One of the most revered symbols of the Zulu kingdom was the inkatha yezwe yakwaZulu. This was a large coil of grass and other symbolic materials that had been gathered from throughout the Zulu lands, and collectively represented the unity and strength of the Zulu nation. When the king sat on the inkatha, it was said to produce a force that would unify his warriors, protect them from evil spirits, and greatly boost their courage.

Most important chiefs had izinkatha of their own to bind their subjects under their rule, and the origin of the national inkatha was most likely as one of these more common artifacts. But the great inkatha was continuously growing, incorporating the lesser izinkatha and some body parts of each vanquished chief so that their vengeful spirits would be bound to the king and would not attempt to aid the enemy in battle.

The materials used to make the inkatha were believed to have absorbed the strength and essence of the Zulu people, so that as long as the inkatha was intact, the people would be unified and undefeatable under the king's command. The grass came from the trodden paths of the Zulu and their all-important cattle. To this, the Zulu added the hair and teeth of mighty animals like leopards and lions, certain medicinal and magical plants, dirt from places where great men had gathered to discuss affairs of state, grass from pits that the amabutho had vomited into as part of their ritual preparations for battle, and bits and pieces of the izinkatha of vanquished chiefdoms and tribes. The final ingredient, and one of the most significant, was insila, or "body dirt", from each of the Zulu kings and great chiefs. This "body dirt" consisted mainly of hair, fingernail clippings and other remnants that were never discarded, for fear that sorcerers might find them and use them against the king.

These materials were all formed into a coil that was roughly a meter in diameter, and about the thickness of a man's calf. This was bound in python skin and tied securely with grass rope. When not in use, it was jealously guarded by one of the elder queens in the royal family's great hut. From the time of Shaka's death, it was kept in the royal home of esiKlebheni and protected by Queen Langazana, until it was burned by British soldiers in 1879.