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12— The 'Wild' and 'Lazy' Lamba: Ethnic Stereotypes on the Central African Copperbelt
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Poverty, Prestige and African Stigmatization 1930–1960

It is easy to understand how frustrated Belgians and British arrived at their derogatory stereotypes of the Lamba. The real puzzle, to my way of thinking, is to explain how urban Africans acquired similar prejudices. For like their predecessors in the 1950s and 1960s, the townsfolk of modern Ndola and Luanshya still belittle the Lamba language and provincial Lamba greeting customs, and look down upon them as weak and backward country bumpkins.

Similar prejudices still prevail in modern Lubumbashi. Most recently, for example, Schoepf reports that Zairean personnel with an ill-conceived UNESCO 'Man and Biosphere' development programme hold 'negative stereotypes of [these] Shaba peoples as hard to deal with, uncooperative and against progress: people who have always been against State authority" '. Bourgeois states that the Luba townsfolk of the 1960s regarded the Lamba as 'dirty' (sale ), 'ignorant' and 'lazy'. And Lambo, writing in the 1940s, claimed that the Lala were far 'sharper' (éveillé ) and more 'civilized' (évolué ) than the lower ranking Lamba.[25]

So again, these contemporary African prejudices have some historical depth. The classic study of ethnic prestige and 'tribalism' on the urban Copperbelt is Clyde Mitchell's The Kalela Dance . Mitchell suggests that such widely established ethnic stereotypes have two possible foundations: either an ethnic group's pre-colonial military reputation, as in the case of the Copperbelt's numerically dominant Bemba and Ngoni groups; and/or its occupational reputation in the colonial industrial order, as in the case of the Luvale who, as night-soil removers during the Great Depression, were stigmatized as nyamazai (scavengers).[26] Mitchell has little to say about the Lamba who, by the early 1950s, still represented fewer than 7 per cent of the African males in Luanshya and Ndola, and just 3.4 per cent of the mine workers at Nkana, Nchanga, Mufulira and Roan


Antelope mines.[27] But his work is nonetheless helpful in understanding the Lamba's lowly reputation. First, none of the Lamba groups could stake much pride in their historic roles as slavers' bait. They had no tradition of pre-colonial conquests, and had not been successful in resisting such conquests.

Second, and more importantly, the Lamba were seen as remaining largely apart from the colonial industrial order, from the African townsfolk's 'struggle for prestige' and its well documented emblems of the apparently superior 'European way-of-life': smart clothes and stylish demeanour.[28] Some of the Lamba, as participants in the Central African millenarian tradition and Jeremiah Gondwe's Lamba-based African Watchtower Movement, apparently rejected urban life itself as part of the colonial order.[29] Far more, however, had chosen to remain peripheral village cultivators, financing their tax obligations and purchases of manufactured goods through their occasional sales of bush and garden produce.

This, I believe, best explains how the Lamba acquired their low reputation among the African townsfolk on the Copperbelt. If present circumstances are any guide to the past, the tattered and dusty Lamba villager, creaking his sweet potatoes or cabbages to market on his dilapidated, overladen bicycle, served to dramatize the townsfolk's invidious contrast between the very real difficulties of village life and the urbane ideals of Mitchell's 'European way-of-life'. Thus the Ndola Africans of the 1950s denigrated villagers (in Bemba) as batuutu, 'bumpkins', and bena tulo, 'sleeping ones'.[30] The nearest villagers at hand were and are the Lamba, and they are still occasionally derided in these same terms today.

These inferences presumably apply to the northern Lamba as well. They too were late to seek urban employment, maintained the same suspicious mistrust of 'strangers', suffered the same invidious stereotypes and, according to Crawford Young, Bogumil Jewsiewicki, and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf, share much the same sense of grievance and resentment today. This brand of stereotyping, however, is not unique to the Lamba. Robert LeVine and Donald Campbell suggest that urbanites in general tend to view their rural neighbours as backward and ignorant rustics, and that they, in turn, are stereotyped as shrewd and dishonest sophisticates.[31]

These are the same reciprocal stereotypes found along the Zambian Copperbelt today. Lamba villagers, particularly the elderly, consider the towns to be 'bad' (abipile ) and beguiling places, townsfolk insufferably 'proud'; and they take personal pride in never having had to work there, or pride in not having been corrupted by the experience if they have. There is every reason to believe, then, that the Lamba on both sides of the border have been historically stereotyped as weak and backward because they remained predominantly rural peoples throughout most of the colonial period, and conditions in rural Ilamba, as elsewhere in much of rural Northern Rhodesia, could only have contributed to the genesis of invidious stereotypes. Ilamba's impoverishing integration into the colonial industrial order only confirmed the African town-dwellers in their prejudices.

The Lamba chose to remain peripheral rural cultivators through the 1930s, but this was not because they derived greater wealth from their produce sales than they could have found in urban wage labour. In Northern Rhodesia, for example, with higher producers' prices than those in Katanga, a villager selling one or two 200 Ib. bags of sorghum received the same price per bag in 1932–12s 6d —as an unskilled labourer earned in the month, not counting the labourer's rations.[32] And given the recurrent reports of irregular rains, locusts, smallpox, influenza and the attendant food shortages in Rhodesian Ilamba, there is no reason to believe that the Lamba villagers were ever particularly prosperous.[33]


Such is certainly the impression Commissaire de District Vermuelen conveyed about the Lamba peoples of ElisabethvilleTerritoire in 1933:

What do we find in the majority of these [Lamba] chiefdoms? Villages composed of a few miserable huts, a population of poor devils with few necessities, owning little or nothing, working just long enough to secure a meagre and often still insufficient nourishment, to obtain a few francs for paying taxes and, perhaps, a few rare calicos for clothing themselves.[34]

Conditions in Rhodesian Ilamba were similar, as suggested in J.L. Keith's 1935 ' Human Geography Report' to the Chief Secretary for Native Affairs:

Physically the Lamba-Lima people are good looking and well built but not particularly strong. They are intelligent, outspoken and good humoured but unenterprising and have no business instincts and lack ambition. In spite of their proximity to the Copper Mines and opportunities for money making, they remain poor and except for their gardens, huts, a few primitive agricultural implements, a spear and, rarely, a muzzle loading gun, they are without possessions. They have a decided inferiority complex probably owing to their past experiences when their country was a happy hunting ground of the slave trader from both East and West. They are today easily exploited by Natives from other tribes and have been willing victims of the Watch Tower movement which today is to some extent kept alive among them by natives of other and more cunning tribes. They are, however, strangely resistant to external influences on their daily habits of life, and village life has, as far as one can tell, been little influenced by the neighbouring industrial development and the near presence of a mass of natives of other tribes.[35]

There was, to be sure, more cash in rural circulation during the 1930s than ever before. But as in Northern Rhodesia, the improvident demand for cash and calicos actually compounded village food shortages—again suggesting that the Lamba market gardeners were not entirely rational, profit-seeking calculators of material advantage. Thus in the Pedicle area of Elisabethville Territoire in 1935,

 . . . there has never been so much cash in the natives' hands than at the present. The crops were abundant and they sold it all to the point of not having enough to feed themselves. A few weeks ago, the natives were even selling the little sorghum remaining to them in order to buy calicos. They need to be taught some prudence because by not properly feeding themselves, they expose themselves to all the epidemics.[36]

The Belgian administration tried to arrest this process of rural impoverishment by introducing compulsory village regrouping and forced cultivation of food crops such as cassava, maize, groundnuts and haricot beans. These were abandoned, however, once it was realized that these measures, combined with higher taxes, had led substantial numbers of able-bodied males and their families—over 500 people from Lamba chief Katala's area—to emigrate into Northern Rhodesia between 1935 and 1938.[37]

Lured by better produce prices, more convenient markets and the alleged 'liberalisme du régime anglais, these Katangan Lamba immigrants only worsened the overcrowded conditions on the Lamba-Lima Native Reserve. Most of the Reserve was thinly populated, but nearly half of its 26,000 residents were concentrated on the fragile, sandy soils of Chief Mushili's and Chief Nkambo's areas—those closest to the produce markets in Ndola and Luanshya. William Allan, Northern Rhodesia's Assistant Director of Agriculture, toured Lamba Chief Mushili's area in October 1940. While he estimated the land's carrying


capacity at about 18 persons per square mile, he found that the mean population density then was more like 44 persons per square mile. Thus Allan concluded, 'It may therefore be stated with considerable certainty that the country at present occupied by Mushiri's people is greatly over-populated in relation to the land requirements of their agricultural system.'[38]

This was during the Great Depression, when substantial numbers of laid-off miners and unemployed Africans were willing to work for rations alone. This cheap labour supply provided the Rhodesian Lamba, like their Katangan brethren near Lubumbashi and Mufulira, with a brief but wretched success in beer sales and prostitution.

In some villages [near Kitwe, Ndola and Luanshya] the population has been almost entirely occupied in brewing beer for sale at the week ends, with the result that village life has been at a standstill: [unemployed] natives are hired to cultivate the gardens and huts fall into disrepair, while the villagers themselves indulge in an almost continual orgy.[39]

Although the Lamba had by now been blackballed from the mines themselves as undisciplined and unreliable labourers of an inferior physical type, these peripheral village cultivators were, in the 1930s, finally being fully integrated into the colonial industrial order.[40] Lamba women played the leading role in their movement into the towns:

The [labour] exodus in the main districts of Ndola and Broken Hill is small, most of the local natives being employed in agriculture and fishing in their own native reserves. Contact with the urbanised native is, however, considerable and demoralising influences are sometimes observed. The villages near the industrial areas are apt to become centres for beer drinking and prostitution unless closely watched, and the temptation to women to go to the towns for the purpose of finding temporary or irregular unions with employees is strong.

This restlessness and laxity on the part of the local women . . . has caused considerable concern to the Native Authorities and all thinking natives and Europeans. . . . It is hoped . . . that women who go to the industrial areas simply for the purpose of obtaining money and clothes for their temporary services will come under some means of control, as would happen in the purely native areas. . . . No doubt an increase in prosperity in the rural areas would play an important part in the solution of this difficult problem.[41]

But prosperity never materialized and this problem was never resolved, for the unusually heavy 1939–40 rains—after ruining three-quarters of the sorghum crop in Chief Mushili's area alone—brought on the devastating 1940–41 Lamba famine. The South African Baptist mission initiated a modestly successful vegetable purchase and marketing scheme that operated between 1943 and 1956 to aid the villagers' recovery. But the administration's own Ndola District Resettlement Scheme (1943–52)—with its onerous cultivation requirements and compulsory village resettlement—was such a dismal failure that, in 1953, the administration decided to import African peasant farming families from Southern Rhodesia to show the 'apathetic' Lamba, 'by demonstration, the possibility of advancement in agriculture'.[42]

There is no doubt that the Rhodesian Lamba's mistrust of the administration and its 'clever' (ceajela ) schemes to steal more land slowed their recovery from the 1940 famine. In 1938 the administration had deposed the embittered and uncooperative Lamba paramount chief, Chamunda Mushili II, and its meddling in the affairs of legitimate chiefly authority was greatly resented. Recovery from the famine was also slowed by the growing exodus of able-bodied labourers. Thus


while nearly half of the taxable males remaining at home in the early 1950s were involved in the market gardening trade, some 50 to 60 per cent of those from the Reserve's northern chieftaincies—as well as unknown numbers of unattached women—were off in the towns.[43] Those remaining behind in the villages, the very old and the very young, were barely able to feed themselves in good years. The Lamba-Lima Native Authority was persuaded, therefore, to set regulations on rural produce sales in a futile attempt to stave off further food shortages.

The years between 1930 and 1960 were bitterly frustrating ones for the Rhodesian Lamba, but also for the administration which, by 1951, 'realized that there were economic and social forces at work [in this district of "demoralized subsistence producers"] which it was difficult, if not impossible, to control'.[44] This was particularly true in the early 1950s, when, as the Federation era (1953–63) approached, rumours about European sorcery and cannibalism were in general circulation among the Africans on the Copperbelt. Sugar sold to Africans was supposedly salted with medicines causing sterility and stillbirths, and I, fifteen years after Federation had ended, was shown the house in Luanshya where a European doctor was alleged to have drunk the blood of kidnapped Africans, then sold their flesh to the manufacturers of tinned meat.[45]

These frustrations, I believe, informed the grim conclusion to William Allan's study of the agricultural situation among Chief Mushili's Lamba:

For the more distant future one can only see a degraded people on a degraded soil, a race of 'hangers-on' inhabiting the midden of the mines, hawkers of minor produce, vice and the virtue of their women, such as it is.[46]

This accelerating impoverishment of Ilamba did not escape the attention of the African townsfolk in Northern Rhodesia nor, I suspect, those in Katanga either. By the 1950s the townsfolk of Luanshya and Ndola were calling the Lamba bapwapwa (lung people), a derogatory nickname alluding to their reputed habit of purchasing cattle lungs and other inexpensive cuts of butchery meat.[47]

This same acknowledgement of Ilamba's rural poverty is implicit in the reports of Lamba marriage and bridewealth expenses during the 1950s. Mitchell's collection of Kalela dance lyrics, for example, includes a set about the lucky butchery worker who pays his bridewealth with the stolen head from a slaughtered cow. These lyrics undoubtedly refer to actual circumstances in the Lamba countryside. There, according to my village informants, a cow's head was an acceptable payment for a Lamba bride, though the standard fee in those days was repeatedly said to have been two shillings and the shinbone of a cow—the latter being used to prepare a marrow relish. In Luanshya, however, the standard payment for a Lamba bride—five shillings—was the same price charged by the 'Kasai' prostitutes from the Congo.[48] Lamba bridewealth expenses, in fact, have never been very high—ten to twenty shillings in the 1920s, and US $ 12 to $ 25 in 1983—but these recurrent references to cattle heads and shinbones reflect the desperate rural conditions in Ilamba during the 1950s.

Thus the Lamba's relative immiseration only served to confirm the townsfolk's stereotypes about rustic villagers in general. Given urban-dwellers' attachment to the ideals of smart attire, stylish demeanour, and Mitchell's 'civilized way-of-life', all seen as emblems of successful adaptation to the challenges of colonialism, the Lamba undoubtedly appeared to be a weak and backward people. There was certainly little prestige attached to their impoverished rural lives. But neither was there much prestige attached to the Lamba roles in the Northern Rhodesian towns.


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12— The 'Wild' and 'Lazy' Lamba: Ethnic Stereotypes on the Central African Copperbelt
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