Quick overview of the History of Eshowe

Although we know very little about Eshowe and surrounding areas during the stormy periods of early Zulu History, we do know that its cool breezy uplands were always popular places of abode. Many of the early kings and leading chiefs had kraals in the district. Senzangakhona had a kraal named Gqikazi near Eshowe. Mpande grew up here. Shaka had several kraals in the district between Eshowe and Empangeni: Bulawayo, Dlangubo and Kangela being three of them. Nearer Eshowe, Dingane had another kraal named Kangela. Mpande had a kraal Ondini (one of several of this name) right in what is today the town of Eshowe. His son and successor Cetshwayo was born and died in Eshowe. His last days were spent in a kraal not far from the present Residency, known either as Gqikazi or Eziqhazeni. There is no doubt Eshowe is royal.

One legend has it that Shaka, when at Eshowe, was fearing an attack from his traditional enemy Zwide, from the Ndwandwes, and that he hid the women and children in the Dlinza Forrest for safety. The Dlinza Forest lies in the centre of present-day Eshowe, and may be considered as its most outstanding feature. It lies in the very heart of today’s modern town, which has grown up around it. No other town in South Africa has anything to compare with it.

How did the name of Eshowe come about?

The romantic explanation that most Zululanders grew up with is that it represents the sound of the leaves stirred by the wind in the Dlinza forest. One could wish it were so, but unfortunately it seems unlikely that this is the true derivation of the word.

Others would have us believe that the name derives from “ishongwe”, a weed that grows plentifully, not only there, but throughout Zululand and Natal. If this were true, it would be in keeping with many other place names, popularly supposed to have picturesque origins, but in fact having some commonplace botanical explanation.

Another explanation, that has been ventured, is that it is derived from isihawu, meaning a shield. The difficulty here is that the “s” in the prefix “isi” would not combine with the “h” of “hawu” to produce the compound sound “sh”. In any case, the word, as used today is “ihawu”.

During the Zulu War, and perhaps earlier, Eshowe was often called “Ekowe”, presumably in error. This led to another supposed derivation. “Ikowe” is the name of a large mushroom. The story goes that British Troops were once stationed in the neighbourhood, and local natives, observing their bell tents, likened them to mushrooms. Again the time factor puts this ingenious out of court, as Eshowe was known for a very long time before English troops arrived there.

The truest explanation is probably the one advanced by H. Lugg, a former Chief Native Commissioner in that it derives from the Zulu word “shoza” or “ishazi”, meaning a cold wind.

During the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, Colonel Charles Pearson led the coastal column to Eshowe. This column encountered part of the Zulu army at the Nyezane River, but after a short battle pushed on to the KwaMondi Mission which was fortified and called Fort Ekowe.] The forces under Colonel Pearson were besieged for 10 weeks until relieved on April 3 by Lord Chelmsford after the Battle of Gingindlovu. After the British left, Eshowe was burned down by the Zulus.

After the war Eshowe was established as the capital of Zululand and the home of the British resident in Zululand, Melmoth Osborne. The nearby town of Melmoth is named after him. In 1887 Eshowe became the capital of Zululand and was officially declared a township in 1891. In 1947 the British Royal Family (King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret) visited and were welcomed in Eshowe by King Cyprian. The family toured the Dlinza Forest and spent a night in ‘The Residency’ in Eshowe. Eshowe served as the seat of the first Black Diocesan Bishops in South Africa, of the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church. Eshowe is still the seat of the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Zululand.

The fascinating cross-cultural history of the area is told at the Zululand Historical Museum, which is housed at Fort Nongqayi, the striking white mud brick and three-turreted fort established in 1883 as the base for the most unusual peace-keeping Zulu force, called Nongqayi. Amongst its many displays, the Museum offers a rare look at John Dunn, South Africa’s only official white Zulu Inkosi and husband to 48 Zulu wives! Another unique attraction at the Museum Village is the Vukani Museum, housing the world’s largest collection of traditional Zulu Arts and Crafts. The Mission Museum Chapel, also on site, has Norwegian history.



Fort Nongqayi Museum Village

The Fort Nongqayi Museum Village – in the grounds of the picturesque Fort Nongqayi in Eshowe – houses a series of museums covering a wide range of local interest from early Iron Age to contemporary Zulu art and craft, from natural history to missionary history and from wars between nations to the battle against the tsetse fly. It also boasts a restaurant and tea garden housed in a charming old settler house and a beautiful butterfly garden in a futuristic geodesic dome.

Zululand Historical Museum

Although the Zululand Historical Museum depicts the history of Zululand from early Iron Age, its central focus is on the fascinating cross-cultural influences of the past 200 years.

Pride of place in the collection goes to the mobile wooden chair made for the ailing King Mpande by the first Norwegian missionary in Zululand, Bishop Hans Schreuder. In the 1850’s King Mpande had great difficulty in walking due to his obesity – caused probably by the disease now known as dropsy.

The museum also houses an impressive collection of fine mahogany and teak furniture and memorabilia from the main residences which housed the only White Chief of Zululand, John Dunn, his 49 wives and 117 children. Although Dunn had adopted Zulu customs and a Zulu lifestyle, his taste in furnishings reflect a distinct European fondness for comfort.

Zulu Cultural Musuem

There has been a renaissance in Zulu arts and craft since the Vukani Association was formed more than 40 years ago to revive the then-dying art of basketry. Through Vukani, men and women have pooled their inherited knowledge of grasses, palm leaves, natural dyes, beadwork, woodcarving and ceramics to produce a range of contemporary items with a traditional theme.
A Swedish missionary, Rev Kjell Lofröth, who was instrumental in establishing the project, collected some of the finest work done by the early Vukani crafters and his extensive personal collection now forms the core of the Vukani Zulu Cultural Museum.
Several of the artists have gone on to receive international recognition and it is worth seeking their work out.

Eshowe Butterfly Dome

The butterflies in the Eshowe Butterfly Dome situated amongst the trees in the Museum Village have been raised in captivity and are very tame giving visitors an excellent opportunity to get up close to these wonderful ‘flying flowers’. The Eshowe Butterfly Dome is one of four butterfly domes that make up the Butterfly Route in KwaZulu-Natal. Each dome (the others are in St Lucia, the South Coast and next door to Tembe Elephant Park) covers a different region and features different buttefly species, dependent on the vegetation and climate of the region. The butterflies to look out for in the Eshowe Butterfly Dome are the Emperor Swallowtail, the African Monarch and the Common Diadem.

Mission Museum Chapel

Eshowe’s modern history begins with the arrival of Norwegian missionaries in the mid-19th Century. In 1854 Rev Hans Schreuder of the Norwegian Mission Society was granted permission by King Mpande to start a mission station at Ntumeni. Seven years later, a second Norwegian, Rev Ommund Oftebro, established a mission at kwaMondi (situated in the present King Dinuzulu Suburb in Eshowe). The Zululand Mission Museum is housed in a contemporary version of the traditional Norwegian mission chapels and the museum pays tribute to the legacy of these early men of God and the spread of Christianity in Zululand.

Opening Hours

Mon-Fri: 07h30 – 16h00
Sat: 09h00-16h00
Sun & Public Holidays:
10h00 – 16h00
Christmas Day
Day of Goodwill
New Year’s Day
Good Friday

Entrance fee
Adults: R25.00
Scholars: R5.00
R10 Museum guides attend to all visitors

Historical Museum
Tel: 035-474 2281
Vukani Zulu
Cultural Museum
Tel: 035 474 5274
Work by Vukani craftspeople is available for purchase at the museum.
The Mission Museum Chapel
is in a beautiful setting
and can be hired for
weddings and functions.
Contact: 035 474 2281
Adam’s Outpost
& Tea Garden
Mon-Fri: 09h00-16h00
Sunday: 10h00-15h00
Closed on Saturday
Enjoy delicious meals in a restored colonial homestead. Ideal venue for weddings, functions and tour groups.
Contact: 035 474 1787