There is not much written about the history of the Subiya, so I have had to scratch around and try to make sense of anything I found. Below, I think, is fairly accurate, but I am open to corrections.
The Subiya are called Kuhane or Vekuhane in Namibia and Botswana. It is thought that the name derives from the Ikuhane River, the name they use for the Chobe River. Their name for Chief is Munitenge.
The origin which they can remember is that they came from near the Goha Hills, along the Chobe River and now inside Chobe National Park. Another account states that before going to the Goha Hills, they came south from the Kafue River in the 1400s, but yet another states that they came from Damaraland (eastern Namibia).
The Subiya/Kuhane territory became large and successful. They did not have external trade or have a large army which invaded neighbouring tribes. It would seem that the success of their territory has been eclipsed by that of the Lozi Empire which has attracted much more historical attention. Also, bad for the historical record of the Subiya, is that the Caprivi Strip was ‘given’ to the Germans in the Scramble for Africa, then became governed by South Africa under the League of Nations. It was a forgotten region, little attention paid to the people or their history.
While at Goha Hills the Kuhane were ruled by Chieftainess Mwaale. Jeff Ramsey, then Permanent Secretary for Media, Botswana Government:
During her reign the Bekuhane suffered at least two breakaways. One faction, led by Cheete migrated across the Zambesi, settling in the region of Mosi-wa-tona or Victoria Falls, which in Chikuhane is rather known as “Chimbwe-namutitima”.
Another faction led by Sikute settled near the south bank of the falls.
Apparently unwilling to accept the authority of Mwaale, Sikute’s defection is remembered for his stealing away with the royal drums known as “Makuwakuwa”, which were said to have been endowed with special powers as well as being a symbol of royal authority. Sikute’s faction was subsequently defeated and incorporated by the Luya, with the drums disappearing into the Zambezi.
(There are some different spellings. Mosi-wa-tona is Mosi-oa-Tunya, Luya is Luyi and Sikute is Sekute, now listed under the Toka-Leya.) This is interesting because the Toka-Leya people know the Victoria Falls as Shungu Namutitima, so we have to assume that the name comes from the Subiya.)
From the Goha Hills, the Kuhane moved the palace to Kavimba and then, under Munitenge (Chief) Nsandano to Luchindu. Nsandano was a very successful chief, capturing many cattle, extending his kingdom along the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers. The kingdom was known as Itenge.
When the Luyi arrived in the 1650s, they found some Subiya/Kuhane already along the Zambezi, near present-day Katima Mulilo. The only other people we know of in this region at that time were the Fwe and the Mbukushu. The Luyi and Subiya often fought each other, with Nsandano being killed by the Luyi in one such raid. He was buried at Luchindu which became a Subiya Shrine and is still recognised as such today.
We are told that the name Subiya was given to them by the Luyi because of their pale skin. Whether their pale skin was natural or because they painted their skin with ochre, we do not know. ‘Subira’ means pale.
During the next 100 years, I cannot find out much except for a list of chiefs of the Subiya, so I am assuming that their territory, Itenge, continued in much the same area to the south and along the Zambezi River in present-day Caprivi Strip. I cannot find out if they came under the rule of the Luyi, but probably not. It was only when the Kololo arrived that Itenge was brought into the Kololo realm.
The Kololo arrived in the 1830s from their trek from Shaka Zulu’s kingdom. After staying in the Kalomo area for some years they moved again, westwards, to put some distance between them and the Matabele from Bulawayo. It took 4 years of fighting to bring the Luyi under the authority of the Kololo people and, during that time there would have been constant fighting with the other tribes around the region being affected. One report states that the Subiya helped the Kololo. Finally, the Kololo were in charge and their indunas were sent out to various villages in order to keep the tributary chiefs in line.
The chief of the Subiya at the time of the Kololo invasion, was Munitenge Liswani. We are not told where his palace was but he would have had a Kololo induna living with him. Liswani was reported to the Kololo chief, Sebitwane, for being disloyal. He was taken to Sebitwane and executed.
Munitenge Liswani was followed by Nkonkwena who took his followers to Impalila Island to keep out of the way of the Kololo. Eventually, though, he was forced to flee south into present-day Botswana where he was given refuge by Chief Khama.
After the collapse of the Itenge kingdom, some Subiya remained living along the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers where they were known for their skills in boat-building. They lived in grass huts, living off what the rivers could provide in the way of food. When the Europeans arrived, the Subiya were thought to be a bit ‘rough’ unlike their northern rulers, the Lozi. And, although I can find them mentioned in many maps, there are few references to them in text.
However, the boats of the Subiya were considered works of art. They were carved from a variety of trees, the trees giving them personalities. The Subiya would name their boats, names likes like Mbakisa (“You sorted me out”), Munteenteke “(I-you-me perch”, because the boat is very small), Mapopota (“Talk too much” because of the noise of the water made as the boat travels). This shows us that, although the Subiya kingdom had collapsed, they still retained vestiges of their former glory and culture.
Now they are confined to a small area on our tribal map and their language has almost disappeared.
Just as a final note: In the 1880s Chief Khama asked for British protection from the Boers in the south. This was given in 1885. The land became known as Bechuanaland. According to the media, Bechuanaland means ‘people of the Tawana’, but I am wondering if the name comes from be-Kuhane.