The Kunda people are an offshoot of the Bisa tribe; the Bisa from the Luba Empire of the Congo Basin.
It is thought that the Kunda split from the Bisa, while the Bisa were settled along the Luapula River. This breakaway group moved eastward towards the Luangwa River in around 1840s. At this time the major slave trading had not started. We do know, though, that some Bisa had been involved in the slave and elephant tusk trade between the Kazembe Lunda and the Portuguese for some time.
The leader of the Kunda, who chose to secede from his father was known as Mambwe. It is not known how they gained the name Kunda, but it is thought possible that it was a place name. The old folk also mention that they were known as the Awetwe. The royal clan has the totem, Chulu, meaning Ant Hill, although some chose the name Mbawo, meaning ‘minute insect’.
The legend of their migration from Bisaland concerns Bisa Chief Chawala Makumba. Chief Chawala Makumba had ordered that all male children be put to death at birth so that there was no threat to his authority as chief. One woman, Kawa, had given birth to three daughters and then produced a son. This son was killed. Again, she became pregnant, producing another son who was also killed. Towards the end of her next pregnancy she went into hiding in the forest and, after producing a son, took him to a neighbouring village where relatives of her husband lived. There, the son was named Mambwe and there he grew to become a man. After hearing his life story, Mambwe decides to leave the realm of Chawala Makumba, gathers his people and moves east.
On finding out that Mambwe had taken many of his people away, the Bisa Chief, Chawala Makumba, rallied his forces and followed. A clash between Mambwe and Chawala Makumba occurs near the Muchinga Escarpment with Mambwe being victorious, forcing Chawala Makumba to flee. Mambwe continues his journey over the Muchinga Escarpment and down into the Luangwa Valley. They called the Luangwa Valley Marambo.
Silva Porto on his expedition in the 1852 mentions the Kunda: Where the Luangwa is crossed begins the territory of the Cunda.
David Livingstone does not mention them when he crossed the Luangwa River in 1863 but he did cross much further north.
On reaching the Luangwa some of the Kunda people, under a man called Malama, crossed to the eastern side. Here they mixed with the Nsenga people already there. They settled on the Lusangazi River, their village known as Chikunto. The name Chikunto comes from the fact that the people met a pride of man-eating lions there; Chikunto meaning ‘to destroy’. The first Chief Sandwe was the son of Malama, the Kunda chief, and an Nsenga woman. We now know the Game Management Area as Sandwe. The area where Malama settled is now within the Lupande Game Management Area. It was not long after Malama and his Kunda people had settled in the region that the Ngoni arrived on their migration from South Africa northwards. The Ngoni had caused mayhem in their travels through present-day Botswana and Zimbabwe as they were a military power. Many people were captured or killed. Those captured became wives, if women, and soldiers, if male children. Like the Matabele and the Zulu, boys were trained in regiments consisting of similar-aged males and were trained from the age of about 10-12 in military tactics. These regiments were known as impi and would be sent out by the chief to raid.
The Ngoni had crossed the Zambezi River in 1835 near Zumbo. After staying among the Nsenga along the Zambezi River for four years they continued their journey northwards. They must have journeyed to the east of Chindeni Hills and missed the opportunity of raiding the Kunda settled along the Lusangazi River. However the Nsenga and other tribes along the Ngoni route were either forced to flee or join the Ngoni horde.
Meanwhile, getting back to the leader of the original expedition, Mambwe leaves his fellow Kunda, under Malama, to their lives on the east of the Luangwa River. Mambwe decides to travel further north with the remaining Kunda people and follows the Luangwa River northwards, through present-day South Luangwa National Park. They continue northwards until they find a crossing point, eventually settling on the eastern bank of the Luangwa between the Mwangazi and the Kauluzi Rivers. We are told that Mambwe found the area uninhabited. The Kauluzi River is the southern border of the Nsefu area of South Luangwa National Park, the Mwangazi in Lupande Game Management Area.
Lane Poole: Mambwe next explored the Mwangazi as far as the site of the present village of Sefu, where he stayed for a short time and, in commemoration of his visit, he planted a grove of Mizumba trees which today present an imposing sight and afford grateful shade. The Mizumba trees, I think they may be Kirkia.
Mambwe’s next move took him north over the Kauluzi River because he had heard of salt deposits and founded a new village on a river called Ulanda, near to the salt supply. It was here that Mambwe lost his life. He had a disagreement with a Bisa Chieftainess, Nawalya (now Chief Nabwalya). It is said that a woman had been raped by one of Mambwe’s men. Lane Poole:
Her outraged flight to her husband and the disclosure of her rape was enough, in those days of specious argument …. A vengeful horde of Wisa, under the leadership of Chambwe Cholola himself, set out and surprised Mambwe before his stockaded village. After a brief but bloody resistance, Mambwe and his brother Mwase were killed. Their bodies lie buried in a grave midway between the village and the water.
Before Mambwe’s death, he had sent out two contingents of his people to find new land. His brother, Mchacha founded a new colony of Kunda people on the Lutembwe-Msandili confluence which became Kunda under Chief Jumbe. Another expedition, under the command of his nephew, Chiziwa, occupied the valleys of the Msandili and Lupande Rivers. I am assuming that this became Nsefu.
After his death, Mambwe was succeeded by his brother who was killed in a battle with the Bisa and then by a nephew, Kavimba, who came to power during the 1880s.
From Lane Poole’s account, we are told that Mambwe’s village was in a stockade. Most of the villages were stockaded at this time because of raids from the Bemba and Ngoni. The Bemba were working hand in hand with the Swahili slave traders. Meanwhile the Ngoni had travelled north to the east of Lake Tanganyika, raiding as they went. When their chief, Zwangendaba had died, there was a dispute about who should become the next chief and it ended with the Ngoni horde splitting into several groups. One group under Mpezeni came back south and settled for a time north of Kundaland. From there they continued their raiding even as far as Bangweulu. Their major foe was the Bemba who were now armed by the Swahili traders and many skirmishes and battles occurred between the two powers.
By the 1880s the slave and elephant tusk trade was well underway. The Kunda, therefore, had to contend with not only Ngoni raids for cattle and people but also the Bemba raids for elephants and slaves.
The effect on the Kunda was to force many of them to flee and others to join the Ngoni. It was during this turbulent time that Kunda authority fluctuated as men fought amongst themselves. Mulu, the rightful heir had been murdered by a usurper, Chuaula, who proved to be very forceful with his people mutilating many. Mulu’s rightful heir was Nsefu, who was in exile in present-day Malawi.
When Alfred Sharpe trekked along the Luangwa Valley in 1890 he found it uninhabited. Alfred Sharpe was working for Cecil Rhodes looking for chiefs with whom to make treaties for the British. Although I cannot find references about the Chikunda who were settled among the Nsenga, I feel sure that they must have come north from the Zambezi River and have raided the Luangwa Valley for elephants and people – the elephant tusks for trade and the people as porters and then sold as slaves. So, altogether, the Luangwa Valley could not have been a very welcoming place for pastoralists like the Kunda.
The uninhabited status of the Luangwa Valley must have continued until the British, under the British South Africa Company, brought peace in 1899. It was then that Nsefu returned and took up his position as Chief of the northern Kunda.
From that time, the people must have settled back into their old villages but, in the 1930s, when South Luangwa was declared a Game Reserve, the people would have been moved out of the area. Originally the Nsefu Area was not part of the Game Reserve, it was brought in after a collaboration between Norman Carr and Chief Nsefu. This is where Norman Carr brought his two hand-reared lions – Big Boy and Little Boy – to live.
To explain the map, the villages of Nsefu and Jumbe are the present sites but they are probably the same as the original sites. The one labelled ‘Salt’ is the area that Mambwe must have visited to find salt during his time. Although most of us now know salt to come in plastic bags at the supermarket, during the early days salt was often difficult to find and became a valuable trading commodity, essential as it was and is, for the human diet.
South Luangwa National Park is between the Luangwa River and Muchinga Escarpment. The Nsefu Area is north of the Kaulazi River on the west of the Luangwa River and includes ‘Salt’ which has become a great attraction for wildlife and visitors.
Malama’s Village became the village of Chief Msoro of the Kunda people.
When we think of South Luangwa National Park we have to know that it is the heartland of the Kunda people.