previous sub-section
12— The 'Wild' and 'Lazy' Lamba: Ethnic Stereotypes on the Central African Copperbelt
next sub-section

Lamba Resentment

So far this essay has been preoccupied with historical explanations for the invidious, externally ascribed dimension of the Lamba ethnic identity, and little attention has been given to their view of, or their response to, these stereotypes. The time has come to shift our perspective to the internal-resentful dimension of Lamba identity.

Two notes of caution are in order here. First, the available historical materials were written by Europeans, and rarely reflect the Lamba point of view. Most, instead, make repeated allusions to a mistrust of 'strangers' or, as in J. L. Keith's report, to such 'tribal' character traits as an imputed inferiority complex. Though Rev. Bobo Litana, Sr., near Fiwale Hill Mission, is preparing his memoirs for publication, there are to my knowledge no written accounts of Copperbelt history from a Lamba perspective. This, again, probably reflects the relatively recent introduction of comprehensive primary schools into this area.

Second, much of what I have to offer rests upon the oral recollections collected during my 1977–78 field investigation of ethnic 'stranger'-'host' relations between the local Lamba and 'Mazezuru' communities of the rural Zambian Copperbelt. Though then not aware of the remarkable parallels in the social and historical experiences of the northern and southern Lamba, the reciprocal ethnic stereotypes that I noted do recall the events of the early twentieth century as central elements in an enduring legacy of Lamba grievance and resentment. One must keep in mind that the advent of colonial rule was, at most, one or two generations removed from the experience of Lamba adults, and that the Lamba-Lima Native Reserve was instituted during the lifetimes of those who are now grandparents and great-grandparents. It would be mistaken to construe these memories as newly coined, eminently instrumental devices in the competition for Zambian governmental and social services.

This resentful dimension of Lamba identity focuses upon the belief that they—having been systematically 'cheated' of their lands and its mineral wealth, and of their dignity and integrity as an autonomous people—have uniquely 'suffered' (ukuciula ) the costs of the Copperbelt's mineral development. Nearly every village headman south of Luanshya, for example, can recount the tale of how his people were 'chased' (ukutamfia ) to the Reserve, or fled there from the Congo, or moved to accommodate incoming villages while the lands outside the Reserve remained vacant and uncultivated.[58] They and others will tell how the British in


1938 deposed their legitimate, but uncooperative and allegedly corrupt chief, Chamunda Mushili II, as well as how his extra-legal court and capital rivalled that of the officially appointed Regent for a dozen years thereafter. And some will even draw historical parallels between the removal of Chief Mushili II and the temporary suspension in 1967 of Sr. Chief Mushili IV over the repeated allegations of Lamba economic neglect.

This dimension of Lamba identity has considerable—and reasonably accurate—historical depth. The Lamba resent the townsfolk's ridicule of their customs and language, and of their attempts to reintroduce Lamba as the medium of instruction in the rural primary schools. They also resent their being stereotyped as weak and backward country bumpkins. Yet their response to these urban stereotypes has not been uniform. Townsfolk, on the one hand, are generally stereotyped as being shrewd, dishonestly 'clever', and arrogantly 'proud'. But the Lamba have also internalized some of the townsfolk's stereotypes, and sometimes employ them in self-deprecating commentaries on present circumstances.

One rainy January afternoon, for example, I was surprised to find one of my Lamba informants drinking and dancing with a barmaid at the local bottle store. Ploughing season was nearly over, but he, for lack of a tractor transmission gasket, had hardly begun. I said something about the shortage of spare parts holding him back, but he admitted that he really hadn't gone to look more than once. Then he shrugged and said, by way of explanation, 'You know how we Lamba are; we only like to drink and dance.' He winked and laughed, then returned to his companion. On yet other occasions, a Baptist church deacon invited me to join him in a Sunday morning beer (cipumbu ) drink, or the same men who complained that Lamba women 'just prostitute themselves' by marrying a succession of husbands jokingly offered their help to me in finding a Lamba wife or girl friend. Prominent local Lamba farmers, however, are less likely to joke about such things, and take a dim view of the leisurely work pace, the neighbourly beer drinks, and the petty jealousies and marital instability which are so much a part of Lamba village life. There is, in other words, some recognition that the townsfolk's stereotypes about the Lamba represent more than uninformed, projective fictions.

Lamba resentment is more often expressed in a generalized mistrust of intrusive abensu (strangers, foreigners), including school teachers or agricultural assistants. The rural Zambian Copperbelt is one of the few rural districts with annual population increases, and given its proximity to the towns, it has become home to a wide variety of such 'strangers'. But these tend to be accepted so long as they interact with the indigenous Lamba as social equals, respect the conventions of Lamba life, and acknowledge the authority of the Lamba chiefs, chiefs' councillors and the local village headmen.

The Swahili community near Ndola, as the historical target for Lamba resentment, is a notable exception to this pattern of ethnic accommodation. Elderly Lamba still resent the special favouritism shown these former slavers during the early colonial period, and a small but popular Lamba political faction continues to contest the legitimacy of the Swahili chieftainship. According to their argument, Swahili and Islam are not indigenous Zambian culture traits so, their reasoning goes, this small core of nominally Muslim Swahili-speakers must be 'foreigners'. And if, as the Swahili community claims, this is not the case, then they are bound to recognize their subordination to their area's original African chief, Lamba Chief Mushili.

Today, however, the most common focus of resentment for the Zambian Lamba is the prosperous and ethnically encapsulated community of polygynous 'Mazezuru' farmers—most of them Karanga Shona. The Federation Administration


brought in the first of these Southern Rhodesian 'strangers' in the early 1950s to teach the Lamba proper peasant fanning. They met with little success, for the Lamba then saw this as just another 'clever' European scheme to steal more land.

The 'Mazezuru' living south of Luanshya all arrived in the early 1970s, following bitter land disputes with the Lenje and their neighbours in Mumbwa and Kabwe Rural Districts.[59] These hundred farms have markedly raised the rural Copperelt's agricultural productivity. But few Lamba derive any material benefit—such as tractor-plough services—from this 'Mazezuru' presence, and given their historically conditioned sensitivity to ethnic slights, they resent the 'Mazezuru's' disregard for the welfare of those whose land they presently occupy. Members of the two communities participate in the same social system, but rarely meet as social equals. So for all intents and purposes, they inhabit separate social worlds. Such instrumental relations as do exist between them only accentuate their genuine differences in material interests and affective sentiments, and confirm the reciprocally invidious ethnic stereotyping between the 'proud' and 'selfish' 'Mazezuru' and their 'jealous' and 'lazy' Lamba hosts.[60]

These Lamba stereotypes about the 'Mazezuru', and theirs about the Lamba clearly refer to the patterned inter-ethnic relations on the rural Zambian Copperbelt today. But the cultural sentiments which inform the Lamba view of these 'stranger'-'host' antagonisms feed upon the enduring sense of grievance and resentment that underlies Lamba self-perceptions, and derives from their historical experience.

previous sub-section
12— The 'Wild' and 'Lazy' Lamba: Ethnic Stereotypes on the Central African Copperbelt
next sub-section