The Starting Blocks

There is no written history of the people of Zambia until the first Europeans, who could read and write, left their travel journals.  The earliest ones were Portuguese – Lacerda and Gamitto in the late 1700s, both of whom went to Kazembe’s Lunda capital.  In 1855-73 we have the journals of David Livingstone. David Livingstone left us with stories of the Kololo/Lozi, the Tonga, the Kazembe Lunda, the Bisa and Bemba.  He died in the land of the Lala people.   Emil Holub, inspired by David Livingstone, visited the region between 1875 and 1886 on two expeditions.  He met up with the Kololo/Lozi and the Tonga.  He escaped our region, retreating from the attacking Ila people.  Frederick Selous, the famous hunter and naturalist came to Ilaland too in 1888 and was lucky to leave with his life. 

The word ‘tribe’ has several connected meanings but, the origins seem to come from biblical times: “race or tribe of men, body of men united by ties of blood and descent, a clan”.    So, a tribe can be a group of people who are linked by family ties, a common culture and traditions and/or a common language. Quite often when authors write about the people of Zambia they merely state the name of the chief which can be a little confusing.

In Zambia we state that we have 72 tribes.  However, there are several tribes which are no longer registered as being present in Zambia. I will add any tribe which is mentioned in past literature and we shall see how many I find!

Over the centuries that the Bantu have lived in present-day Zambia, they have evolved languages and traditions; they have migrated in, out or around the region; they have intermarried; they have battled.  Clans have joined together or split apart.  It was only when the British came in at the end of the 1800s that tribes/clans were written down.  And it was from this time that the tribes/clans were defined, put on a map and become ‘static’.

We know that no society is static, it changes over time.  However, for this research, my starting block has to be the maps shown below.

The first map showing the tribes of Zambia is one from 1934.  By 1934, Northern Rhodesia was under British administration.  The British were sticklers for getting everything written down in ledgers, especially when it came to everyone paying tax.  From the instigation of British rule, even when it was under the charter from the British South Africa Company (1899-1924), all the people were listed in ledgers.  The administrator would travel throughout his area each year to update his records. 

This is the map from 1934.  It shows the Native Reserves.  This needs a bit of explanation.

When the British came in to administer the country there was no ‘ownership’ of land as we know it today.  The people had plenty of land and would move (with their chief’s permission) to a new area when they needed better farms.  When the British came, they brought in the idea of ownership of land through title deeds.  European farmers were enticed to come in and develop the land with commercial farms to feed the people working on the mines and to farm cash crops for sale.  The railway ran from Livingstone to the Copperbelt, so this land was allocated to European farmers so that transport was available.  Other areas too were also assigned for European farmers.

The local populations were often moved to make way for the Europeans, many of them assigned to Native Reserves.  These Native Reserves were for the use of the local people only.  In 1920s, the population of the local people was around 1,000,000; European population was around 3,000.

At this time racial segregation was the norm.  Rightly or wrongly, Native Reserves were thought of as the best solution to keep both the European and the African populations happy.  They had totally different cultures and traditions and it was thought that the two could not coexist.  There was land enough for everyone. 

By 1964, at Independence, the local population was 3.4 million, so things had changed a lot. 

I now come on to my next map which is one which is often used to depict the tribes of Zambia.  It does not have a date but it has to be after independence.

If you put the two maps together, you will see that they are virtually the same.  Just some names have been changed to different spellings. 

Without any other map to go by, I am using the ones above to find out all I can about each tribe.