een-Gonyama song. Scouts sing chorus, and advance to their front a few steps at a time, stamping in unison on the long notes. Into the centre [a Scout] steps forward and carries out a war dance, representing how he tracked and fought with one of his enemies. He goes through the whole fight in dumb show, until he finally kills his foe; the Scouts meantime still singing the Een-Gonyama chorus and dancing on their own ground. So soon as he finishes the fight, the leader starts the 'Be Prepared' chorus.
Then they commence the Een-Gonyama chorus, and another Scout steps into the ring, and describes in dumb show how he stalked and killed a wild buffalo. While he does the creeping up and stalking the animal, the Scouts all crouch and sing their chorus very softly, and as he gets more into the fight with the beast, they simultaneously spring up and dance and shout the chorus loudly.
The Een-Gonyama song should be sung in a spirited way, and not droned out dismally like a dirge.
How to Cite This Source
"African Scouting (20th c.)," in Children and Youth in History, Item #95, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/teaching-modules/95 (accessed March 27, 2015).
- Primary Sources
- "The Scouts' War Dance": Sir Robert Baden Powell's adaptation of a Zulu chant, c1910s [Chant]
- Organization of British Imperial Scouting [Table]
- An Appeal for African Scouts: Canon William Palmer to Imperial Scout Headquarters, May 5, 1923 [Letter]
- "A New Development in the Scout Movement in South Africa" [Article]
- Pathfinder Warrant [Official Document]
- The Scout's and King's African Rifles Uniforms [Photographs]
- Legal Protection for Scout Uniform, 1935: Tanganyika Government Ordinance [Official Document]
- A Rover Scout "Journey" [Memoir/Article]
- "The Interrelation of Colour" [Official Document]
- Mau Mau Fighters in Scout Uniforms, c. 1963 [Photograph]
- "Scouting – Helping to Prepare Leaders of Tomorrow" [Article]