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Opinion: Identity crisis affecting the Zambezi people

2021-08-04  Prof Makala Lilemba

Opinion: Identity crisis affecting the Zambezi people

There is an impression purported by scholars and other nationals in the Zambezi that the region is in an identity crisis. Furthermore, some scholars subscribe to the notion that the inhabitants have been oppressed by the Luyanas, but contrary to this perception is the reality that the Zambezi people are of Luyana stock and there are clear family links. The problem is the historical-hegemony-legacy syndrome where some groups are clamouring for chieftainship and paramountcy which never existed, compounded by literature scarcity and distorted self-serving oral traditions at the expense of Eurocentric historical orientations. Therefore, the issue of identity crisis affecting the people from the Zambezi region if it ever exists should be tackled from many angles. 


Biblical perception

Biblically, the people from the Zambezi are descendants of Ham, one of the three flood survivor sons of Noah. These Hamites went south into lower Asia Minor, central Syria and Palestine, and the Red Sea coast of Arabia, but principally into Africa (Comments from Authorised King James Version, 2009 – 2012).


Historical angle

The Zambezi people are part of the Bantu language family, the Niger-Congo phylum, Africa’s largest language family (Gunnink, 2018). . De Luna (2010) subgroups them into Bantu Botatwe, which consists of two divisions: the eastern branch of Toka, Leya, Ila, Tonga, Sala, Lenje, Lundwe and Soli and the western part of Shanjo, Fwe, Subiya and Totela. O’Sullivan (1993) records the presence of Mashi (Mafwe), Masubiya, Matotela and Nkoyas, when Aluyi arrived in Ngulu Plain around the sixteenth century. Jalla (1969) states that Mwanambinyi (Mboo’s younger brother, and the latter being the first Luyana male king) found the Subiya, Tokas and Mbukushu at Katima Mulilo, defeated them, and confiscated the royal drums (maoma) from the Mbukushu chief, Lukonga. 

These royal drums are the hallmark of the Luyana kingship where major activities in the Lealui/Limulunga capitals are announced by their sounds. Mupatu (1958) and Anamwi (Mwanambiyi’s cenotaph guard keeper) place the presence of the Mafwe around Katima Mulilo during the same period.

Mainga (1973) states that the founders of Lozi (Luyana) dynasty under Ngombala (the sixth king), which originated from the Luba-Lunda Empire of Congo incorporated the Region around 1740 and included the southern and northern groups. The southern group included the Fwe or Mafwe, Subiya, Mbukushu, Toka, Totela and Shanjo while the northern comprised of the Muenyi, Imilangu, Ndundulu, Mbowe, Liuwa, Simaa, Makoma and Nyengo. In addition, O’Sullivan (1993) indicates that the Fwe, Yeyi, Shanjo, Imilangu, Liuwa, Mwenyi, Ndundulu, Nyengo, Simaa, Mulonga, Shasha, Lukolwe, Lushange, Koma, Kwangali, Mbukushu and Mashi, none of them being very numerous groups, were found on the west bank of the Zambezi River. These groups along with the Alui, which originally moved from, Kola District along the Lui River, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the sixteenth century, formed part of the Aluyi or Aluyana groups. 

Political perspective

Caprivi (Zambezi today) was one of the few regions to form a home brew political party, the Caprivi African National Union (CANU) which merged with the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) amid denials and political gimmick by some leaders in SWAPO despite the preamble stating that “We the undersigned members of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) and Caprivi African National Union (CANU) do hereby declare that for the interest of our struggle of our two peoples and freedom and independence of our fatherlands Caprivi Strip and South West Africa CANU and SWAPO do hereby unite as one organization in a different name.


Linguistic identity

Zambezi is one of the luckiest regions for having Silozi as lingua franca and a national language. Currently, there are orthographies in ciYeyi and ciSubiya, while the ciFwe group has completed a dictionary awaiting publication and has been blessed with orthography and A Grammar of Fwe by Gunnink (2018). In addition, the Bible is being translated into Sifwe by two groups from Namibia and Zambia. The Mbukushu can use the orthography of Kavango East. Mr. Buiswalelo is completing the orthography on siLinyanti. The Totelas can easily adapt the Shanjo orthography from Zambia. The current Luyana-Silozi royal dynasty 

The Mamili chieftainship is deeply rooted in the Barotseland Royal Establishment because Mbuywamwambwa (the originator of the Luyana kingship) is the mother and grandmother of Twaile Namakau and Mbuyu respectively, the latter originates Kakene where Imataa Kabaenda comes from, who in turn is the grandfather of the sitting Mamili VII. The Subiya have their own Luyana royal connection of Liswani, Muransiane and Mwanamwalye. The famous King Lubosi Lewanika married Ntelamo from Lusese and many Lozi Litungas married Subiya women like Yetaa 111, marrying Mbile, Mwanawina111 married Muimui, the daughter of Mukanwa. During his flight, after being overthrown Lewanika was saved by Mashi people and upon resuming his kingship established the KaungaMashi Royal establishment, of which the current Mutundwalo (Ngambela) is Fwe, at Kaanja, near Nangweshi.


Contestations of early arrivals in the region

Many scholars debate about the early arrivals in the region, which in the world of academics is quite healthy. The reason is that the people of Zambezi did not arrive in the region at the same time. The arrivals did not have the capacity to occupy the whole region on arrival, but settled at selected spots, until Ngombala incorporated them area into his kingdom. These issues can be discussed in fora and platforms to reach consensus. 

2021-08-04  Prof Makala Lilemba

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