Article by Akashambatwa Mubikusita-Lewanika


Barotseland or Bulozi or Ngulu-ta-Utoya or Bului is a land of many names. Immediately before Zambia’s independence, and with the agreement of the people and government of Barotseland, it was officially designated Barotseland Protectorate, under Barotse treaties with Britain. After independence, again with Barotse concurrence, it was designated as Barotse Province, when the treaties were replaced by the 1964 Barotseland Agreement, for Barotseland to be an integral part of Zambia. Later, for power-seeking partisan and personal reasons, and with the arrogance of not even consulting Barotse people and authorities, Zambian President Kenneth David Kaunda at a press conference, unilaterally and in bully-like fashion, decreed to rename Barotseland as Western Province.

Zambian President Kaunda did this the way one may name a dog or the way enslaved Africans in the Americas were named by their European slave masters, without discussion. However, present day Barotseland, by whatever name, is the territory held in common by persons and communities that have made it a home. This is fundamental to the Barotse political economy and composite culture. It is situated between the 22° and 25° 30’ lines of longitude and the 13° 45’ and 17° 45’ lines of latitude. It covers 126,386 square kilometres. This is seven per cent of Zambian territory and is larger than nineteen African Union member states. It borders Angola and Namibia, as well as present day North-Western, Central, and Southern provinces of Zambia. The border with Angola was arbitrated by an Italian king in 1905, in a compromise between the claim of Portugal and the assertion of Barotse authorities, decision which was compromised by an earlier 1890 agreement between the British and the Portuguese. Portugal claimed all lands west of the Liambai (Zambezi) River.

The Barotse kingdom asserted that the border should be as far to the west of the current border, as the river is east of it. The King of Italy’s judgement cut the babies of African societies without the wisdom of King Solomon. It split African societies to pieces and impaired Africa without end – short of a revolutionary re-decolonisation. The border with Namibia was determined under external pressure to implement the Anglo-Germany (Heligoland) Treaty, in July, 1890. This cut off a strip of Barotseland and attached to the German Administration of South West Africa (Namibia). The boundaries with Zambian provinces have not been determined by any better wisdom and consideration of African societies, although that with the western part of North-Western Province was determined largely – but not entirely – through a 1941 “settlement of the dispute between the Barotse Native Government and the Chiefs of Balovale” as determined by the judgment of the Sir Philip MacDonell headed Commission set up by King George VI of Britain. Barotseland is home of Barotse people composed of more than thirty-five cultural, linguistic and political communities, who include members of communities who had chosen to remain or cross from the ceded territory of Balovale under Luvale, Lunda and other community traditional rulers. The Barotse communities include Mambowe, Makwangwa, Masubiya Mambukushu, Mafwe, Mankoya, Makwangwali, Mambunda, Malubale, Manyengo, Makwamashi, Makwamakoma, Matotela, Makwamwenyi, Makwandi, Mashasha, Baimilangu, Masimaa, Maliuwa, Mandundulu, Mayauma, Mandembu, Mambumi, Makwamulonga, Malukolwe, Matoka, Maleya, Makwengo, Matotela, Mashanjo, Mahumbe, Manazwa, Malushange, Masotho, Matebele, Maluyi, Malunda, Makaonde, and all others who have accepted to reside in Barotseland under the Barotse Government. Many of these communities are found within and beyond Barotse borders. This is because national and international boundaries do not respect traditional African communities, nationalities and authorities. Barotse people in these communities have a right to a common single roll group membership as Barotse people, within Barotse boundaries, and under Barotse Government. They share a right to the Barotse Government held accountable to them and in which they have participation rights. They are in all parts and walks of Barotseland.

Furthermore, together with other indigenous Zambians and Southern Africans, these communities share ancestry of the Sotho-Nguni and, or Lunda-Luba Bantu-speaking peoples and, or earlier settlers on the territories of Barotseland. The Barotse royal family is of mixed ethnic stock from all these communities and others. They has, in fact, never been of pure Lui or Luyana stock. This because of long standing, widespread and continuous cross-community integration and the fact that even from the beginning the founder Queen’s sons who succeeded her were not necessarily fathered by Lui, indeed they are said to have God, Nyambe, for a father and grandfather! Barotse people are all persons and communities that have been accepted, and have accepted, to make a home in Barotseland and its political system. SiLozi-speaking people belong to all communities that share Barotse nationality. They should be referred to as ‘Barotse people’ and not ‘Lozi people’. This is to underline that, like KiSwahili or ChiNyanja, ‘SiLozi’ is a language and not a people. No single community or group of communities is more or less ‘Lozi’ than any other among SiLozi-speaking people. The Barotse royal family springs from Lui or Luyana people, who are a Lunda sub-group, who migrated into Barotseland, during the seventeenth century. They originated from vicinities of south-eastern parts of Congo and the north-eastern areas of Angola. They mingled with and incorporated aboriginal people and earlier settlers they found, including those of non-Bantu stock, such as the Twa or San people. After 1834, they were joined, and further mixed, with Basotho people (Makololo) who invaded Barotseland. They came from the vicinities of Lesotho and Free State Province of South Africa. They were fleeing mafakane (mfecane) disturbances initially caused by European intrusion from the southern tip of Africa and from consequential intra-African aggression. In 1864, Barotse people regained independence and restored own kingship. Under British Colonial Office protectorate rule, many Barotse people migrated to work in South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, Namibia, and Botswana. As a result, there has been a growing Barotse Diaspora across Southern Africa. Siluyana is a Lunda-based language. It was the lingua franca of Barotseland, until the (Basotho) Makololo invasion of the early 1830’s. It is still the choice language of praise traditional poetry and recital of wise sayings. It is a requirement for some special rituals in royal court circles, and heavily represented in some of the modern Barotse languages spoken by Baroste communities, such as Makwanga, Makoma and Manyengo.

The Sesotho language out lived the Basotho (Makololo) rule, because Basotho women remained and continued to mother future Barotse generations. Sesotho was quickly imprinted on the society, over ten decades up to 1936. Until then, for half a century, Sesotho was the medium of secular and biblical education, as well as society at large, in Barotseland. ‘Lozi’ (or more properly SiLozi) refers to the hybrid Sesotho-based language. In his book, Lozi Names in Language and Culture, Dr Mukumbuta Lisimba notes that SiLozi is in fact ‘a hybrid language with a Southern Sotho structure whose vocabulary is about 75% Southern Sotho and 25% Luyana. [It has] become the lingua franca [of Barotseland]’. According to the Zambian 2000 Census, 782,509 is the population for Barotseland, and this should have increased to about 1.2 million Barotse nationals resident in Barotseland to date. About another half a million Barotse people live and work outside in the Barotse Diaspora. At time of Zambia’s independence, Barotse national constituted about 10% of the Zambian population, if this has not changed, there the total population of Barotse national could be over 1.6 million. Barotseland is dominated by the Great Barotse Plain in the centre. The Great Plain undergoes seasonal flooding, and is about 160 kilometres long, 60 kilometres at its widest point, and nearly 90 metres above the sea level. It has an altitude of between 1.88 metres in the north-east and 8.14 metres in the south-east. Its environment attracts human settlement, because of its alluvial soils that support agricultural crops and lavish pastures for cattle and crop cultivation.

The low-lying, flat central Zambezi (Liambai) Barotse Grand Plain may once have been an ancient lake. Now, the basin floods once a year and the rich alluvial soil spreads across the plain, making it extremely fertile for such crops as sorghum, maize, pumpkins, and so on. The area is also tsetse-fly free, which is excellent for cattle keeping. People have long taken to building mounds on the plain, where they plant their gardens and establish villages, in order to escape the annual flooding. But during high floods, these mounds become islands, overrun with an influx of ants, termites, rats, and snakes escaping the rising waters. This challenges and causes the Barotse residing on the Plain to move to higher ground every year, in the famous Ku-Omboka Pageantry.



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